I Did 15 Push-Ups Every Day for 30 Days to Increase My Functional Strength

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And why this challenge changed my relationship with push-ups forever.
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Push-ups and I have a long and complicated love-hate relationship. On the one hand, as someone who has been a former personal trainer and has programmed strength training for hundreds of clients, I know well the benefits of push-ups: they build core strength and stability, and also work pecs and triceps. They're also one of the best functional moves out there, says Lady Velez, M.D., board-certified personal trainer and owner of the StrengthWorks gym. "I'm a big proponent of functional bodyweight movements [like] push-ups because they translate into every area of ​​your strength and strengthen your joints," she explains. "Anyone can benefit from push-ups and the amazing thing is that you can easily modify them to make them easier or more challenging depending on your skill level."
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But for all the proven benefits of push-ups, I've never liked them. It's sort of my dirty little secret. I can deadlift and squat hundreds of pounds, but my push-up game has never been strong (pun intended). And when my personal trainer recently programmed push-ups into my workout, I had an unwelcome realization: Not only did I still dislike push-ups, I actually struggled with them more, probably because I do them so rarely these days.
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So I decided to take a radical approach to finally mastering push-ups: committing to doing 15 push-ups a day for at least 30 days.
How my push-up challenge began
Before I started my 30-day push-up challenge, my goal was to do 10 push-ups a day. After some thought (and a pep talk, reminding me that I'm experienced in strength training), that number seemed too small - so I increased my goal to 15 consecutive reps, all on tiptoe. Hello, I was optimistic. I didn't exactly imagine that I could do 15 push-ups with ease, but I didn't think 15 would be too much of a challenge either.
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However, on day one of the challenge, I found that I had been a bit overzealous with my goal of completing 15 perfect push-ups in one strong, smooth set. About halfway through my reps I had to drop to my knees - hurting my ego a bit in the process.
Although a bit discouraged, I insisted. And ultimately, I realized that changing up the movement and maintaining proper form is far better than asserting yourself with poor form, especially when it comes to lower back health. If your lower back sags during a push-up (as opposed to a flat back with your pelvis tucked in and your spine straight), you're putting yourself at risk for lower back pain. Also, I wanted to focus on targeting the right muscles (think pecs, core, and lats) since my ultimate goal was to actually get better at push-ups -- not just doing weak reps with potentially dangerous form to my challenge to master . Lesson Learned: Quality over quantity, especially when it comes to strength training.
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Another problem I encountered early on was that I was procrastinating on my push-ups every day. The sensible thing to do would be to do them first thing in the morning and get it out of the way, but I found myself doing pushups at 10pm because I'd been putting them off all day. To be honest, most days I thought about just skipping them altogether. Who would even know? No one. It was my personal challenge.
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Regaining my push-up strength
But after the tough first week, I got my mindset back on track. I found a new determination and woke up every morning doing my push-ups as part of my routine. If I was serious about getting better at push-ups, I had to put my heart into it and give it my all.
After successfully knocking out my morning push-ups for a few days, I felt fulfilled. But more than that, my muscle memory kicked in and all those push ups got a little bit easier. Halfway through the experiment, I didn't have to get on my knees anymore. Those last five push-ups were still tough, and I definitely had to stop at the end of the movement and hold the plank position for a few seconds to give myself a breather—but I got through them.
On day 30 of the challenge, I couldn't believe how quickly the month had gone by. But more importantly, I couldn't believe that completing my daily 15 push-ups felt so much easier than it did on day one. I actually felt like I was at the point where I could probably add a few more - and that was a far cry from what I felt in the first few days of the challenge.
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What I learned from my push-up challenge
When I first started this challenge, I envisioned hitting day 30, celebrating that I'd made it, and immediately giving up the daily push-ups. But now that I've reached the end, I'm looking forward to continuing to work on my functional strength (aka movements and exercises that help facilitate daily movements) because they carry over into everyday life. Whether it's carrying all my groceries around the house or lifting and moving heavy boxes, functional strength helps prevent injury and build strong bones, which becomes even more important as we age. And if I can move pain-free and live independently for longer by doing more push-ups? Sign me up.
While I'm a lot better at push-ups than I was when I started, I'm still far from one of those people who can do 50-100 push-ups in a day. And if I'm completely honest, I don't think that's what I'm aiming for at all. However, I continue to incorporate push-ups three or four days a week because I want to continue to build on the progress I've made. Who knows, I might actually turn the love-hate relationship with push-ups into a pure love affair.
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