The Push Up "Ladder"

courtesy of Firefighter's Workout Book
While Push-ups might not be a part of the FDNY entrance exam, mastering the Push-up will serve any new recruit. The FDNY Fire Academy starts with 30 push-ups as part of its testing process, but Push-ups are also big part of the probies daily PT (every day starts with 90 minutes of exercise), as well as continuous penance for a lesson gone wrong ("get down and give me 20").

The Push-Up Ladder Drill (courtesy KBNY)

Over the years, we've found that one of the best ways to exponentially grow your push-up numbers is through a process we call the Push-Up Ladder Drill.

Here's how it works.

Determine your Push-up max by doing a set to failure, or where good technique breaks down. Divide that number in half, but limit to ten no matter how many push-ups you can do. This will be the number of reps your perform in set one. Sets will be done in descending order, down from set one. The length of rest between each set should be as long as the set itself, and will determine the overall intensity of the set. You should ideally rest for a slow count of ten (longer if necessary) after set one, a slow count of nine after set two, etc. I suggest you take it easy on the first run through, just to get the flow of the exercise.

Beginners should begin the drill at the appropriate set in Phase One (determined by half of max test-set). If you can do 20 or more, slow, controlled, perfect push-ups, start at ten reps. If not, work up to ten as your first set and add Phase Two one set at a time, but only after Phase One can be completed with good technique and minimal rest. We regularly put our members through the Push-Up Ladder Drill at our GYM on Long Island, but it's also something you can do on your own.

PHASE ONE / beginner to intermediate 
Set One: 10
Set Two: 9
Set Three: 8
Set Four: 7
Set Five: 6
Set Six: 5
Set Seven: 4
Set Eight: 3
Set Nine: 2
Set Ten: 1

PHASE TWO / intermediate to advanced
Set Eleven: 2
Set Twelve: 3
Set Thirteen: 4
Set Fourteen: 5
Set Fifteen: 6
Set Sixteen: 7
Set Seventeen: 8
Set Eighteen: 9
Set Nineteen: 10

If working with a partner, alternate as quickly as possible. One partner rests, while one is moving. If working alone, re-count your previous set rep total while resting. For example, perform ten push-ups, rest to a slow count of ten or as long as it took to do the ten push-ups, perform nine push-ups rest to a slow count of nine. The Push-Up Ladder Drill can be performed anywhere from once (beginner) to five (advanced) days per week. Beginners should limit ladder drills to a maximum of three times weekly.  For more workouts like these, go to