Fourth week
Fourth week

 

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It has been almost 20 years since Demi Moore starred in G.I. Jane, but this insanely inspired scene where Moore (like Jordan O’Neill) does pushups after pushups stick to me. I always wanted to do that.

 

Why? The classic push-up resembles a perfect workout that challenges many muscle groups in the arms, chest, back and core to build overall performance strength. But let’s just say my upper body has never been my other importance. I can do eight pushups in a good day and they are not good. I have, or I will say, a long way to go.

Last summer I decided to find out how far I could go. I called New York-based master trainer Shaun Zetlin, who was kind of a push-up guru. Earlier this year, he published a book about this body-changing movement (and its many variations) called Push-up Progression ($ 16, amazon.com). Zetlin suggests a goal of 50 reps per month (drinks) and outlines the 30-day plan below. “It’s perfectly doable,” he said as I suppressed a laugh.

 

One week

One week
One week

I enjoy this mild warming because it gives me the opportunity to focus on my form. I started each session at a table with my arms outstretched and mentally went through a checklist of Zetlin’s advice: Find a neutral spine position so that the shoulder blades are aligned with the upper back and buttocks.

Activate these glutes. Pull the abdominal muscles inward. Keep your hips from rotating and open your elbows into your wrist. And most of all, breathe.

Second week

Second week
Second week

Needless to say I have considered pushups that have been fun in the past. (“Torture” and “depressing” are better words.) But in the second week, I started to enjoy the challenge. Reaching my goal every hour is surprisingly motivating. And since we know the transition from one workout to the next never takes more than 2-3 reps, the process seems feasible.

 Third week

Third week
Third week

“It’s going to be a little intimidating in three weeks,” Zetlin warned. He was also right about that. I was at an enjoyable speed until I tried to get down and reached 20. After 15 push-ups I needed a break (read: falling to the floor); then I fought the last five.

The same thing happened throughout the week: I ended up separating each session into two (sometimes three) sentences. I emailed Zetlin asking if breathing apparatus was a big deal:

Fourth week

Fourth week
Fourth week

As the target number increases, I find that time of day is really important – it is easier for me to do reps in the morning than at night when my muscles are tired. I noticed that my breathing also became important.

“Take a deep breath down and from the ground to the road,” Zetlin told me.

The last two days

The last two days
The last two days

I will not lie: it is difficult to go from 42 to 50 reps in three days. I ended the challenge with two sets of 25 pushups, the latter involving an embarrassing sigh. But I am proud of myself. Fifty pushups! Step by step! In all honesty, I never thought I could do it.

Other than that, I also took a better position. Zetlin predicts that thanks to muscle memory, it will also happen: “If you learn to find the neutral position of the spine in your workout, you will do it in your daily life,” he said. While standing in line or on the subway, I raise my head, straighten my abs and pelvis until my body is fully aligned. I feel like I’ve really changed.

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