Increasing the number of push-ups you can do will require a couple of different approaches. First and foremost, continuing to practice push-ups with good form is necessary so that you can build your strength and skill in this important movement. So in the time remaining before your skills test, be sure to practice push-ups several days a week to see how you are progressing toward your goal. Second, it’s important to understand that a push-up is essentially a whole-body exercise that requires not only upper-body strength, but also a certain level of strength and stability in the muscles that make up the core (e.g., abdominals, back, shoulder girdle, and hips). Third, if you’re stuck at a certain number of push-ups, consider developing strength through weight-lifting exercises, which will increase the muscle mass in your upper body.
The following list will help you plan your push-up program accordingly:
• Each week, commit to performing 2 more repetitions of push-ups during a set than the week before. Currently, you’re performing 10 push-ups at a time, so this week try to do 12 push-ups, the following week commit to doing 14 repetitions, and so on. Even if you have to rest briefly during your set to achieve the total number of goal repetitions, perform your weekly goal. In 5 weeks time, you should be able to reach your goal of a set of 21 uninterrupted push-ups. Keep in mind that you will be timed, so practice your push-ups at a pace that will allow you complete 21 push-ups within one minute. Practice this method 2 to 3 non-consecutive days per week.
• To build core strength, which will allow to you perform the push-ups more efficiently (that is, with greater ease), incorporate exercises that target the trunk and that put the body in the same type of plank position as the push-up. For example, perform the prone plank and side bridge exercises, working up to holding each position for 60 seconds (the time required for your push-up skills test). Do these exercises on alternating days when you are not practicing push-ups.
• To build upper body strength in the pushing movement, perform the bench press exercise with either dumbbells or a barbell. Choose a weight that is moderately heavy that feels very challenging at about 8 repetitions. Perform three sets of 8–12 repetitions of the bench press on alternating days when you are not practicing push-ups (you can do this on the same days you do the core routine).
• Finally, be sure to include plenty of stretching, especially for the upper body, at the conclusion of your push-up specific workouts. And, if you’re not doing this already, I recommend incorporating upper back exercises (such as one-arm rows) on the same days you perform bench press so that you avoid creating a muscle imbalance while preparing for your skills test.
There are many ways to approach increasing your ability to perform push-ups—this program is just one path. Considering the limited time available to reach your goal, and the fact that you will have other competencies to achieve in addition to push-ups during your skills test, I believe this approach will get you where you need to be. Best of luck!