IT’S EASY TO FEEL competitive in the gym. It’s also only natural to compare how much you’re able to lift with the guy training next to you. Such friendly rivalry is one of the things that can inspire us to reach for heavier dumbbells, add more plates to the bar, or set the pin farther down the weight stack. But that’s not always helpful when you compare yourself with someone who is much bigger than you. There’s a training metric that can be even more important than how much weight you can lift regardless of your size (i.e., your “absolute strength”): how much you can handle in relation to it.
That second metric is called relative strength, and in the real world, the guys with the highest levels tend to be the most athletic. Don’t believe us? Consider gymnasts. Pound-for-pound, they’re among the strongest and most explosive athletes on the planet—but they’re not known for developing their unreal abilities by hefting barbells. In fact, that’s one of the things that gymnasts can teach us about assessing relative strength: One of the best ways to gauge it is by performing exercises that challenge you to heft your own bodyweight.
This pushup challenge will put your relative strength to the test—and help you build it. It mixes pushup basics with challenging variations, ultimately pushing you to perform 100 standard pushup reps in a single effort.
Do the workouts as outlined in this challenge for seven days straight. You can do it whenever you want—right when you wake up, during your lunch hour, or as a finisher after your regular workout—as long as you complete every rep. You’ll be working hard, and these sessions won’t take much time, but your number one focus should be working with perfect form.
You’ll alternate between pushup variations for six days, and then put it all on the line with the classic pushup on day seven. Complete one set of the prescribed number of reps each day.
Can’t do them all at once? No worries. Complete as many as you can until technical failure (i.e., when you can’t perform one more rep with good form), and then rest for 10 seconds before getting back to work. Repeat until you’ve completed all of your reps. This challenge is for more advanced trainees, so you should be able to complete 10 to 15 consecutive reps with good form before you give it a try.
On your final day, you’ll do 100 pushups total, working as hard as possible to complete the bulk of the reps in one go (or all of them, if you’re strong enough). No matter how many quick breaks you need to take, after you wrap up the last reps, you’ll have crushed one of the ultimate tests of relative strength.
The 7-Day Advanced Pushup Challenge
Start in a strong pushup position. That means that your palms are flat on the floor stacked underneath your shoulders and your head in neutral, with your gaze focused on the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades, abs, and glutes to create full-body tension, and keep your butt below your shoulders. Lower your chest down to just above the floor, keeping your elbows close to your torso to avoid flaring them out, then pause and hold, squeezing your chest. After a beat, press off the floor to return to the starting position.
Start in a strong pushup position. Lower your chest down all the way to the floor. Raise your hands off the floor briefly, keeping your shoulders engaged and retaining full-body tension. Place your palms in the same spot and press off the floor to return to the starting position.
Repeat the same form as Day 1. Work to perform more reps before taking a break than you did then (while maintaining perfect form, or course).
Start in a strong pushup position. Lower yourself down to perform a standard pushup rep, then press off the floor. Rather than returning to the starting position, raise about halfway up, then return back to the bottom position. Press off the floor to return to the starting position and finish the rep.
You know the drill. Again, try to best your previous efforts while keeping your form on point.
Repeat the same form as Day 2. Focus on maintaining tension and keeping your form identical from each rep to the next.
Start in a strong pushup position. Lower your chest down to just above the floor, keeping full-body tension. Press off the floor to return to the starting position. Don’t be tempted to rush to string reps together; you should be just as focused on keeping your form honest throughout as you are with hitting the highest number of reps you can. Make sure every pushup is a full rep, going all the way down and then all the way back up.
If you want to keep your pushup habit beyond just seven days, give this expanded 30-day pushup challenge a try. You’ll be tasked with learning more variations—which will help you to expand the limits of your relative strength.
Trevor Thieme is a Los Angeles-based writer and strength coach, and a former fitness editor at Men’s Health. When not helping others get in shape, he splits his time between surfing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and trying to keep up with his seven year-old daughter.
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