I've always wanted to master pushups, but for some reason, simulating the same muscle action with heavy dumbbells is more manageable, and I could never understand why. So, is a pushup really that hard, and how many should I be doing? I was ready to find out.
There are several myths linked to doing pushups, especially if you're female. For one, there's a general expectation of developing bulky arms and shoulders instead of a lean and toned physique, which is enough to put many female fitness fans off this versatile move.
Follow me on my two-week journey as I discover more about this exercise, the different ways you can do pushups to target specific muscles, and how many pushups you should do in a day to achieve a strong and toned upper body without the bulk.
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While pushups definitely target your upper body, many fans also call it a full-body workout as you remain in plank position throughout the movement, which works not only your shoulders, chest, and arms but also your core, glutes, and legs.1Maeo, S., Chou, T., Yamamoto, M. et al. 2014. Muscular activities during sling- and ground-based push-up exercise. BMC Res Notes. DOI:10.1186/1756-0500-7-192There's a reason why a pushup is called a compound exercise, as it is the ultimate full body-activating strength and endurance tester.
If you want to do daily pushups with me, here are step-by-step instructions on how to perform a pushup:
Day one was my test run, and I wanted to start off the challenge by counting how many full pushups I could do, while having a target of about 30 pushups in mind. The first thing I noticed is that, even though I often do upper-body strength training, I can't seem to do more than ten pushups without having to lower my knees.
Thus, I had a game plan after doing ten full pushups and another 20 modified pushups. I will do thirty pushups daily for the first and second week and gradually move up to 60 pushups during the third and fourth week. And, to make this a challenge that will evolve my overall endurance, I need to do at least three more traditional pushups than modified ones as the week progresses.
If I lose my form, I'll rest for thirty seconds and then continue to ensure I don't open myself up to any injuries.
It really was blood, sweat, and tears. Each morning, before I start my day with a cup of coffee, I would do my pushups on the exercise mat I conveniently placed next to my bed. The first step before lowering down into a pushup was ensuring my body maintained the proper form.
I could feel my chest, arms, legs, and abs burning as I pushed through each move, and for the first few days, my body was experiencing a severe after-burn! By the end of the second week, with a lot of huffing and puffing, I could do more than thirty full pushups, feel my body getting more powerful, and see a significant improvement in my posture. It wasn't easy, but the feeling of accomplishment it gave me made up for even the sorest muscles.
As the first two weeks went better than I expected, I decided to challenge myself even more by adding some pushup variations. Adding different types of pushups to your workout helps target specific muscle groups like your shoulders, triceps, and even your core.2Marcolin G, Petrone N, Moro T, Battaglia G, Bianco A, Paoli A. November, 2015. Selective Activation of Shoulder, Trunk, and Arm Muscles: A Comparative Analysis of Different Push-Up Variants. J Athl Train. PMID:26488636I was definitely not ready for a clapping pushup yet. Still, I found some spicy alternatives to traditional pushups targeting different muscle groups.
I chose diamond, wide, and pike pushups for my daily routine, aiming to do more of each variation as the weeks goes by. Here's the program I followed if you want to give it a try:
|Timetable||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|Mon-Tues||10 Pushups & 20 Mod Pushups||25 Pushups & 5 Mod Pushups||30 Pushups, 3 Pikes, 3 Diamonds & 3 Wides||30 Pushups, 6 Pikes, 6 Diamonds & 6 Wides|
|Wed-Thurs||15 Pushups & 15 Mod Pushups||30 Pushups||30 Pushups, 4 Pikes, 4 Diamonds & 4 Wides||30 Pushups, 8 Pikes, 8 Diamonds & 8 Wides|
|Fri-Sat||20 Pushups & 10 Modified Pushups||40 Pushups||30 Pushups, 5 Pikes, 5 Diamonds & 5 Wides||30 Pushups, 10 Pikes, 10 Diamonds & 10 Wides|
When I did diamond pushups for the first time, my triceps were on fire almost instantly! Pike and wide pushups introduced my back and shoulder muscles to a whole new level of endurance training, and while performing these variations, my core, glutes, and even my quads were constantly active and burning. Adding these options made it feel more like a comprehensive upper-body workout.
At the end of the fourth week, I was able to do 60 pushups, with thirty of them being pikes, wides, and diamonds. There were times when I had to go back to dropping my knees to reach 60 reps, but I made it - all in the name of maintaining proper form.
What kept me going and sticking to my challenge were:
One of the most valuable outcomes of my pushup experiment was how much I could achieve in such a short amount of time by committing 100%.
My upper body was notably stronger, and while I thought I might see some bulking, my upper body actually just showed more definition and tone.
I now incorporate pushup exercises into my regular workout routine and have since tried out more varieties, including incline and decline pushups. When incorporated into a full-body workout routine, I aim to do 30 pushups along with other exercises. However, when doing upper-body training, I make sure to include 50 - 100 pushups in my workout and incorporate different pushup variations.
If you work out regularly, it's not really necessary to do pushups every day, as long as you include a nice helping in each training session. Just keep on motivating yourself, and remember that consistency is key to getting the results you want.
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