The Official 100 Pushups Challenge and Training Guide, 2019

You’re about to get really, really good at pushups…

Welcome to the 100 Pushups Challenge and 100 Pushups Training Guide! This is no ordinary training guide, you are about to discover – bar none – the fastest and most effective training method to get you cranking out pushup after pushup like you’re bending the laws of gravity.

Through years of trial and error, we’ve come to discover that the best pushups training program utilizes a clever, but little known, training principle called synaptic facilitation, otherwise known as greasing the groove.

The entire 100 pushups training plan is built around this training principle. We’ll touch on the science a little bit, but really all you have to do is do what we tell you, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a zen pushups master.

Want to know the best part? We’ve found that the absolute, optimal pushups training plan takes less than five minutes a day. We’ve tried doing more, but we’ve never been able to beat the progress of our less-than-five-minute-a-day plan.

Ready to begin? Then let’s go…

Ok, so let’s find out what you are going to be training towards…

What is the 100 Pushups Challenge?

The original 100 Pushups Challenge is to perform 100 consecutive pushups with no break. It is a tough challenge and therefore we added two further challenges that you can train towards in the run-up to attempting the original challenge, or as an end to themself. So here are the three 100 Pushups Challenges:

  • The Foundation 100 Pushups Challenge: complete 100 pushups in twenty-four hours.
  • The Intermediate 100 Pushups Challenge: complete 100 pushups in five minutes.
  • The Advanced 100 Pushups Challenge: complete 100 consecutive pushups.

Here are the 100 Pushups Challenge Rules

In order to keep yourself honest and be able to accurately track your pushups performance over time, we came up with the following rules when attempting the 100 Pushups challenge.

  1. Your arms must bend by at least 90° during the downward motion. You do not necessarily have to touch your nose to the floor – people have different arm lengths and forearm/upper arm ratios, so it is not always possible to touch your nose effectively.
  2. You must straighten your arms right up to the moment before you “lock out” during the upwards motion (there’s no need to lock out completely).
  3. No resting for longer than 5 seconds at the top of the pushup.
  4. For the advanced challenge: no resting on your knees or standing up. It must be one consecutive set.

Why conventional weight training principles aren’t optimal for pushups training

The legendary Bruce Lee, among his formidable arsenal of martial arts skills, was a master of the pushup.

  • He could do two-fingered pushups on one hand with ease.
  • He could do pushups with 250lbs on his back.
  • And he routinely did 1000 pushups a day as part of his training.

This last feat highlights a key component of pushups training, and one that is internalized in this training plan: By far the most important concept to grasp if you want to master pushups – it requires doing lots of pushups!

Many pushups training plans floating around the internet miss the mark by adopting a “train 3 times a week approach”. This works great when you are lifting heavy weights in the 3-10 rep range. Indeed, one can only train about three times a week when lifting heavy weights, because it takes so long to recover between sessions.

However, we’re not lifting heavy weights in this program. Our goal is to do lots of pushups. When approached the right way, we simply do not need the recovery times needed for a typical weightlifting program. Sure, you can do pushups three times a week and make progress. But you won’t be making optimal progress.

Note: another big mistake that other training plans make is when they make any sort of prescription on the number of pushups you should perform on a particular day, e.g. “On week 3, day 2, do 3 sets of 15 pushups”. This is not how effective training programs are written! They cannot possibly take into account the variety of circumstances that go into your ability to perform a prescribed amount of pushup reps on a particular day or phase of a training program. At best they are sub-optimal plans, and at worst they are going to get you injured. If you find a plan like this, run away!

So what is our training recommendation, if not three times a week?

The 100 Pushups Principle: “Train as often as possible while being as fresh as possible.”

This is a big departure from most training methods you will see on the internet. It goes against the grain. Some people have even accused us of “encouraging people to overtrain and injure themselves”. These people miss the point, ignoring the second half of the principle “… while being as fresh as possible”.

Train as often as possible while being as fresh as possible. Let’s deconstruct this training principle:

What does train as often as possible mean?

It means training every day, several times a day. Now, we’re not talking about dropping your life to go and spend all day in the gym. Quite the opposite – it means a quick set of pushups here, a quick set of pushups there, taking seconds out of your daily routine, several times each day. Our training protocol recommends training pushups at least four times a day.

What does …while being as fresh as possible mean?

It means don’t go anywhere close to muscular failure (the point where you cannot do another rep) for 99% of your training. Don’t even flirt with going to muscular failure. Sets of pushups should feel easy, like you’ve got loads left in tank. If you start shaking, or slowing down your reps, or collapse into a pile on the floor, you’ve failed at following the primary 100 pushups training principle.

Read this part again… as a general principle DO NOT go to muscular failure on ANY of your training sets.

There’s a great segment on the Joe Rogan podcast where Firas Zahabi talks about this. Watch it.

100 Pushups Training Guidelines

Ok, so we’ve ascertained that we’re not going to spoon feed you a prescribed number of pushups to do each day. This is not the optimal approach.

Instead, we’re about to equip you with a set of training guidelines, think of them as the framework around which you base your self-directed training plan. Training intensity and progressions are naturally built-in to the 100 pushups framework.

Principle #1

Train for pushups every day

Consistency is the key to improving your pushup proficiency. Pushups are massively muscle-memory dependent.

This isn’t like traditional weightlifting where you fry your musculoskeletal system and need 2-3 days to recover. This is a regular, minimum effective dose to stimulate improvement.

Don’t confuse training for pushups every day with doing pushups every day. There will be days where after the first set of pushups you are just not feeling it. On days where this happens, there are complementary exercises to help focus on weak links in the pushup chain – primarily these complementary exercises will be core strength. More on this later.

At the risk of repetition, training for pushups every day must be coupled with low intensity training… you cannot sustainably do pushups every day if you are going near to muscular failure.

Principle #2

One low-intensity set of pushups at a time, repeated several times throughout the day

Perform at least four sets of pushups a day, spaced as far apart from each other as is realistically possible to fit in with your lifestyle.

An ideal four-set protocol might look like this: first set when you wake up, second set at lunch time, third set early evening when home from work/school, fourth set before you go to bed.

As you progress through the program and do more sets per day, we’ve found that the bulk of the sets tend to cluster early in the day and later in the evening. This is absolutely fine. Just try your hardest to space them out as much as possible.

Low intensity means performing no more than 50% of the maximum number of good-form pushups you can do consecutively (see next training principle), i.e. if you can do 20 pushups, no single set you do must be more than 10 pushups.

When first starting out on the 100 pushups training plan, do only four sets a day. There’s plenty of time to increase this number further on in your training. Four is plenty right now to get an optimal training dose.

Principle #3

Progress organically via a weekly pushups test

Once a week you are to perform an all-out effort of as many consecutive pushups as possible while maintaining good form, stopping only when you cannot physically do one more pushups with good technique.

You are not to exceed 50% of your test number in any training set in the following week. This ensures you maintain low intensity, which is crucial for optimal synaptic facilitation training.

Keep yourself honest when performing the test – the test itself is not the goal, it is there to inform the following week’s training. In other words, don’t hang out at the top of the pushup position for a minute while you recover for the next rep; equally, no resting on your knees to catch a break during the set. This is a test of your continuous pushup ability.

You can continue to perform your training sets on the day that you perform the pushups test.

Halve your test score. That’s the number of pushups to do per set for the following week.

Training Plan: Day 1

Ok, this is where the rubber hits the road. You’ve decided to commit to training pushups, what now?

The very first thing to do is spend a few minutes reading up on good pushups technique. Start as you mean to go on. Also, your technique is going to affect how many pushups you can perform in your very first pushups test, which, coincidentally, you are going to do right now.

Once you have familiarized yourself with good pushups technique, perform a maximum pushups text, which is how many consecutive, which is how many pushups you can do in a row with good form, without a break.

Ideally, do the test early in the morning, the reason being is that it gives you the rest of the day to actually begin the training.

Halve the number you got in the test. This the number of pushups you are going to do per set, four times a day, for the next seven days.

Got it? Awesome! You’re on your way…

I can’t even do one stinking pushup. What do I do?

If you tried to do the maximum pushups test and you failed spectacularly, fear not! Did you know that the most common number of pushups – with proper technique – that people can do is… zero!

It is so common that we wrote a separate article on how to train towards down your first pushup. Head over there, then come back and join us when you’re ready.

Training Plan: Week 1

To quickly recap, you’ve performed a maximum pushups test, you halved that number to get the number of pushups you are going to do, per set, four times a day, for the next seven days. If you haven’t yet done a maximum pushups test, now is the time to go and do that.

  1. Train pushups every day.
  2. Perform a minimum of 4 sets of pushups per day.
  3. Perform an all-out pushups test once per week.
  4. Halve your test score for the number of pushups to do per set.
  5. Training volume increases organically over time.
  6. Do not exceed 4 sets per day for the first two weeks.
  7. After the first two weeks, add one extra set to your daily pushups per week (optional).
  8. Do only normal, “shoulder-width” pushups until you score at least 50 in your weekly pushups test.
  9. Exhaust all gains from greasing the groove before changing up your training.

Note: a walkthrough example is given at the end of this article.

2. Perform a minimum of 4 sets of pushups per day

  • To maximize freshness, space out each set as much as possible.
  • e.g. Set 1 @ 8am, Set 2 @ 12 noon, Set 3 @ 4pm, Set 4 @ 8pm.
  • When life gets in the way, do your best to maintain as much time between sets as possible. Strive for at least 30 minutes rest between sets.
  • A schedule that works well for many is two sets in the morning and two sets in the evening, each with 30 minutes rest inbetween. Then at the weekend space out sets more evenly.

3. Perform an all-out pushups test once per week

4. Halve your test score for the number of pushups to do per set

  • The number of pushups you do in each set throughout the week is based on the score you get in your weekly all-out pushups test.
  • Half your test score, and that’s how many pushups you do per set (50% intensity).
  • For example, if you score 20 in the test, you do 10 pushups per set for the following week.
  • These are low intensity sets. It should feel easy, like you are leaving a lot on the table each set.
  • Given that each set is easy, focus relentlessly on practicing perfect technique. Focus on one specific aspect of the pushup each set. Perform some sets in front of a mirror. Perform other sets with your eyes closed. Deepen that mind-body connection. The real joy of performing pushups is not the number you can do, but mastering the movement itself. It is much like yoga in this regard.

5. Training volume increases organically over time

  • Your number of pushups per set are based on your previous maximum pushups test.
  • For example, if you score 20 in your test, you do 10 pushups per set for the following week.
  • Provided your test scores increase consistently, so too do your pushup repetitions per set.

6. Do not exceed 4 sets per day for the first two weeks

  • Intensity is to be built up slowly at first. You are laying the foundation, and it does not take much effort to see good initial gains.

7. After the first two weeks, add one extra set to your daily pushups per week (optional)

  • In the first two weeks you do four sets per day. In week 3, you are permitted to increase to five sets per day (i.e. each day throughout week 3 you do five sets per day).
  • In week 4, you are permitted to increase to six sets per day (i.e. each day throughout week 4 you do six sets per day). And so on.
  • Do not increase the number of daily sets by more than one per week.
  • This progression is optional. It comes down to your own assessment of how well you are coping with the increase in training load. You may decide to increase the number of sets every other week, or once every three weeks. Remember, even with no additional sets, there is still a natural progression over time – your weekly tests should be increasing in number, therefore the number of repetitions per set in each following week increase. So do not be in a rush to add additional sets.

8. Do only normal, “shoulder-width” pushups until you score at least 50 in your weekly pushups test

  • There isn’t any need to start adding different pushups variations until you are proficient in the basic pushup. Proficiency starts at a minimum of 50 pushups.

9. Exhaust all gains from greasing the groove before changing up your training

  • Greasing the groove (i.e. lots of low intensity pushup sets space throughout the day, every day) is by far the most effective method to initially increase your pushups numbers, so stick with it for as long as you can while still seeing gains in your numbers.
  • You can expect approximately 6 weeks of greasing the groove gains until you begin to plateau – eventually you reach the point where you have optimized your neurological fitness, at which point you need to begin following an advanced training plan.
  • If you are still seeing gains beyond 6 weeks with grease the groove, by all means milk those gains first. There is no point skipping to the advanced training plan earlier than necessary, doing so will not accelerate your progress. Quite the opposite in fact.

A Walkthrough Example

Joe has decided to undertake the 100 pushups training plan. He does an initial test on Sunday morning to see how many consecutive pushups he can do and scores 15 before he falls into a heap on the floor.

In week 1, he therefore does 4 sets of 7 pushups per day (half of 15, rounded down).

On Sunday morning he does a re-test, and scores 18 pushups.

In week 2, he therefore does 4 sets of 9 pushups per day. At the end of the week, his retest score is 22.

In week 3, he adds one set per week, for 5 sets of 11 pushups per day. Retest score is 27.

In week 4, he decides to stay with 5 sets during the week (5 sets of 13 pushups), and increase to 6 sets at the weekend (6 sets of 13 pushups). Retest is 30.

In week 5, he increases weekday to 6 sets of 13 pushups, and maintains weekend sets to 6 also. Retest is 32.

Some days life gets in the way for Joe, and he only manages 4 sets per day. This is perfectly fine, as he meets the minimum number of sets per day, understanding that consistency of training over time is the important thing.

Some days Joe isn’t feeling it, on these days he still performs 4 sets, but decreases the number of pushups per set to 25% of his max pushups score.

Joe continues in this fashion until his pushups scores don’t improve for 3 weeks straight. It appears he has exhausted all gains from greasing the groove, and moves on to the advanced training plan.

What This Training Plan Is Not

This training plan is not a spoon-fed prescription of week-by-week pushup numbers to hit. I see it all the time, “Week 1, do 3 sets of 8 pushups on Day 1, 3 sets of 9 pushups on Day 3 etc”. This is an arbitrary approach that sets you up for failure when you eventually, and inevitably, miss your numbers.

Instead, by following our protocol, your training is based within the parameters of what you score on a maximum pushups test. Therefore, the program never “gets away from you”, while at the same time optimizing your progress by using greasing the groove training.

Summary

Don’t overcomplicate your training. Train every day at low intensity and your performance in the weekly pushups test will naturally progress your training over time.

Don’t add unnecessary intensity too soon, and try to space out your sets throughout the day as much as possible within the constraints of your typical day. When you’re not feeling it on a particular day, drop back down to 4 sets and reduce the intensity.

One further goal of your training is to perfect your technique. Focus on one aspect of technique during each set, remain “present” throughout the movement, never viewing pushups as something to “get out the way” before you get on with your day.

Good luck! Questions are certain to arise during the initial stages of your training, check out the Frequently Asked Questions section to see if they have already been covered.

Next: The Three 100 Pushups Challenges →