I recently blogged a little about my approach to eating better, and mentioned that it’s one half of my current goal of getting in shape. The second half is all about exercise and I’ll be sharing more on that soon. This post is all about a challenge I gave myself last month, to try to do 100 pushups every day for the month of August.
This year I’ve been learning about bodyweight exercise, specifically Callisthenics and how it’s possible to get fit without relying on gyms or equipment (beyond maybe a pull-up bar). As part of this I’ve been following a workout routine from the book Convict Conditioning, which is all about making the most of the kinds of exercises you can do with little equipment or even space.
A big part of this routine is push-ups. There are so many variations of push-ups, and ways they can help build a strong upper body and core, that they’re a very interesting exercise and one that can be progressed quite far (all the way to the famous one-hand push-up).
I found though that I wasn’t very good at them. I could hit about 10 diamond pushups or maybe put in about 20 normal shoulder-width push-ups in one set, but they were hard work and I wanted to be better at them.
As well as this, my pectoral muscles aren’t the most receptive to pushups, so I wanted to see if I could improve the effectiveness of the exercise and you know, actually get some kind of muscle definition there.
The idea of setting as challenge like this isn’t new. It’s fairly popular and many people have found it at the very least an interesting challenge to improve ensurance and push-up technique.
So I decided to go for it and promised myself I’d try to do 100 push-ups each day in August.
While I knew I could handle a set of 20, I had never tried 100 in one day. To prepare for the challenge I spent a week beforehand doing sets of 20 push-ups at various points through the day. By the end of each day I’d done somewhere between 80 and 150 in the day. I’d then rest a day, to let my body recover and then repeat.
A week of day-on and day-off preparation meant that my body was getting the signal that I needed it to be able to handle that kind of workload.
Thankfully stiffness wasn’t too much of an issue. I felt a little sore in my shoulders at first, but I focused on keeping my elbows in and getting the technique as tidy as I could, and that helped.
In terms of diet I made sure I was eating enough protein to let my muscles recover, and I made sure to get lots of early nights to let the body recuperate while sleeping. Don’t forget to sleep!
Initially I’d planned on doing sets of 20 push-ups through each day to slowly build up a total of 100 by the end of the day. I was talked out of this, when a friend convinced me to try to push through the 100 in one session. An approach I decided to use was “EMOM” or Every Minute on the Minute. This would mean doing 10 push-ups on the minute, then resting until the next minute, and repeating until 10 minutes had passed.
I didn’t expect to be able to do this on dasy one, so my goal then was to be able to do the full 100 push-ups in 10 minutes using this approach.
The challenge began on August 1st, in a Travel Lodge in Manchester. I’d been out for dinner the night before but dragged myself out of bed at 6:30 to begin the challenge.
The first session was tough. I had to pause the timer 4 times, and take a break of a few minutes each time to let my arms recover. In the end it took about 30 minutes.
As the days went on this time got better, with the rest period getting less. After a few days it was closer to 15 minutes, and I was excited to see the goal of 10 minutes getting closer. But then after a week, I started to feel a little sore.
Pain and stiffness
It’s important to listen to your body, especially when it comes to pain. In my case I found that my left arm was a little weaker than my right. While my shoulders and chest felt a little “warm” most of the day, it was my left elbow that started to feel a little pained.
I made a point of putting in longer warm-ups, with lots of waving arms around in circles and wall-standing pushups. This definitely helped and my arm adapted and got less sore. If it had got worse I would have stopped, as it’s not good to push through an injury.
In the end I think it was a muscle pain rather than tendons, as it felt like a dull ache just above my elbow where the tricep connects.
Having completed the month I still feel a little weaker in that arm. I do need to look into balancing things out as I move forward.
Hitting goal #1
By day 12 I’d hit my goal. Every morning I would get up at 6:15, have a light breakfast and coffee, do a warm up and then the 100 push-ups. By day 12 I was able to get through the entire 100 without pausing the timer, doing 10 every minute. Success!
I wasn’t satisfied with that though. A criticism of this sort of challenge is how doing the same thing every day will result in little to no improvement. Our bodies respond best to progression, where we don’t just do the same thing but make it more challenging over time.
To keep the challenge moving along I moved the target to 5 minutes. This way I’d need to reduce my rest times further as well as get more reps into each set. Goal #2 was then to try to get 100 push-ups done in 5 minutes.
Stretch goal: Hitting 5 minutes
I honestly didn’t expect to hit the second goal, but it was a helpful target that kept me progressing. Pushing through 20 in each of the first 2 minutes brought it down to 8 minutes. Then I progressed to doing 40 push-ups in the first minute, saving even more time.
I found I could cut some time from the resting by staying in the plank position between some of the sets, so that I was ready to get back into the next 10 reps sooner.
It wasn’t an easy progression but I did find each day the time got less, even when I felt like I wasn’t putting in any extra effort each day. My body responded to the goal and helped me get closer each day.
In the end I managed to get my time down to 5 minutes, 30 seconds. Not quite hitting the target but I’m pleased with that. I don’t really see the need to chase this goal though, I’d like to focus on strength and technique over speed for now.
People have been asking if there have been any visible changes. I’m pleased to report that yes, I definitely see some improvement to my shoulders, chest and the backs of my upper arms.
This photo shows quite well some of the areas that improved. Having better triceps makes the arms look thicker, and there’s better definition of the muscles around the shoulders and chest.
I wouldn’t really rely on a challenge like this for muscle growth though. It’s generally better to have a longer plan with recovery days and progressively making the exercises tougher to encourage your muscles to keep up.
Still, it’s neat to see some progress within just one month.
Along the way I did a few things to stay motivated. One was setting up a WhatsApp group with a couple of sporty friends to keep them informed on my progress, ask questions and get feedback on the sore elbow. Another thing was making the time to tweet and update Facebook regularly with progress. Having other people know what I was doing helped me feel like I was accountable and it was easier to keep up the routine.
Having a daily routine helped me also. I’d be up well before the rest of the family and get it done before preparing for my work day. This was easier than trying to do the push-ups at the end of a busy day.
In the end I’m delighted with the progress this challenge has brought. I’m looking and feeling stronger than before I started, and I’m looking forward to progressing my push-ups to the next level.
A big goal was to be ready to start doing more advanced push-ups. Since it’s so important to be always progressing, my plan going forward is to keep doing push-ups in some form regularly, but progress them with harder variations rather than chasing repetitions.
In the meantime I’m taking a few days off to let my shoulders recover before taking on anything new.
I hope you find this helpful! If you have any questions, or are feeling inspired to take on a fitness challenge, hit me up on twitter. I’d love to hear from you.