I did 100 push ups a day for a week – here’s 5 things I learnt

It's one of the best bodyweight exercises for your upper body

Woman doing push up
(Image credit: Getty)

Push ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises; they can be performed anywhere (so it’s no biggie if you can’t get to the gym) and they work a great mixture of upper body muscles, plus your abdominals. However, they’re also one of the hardest bodyweight moves to master which, for many, can be really frustrating.

They used to be a staple in my upper body warm ups, purely because I just wanted to be good at them and I quite liked doing them. But, it was only a few weeks ago, when I caught a glimpse of my non-toned triceps in the gym mirror, that I realised I’d completely abandoned my push ups altogether (my partner encountered a big moaning session afterwards). So, I decided to challenge myself; could I do 100 push ups a day (could I even do one after all this time) and would it help reawaken my tired triceps? Read on to find out.

What muscles do push ups work?

A lot of people think the push up primarily works the triceps, chest and shoulders, but it also recruits other muscles too. “A lot of people forget to maintain tension in their abdominal muscles during the push up,” says Eddie Baruta, a Certified Personal Trainer at Ultimate Performance. “If you really concentrate on keeping your core tight throughout the move, it will also work your abdominal muscles and your entire core.”

Also, depending on how you position yourself for the push up, allows you to recruit different muscles. “If you want to work your triceps a bit more, you can bring your elbows slightly closer to your body. If you want to work your shoulders a bit more, then you can widen the distance between your hands,” he says.

Common mistakes include:

  • Not lowering yourself close enough to the floor so you only complete a 'half rep'
  • Doing them too quickly, so you don't engage the muscles properly
  • Flaring the elbows out too much which puts added stress on the shoulders

How to do a push up

Learning how to master a push up may seem pretty straight forward but get it wrong, or have poor form and you may not only injure yourself, but you won’t work the muscles effectively. 

As mentioned above, depending on where you place your hands will work different muscles more so, before you begin, make sure you know what you want to target. Here’s Eddie’s tips for how to perform the perfect push up:

  • First get into a high plank position, on all fours with your legs extended out behind you and your hands underneath your shoulders. Keep your core tight and spine neutral.
  • Move your hands so they are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and slightly behind each shoulder blade rather than directly parallel (if you have limitations in your wrists this may not be feasible, so just experiment to where it feels comfortable).
  • For triceps, bring your elbows slightly closer to your body, for shoulders, widen the distance between your hands.
  • Ensure you tuck your hips under, engaging your glutes and lower abs.
  • Pull yourself down to the floor slowly, as low as you can, and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades back and down to your hips, stretching your chest.
  • Push yourself back to the starting position as explosively as possible. 

Make sure that your hips don’t sag during the movement. If they do, this will switch off your core and glutes. Once you can do a push up easily, you can always add a weight plate or a dumbbell onto your back to create more resistance.

100 push ups a day – my experience

If you’ve read my other article where I tried doing 100 crunches a day for a week, you’ll know I split my 100 reps into four sets of 25. Of course, I did this with the push ups too, as there was no way you’d see me bouncing up and down continuously for 100. I decided to give myself a minute rest in between each set too, although in hindsight I now think I should have allowed myself longer., because this was a lot harder than those crunches. 

Day one, without sounding too braggy, I was well impressed with myself. Keen to target the triceps, I followed Eddie’s advice and decided to go for a closer stance with my hands. I managed to smash out the first 25 reps with no problems whatsoever. “Omg I’m so good!”, I thought to myself. I was brought back down to reality pretty quickly with my second set. I only managed to get to 20 before the lactic acid was burning inside my arms and I had to rest before going for the final six. It’s safe to say the reps went down from there – I got to 19, then 17.

The following day I made a stupid mistake. I was doing an upper body session at the gym and forgot to do the push ups in my warm up, which meant I had to do them at the end. And, my final exercise was tricep extensions. Knowing that I’d majorly shot myself in the foot I wasn’t too disheartened with the outcome in fact, looking back, I probably should have been patting myself on the back for getting 17, 15, 11, 17 straight off the bat, before needing a breather to complete the final reps for each set. It’s safe to say my triceps were on fire though.

Woman doing push up

(Image credit: Getty)

My reps did go up on day three (which just shows I had been absolutely hammered from that session) and by day four I could do two sets of 25 with no rest. When I did need to rest on the other sets, instead of crumbling onto the floor for a few seconds and feeling sorry for myself, I stayed in the press up position, keeping my core strong. I think this may have helped in the long run, because by the final day I could do two sets of 25, a set of 22 and a set of 19. 

I may not have been able to complete four full sets of 25 simultaneously and needed to have a couple of seconds before firing out the last few, but my strength did increase, clearly. I also think if I had longer then I would’ve been able to. I’m definitely a lot happier with my arms too. Of course you can’t expect crazy changes in a week, but push ups are one of those moves that create a great pump, so it was nice to see them make an appearance from time to time to say hello.

Five things I learnt

  • Use a book to help you go low enough: I loved this tip from Eddie. Although I could go low enough to the floor, I gave it a try on the final day and it’s a really easy way to ensure you are performing the movement correctly.
  • Once you lose your form, stop: I was stubborn at times and didn’t want the push ups to beat me, so I kept pressing on. I’ve now realised that despite doing this, I still wasn’t winning. Maybe it’s why I didn’t manage to hit four sets of 25? As Eddie said, less reps with good form is better than more with poor form.
  • Spread your fingers to make things easier: This was actually a trick I used from my friend who does gymnastics. I once asked her what the secret was to doing handstands and she said “parting your fingers on the floor, not having them flat” as it apparently helps with balance. When I applied this to my push ups, I found it made pushing the floor away from me so much easier. It’s not scientifically proven, but it worked for me.
  • It was good for my lower back pain: Unlike other upper body movements I do in the gym with free weights or a barbell that may require me to push through the floor with my entire body to hit that last rep, the push up didn’t. It was completely safe and gentle for my lower back.
  • Put your hands in front of your shoulders for a bigger burn: Another tip from Eddie that I’ll be taking away for the foreseeable. I didn’t do this as part of my challenge, but I gave it a try and man did it burn! If you don’t want to add a weight plate to your back to toughen things up, give this a go instead.
Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.