There’s a reason military sergeants demand push-ups as a form of punishment. They are effing hard, can knock even the fittest off their feet – okay, toes – and seem to be designed to reveal weakness.
So much so that many women automatically drop to their knees before attempting their first rep. And those are the ones who are winning – others fake an injury or suddenly need a really long drink of water. (We’ve all been there...) But, push-ups are also one of the all-stars of exercise, no question. They’re mega-efficient multitaskers, working your whole body in every rep. So, we wondered, could committing to a push-up streak finally change our feelings toward this old-school move, all while chiselling our muscles? There’s only one way to find out. Challenge, accepted.
Tony Gentilcore – a certified strength and conditioning specialist who works with top athletes – says: “A lot of people think the best way to measure progress is through brute strength – where you test how much weight you can possibly move for one rep – but a far better gauge of progress is whether you’re less fatigued after completing the same amount of work.”
Modified knees-down push-ups are out of the question; they don’t build strength in the full range of up-down motion, so they’re no help for the purpose of this challenge. But no need for heaps of reps anyway because good news: this challenge calls for just 10 push-ups each day.
“Ten is the minimal effective and sustainable dose,” says Gentilcore – meaning it’s just enough to induce noticeable changes in upper-body strength and appearance without overloading you to the point of quitting. Even then, “take as long as you need – or split them up over the day – to make sure you’re completing high-quality reps,” he says.
And if your first set takes several minutes? Don’t sweat it – you’ll be surprised by how quickly you improve. “The more you do something, the better you get at it because you’re improving communication between your neurons and muscles,” explains Gentilcore.
Ready to get started? Make sure your movement is strict – that you’re off your knees and getting your chest low. Then follow this tried-and-tested advice to nail killer form and avoid form killers.
1. Try to get your hands directly in line with your shoulders. For max triceps toning, bring your arms closer together.
2. Another triceps booster: try to get your elbows close to your body – or at least within Gentilcore’s 45-degree sweet spot. They shouldn’t be sticking out in line with your shoulders.
3. Brace your tummy muscles hard – your core is so important for perfecting the push-up. If your hips are sagging like you’re humping the ground, you need to brace harder.
4. What we said about your tummy muscles? Same goes for your glutes – squeeze ’em. This muscle activation is key for stability, taking pressure off your lower back and keeping your bum from sticking up in the air.
5. Dropping your head is a common faux pas. Look at a spot on the ground in front of you and think chin, not nose, to the floor.
6. Separating your legs will make the move easier in the beginning, but work towards keeping them together for more of a challenge and all of the gains.
And the results are…
As tested by fitness writer Marissa Gainsbourg.
“My go-to excuse when push-ups come up in a training session? ‘I’m too sore’ or ‘My elbow hurts!’ So when I heard of this challenge, I was ready to rid myself of my own cop-outs. On day one, it took me five minutes (and several breaks) to get through 10 polished, chest-to-the-floor reps. By day 15, it took me under three minutes. On day 30, it took me just 27 seconds. But what did I see after the month? Noticeably more sculpted shoulders – to the point that my tops started to fit higher up on my chest – and slightly more pronounced biceps and triceps. I also saw a very welcome bonus: flatter abs. And here’s the best change: when I walked into my HIIT class one week post-challenge and had to crank out 30 push-ups, I didn’t throw my gloves in the instructor’s face. I felt competent and confident – perhaps that’s why 15 days later, I’m still going strong.”