Fitness

30-Day push-up challenge

Think you can’t do a push-up? This challenge gets you from “no can do” to “let me show you how” by this time next month.

There’s a good reason just about every workout includes push-ups: “They seem like an upper-body exercise, but they’re really a way to work your whole body,” says Nike master trainer Holly Rilinger, author of Lifted: 28 Days to Focus Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Elevate Your Spirit. Besides helping you look great in everything from a bathing suit to a wedding dress, mastering the push-up can also make you feel pretty fierce.

See for yourself: All it takes is a healthy commitment to a few minutes of effort six times a week, and to a full day of rest. (Don’t skip the rest day! That’s when your muscles recover and get stronger.)

Here, Rilinger shares what you need to do each day to make those push-ups just one more thing you do well:

 

You can do a push-up challenge

 

Week 1

You’ll start out doing push-ups against the wall, but by week’s end, you’ll be doing them against a countertop. Add some planks and wall sits to the mix, since strengthening your core and your quads will help you with push-ups of all types. Regardless of which of the program’s push-up variations you’re doing, make sure you keep your hands under your shoulders: If you were lying on the floor face-down, your thumbs would be right at your shoulders. When you bend your elbows, make sure you’re lowering your whole body, and not just dropping your head forward to feel like you’re moving.

 

Day 1: Wall push-ups  

3 sets of 15 reps; rest 30 seconds between sets

How to do it:

  • Stand facing a wall; toes about a foot or more away from the wall. Place your palms on a wall about shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your elbows, keeping your body in a straight line from ears to ankles, and lower your chest toward the wall.
  • Straighten your arms and repeat.

Day 2: Elbow plank

2 reps of a 30-second hold (rest 30 seconds between holds)

How to do it:

  • Position yourself face-down on the floor, elbows close to your sides and hands directly under your shoulders.
  • Curl your toes under and lift your body off the floor by pushing your elbows into the ground. You should be in a straight line from your ears to ankles; don’t let your back arch or sag. Hold in the lifted position for 30 seconds.
  • Note: Can’t hold it? Do a modified plank, and let your knees rest on the floor (but still maintain that straight line from ears to knees).

Day 3: Countertop push-ups

3 sets of 10 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

How to do it: Follow the instructions for the wall push-up, but place hands on a countertop.

Day 4: Wall sits

3 reps of a 30-second hold (rest 1 min between holds)

How to do it:

  • Stand with your back pressing against a wall.
  • Slide downward into a squat position. The more you can get your thighs parallel to the floor and still hold the pose for the whole time, the better.

Day 5: Countertop push-ups

3 sets of 15 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

 

Day 6: Side plank

2 reps of a 30-second hold on each side (rest 30 seconds between holds)

How to do it:

  • Lie on your right side, legs extended, left foot stacked on top of the right. Place your right elbow under your shoulder.
  • Lift your hips and knees off the mat and keep your body in a straight line.
  • If you can’t hold the pose the whole time, modify it by starting a different way: Instead of having legs outstretched, bend at the knees so your feet are behind you. Do the side plank by lifting your hips off the floor (your knees will still be on the floor). 

Day 7: REST

 

Week 2

This week includes some triceps exercises in addition to those that strengthen chest, core, and quads. The triceps (on the backs of your arms) assist with any exercise that requires the chest to work. So stronger triceps mean you’re closer to nailing a push-up!

 

Day 1: Triceps dips

3 sets of 12 reps

How to do it:

  • Sit on a sturdy chair or bench.
  • Place your hands on either side of your hips so palms are resting on the bench and fingertips are hanging down.
  • Scooch off the edge of the bench, keeping knees bent and feet together.
  • Lower your hips toward the floor by bending your elbows. Challenge yourself to keep your hips as close to the bench as you can.

Day 2: Countertop push-ups

3 sets of 20 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

 

Day 3: High plank with shoulder taps

4 reps of a 30 second hold (rest 30 seconds between holds)

How to do it:

  • Instead of doing a plank on your forearms like you did in week one, do this with fully extended arms—you’ll look like you’re about to do a push-up.
  • Take your right hand off the floor and tap your left shoulder. Bring your right hand back to the floor.
  • Lift the left to tap your right shoulder.
  • Keep alternating until you’re out of time.

Day 4: Chair or bench push ups

3 sets of 10 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

How to do it: Instead of doing your push-ups against a countertop, go lower! Do them against a very sturdy chair that won’t move under you, or do them on the seat of a bench.

 

Day 5: Wall sits

3 reps of a 45 second hold (rest 1 min between holds)

 

Day 6: Chair or bench push-ups

3 sets of 12 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

 

Day 7: REST

 

Week 3

This week is all about more reps and longer planks. Plus, you’ll move away from the wall and into squats to keep strengthening your lower body. Modify any moves, if needed

 

Day 1: Chair or bench push-ups

3 sets of 15 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

 

Day 2: Elbow plank

3 reps of a 45 second hold (rest 45 seconds between holds)

 

Day 3: Triceps dips

3 sets of 15 reps

 

Day 4: Modified push-ups

3 sets of 10 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

How to do it: Yes, today’s push-ups are on your knees! Instead of holding your weight up with your hands and feet at an incline, you’ll be on your hands and knees on the ground. Make sure to keep that straight line from ears to hips to knees at all times.

Day 5: Squats

3 sets of 15 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, arms by sides. Extend your hands straight out in front of you to help keep your balance (or bend elbows and clasp fingers).
  • Bend knees and sit back and down like you're sitting into a chair.
  • Lower so your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible, keeping knees over ankles. Press your weight back into your heels.
  • Push through your heels to bring yourself back to the starting position.

Day 6: Side plank with hip taps

2 sets of 10 on each side (rest 30 seconds between sets)

How to do it: Instead of just holding your side plank, allow your hips to drop toward the floor and then bring them right back up into the side plank again.

Day 7: REST

 

Week 4

This week, you continue to add reps and time to the exercises. In addition, you work in eccentric training (see Day 4)—that’s where you elongate one part of a movement, putting muscles under tension for longer, to stimulate more muscle strength.

 

Day 1: Modified push-ups

3 sets of 12 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

 

Day 2: Squats

3 sets of 20 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

 

Day 3: Planks

2 reps of a 1-minute hold (rest 1 minute between holds)

 

Day 4: Tempo push-up

3 sets of 10 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

How to do it: This push-up is all about the “down” phase – don’t worry yet about how you get back up again.

  • Start at the top of the push-up position.
  • Bend your elbows and take 3 seconds to get from the up position to down.
  • Get yourself back to the top, whether you push your body up or repositioning, and do it again.

 

Day 5: Wall sits

3 sets of a 1-minute hold (rest 1 minute between)

 

Day 6: Tempo push up

3 sets of 15 reps (rest 30 seconds between sets)

 

Day 7: REST

 

The day after: Try a regular Push Up!

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