Welcome to the third installment of the 30-Day Challenge – now get down and give us 20!
That’s right, we’re hitting the deck and doing pushups in March, day after day until those pecs, deltoids, triceps and biceps are popping.
Despite all of the fancy exercise machines and developments in exercise science, experts agree that the basic pushup is still at the top of the heap when it comes to simplicity and effectiveness.
They’re done at summer camp. People do them in basic training. And top athletes still rely on pushups because, unlike the bench press, they engage the core muscles that are so vital for stabilizing the body in all kinds of sports.
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In January, we focused on dropping a few pounds and getting your nutritional habits dialed in. In February, we encouraged you to lace up your sneakers, get outside and walk for 10,000 steps a day. Now, we’re going to build some strength and muscle.
“Your body basically does three movements – it squats, it pushes and it pulls,” said Jaime Llopis, owner of Crossfit Sacramento. “What’s the favorite exercise of teenage boys? The bench press. But it requires no core strength. The pushup is a much better exercise because you have to engage the core in order to do the pushup in the plank position.”
Pushups might be too challenging for some of you, but don’t worry. There are all kinds of variations available. To see some of them, check out our demonstration video that accompanies this story online.
You can make the pushup easier by standing and, say, pushing yourself away from a desk or counter. You can make it tougher by elevating your feet. And if you graduate to the level of the super-fit, you can even take a stab at a handstand push. At that point, consider trying out for the Olympics!
Doing pushups every day also might be too strenuous for some. As an experiment to prepare for this month’s story, I tackled my own 30-Day Challenge using pull-ups as my exercise. After 10 days or so of doing 30 pull-ups a day, I found that my body (and mind) needed a day off. That’s right: Taking a rest day shouldn’t be considered a failure.
While body-weight exercises are more doable on consecutive days, in traditional strength training routines it’s common not to work the same muscles every day. During my pull-up challenge, I noticed I actually had improved my pull-up count after fully resting for 48 hours. I wound up taking three full days off over 30 days and doing 800 pull-ups. I noticed significant improvement in my strength and muscular endurance.
For the pushup challenge, there are several ways you can tackle them. It’s popular these days to pick a number – 50, 100 or even 200 – and try to do that number every day for 30 days, breaking them up into various sets and reps that suit your strength levels. For instance, you could do 10 sets of 10 repetitions while watching television at night, resting enough so you can complete the proper number of reps without exhausting yourself.
You can also work on building up your number of daily pushups throughout the month – starting with 30, for example, and working your way up to, say, 100 daily. To do that, the latest studies show it is best to push yourself to failure, rest for a minute or two, then do more until you are unable to do another.
In fact, a study led by professor Stuart Phillips at McMaster University in Canada shows that using lighter weights is as effective as heavy weights to build muscle. The key is to push yourself to the point where you can’t possibly do another rep. That’s good news for people who don’t want to lift heavy weights, or choose not to lift weights at all. Your body weight is often all you need to build muscle.
Llopis said people should consider several rep and set ranges: five sets of five reps, four sets of eight, three sets of 10 and one set of 15. Try for a total of 20-30 challenging reps per day. To hit these numbers, you may have to modify your pushup to make it harder or easier.
“I think the goal could be to be able to do a set of pushups for max reps. They say that if you can do 50 perfect pushups, you should be able to bench press 300 pounds,” Llopis said.
What’s a perfect pushup? Maintaining a straight plank position with your body, lowering yourself until your chest gently touches the ground, then pushing up until your arms are straight.
How do you know what kind of pushup you should start with as you embark on this 30-Day Challenge? Llopis says to aim for 10 repetitions. If you can’t do five standard pushups, go to your knees. If you can’t complete five on your knees, stand and lean your hands against a desk or kitchen counter. When you get your numbers up, advance to something harder.
Llopis cautions that you shouldn’t rely on pushing movements alone. Throw in some pulling, too. A rowing machine, for instance. Or a bent-over row (knees slightly bent, torso tilting forward) with weights, whether it’s a barbell or a six-pack of beer. The pushup challenge is not meant to be your entire fitness routine. Think of it as the start – or more likely, a restart – of your strength and fitness journey.
Are you eager to pushup your way to new strength gains? We want to hear from you as you tackle your own pushup challenge. Send us an email and tell us what pushups have done for you.