In college, I had a friend who was a little overweight — let’s call him Mike. Senior year, Mike returned to school after summer break in surprisingly good shape. Of course, I had to ask him about his transformation, having gained a good 15 to 20 pounds myself since I quit being a collegiate athlete a couple of years earlier. “I started doing a lot of push-ups,” he explained. “I was doing like 10 per day at the start of summer, and now I’m doing 50, twice a day. That’s it.”
Probably because he was a total stoner, I couldn’t believe that he’d acquired the dedication to knock out all those push-ups every day. But I was also amazed by how simple the whole thing sounded — the way that trying to crack the effective-workout code often isn’t.
In the ensuing 14 years since graduating, I’ve often thought about trying the “100 push-ups” routine myself. These days, though — if I’m being completely honest — I could maybe do 10 before collapsing into mush. And so, I have no idea how I’d get to 100 within a couple of months. It’s impossible, right?
Well, the first thing to consider is what, exactly, is a push-up. As a former D1 athlete (did I mention I used to be an athlete?), what I can tell you is that a push-up isn’t the “T”-shaped, elbows-out-at-90-degrees kind that you learned in middle school. That, in fact, is a great way to wind up with chronic shoulder pain. The actual best way to do a push-up is with your shoulder blades pulled back in tension and your elbows at a 10-to-30-degree angle away from your body. Like this:
“Most people flare their elbows when they do push-ups, or don’t have enough tension in their shoulders, core and legs,” explains Damien, a personal trainer in L.A. “They focus too much on getting through their push-ups as quickly or easily as possible; all the while, their technique sucks.”
In actuality, I can do three high-quality push-ups where I’m not cheating. In other words, I have my work cut out for me. “Oh man, that’s going to be hard, given your fitness level,” Damien tells me over the phone. Not to mention, I’m about 30 pounds heavier than my ideal fighting weight. “But give it a shot. If you’re looking for a routine, check out hundredpushups.com.”
“Hundred Pushups is the ultimate program to train the body to go from just one pushup to 100 consecutive reps in less than two months,” explains the website. Sounds perfect, because, again, I can only do a total of three.
Hundred Pushups is organized into week-long push-up routines, based on a test that establishes your initial fitness level. According to the initial test, which is to see how many high-quality push-ups you can do in a row, users are bucketed into groups that’ll determine how many reps they’ll start with in Week 1: The “< 5” group; the “6-10” group; and the “11-20” group. If you can do more than 20 good push-ups in a row you probably don’t need much help getting to 100, the thinking goes. From there, it’s as simple as following the corresponding three-day-a-week push-up sets (there are always five sets until Week Five, when Day Two bumps up to eight) per your level.
What’s nominally reassuring is that the gradually increasing reps appear to be doable. In contrast, when I thought a few months ago about writing about working with a personal trainer, the first day I trained I got my butt thoroughly kicked. So much so that I said, “Screw this!” and never went back. Ever since, it’s been a personal holy grail of mine to find a routine that’s both forgiving to out-of-shape schlubs like me, and effective. Could this be the thing that sticks the landing?
I’ll let you know when I’ve hit the century mark.