Around the start of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown in March, I decided to start doing 100 push-ups a day to maintain my strength and fitness without the gym, and I ultimately decided to complete 100 days.
I broke my daily 100 up into sets of 10, done on the hour every hour, but this was a lot harder to stick to at weekends.
I started noticing physical change about halfway through, and by the time I completed the challenge last week, I couldn’t believe how much more defined my upper body was looking.
The hardest part of the challenge ended up being mental rather than physical, although I have got really good at push-ups now.
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Cast your mind back to mid-March. The world was a very different place.
Here in the UK, we were about to go into lockdown and, after the Insider Inc. London office put all employees on remote working, I’d just moved back to my parents’ house in the countryside, naively thinking I’d be there for about a week.
The gyms closed, and it quickly became clear they would not be reopening any time soon. So I decided to set myself a fitness challenge, starting March 25: 100 push-ups a day. Why not?
I didn’t initially set myself an end date, optimistically thinking perhaps I’d do it until the gyms reopened after a month or so (they are still shut).
But as the UK lockdown continued, I decided I might as well commit and go big: 100 push-ups a day for 100 days. 10,000 push-ups!
Reader, I’ve completed it.
It was challenging in so many surprising ways, and I’m shocked by how much the experiment changed my physique. But I’m really glad I did it.
Here’s how I got on.
Push-ups are the perfect lockdown exercise
As Insider’s fitness and nutrition columnist, it’s no secret that I love working out, and my favorite way to do that is strength training.
I like to lift really heavy weights, so I wasn’t massively thrilled at the prospect of not being able to go to the gym.
However, one movement I very rarely did was push-ups. I’d do them when an instructor made me in a group workout class, but never by choice.
I could do 10 on a good day, but only with wide hand positioning and realistically I didn’t lower my body far enough to the ground. Essentially, my push-up technique was not excellent.
So it struck me that push-ups were the perfect lockdown move for me to master: They require no equipment, very little space, and, as a movement I rarely performed, they would be a new training stimulus for my body, ensuring I continued to challenge my muscles despite being unable to do my usual favorite moves like heavy deadlifts, pull-ups, and squats.
My inspiration for the challenge was two-fold. Firstly, I’d been tagged in the “push-up challenge” on social media — remember that? When everyone filmed themselves doing 10 push-ups and then tagged their friends to do the same? Seems like a lifetime ago.
And secondly, I saw online fitness and fat loss coach Jordan Syatt had decided to do a whopping 300 push-ups a day for 30 days.
“Push-ups are arguably the most readily available and easily modifiable upper body exercise anyone can do,” Syatt told Insider.
300 definitely was not a number I was going to attempt. But 100? That would be challenging, but achievable, I thought. So that’s what I did.
I broke the 100 down into 10 sets of 10 over the course of the day
Instead of trying to do 100 push-ups in one go (definitely not going to happen), I decided I’d break them up into sets of 10, which sounded a lot more manageable.
My plan was to do 10 on the hour every hour, doing my first set at 9 a.m. and my last at 6 p.m.
I knew that I needed structure and to make the push-ups part of my daily routine, plus I figured it would be good to have a reason to get up from my desk every hour (while only taking about 30 seconds).
I could do sets of 10, this would be fine, I thought.
The first few days were painful
On March 25, I completed my first day of 100 push-ups. It was hard. And it was only going to get harder.
Going from 0 push-ups a day to 100 push-ups a day was certainly a shock to my body.
On day two, I was feeling sore in my shoulders, chest, and back, and by 6 p.m., I just couldn’t — I did the final set of the day on my knees. And it was still hard.
Over the first few days, I actually did a few sets on my knees because my body was aching and my technique was slipping.
Much like with normal lifting, you should always prioritize technique over load, lowering your weights if your form isn’t on point, and this is nothing to be ashamed of.
By the fifth day, I was really feeling it — my biceps, triceps, back, shoulders, and all over my upper body really — but I have to say, it felt good.
Normally when I have bad DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the day after a workout, I rest (or at least don’t train the sore body parts so they can recover), but this wasn’t an option with my push-up challenge.
Instead, I kept changing my hand position to work slightly different muscles, and on the advice of Syatt, I did 10-15 pull-aparts with a resistance band after each set of push-ups.
Band pull-aparts after each set of push-ups kept my body balanced
“Band pull-aparts are really important because they train the exact opposite muscles,” Syatt told Insider.
“Push-ups tend to train your pecs, the front of your shoulders, and your triceps.”
The pecs pull your shoulders together, so if you do a lot of push-ups, you’re likely to end up with a hunched over posture, Syatt explained.
“You want to balance that out by training the opposite muscles: the middle of your back, the rhomboids, your rear delts, the things that keep you more upright and pull your shoulders back.
“If you’re only doing one side, the other side is going to get weaker and it’s going to end up getting overpowered which can lead to some injuries, shoulder impingement, or just postural issues or neck pain.”
Band pull-aparts are simply a good way to balance the pushing movement with a pulling movement. So that’s what I did (although less religiously as the 100 days went on).
Weekends and abnormal days were a nightmare
Having a plan and a structure was easy to follow during the week, and it also made time go super quickly. Every hour, I found myself thinking, “Geez, how is it time to do push-ups again already?”
Weekends, however, were, well, a nightmare.
Practically every weekend, I would forget about my push-ups until late morning or noon, then suddenly have to play catch-up, and that was not fun.
On those days, I’d do a few sets of 15, which I suppose was actually a way of increasing the challenge.
Syatt had stressed the importance of not doing any sets to failure though, because you’ll burn out, so I never did more than 15.
As lockdown restrictions started to lift and I started making actual plans to see friends in a socially distant manner rather than just staying at home all day, it also got harder to maintain my 100 push-ups a day, and I had to plan in advance.
On a day where I was going to be out at a picnic from 1 p.m. until the evening, for example, I had to make sure I could get 100 done in the morning.
I never forgot how many push-ups I’d done on weekdays, but on weekends when I wasn’t sticking to my plan, it was a lot harder to keep count.
After a month, they started to feel easier physically — but not easy
I kept waiting for the push-ups to start feeling easy. But they never did.
They did, however, eventually start feeling easier, physically at least.
It was awesome to feel my muscles being worked in different ways, and actually really satisfying to feel that yes, my body was adapting to the training stimulus.
I considered making the challenge harder, say, by always doing sets of 15, putting a weighted plate on my back, or elevating my feet, but I decided not to, because quite frankly what I was doing wasn’t exactly easy.
100 push-ups a day in sets of 10 was still challenging, so I carried on.
I missed a couple of days due to illness, but made up for them
There were a couple of days during the 100 day period where I wasn’t able to complete my 100.
On one day, for example, I’d only done 30 when I came down with a migraine and had to spend the rest of the day in bed.
Let me tell you, migraines and push-ups do not mix.
I didn’t panic though, because I knew, on the whole, I was making up for it.
The reason for this is that I usually do my workouts in the evening, and when I would decide to do an Instagram Live strength session or a workout on the Fiit app, they would often, unbeknownst to me, include a few sets of push-ups.
Ergo, I’d end up doing more than 100 on those days.
After 50 days, I could really see changes in my upper body
About half-way through the challenge, I was really starting to see a change in the appearance of my upper body.
I could see muscles that I’d never seen before, namely my anterior deltoids (the front of the shoulder).
I hadn’t taken on my push-up challenge to change my appearance, but I also wasn’t complaining.
Looking back, I realize I’d never done much training for those muscles, hence why they responded so well.
When I went back to London briefly in mid-June, I put on a T-shirt I hadn’t worn for months, and I could see it fit differently as a result of my newly popping delts. I was here for it.
I also realized that I was giving my core a lot of extra training too — every time you perform a push-up, you have to engage your midsection.
On one day I did a set straight after completing a core workout, and wow, I could really feel how much push-ups were working my abs too.
It ended up being more of a mental than a physical challenge
As the 100 days wore on, the challenge became more mental than physical.
I could do 100 push-ups. My body could cope. I just didn’t want to do it any more.
By the final week, I really hated push-ups.
But I reminded myself that one of the reasons I wanted to complete the challenge was to make me be disciplined.
Syatt had a similar experience with his 300 a day.
“The hardest part was actually doing it,” he said. “It wasn’t the muscle soreness, it was simply knowing that I had to do it. Every day.
“Especially as it went on, I would procrastinate and procrastinate and procrastinate and put my push-ups off until later and later, when at the start I’d do them early in the day because I was excited.”
I definitely found that mentally, the push-ups got harder and harder as the novelty wore off. But I pushed through, if you’ll pardon the pun.
I can’t believe how much my physique has changed
Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting to see much change in my physique from this challenge because I know aesthetic change takes an incredibly long time.
So I’m both surprised and delighted that my body has changed — and I can’t believe how much.
It might not be hugely noticeable in pictures, but my upper body looks more defined than it ever has, and I have never seen my delts pop like they do now.
I feel pretty hench, and I love it.
To be fair, I have also lost some weight, around 7 pounds, during lockdown, so my decreasing body fat levels have contributed to my muscles looking more defined.
I’m going to carry on doing push-ups, but not 100 a day
Having completed my challenge last week, I feel torn.
On the one hand, I love how my body has changed, and quite frankly it feels awesome to be, well, really good at push-ups now.
But on the other hand, I hated doing 100 push-ups a day by the end, and the final week or so was very hard mentally.
Since finishing my 100 days, it has been an absolute joy not to have to do push-ups every hour, although I instinctively find myself looking at the clock because I’m so used to checking when I need to do my next set.
I’m going to carry on doing some push-ups every day, because they’re good for me, whether as part of a workout or just at random intervals in the day, say, when my tea is brewing.
But I am absolutely not going to be doing 100 a day. Not until the next pandemic puts us all on lockdown anyway.
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