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Small Space, Little Time—Big Gains, Big Time

Danny Kavadlo Plyo push-up

I get a lot of questions from a lot of readers.

"Danny, what program should I do?"

"Danny, what’s the best exercise?"

"Danny, how do I get strong?"

It’s difficult to answer many of these questions, as there are many "right" answers to each. (Not to mention the fact that specific responses will vary greatly from individual to individual.) That said, there is one question that I get asked more frequently than almost anything else, which, fortunately, can be answered with some broad, simple strokes:

"Danny, how do I make progress if I can’t find the time to train?"

Basically, the inquirer is on the hunt for how we can get the biggest strength "bang" for our proverbial buck when we feel that our schedule is already packed. You know what I’m saying; whether it’s work, family commitments or any other aspect of life that makes you feel restricted, we all have moments when we feel like there is "no time" to train.

Well, first things first: we all have the time. We just have to make it.

Below is a list of methods for increasing your push-up reps when time and space are limited. You can do these in your living room, on the street, even on your office floor if you had to! (No space? No problem!) What follows is the real deal. This is true, actionable advice for upping your game. No excuses.

The Reason Why

Let’s face it; we all want to get stronger. I will be the first to admit that some days don’t go as planned and we sometimes have to deviate from our preplanned program. However we can still get a workout, even when we feel the odds are stacked against us. Simply working on push-ups consistently is always better than doing nothing at all. Why push-ups? The push-up is in many ways the perfect upper body exercise, particularly when there are time/space restrictions. Push-ups are a single movement that works your chest, arms, shoulders, even your abs. Further they require no equipment whatsoever… not even a pull-up bar. Just you and the ground beneath you! Honest, simple and pure.

Danny Kavadlo Push-up
Scale It

One of the great things about the push-up is that it’s completely scalable. You can make infinite adjustments such as narrowing (or widening) the distance between your hands, thereby altering the emphasis between triceps and chest. Another option is to position your hands higher or lower on your body to affect the weight-to-limb ratio. If you really want to make big gains in small space, you can try to get airborne with some explosive power!

By the same token, push-ups can be regressed when necessary by performing the exercise on your knees (instead of your toes) or with your feet apart, for example. Both of these techniques shorten the length of the body to make the push-up more mechanically forgiving.

Danny Kavadlo Push-up Kneeling
Strength In Numbers

Here are a few templates you can follow to get those precious reps in through out the day.

-Sets of 20, ten times a day: Twenty push-ups can be performed relatively quickly. If you can squeeze in ten sets throughout the course of the day, you will have completed two hundred reps without too much effort at any given time. This is a great way to get it in on a busy day. Heck, you can probably even bang out your first two sets before brushing your teeth each morning!

-Sets of 30, 7 times: Slightly more concentrated than the previous suggestion, you will most likely feel greater muscular soreness after each set with this program… and also make greater gains!

-Sets of 50, 3 to 4 times: Now we’re getting somewhere. Performing fifty push-ups in and of itself is an excellent strength challenge, so make sure you’re already good at push-ups before trying to tame this beast!

-Sets to failure, 2 to 3 times: Trust me; this works. Squeezing out those extra reps and truly going to failure is a sure-fire way to build strength, skill and size. It’s important not to let your form suffer so keep the body rigid and perform the full range of motion on every repetition. Time to tear it up!
Danny Kavadlo Push-up Coney Island

Priming The Pump

It doesn’t have to be as organized as the above examples. You can also choose to simply "get it in where you can fit it in". In other words, just do a set whenever you have a chance. Sure this is less formal than the previous pre-planned programs, but it will still ensure that you get a workout today rather than waiting until tomorrow. Try 50 push-ups for your first set this morning, 30 for your second set this afternoon. Then 25 for your third and 15 for as many more sets as you can.

Another helpful strategy is to make a goal per day, instead of a goal per set. Sometimes declaring "I’m doing 200 push-ups today!" is a great method (provided you actually follow through with it). Do those 200 reps in as many sets throughout the day as it takes. Just get ‘em in and keep ‘em clean!

In Conclusion

There are many methods of progressing your push and making incredible strength gains. This is just the tip of the iceberg. True strength is acquired over time, with patience, intensity, consistency and hard work. Stay focused and train hard, my friends. Keep the dream alive!

Danny Kavadlo Push-up Wide Feet

Strength Rules Book Cover thumbnailDanny Kavadlo is one of the world’s foremost authorities on calisthenics, nutrition and personal training. He is the author of the Dragon Door titles: Strength Rules, Diamond-Cut Abs and Everybody Needs Training. Danny is known for his minimalist philosophy, simple approach and motivational gifts.

When not training clients in his native New York City, Danny travels the world as a Master Instructor for Dragon Door’s internationally acclaimed Progressive Calisthenics Certification. He has been featured in the
NY Times, TRAIN, Men’s Fitness and is a regular contributor to Learn more about Danny at