The Pushup Challenge
What I’ve Learned Leading a Group of Guys To Do 100 Pushups a Day.
I can’t remember exactly what motivated me to first start a pushup challenge. Maybe I was bored and just wanted a new challenge to motivate me? Maybe I wanted more strength and was tired of lifting at the gym? I really don’t remember.
But I remember floating the idea to a bunch of guy friends of mine, about 15 guys in total. Most of the guys in the group ignored my suggestion, just didn’t respond one way or the other. I found that interesting at the time. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I wonder why they don’t respond yes or no, do they find the idea of challenging oneself to a fitness regimen so preposterous that it’s not even worthy of a response?” Other possible explanations were “Maybe they don’t think they can even do pushups and are embarrassed to admit it to other guys?” But who knows really, perhaps there were 10 different reasons among 10 different guys.
Three guys signed on to the challenge (besides me) and for that I was grateful. A part of me knew that committing to do a certain number of pushups each day for a month was going to be a lot easier if there were a group of guys I could feel accountable to for my results. The challenge began July 7, 2018 and was to run for 30 days exactly.
One of the parameters of the “Pushup Challenge,” as I called it, was that each guy could set his own daily goal. I picked 100 per day at random, not sure if that was too much or too little, just because it seemed like a good round number. The other guys picked different goals based on their own expectations of what they could do.
I remember distinctly the first time I got down on the ground and started a set. Man, that was hard. The whole thing just felt so difficult. I remember being able to grunt out 10 pushups and thinking to myself, “Alan, you’re not that strong, what’s up with that?” But I also thought, “OK, this is doable. I just need to do 10 sets of 10 pushups each day, I can handle that.”
I ordered the “Perfect Pushup device I had seen advertised thinking that if I spend $30 on some equipment, I’ll feel more obligated to see this through and not give up too early. Which kind of worked actually. Having those handles sitting out on my living room floor definitely spoke to me on a gut level.
So here’s how my first 10 days went: I was able to hit my 100 pushups/day goal every day and I even exceeded it several times. It felt good. My pecs were feeling sore but the soreness went away soon after I started doing more pushups each day.
At around Day Ten I thought to myself “Hmmm, I wonder how many pushups I can really do in a day?” I knew that the 100 goal was not a magic number, it was just something I picked at random. So I started experimenting with just doing more and more. Here’s how the next 10 days looked:
One strategy I adopted was to set a timer on my phone for 60 minutes. Every time it would go off, I would step out of my office into an empty conference room, would drop and do 20 pushups. Without thinking about it, just doing it. As soon as the timer would ring I would hit the “reset” button so the cycle could continue. The goal was to put the process on autopilot so I didn’t have to think about it anymore. This strategy really worked and continues to work for me to this day.
My wife found this whole process quite annoying and would often roll her eyes in disbelief that when that timer went off, even if we were in the middle of dinner, I would drop and do 20. I was doing them in the playground with my kids, even on the street while walking somewhere. It did seem a little obsessive, I have to admit, but it was working for me. One of the great things about pushups is that you can literally do them anywhere and anytime and they cost zero money to do. It’s the perfect exercise. And luckily for me I have the gene of not caring what anyone thinks about me, and that’s very helpful for something like this.
Happily, I noticed that my pecs were getting firm and tight, and so were my biceps (which I didn’t expect), my triceps (which I did expect) and my arms and shoulders in general.
The other guys in my group were not having as much success as I was. Two of them suffered from some physical ailments which were severely getting in their way. One guy had leg and back issues, the other chest issues. I didn’t want to push them to injuring themselves so I didn’t say anything, just let them do what they saw fit. But I do remember thinking at the time “Why do so many young guys have physical ailments, something is amiss here?” The fourth guy was fizzling out for other reasons, I’m not sure which, but he just wasn’t delivering the numbers. It wasn’t my place to call him out or egg him on, I wasn’t anyone’s coach or trainer. I just tried to communicate positivity and motivation to the group in the hope that it would be contagious.
Here were my overall results:
I wanted to go out with a bang, so on Day 30 I focused my mind (and my iPhone timer) and cranked out my record 300 pushups that day. Wow, that felt great, like a major accomplishment!
The challenge ended, we four guys went our separate ways, pushup wise, and all was well. My wife had to admit, reluctantly I suspect, that “You are really looking good lately.” And it’s true. I was looking good. And feeling good, too. My posture was better, I was holding my head up straighter, my waist was trimmer, clothing fit better, I was feeling more energetic, more confident and even, dare I say, happier. There were lots of benefits which arose from simply doing one exercise over and over again.
Over the next few months I tried to continue with the pushups, but it was a lot harder for me when I was doing it alone, without a group of guys to connect with. I did some random pushups once in a while, but nothing near what I was doing during the challenge.
By mid-November I decided to start another challenge. I floated the idea to the same group of 15 guys as I did in July, and the same 3 guys signed on again. This challenge was to last from November 17th until the end of the year.
Here were my results for this challenge:
I got sick in the middle of this challenge and had 5 days of zero pushups, but I also had 3 days of 300 pushups and 2 days of 400 pushups, and averaged 160 per day overall, even with those zero days really pulling down my average.
Two other guys in the group also improved on their results and stuck with the challenge for the entire time, and one fizzled out after about 12 days because of his chest issues.
When this challenge ended, I knew from experience that I had to immediately continue with a new challenge and not let it lapse, like I had done last time. Once again, I floated the idea to the same group of 15 guys and this time 6 guys besides me signed on, so there would be 7 of us. It was the same 3 guys as the first two challenges plus 3 new guys. “This is catching on,” I thought. Or maybe it’s just the time of the year for New Year’s Resolutions, but either way who cares, there are 7 of us now.
As of the date of this writing, we are 12 days into the January “2019 Challenge.” My numbers are looking good and I’m averaging 206/day so far.
I’ve added a new spin to this whole challenge, which is that I’ve given up sugar completely and am eating a whole lot more healthfully. This is one of my New Year’s Resolutions and it’s really working so far.
After about 7 days of no sugar the craving for sweets has completely vanished and I don’t even want them anymore. No cookies, no cakes, no ice cream, no chocolate, nothing. Just no desire for that stuff anymore. I’m noticing my belly is looking and feeling flatter and I’m really happy with the new diet overall.
I’m still using my timer system during the day at work, and it’s still proving to be the foundation of my success formula. On the weekends I will just focus and crank out about 200 pushups in a 20 or 30 minute period, just to get them out of the way for the day so I can be with my family in a more normal, less obsessive fashion.
Here’s what I’ve learned overall:
- I can do a lot more pushups than I ever though I could do;
- This simple exercise has tons of benefits, both physical as well as psychological;
- It’s a great and simple tool for bonding a bunch of guys with a common goal that everyone can relate to.
- Looks matter; when I look and feel strong, I feel more confident, capable and happy.
- Keeping track day to day makes a big difference
If anyone reading this essay feels inspired, feel free to start you own “Pushup Challenge” with friends. There are no fees or dues and all you need is a floor.
On my last birthday, I turned 56 and decided to attempt to do 56 pushups in one set. I had never done more than 30, so 56 was going to be a real challenge for me. I had one of the guys in my office video me trying and I vowed to post the video to Youtube, whether or not I succeeded.
Here’s that VIDEO
Note: Why was I wearing a yellow vest, you might ask? Of course because of my solidarity with the French protestors, Gilets Jaunes, what else?