How to Get Stronger at Push-ups and Pull-ups Using a Soviet Special Forces Technique

September 6, 2009

I want to explain to you a method of how to get stronger at push-ups and pull-ups.

I found out about this method from former Soviet special forces trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline. Pavel is a guy I began following closely since the late 90’s. I was just fascinated by his advanced strength training methods that were unlike anything I had read in the mainstream fitness magazines. His methods were based around training elite military forces how to stay light and lean, while gaining amazing strength.

I began studying this guy like a mad-man. Here is just one of the many techniques I learned from this master trainer from the former Soviet Union.

soviet union

[Here is a photo of a fighter plane from the former Soviet Union. I’m quickly becoming a history buff and I’m fascinated by the former USSR in particular. I vividly remember watching The Olympics in the 70’s and 80’s…and their dominance in many of the sports made an impact on me as a child.]

Get Stronger by “Greasing the Groove”

Greasing the Groove, or GTG for short, is based on the principle of “synaptic facilitation”…doing frequent, non-exhaustive sets of a specific exercise to strengthen the nerve pathway.

So doing the same lift multiple times per week, but training short of failure. This is a method used by Bulgarian and Russian weight-lifters which has allowed them to dominate in many of the Olympic lifts over the years. Theses guys actually train a lift multiple times per day.

“Practicing a Lift” is How I Look at This Technique

I like to look at gaining strength as a skill, similar to any other physical skill.

The more you practice a certain skill or movement, the better your body becomes a doing that movement. Take a golf swing for instance…many golfers practice their golf swing each and every day.

The reason they do this is to develop a “groove” where the body gets more efficient at performing that movement. They are strengthening the neural pathways to perform that movement, the more they practice it.

Lifting to Failure is Where Most People Go Wrong

Lifting to failure is fine when you are trying to break down the muscle and gain mass, but it isn’t the best way to gain strength. The problem with lifting to failure is that it develops fatigue.

Once a muscle is fatigued, it reduces its ability to contract hard. Repeated hard contractions are the key to greasing the groove and getting stronger in a movement. You are after strong neural impulses multiple times per week or day to strengthen the neural pathways, so fatigue is to be avoided.

How Pavel Taught Soviets to Meet “Spetsnaz” Requirements

The “Spetsnaz” were the special forces unit of the Soviet military. One of the physical requirements was to do 18 pull-ups with a 22 pound weighted vest.

He designed a special pull-up workout that allowed these guys to easily reach that requirement, with 1-2 pull-up workouts per day. His calls this technique “ladders”.

How to Use Ladders to Get Strong at Pull-ups or Push-ups

Here is Pavel describing this technique…

“We would file out to the pull-up bars and perform what we called ladders. I do a pull-up, you do one. I do two, you match me, etc. until one of us cannot keep up. Then, if we still had time, we started over. One rep, 2 reps, 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10… 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,… 1,2,3,4,5. We totaled hundreds of pull-ups almost daily without burning out, and the extreme PT tests of our service were a breeze.”

Understanding the Concept of Why Ladders Work…

If you understand why ladders work, you can implement this principle into your workout. Here is how Pavel puts it…”high-volume plus specificity minus burnout”.

Put into simple terms…you are doing many sets of one exercise short of failure to improve in that one exercise. The key with the ladder is to stop 1-2 reps short of failure…preferably two reps.

Remember High-Volume + Fatigue is to Be Avoided

High volume in this case will not develop excess mass, because fatigue is avoided. If done properly there will not be muscle breakdown and excessively sore muscles. Make sure and follow the advice of stopping short of failure.

I know this is a big contrast to the typical bodybuilding approach of “forced reps to get big and strong”…but the “Spetsnaz” approach is MUCH more effective.

Note: This is one of those tips that can be implemented in creative ways into your routine. To me, the concept behind why ladders work is where you will get the best value from this method. You also don’t need a partner to do these…just rest the same amount of time it took you to complete the set.

The principles applied properly will help you improve in any lift.

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

David September 6, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Hey Rusty!
Great post. Been following your site for a couple of months now!
Just one question about this. If you have averaged size muscles, and then work them to a point where they require such a large amount of strength, will they also build slightly as well as toning? In other words does the muscle grow despite training for strength if it’s required?


Chris - ZTF September 7, 2009 at 2:27 am

Great observation especially on working to failure. Recently I have started doing a maximum of 10 sets total at the gym with total body workouts and leave the gym feeling refreshed rather than exhausted. It seems to have triggered some good strength and size gains whilst leaving me with a lot more energy…. The ladder sets look great will have to give them a try on my next BW workout.

Rahul September 7, 2009 at 2:40 am

Hey Rusty,

Thanks for the info…very timely, as I recently tried out muscle ups that I saw in one of your previous posts (had never heard of them before) and even though I struggled quite a few times, I just could not seem to push myself over the bar…. even though though I can go upto 15-16 pull-ups at one go now….Can’t wait to try out the ladders technique though, just need to find someone to go with me…

Rusty, I wanted to ask you about lagging body parts…My shoulder has not shown much improvement over time at least in how it looks though there have been some strength gains, I have been advised to do shoulders twice a week (as opposed to once which is what I currently do)…would that work? Would appreciate your thoughts….


Auzzie Dave September 7, 2009 at 3:25 am

Hey Rusty, two questions.

a) Firstly, what is the issue if you have a flat stomach but not great abdominal definition: body fat or abdominal training?

b) Secondly, what would you recommend for a v-shape body? Narrowing your waist and seeking to gain mass in the shoulders via lateral raises/shoulder presses/etc. If so, how would you go about both?

Cheers and thanks in advance.

Aditya September 7, 2009 at 4:00 am

Good and helpful post, Rusty. Keep up the good work.

Well, I must say this is rather interesting and surprising to me. Actually I have been following this same thing for some time now to improve my push up strength, without knowing anything about Pavel. What I do is I would do like 20 push ups 3 times a day separately without failing the muscle and would increase it to 5 more the next week. I would gradually increase it, week after week, taking care not to reach a failure push up. And it is effective, totally. I am starting this same thing for pull ups now. Funny thing is I cant even reach 3 pull ups in a go πŸ˜€

I have two questions here :

1. Does the grip in a pull up assist you in some way to make the pull up a littel easier?

2. What would happen if I stick to Low Repetition and Low Volume with say 3 sets for each body part over a course of time? How will it be different from Low Repetition and High Volume? Is it effective for getting a toned look (not mass)??


PS: This weekend I was at this get together party and there was this professional photographer who was clicking pics randomly, of the crowd. She personally came to me and was like, ‘Dude you have an amazing body, you really need to pose much more for the pics!’. I was flattered at first and was confused how to respond to that lol but I obliged haha! But at the same moment, one thing clicked ‘Rusty and his site’ πŸ˜€ And funny thing is I am just at 12% bfl and dont even have defined abs underneath my shirt πŸ˜€ But I am determined on reaching 6% this December! Thanks Rusty πŸ˜€

Rambodoc September 7, 2009 at 9:49 am

I follow the Russian system of training since the time I read Pavel. Tremendous difference in results– I can’t recommend it strongly enough! I actually pulled a 22 lbs PR on my deadlift in six weeks. As for the pull up program, there is another method advocated by Pavel and others: a step-wise program like this to get a pull up PR of 10:
Day 1 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 2 5, 4, 3, 2, 2
Day 3 5, 4, 3, 3, 2
Day 4 5, 4, 4, 3, 2
Day 5 5, 5, 4, 3, 2
Day 6 off
Day 7 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Day 8 6, 5, 4, 3, 3
Day 9 6, 5, 4, 4, 3
Day 10 6, 5, 5, 4, 3
Day 11 6, 6, 5, 4, 3
Day 12 off
Day 13 7, 6, 5, 4, 3
Day 14 7, 6, 5, 4, 4
Day 15 7, 6, 5, 5, 4
Day 16 7, 6, 6, 5, 4
Day 17 7, 7, 6, 5, 4
Day 18 off
Day 19 8, 7, 6, 5, 4
Day 20 8, 7, 6, 5, 5
Day 21 8, 7, 6, 6, 5
Day 22 8, 7, 7, 6, 5
Day 23 8, 8, 7, 6, 5
Day 24 off
Day 25 9, 8, 7, 6, 5
Day 26 9, 8, 7, 6, 6
Day 27 9, 8, 7, 7, 6
Day 28 9, 8, 8, 7, 6
Day 29 9, 9, 8, 7, 6
Day 30 off
Sorry if I took up a lot of your comment space, Rusty. Just wanted to help! πŸ™‚

Kane September 7, 2009 at 10:52 am

Hey Rusty, great post and great techniques outlined!

Im glad to see emails going out too, its a brilliant addition to your site!

I will definatley be using this technique from now on, I’ve been doing something similar the past few days… Every now and then when I can I drop down and do 15 pushups. Most days im averaging over 100 pushups and never feel tired or fatigued.

Great one!


Cody September 7, 2009 at 11:07 am

Hey Rusty,
I started GTG about 3 months ago for pullups and pushups. I also learned this from Pavel’s site. He also teachs a different GTG technique which I use. I do 70% of my max 5 times thoughout the day. I do this workout probably twice very 9 days. Then I do a max once a month to see how far I’ve improved.
Some folks do it every hour or so during the day, but I need longer perios of rest. It’s working out quite well. I’ve improved my max pullups by 400% and max pushups by 100%.
On another note, I started your Vacation Blueprint the last week. I’m averaging about 1600 calories and less than 100 carbs daily and follow the Primal Blueprint way of eating. I think I still need to cut more calories though. I do feel I’m a bit more lean but also @ age 52 results just come slower IMO.
Keep up the great work, I follow you,Mark,Craig,Brad, & Pavel. You all seem to follow each others way of fitness/nutrition and I’ve seen you all mentioned in each others respective websites.

Jason September 7, 2009 at 11:21 am

Hey Rusty,

I am pretty lean right now with decent 6 packs but my triceps are kind of oversized. Is there a way that I target loosing muscle only on my triceps area?

if I loose some biceps on the way of loosing triceps too I wouldn’t mind.

Oh I haven’t been to the gym for a week now ever since I had my grade 2 sprained ankle. Do you think not working out for another week or two would allow me to loose some muscle on my triceps?


FitJerk - Flawless Fitness September 7, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Good post. Ladders work, no doubt.

Here’s another crazy thing poeple can use: Progressive loading. It can be a huge factor in training to improve the sheer volume you need to perform for a “test”.

Helder September 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Pavel is really unique, i’ve learned a lot from him, specially about bodyweight training, he’s always been somehow against getting huge, he always believed in getting stronger, lean, and dense.

DJ September 7, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I just don’t understand how “until one of us cannot keep up.” means that you’re not burning out your muscles…What am I missing?

SethP September 7, 2009 at 3:30 pm

I like this idea, but what about saving time? I’m guessing you are not decreasing rest time between sets?

Gunner September 7, 2009 at 5:15 pm

i had a question about eat stop eat if your 172 and trying to get to 167 what do you set your regular day calories at? I know it say maitenance which is 14-15 cals. Any help would be great I just bought the book so Im gonna start it soon. I am a little worried about trying this diet since ive had success always just lowering the calories. Its just heard this is a care free diet and I was getting fed up with counting calories even though I got lean the other way

tim September 7, 2009 at 5:21 pm

I am a college student and i go out 2 or three times a week. I follow eat stop eat diet. I was wondering how do you deal with drinking alcohol and staying lean??

Phil September 7, 2009 at 6:38 pm

I just read your post about lagging shoulders. I’ve known that a lot of men judge there shoulders by people they see in mags, tv and in their gym, forgetting that steroids increase the size of a mans shoulders first and foremost. Remember that not all drug users are big muscle bound freaks. I’ve known planty of 180lb drug users. Large, rounded shoulders can be a sign of drug use. In the book ” the Adonis complex” the author speaks of this.
(I may have the name of this book wrong as it has been yes since I read it)

Anna @ pathtofatloss September 7, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Hey Rusty, I like that you did a post on Pavel. The man has some great ideas about strength training. I am currently preparing for the Power to the People (PTTP) Program. I just need to finish reading the book. But, after I watch the PTTP DVD and started applying his principles to my lifts, I feel a LOT stronger!

We did some KB goblet squats and KB swings together in a ladder at the RKC in San Diego and that workout was brutal but so good for your strength and conditioning.

Another great post!


Jane September 7, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Helder said:
Pavel is really unique, i’ve learned a lot from him, specially about bodyweight training

@Helder and Rusty
What product would you recommend when I would want to get into Pavel’s bodyweight training?
Appreciate your answers and suggestions.

P.S. Another great article Rusty. Thanks
P.P.S. I downloaded the blueprint, but didn’t have time yet to read it. I am sure it will be as good as your articles here or even better πŸ™‚

Josh September 7, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Hey Rusty,
Hope you are having a great labor day! I live in Rochester, New York so I know a little something about training in Siberian like weather! I’m glad you put this post up! It is timed well with what I am doing now. Through the fall and winter when I don’t get out as much I like to do a 5×5 program. I’ll work out full body two days per week and follow those sessions with with 12-15 mins of HIIT and add in another day of HIIT during the week. I have noticed that the lower reps and keeping myself 2-3 shy of failure have some very positive effects for me.. Who knows if you read in the papers about a guy from New York running around yelling “DRAGO!!!!!!” you know who they are talking about!

admin September 7, 2009 at 10:40 pm


Yes…and it is fine. You will find that strength training while staying conditioned builds a natural amount of muscle for your frame while maintaining firm defined muscles. Some guys will gain a little more than others. If you want to purposely gain a bit of muscle, then increase reps a bit and decrease the resting period…just add in a bit of fatigue.


Great to hear from you! You are still kicking out the great posts on your site. I visit on a regular basis, I just don’t have as much time to comment as I would like.


You can simply rest the amount of time it takes you to complete the previous set. This would mimic working out with someone else. As far as lagging parts go…we all seem to have body parts that grow quickly in comparison to others. If you are gaining strength, I wouldn’t mess with anything. Sometimes strength gains come first before the resulting visible muscle development.

Auzzie Dave,

I love having so many readers from ‘OZ’…It must be because of all of the beach talk and appreciation for cold beer. Okay…you will display a bit of a six pack if the body fat is low enough…no matter what…so it is probably a matter of losing more body fat. That being said, the sharpness of your abs will increase over many years of lifting. I would stick to planks and things like a cheap roller and renegade rows while aiming for a low body fat level. You will get some degree of six pack abs quickly. The nice thing about training for many years is that your abs will get “a little” sharper each and every year. The V-taper…chin ups and military presses go a long way to achieving that look. The narrow waist is a result of low body fat. You can add in laterals and pulldowns if you like, but chin ups and some type of big shoulder press will be the staples.


I can do narrow parallel grip pull ups much better than any wide grip pull ups…I’m talking almost 50% more…so grip makes a big difference. Low rep, low volume is what I do most of the time. You will gain strength without adding size. Because your reps are low you just have to make sure and add in HIIT or intervals of some sort to increase HGH and get a metabolism boost. If you feel a little small at any point and want to just add a tiny bit of size, then increase the volume a bit…typically you will notice results quickly. I do 5 sets of 5 about once a year for a few months, when I feel slightly too light. My body typically responds immediately. Over time you are going to master what works for your body. It is a great position to be in. Very cool about the party, by the way!


Thanks for listing this workout. Also…I encourage people to take up as much comment space as possible. This is the part of running a blog I enjoy most!


I decided to create a Fitness Black Book newsletter to assist people to stay on track. It will also help if I have a big announcement to make or a way for me to point people to exceptional articles I find, etc.


Pavel has tons of great techniques. What I like about his stuff is that you can implement these principles into your routine without having to make any dramatic changes. It sounds like you follow some great blogs…I respect all of those guys and I always learn something new by visiting their blogs and websites. I’m sure things do slow down a bit at the age of 52…but you can do it. Mark Sisson took away all of our excuses about age. Me and Pavel are the same age…he turns 40 in a few weeks…I’m right behind him. Man, life flies by! My hope is that everyone lives life to the fullest.


Your triceps sound like they are a strong point for you. In order to lose size on a strong body part, you have to cut the volume of lifting down quite a bit. To be honest, big triceps aren’t a bad problem to have. Are things like suit coats tight around the arms? Are you already pretty lean?


Pavel came along at the right time for me…back in 1999 I just watched Fight Club and thought Brad Pitt had a great look. He was strong and lean, but could still wear funky and stylish clothes. I decided I wanted to lose weight and become compact and strong instead of big and overtly muscular. As soon as I read about Pavel’s dislike for excess muscle, I ordered “Power to the People” immediately…a “game changer” as far as fitness books go in my opinion. Amazing stuff.


You would still stop short of failure. So “not keeping up” would be the set when you are just one rep away from failure.


You are getting a lot of total sets completed in a short period of time if you did this 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10…and did this twice….it is 20 sets. This is more for specializing in a lift and not necessarily a routine you would do on a regular basis. I will probably try this at some point this year for fun for a month or so.


Download my free report “Vacation Body Blueprint” if you haven’t already. This will answer your how many calorie question. Here is the way I would recommend doing Eat Stop Eat. Make that one meal on your fasting day small…like 400-600 calories. You only have to do this 2 times per week…but make these the ultra-strict days. A lot of people use that one meal as a way to get normal daily calories in one meal…this is not the way to get the best results. Besides that, eat what you normally eat the rest of the time, but just try to reduce portions from time to time. The cool thing about this diet is that you don’t have to be food obsessed. You will have a six pack while being able to enjoy pizza, beer, nachos, etc (just don’t live on ultra-high calorie foods).


You can drink alcohol while staying lean by eating extra strict on those 2 fasting days per week. Make that one dinner meal small on that day and it will provide you a lot of wiggle room to drink beer while staying lean. If you know you are going to party you can also eat slightly smaller portions of foods you like the rest of the week (not too extreme…one less piece of pizza, less chips and salsa at the Mexican restaurant, etc.)


Also…some guys naturally have big rounded shoulder muscles. I typically recommend that people don’t get too obsessed with a particular lagging body part. What I find is that once they get really lean, people tend to notice the overall muscle definition and not the lagging muscle group. Good point about the roids.


Yep…Pavel is the man. I love it that he calls himself the “Evil Russian”. Power to the People is extremely entertaining along with being packed full of amazing info.


admin September 7, 2009 at 10:46 pm


Go to his site: Dragon Door and look up the book “Naked Warrior”. I’m sure he has other products out there as well, but I liked this one a lot.


That is hilarious! “Damn you Drago! I’m doin’ dis for Adrian”. I love Rocky movies…so bad and good at the same time.


Sterling September 7, 2009 at 11:31 pm

I’d love to see some more in-depth posts on these techniques. I’ve done P90X for over 2 years to get in great shape, but after reading your VBP I’ve cut those workouts in half and heavied-up the weight a bit. Thoughts?

Jeffrey343 September 7, 2009 at 11:41 pm

I guess I’ve been occasionally doing this for a few years with pushups. I’ll do a few sets of 50 during a day – that’s a number that is challenging but not to failure. I don’t do it as consistently as I should, but I’ll try to do at least two sets of 50 most days. It appears that doing several sets of these on most days would be a very good thing. Pullups are more of a logistcal challenge – I can always find a floor, but a bar is somewhat harder to find…

John September 8, 2009 at 1:17 am

Great Stuff MANN!! πŸ˜€ I just love the posts about getting stronger and more efficient without getting bulky..
This should have been thought in school for biology instead of that crap with photosynthesis.. don’t think I learned anything from that :/

Ey just a thought, do Γ½ou think this would work with planks as well.. then it would be 1min, 2min, 3min, ect. right ? πŸ˜€

Yavor September 8, 2009 at 3:20 am


I got super serious about working out in 2001, after one of my girlfriends dumped me lol. Anyway, after the initial newbie gains I was stuck for a while. then, I discovered Pavel’s work. In just two months, my strength levels exploded. My pull-ups got from 5 to 12 using the ladder system. Later I trained with a backpack full of stones using 1-3 reps, in another two months my pull-ups wer up to 17!



p.s. I have summarized some of the hacks you can use to get great at pull-ups here ==>

p.p.s. The system that Doc outlines is great too!

Helder September 8, 2009 at 9:32 am

At Jane

What Rusty told you is what i was going to tell you, also if you make a search in the internet you’ll find good articles from Pavel.

In that site Dragon Door you’ll also find other good articles about bodyweight training, that were writen by gymnastics coachs, i believe you’ll like those articles very much as well.

Baz September 8, 2009 at 10:37 am

Rusty I’m a big fan of your site for one reason and that’s that it promotes leanness instead of bulkiness. Quick question though, in order to achieve that sharp Chiseled jawline, what body fat is required. I know that its probably single digits, but is there are specific point you start to lose face fat, like 10%or 6%?


tylersg3 September 8, 2009 at 1:00 pm


Another great post. I really like how you put it, if you do something over & over, your body is going to get better at doing it. You know how you always here about, “muscle confusion” or “shocking” your body. I never really understood all of that, now I really don’t have too.

One more thing. I weigh around 171, very lean with a low body fat (5.4), and good muscle mass. Im pretty satisfied with my body, but I always find myself wanting to pick up more muscle. Will that extra couple lbs trigger maybe some more body fat in the process?

Jason G September 8, 2009 at 3:11 pm

I am on the ropes with this one. Mainly because I have seen some progression with my pull ups by using progressive overload techniques in the last month. Anyway I think it would be great if people can come back to this post in a month or two and post their pull-up improvements.

BurritoKid September 8, 2009 at 4:40 pm

@rahul. ive been working on my muscle ups too. they are really hard! can you do any Rusty? i can almost do one, i’m giving it all ive got though and the form is bad.

i am also working on one arm pull ups. ever since Rust showed us the Barbarians I’ve been hooked.

Rahim September 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm

So if I can only do 15 pullups, and I’m training just short of failure, should I only go to 12 and keep repeating that cycle? Is that how to properly Grease The Groove? And does the same apply to all of the other calistenics? I really wanna get into this because it sounds VERY interesting and I’m kind of hitting a wall with my development.

tim September 8, 2009 at 8:08 pm

I had a question if your following ese. Can you do a fast on the day of going out drinking. Lets say your going out thursday night. you fast wed to thursday then have your meal then go out for drinks

Studio Element Personal Training September 8, 2009 at 9:58 pm

I first bought Pavel’s book about Kettlebell training. Since then, I have had training for my personal training staff and have slowly began incorporating this type of training into my personal training studio in St. Louis. Awesome, to say the least!

Beat Schindler September 8, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Hi Rusty, first off congrats to the beautifully shaped success of your new ebook! You sure know a thing or two about concentrated strength. Reading GreaseTheGroove with interest. Building a body (focus of your blog) and building a mind (focus of my blog), as different as they might be in many ways, have much in common. Will be looking into how GreaseTheGroove principles apply to greasing the mental-emotional-spiritual groove of man πŸ™‚

Jane September 8, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Thanks Rusty and Helder for your swift answers. I’ll have a look into what you suggested.
Appreciate it :-;

Sekasi_Oz September 8, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Hey Mate. I’ve been lurking around your site for a few months now and taken some advice from various posts (most notably the renegade rows and incline chest tips) with very very good success. I’ve only been seriously working my body for about half of a year but I’m naturally tall and slim so results have been really swift. I do have a question for you though.

For the most part, my workout routine is something I’m really happy with. I do weights 2 times a week, swim 2 times a week and do some jogging on off days. All the muscles seem to respond well .. apart from my Biceps.

No matter how hard I lift, what technique I use or what exercises I try, I can’t for my life get my biceps sore the next day. I know, soreness doesn’t equal results but results are lagging as well. I’ve tried pretty much everything I can think of. Just seems like my biceps are immune to getting sore from microtraumas. What’s the deal here. I really don’t get it.

Jesse Regan September 9, 2009 at 12:38 am

Thanks for the information. Can anyone do it, even women or is it just for muscle men? This is new stuff, different from the celebrities’ workout routines that have been quite popular in the mainstream.

Anthony September 9, 2009 at 1:08 am

great post as always. I’m really going to start working on this ASAP!

Mindbodygoal September 9, 2009 at 7:54 am

Very good post Rusty.

Just to add to the “many ways to skin a cat” I have also found density sets to be very useful for increasing muscular endurance.

A typical example would be:-
Let’s pretend you can perform 6 reps of push ups before failing.

I would perform 3 reps of push ups, rest 20 – 30 seconds and perform another 3.

Repeat until 20+ reps have been completed.

Over time, gradually decrease the amount of rest taken between sets (a tabata timer can be useful for this) and before you know it, there is ZERO rest and the 20 reps have been performed in one hit.

Simple, but VERY effective.

Keep up the great site!

Vic Magary - GymJunkies September 9, 2009 at 8:17 am

Good stuff Rusty! Pavel puts you to be pound for pound strong.

Rahul September 9, 2009 at 10:21 am

Hey Phil, thanks for your comment. I get what you are saying and I guess given Rusty’s advice as well I will just stick to what genetics has given me……

Hey Burritokid, nice name….I can totally understand, the way I was struggling trying to do a muscle up- it’s just not a pretty sight. Again and again, I kind of get to the level of the bar and then hang there struggling to push myself over and somehow am just not able to do it…… basically with antics like these the guys at my gym think I am kind of crazy since I specially keep trying out a couple of the gymnastic type exercises……. best of luck with the one-arm pull-ups…

Rusty, I am taking your advice. As you noticed a couple of your readers have also filled in for you. I think you could start thinking about building up the community aspect of your site now, since you already have a bunch of regular readers and commenters, perhaps something like a forum would work great ie: where your readers can just carry out their own discussions and keep your blog buzzing irrespective of the subject or frequency of your posts….the discussions would also show up in search results and drive additional traffic to your site…… just my 2 cents.


Michael September 9, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Rahul & Burritokid,

I took a pretty decent while to get my first muscle-up, but now I’m doing sets of about 3-5. Here’s what helped me:

Swing back and forth a bit on the bar, and begin pulling up hard at the end of the forward part of the swing. This will make it easier to pull up at the proper angle and put the bar at chest level.

Swinging your legs up as you pull will also help you get past the sticking point between the pull-up and the dip. Once you have the bar at chest level, you can lean over with your torso and swing your legs down, pivoting over the bar and into position.

Good luck!


Jason September 10, 2009 at 2:12 am

Yeah I am pretty lean already. I have a decent 6 packs too. From the front the triceps looks good but my triceps looks irregular big from the back. Tricep is one of my strong point, it’s one of the stronger parts of my body, but I just want it to decrease in size a lil

Wolverine September 10, 2009 at 3:21 am

Hi Comrade Rusty, im a bit confused about strength training and bodyweight training combo. I normally do a bodyweight circuit of 70 incline press ups, 70 prisoner squats, 70 bombay dives, and 70 v ups, rest for 40 secs then 50 normal press ups, 50 squat thrusts, 50 crab crawals etc, i know i get the HGH rush when im done, but are my reps going to make me put on muscle, please im actually looking to loose some size, Thanks

admin September 10, 2009 at 11:04 pm


I would suggest maybe separating the two. Do one workout that is more circuit like and another that is more focused on strength and creating tension.


Yep…pushups can be done anywhere. I’m such a tall long arm freak that my knees hit the ground on those chinup bars in doorways.


Planks are great since there is very little breakdown. You can do them often…I don’t see why the method you described wouldn’t work.


Great post on pull-ups. Pavel has made a big difference on the entire fitness scene…a true trail blazer.


It isn’t just about getting lean, it is about holding a somewhat low level of body fat over a period of time.


As long as you don’t try to get bigger by increasing the calories too much, you will be fine. Add some volume to your workout and aim for a little fatigue by compressing rest periods.


Progressive overload works as well…this is just one method.


I have to be honest, I haven’t even attempted a muscle-up yet. I imagine I would struggle. I am trying to wait until I get better at pull-ups first.


That is exactly right…works on regular lifts to as well.


You can, but you will get better results if you eat a smaller meal on fasting day without drinks. This will create a nice calorie deficit. It is certainly fine to fast before your meal and go out drinking afterwards…just make sure that at least 1/2 of the time your fasting dinner is a lighter one.

Studio Element Personal Training,

Yeah…his stuff is all great.


Thanks…getting in great shape requires building your mind to a certain extent. Having the discipline and belief that you can do it is a big part of succeeding.


Try using an olympic bar for biceps…the same bar you bench press with. Get really strong at these 100+ pounds for 5 reps…and your biceps will respond. Avoid the ez curl bar, the cables, etc…Do alternate dumbbell curls using heavy weight after the olympic bar curls. Then finish with light dumbbell curls on an incline bench. Tilt the seat back to where it is a little more upright than 45%…grab light dumbbells and don’t worry about weight at all, go for the squeeze and feel of the lift. I swear this routine works very well.


It works just as well for women and the great thing is that it is a way to get stronger with little if any increase in size. It will make your muscle a bit firmer and compact…a great look for women.


I like that method…very creative way to increase strength in a movement!


I don’t want to start a forum until I hire a full-time moderator (or 2-3 moderators). I don’t like how most of the fitness forums get out of control with racists slurs, swearing, personal attacks, etc. I won’t do it until I am able to have a team in place to keep it friendly. I do think it would do very well!


If you really want it to reduce in size you may want to back off on pressing movements. If you do decide to work them…avoid high volume workouts and avoid the pump.


No…I consider resistance intervals and strength training as two separate things. This post is more about pure strength training. You won’t get bigger from doing body weight training in the way you described…you will lose weight. The higher rep interval training builds up lactic acid and creates oxygen debt before the muscle gets broken down. In fact, my next post is on that topic to a certain extent.


Wolverine September 11, 2009 at 7:56 am

Yiiiiiipeeeeeee thanks Rusty, you are the best, now im off for happy hour!!! (its friday)

bodyweightonly September 13, 2009 at 1:46 pm

I recently read this book about bodyweight conditioning by a notorious criminial, the most dangerous one in britain in fact Charles Bronson its called ‘Solitary Fitness’ about how he worked out while imprisoned, a good read man I think you should chek it out.

Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips September 13, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Hey Rusty – Good post. I used to lift around the 10-12 rep mark. When I started Uni I went to the gym with one of my flatmates who lifted quite heavy. As a result I increased the weight I was lifting, dropped to the 6-8 rep range and have never changed it since. Whilst I did notice some size gains from dropping the reps and increasing the weight I know what you mean about the fatigue. When doing higher reps I never feel as fatigued. However, when I do these lower rep ranges I feel that sometimes my performance suffers during the last few sets of the workout.

Vic Magary from October 5, 2009 at 3:28 pm

As always you’re spot on with your posts.

Keep it up Rusty!

– Vic

Joel Drapper October 12, 2009 at 11:06 am

OMG! I was doing two sets of 30 situps every day. Now I’ve just done just under 330 using this method. It’s also really helped with pressups, and pullups.

Thank you so much!

Anton October 19, 2009 at 4:06 am

Good summary, thank you very much!

I have a question, though. If we’re “greasing the groove”, i.e. training our nerve and muscle to be efficient in one movement, doesn’t it come at the cost at being less efficient in other movements?

So, when Paul was training the guys in spetznaz, wasn’t he assisting them in one specific routine, knowing what it would be (18 weighed pull-ups), instead of helping them get into a better general shape – which would take longer and require harder work?

Just want to know your opinion on this, as I am sure our body does not really work as a straightforward mechanism, and “greasing the groove” is just an analogy, which only goes so far.


Chris Maxcer November 2, 2009 at 1:41 am

Great post — plan to start using it for pull-ups right away. Typically I hit failure pretty quickly on pull-ups, which also feels like I end up struggling too much and risk injury. This approach, though, I’m guessing will help me build strength in all the little supporting muscles, too. Actually, kind of excited — leaving the keyboard to start right now!

Adam @ Order Carisoprodol Online November 9, 2009 at 1:33 am

Yes, but it will take at least a month to show results and it depends on how many pull ups and push ups you do every other day. As far as the push ups, that would be the same, but that works a different muscle group. Just don’t over do or you get muscle fatigue. If you don’t get the new tissue heal before the next work out then it will damage it and therefore get muscle fatigue. It is best to do a range of different exercises to keep your muscles challenged & work- out various different muscle groups in your body. I agree that you should also systematically increase the resistance & repetitions.

Susan December 7, 2009 at 12:12 am

I know this might be a little off topic but I know a guy who has flown that plane. I got to see one up close, kinda cool.

BTW I hate pull ups AND push ups, but I will give this another try πŸ™‚


John January 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

This ladder idea makes a lot of sense to me. Really, it’s just a combination of two of the oldest and best workout suggestions: 1) to repeatedly do *just* under your max and 2) to have a partner, both for safety and encouragement. With that combination, I can see how it works!

Ron May 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I’m going through your articles and I really like your approach. One thing that you said about strength…that it’s a skill. I work with kids and this approach is very appropriate for learning complex skills. A few minutes spread out over a day makes a huge impact. I think it’s mostly neurological but it doesn’t matter…it works.

Lagiusmeatius October 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm


There are a few things you can do to get your biceps sore. Try doing supersets of any bicep exercises, such as one arm pullups (or static holds) followed by two arm pullups, followed by rows (or bicep curls if you must, but I always prefer compound movements). This will fry your biceps and if you stay in the 10-15 rep range you will achieve soreness. If not, then you’re not lifting heavy enough weight in that rep range. I personally stay away from soreness and focus on strength rather than muscle growth — but back in the day, when muscle growth was a goal of mine, I performed supersets and they work very well!

BYO Playground November 4, 2011 at 6:35 am

This same type of training method can be applied to just getting into shape, for example sprinting is an important part of a running program. In fact the Germans use to sprint for one minute, rest one minute and continue. The would increase the length of running to expand endurance and promote speed and health.

tom watson December 10, 2011 at 4:51 am

Hi Rusty,
Following “BYO Playground’s” note, I’m presuming this principle can be applied to the glute-ham raise or renegade rows – movements which are quite hard. what do you think?

adnan February 5, 2012 at 3:04 am

hi rusty

i usually do 5×5 about 4- 5 times a day ( thats about 100-125 push ups)

i do ( 5×5) chin up every day . ( sometime twice a day)

think i am going about it the right way?? \


adnan February 5, 2012 at 3:12 am

yes and between each 5×5 i take about 2-3 hrs break.

say ( 5×5) in the afternoon

(5×5 ) in the morning


bio February 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I like doing five pushups and then five sit ups for every minute while “watching” a dvd, this gets me breathing in an half and hour, and allows me to do hundreds of reps daily, with minimal soreness or fatigue.

fight obesity December 9, 2013 at 1:24 am

Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit
my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
Regardless, just wanted to say excellent blog!

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