Even if you’ve avoided the gym for the majority of your adult life, it’s likely that at one time or another, you’ve vowed to get in shape and pushed through a few push-ups. Maybe in your bedroom, late at night. Maybe in the lounge when no one’s in. Either way, every man – gym hero or complete amateur – can get to grips with the simple push-up.
But going from 10 or 20 in one day to 100, well, that’s a different challenge altogether. But, like almost every challenge in life, it is not without its rewards. In fact, dedicate the time to mastering 100 push-ups, and you’ll gain core stability, arm, chest and shoulder strength, and even willpower.
To help get you to triple figures, we recruited some of the best experts out there to talk you through mastering the perfect push-up.
The Benefits Of Push-Ups
“The push-up is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do,” says Keith McNiven, founder of London-based personal training company Right Path Fitness.
Let’s run through the perks: not only does the push-up build strength and muscle in your arms, shoulders and chest, it also ropes in the abdominal muscles to help keep you stable. Best of all, it’s one of few exercises you can do anywhere, anytime, without any equipment.
There’s more to it than that, however, says James Castle-Mason, a PT at London’s elite Roar Fitness. “‘How many push-ups can you do?’ is probably one of the most common questions people get asked when they get into some form of strength training. Let’s face it, no one wants to say just one. What’s more, the push-up is one of the most cost-effective, simplest ways to start adding muscle tone to your chest, arms and shoulders.”
It’s also one of the only effective chest exercises you can do without a bench or some freeweights.
How To Do The Perfect Push-Up
Think you’re all ready to start busting them out? Think again. “While the push-up is a simple exercise to perform, it isn’t easy to do, at least not correctly,” says Castle-Mason. Luckily, how to perfect the push-up is precisely doesn’t take long.
Luke Worthington, a PT at gym chain Third Space, thinks that a push-up can be described as “a moving plank”. He suggests setting up with your hands directly under your shoulders, engaging the core, then squeezing the glutes as though you are tucking your tailbone underneath you. With your fingers spread wide, focus on the feeling of your lats (the back sides of the body) engaging. Tuck your chin in, then slowly lower yourself to the floor, keeping your body in one flat line, then push back up.
It’s also important to curl your toes which, along with your arms, will take your weight as you get into the starting position. “To do a push-up, you need to bend at the elbows and lower your torso in a controlled motion until you almost reach the floor, then raise yourself back up,” says McNiven. That’s one push-up done. Only 99 more to go.
To help you remember everything, Castle-Mason has outlined a perfect push-up checklist. Run through it in your head next time you’re about to drop down.
The Perfect Push-Up Checklist
- Core – Think of drawing your belly button in towards your spine and squeezing your butt tight, this effectively braces your core
- Elbows – Your elbows should be tucked in close to the body. Flaring them out puts awkward pressure on the shoulder joint and doesn’t effectively engaging the chest muscles
- Tempo – Don’t rush the movement. Go slow and controlled on the way down and explosive on the way up to really feel the muscles working
- Depth – Go all the way down, not half reps. Using a full range of motion will always give better results
- Hand Position – Go too wide, and you’ll likely flare, go too narrow, and you’ll be doing a tricep push-up variation instead. Keep your hands just outside shoulder width.
How To Do 100 Push-Ups
When it comes to fitness, all the old clichés are true, including this one: practice makes perfect. It applies to push-ups too. “I would start simple and do some push-ups three to four times a week separated by a day of recovery,” advises Castle-Mason. “Start simple with as many ‘good’ ones as you can do, and build this number up gradually. Try adding one or two more a week to slowly build a tolerance, but don’t let your technique slip in favour of numbers, it doesn’t count.”
When it comes to how many push-ups you should be busting out in one go, Worthington has a focused prescription. “I subscribe to a rule of 10 per cent – meaning increments in training are limited to 10 per cent per week,” he says. “If you’re nailing your form, then look to build up by 10 per cent per week until you hit the tonne. Manageable increments like this reduce injury risk and give us far more chance of successfully hitting goals.”
Starting with three sets of 10 per day, then building up to three sets of 20, then three of 30 – as McNiven advises – is another good way of setting goals, and seeing notable progression. And if you’re struggling, remember, it’s supposed to feel difficult, so don’t be disheartened if you get off to a slow start. If you feel your hips dipping and your lower back arching, stop and come back to them later.
“A full-range push-up can be challenging, so if you get to the point where you can’t go any further, gently drop to your knees and continue the movement,” says Tim Hayes, founder of fitness app Peach. “It’s a myth that these are called ‘ladies’ push-ups’. I see many men doing a lot of very short range fast push-ups. To get the most out of your muscles, it’s important to go full-range, quality over quantity.”
If you’re trying to reach 100 push-ups per day, mixing up push-up variations can help you achieve your goals and avoid a progress plateau.
There are hundreds of push-up varieties out there, each with their own unique challenges. “There is no perfect push-up, as there are many different forms depending on your target muscle groups you want to work,” explains Hayes.
With a focus on different muscle groups, mixing up your workout will help build overall strength across the muscles of the back, chest, core, arms, and shoulders – which will only help you on your quest to hit 100 push-ups.
Feet Elevated Push-Ups
“Grab a medicine ball and get into your usual starting position [with the ball under your feet],” says McNiven. “Make sure your toes are curling onto the medicine ball, then do your usual push-up. Because the medicine ball isn’t a stable surface, your core muscles have to work even harder to keep the movement controlled.”
Dive-Bomber Push-Ups (aka Judo Push-Ups)
“Get into the regular push-up starting position, then raise your hips right up until your back and legs are in an inverted V shape,” says McNiven. “Use your arms to glide your body down and forward, with your nose almost touching the floor. Lift your head up towards the ceiling and fully extend your arms. From there, lower your head and straighten your back, and you’ll be back in the regular push-up starting position.” This demands more of your arms and shoulders.
“Get in the usual starting position. As you lower to the floor, drive the right knee towards the right elbow,” says Worthington. “Return the leg to its usual position as you push up. Then, on the next one, do the same with your left knee.” By raising one foot off the ground, it forces your arms and chest to work harder.
“[To do this variety] touch your thumb and first finger together on the floor creating a diamond shape between your hands then lower as normal. This variation of push-up will add muscle tone to your triceps in no time,” explains Castle-Mason. “The technique and set up is the same but the main muscles targeted will be the triceps at the back of your arms.”
“A fun but slightly scary one as you don’t want to fall flat on your face. The clap push-up trains you to use explosive power and force on the push, so much so that you can clap your hands together before coming back to the ground,” says Worthington. “Better have some confidence with this one, and not miss time your movement.” No pressure.
“If you’ve seen Rocky then you’ll no doubt want to be able to do a single arm push-up,” says Hayes. “My suggestion would be to start playing around with your hand positions fist. With your hands as wide as you feel comfortable, do one push-up then walk your one hand back touching your body and do one push-up. You can move your hand in any direction from sideways, forward, and back and play around.”