If you could only do one exercise for the rest of you life, what would it be? If pushups jumped to mind, you chose very wisely: Pushups are one of the best total-body exercises you can do. That’s why Women’s Health teamed up with Danielle Gray, certified personal trainer and creator of Train Like a Gymnast to create an epic 30-day pushup challenge.
Not only do pushups increase upper body strength, toning your chest, shoulders, and triceps—they also work your entire core (I’m talking abs, back, and glutes!), plus internal stabilizer muscles like your pelvic floor, says Gray.
That is, as long as you’re nailing your form. “When you fully engage all these muscle groups in your body, pushups become incredibly effective,” says Gray. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing pushups on your knees if that's your current fitness level, “pushups on your feet recruit more muscle groups at one time, and help you build max strength,” says Gray.
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Aside from full-body toning, pushups further prime your body for all kinds of other exercises—especially pulling and pushing moves (think: pullups or bench presses), along with any motions that require a solid core. (Read: every. single. exercise.) And that kind of functional strength applies to rest days and everyday life, too—like when you’re pushing a door open, for example. Regularly busting out pushups can also help you build better posture, says Gray. So yeah, they’re pretty great.
Still, I get it—they’re not the easiest move to master. Whether you want to take your pushup count from 10 to 20 or can’t do a single rep off your knees, this 30-day pushup challenge is designed to help you sculpt muscle and feel strong from head to toe.
How To Do A Perfect Pushup
Before you dial up your pushup count and start the 30-day pushup challenge, it’s important to make sure your form is impeccable. Keep a few tips and tricks in mind for the optimal pushup.
- Bring yourself into a high plank position, with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart.
- Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists to avoid stress on your shoulders and wrist joints.
- Think about keeping your ribs in, core engaged, and bottom tucked under to maintain alignment and protect your lower back.
- As you lower yourself down, elbows should point 45 degrees away from your body, and your gaze should be just in front of your hands.
- Then push into your entire hand and press yourself back up, maintaining the same shape and alignment.
Your 30-Day Pushup Challenge
For the next 30 days, you’ll do the following exercises as noted, with a bonus challenge at the end of each week.
Before you kick things off, test out how many pushups you can do with proper form. (Use those notes above for reference.) Mark that down as your baseline. At the end of your training, check out how many more reps you can crank out. “After just a week, you’ll feel stronger and more capable,” says Gray.
Sweat with us! Join our Facebook group to receive daily reminders, non-stop motivation, and support from other women tackling this 30-day challenge. Plus, you can post your progress and challenge success. Women's Health will be hosting other challenges to try, too!
Customize your challenge: If you're doing this challenge in addition to your regular total-body strength training, do the prescribed move of the day before your other workout as a warm-up, Gray says.
30-Day Pushup Challenge Moves
Time to work your way up to badass pushups. The following exercises will help you train the muscles you need for the essential exercise, says Gray. “These movements will help your muscles gradually get stronger and minimize your risk for any injury.” Aim for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.
Seated Triceps Pushup
How to: Sit on ground with knees bent and toes on floor for balance. Place hands a couple inches behind butt, with fingers facing forward. That's your start position. Bend elbows and lower down until forearms touch the ground. Engage triceps and rise back to start. That’s one rep.
- Key Tip: Make sure both elbows touch and leave the floor at the exact same time.
How to: Get into an extended arm plank position on a chair, with wrists under shoulders. Lift left leg up and bend knee so foot is pointing up. Slowly bend elbows and lower down a few inches as you open your hips and point left foot to right side. Repeat on right side. That’s one rep.
- Key Tip: Focus on the depth of the arm bend more than how far the top leg goes. Without a sufficient arm bend, you're just doing a mobility twist, not an actual pushup.
How to: Get into an upside-down “V” position, with feet flat, hands pressed to the ground, and butt in the air. Bend elbows and lower until head touches ground. Return to start. That’s one rep.
- Key Tip: Bend elbows out to the sides instead of straight back. This allows you to train the shoulders a little bit more than the triceps, which is the idea behind this move.
Hollow Body Rock
How to: Sit down with knees bent, and arms extended on either side of legs. That's your start position. Slowly rock back, rolling over each vertebrae, making sure lower back pushes into the floor. Roll three times, then roll back to start. Every roll counts as 1 rep.
- Key Tip: Put two fingers on either shin to help you maintain that rounded back shape. Some people end up having neck cramps because their neck is trying to take over what the abs are supposed to be doing. This trick will fix that.
How to: Start in a high plank position, with shoulders stacked over your wrists. Keep core tight, and lower down to the bottom of pushup, with elbows at 45 degrees away from body. You should be in a straight line. Hold here for a couple seconds, then return to start. That’s one rep.
- Key Tip: Your elbows should be close to your body, no more than 45 degrees from your sides. This will better train your triceps so you can ultimately push back up with ease.
Quad Set Drill
How to: Sit down on the ground, with legs opened into a wide “V” shape. Sit up straight, and place one hand on either side of right leg. Engage quads, and lift right leg a couple inches off the ground. Pause, then lower back to start. That’s one rep. Do all reps, then repeat on the other side.
- Key Tip: The most important thing with this move is keeping the knee of the working leg straight. To do that, imagine a string is pulling the heel up (rather than lifting from the knee).
Plank Banded Tap
How to: Wrap a resistance band around wrists, and get into a high plank position. Maintaining a strong core, bring right hand a couple inches forward, touch the ground, then bring it back to start. Repeat on the left side. That’s one rep.
- Key Tip: Keep your feet wide to help your hips remain stable, rather than rocking from side to side. Imagine there’s a wine glass on your back and you don’t want to spill it.
How to: Get into a high plank position, with shoulders stacked over wrists. (Put knees on the ground, if you prefer.) That's your start position. Lift right hand, and lower down onto right forearm. Then repeat on the other side. Reverse the movement and return to start. That’s one rep.
- Key Tip: You want the hand and the elbow to be in the exact same spot every rep. An easy way to achieve that is to think about sliding your hand forward from the high plank down to the elbow (rather than placing your elbow down).
How to: Get on hands and knees, with shoulders stacked over wrists. Hold a mini band (anchored to an object to your right) in your right hand. Pull the band taut as you lift knees off the floor and hover them for a few seconds. Return to start. That’s one rep. Do all reps, then repeat on the other side.
- Key Tip: If you’re a beginner, you can hold beast position without the band. Imagine the baby hairs on your knees just touching the floor—your knees should be super close to the ground.
How to: Begin in a high plank position, then walk hands a couple inches forward. From here, bend elbows and lower down until forearms touch the ground. Pause, then press back up to start. That’s one rep.
- Key Tip: Keep your gaze in between your hands to keep the spine neutral.
For more workout plans, visit WomensHealthMag.com/Challenges!
Kristine Thomason is the fitness & wellness editor at Women's Health, where she edits, writes, and helps oversee the food and fitness sections of the website and magazine. She's also a NASM-certified personal trainer. Kristine has spent her editorial career focused on health and wellness—that includes teaming up with certified trainers to create workout routines, reporting on fitness trends, and interviewing experts about the latest health and wellness research. She’s an NYU graduate with a degree in journalism and psychology. In the past, her work has also appeared in Health, Men’s Health, Greatist, Refinery29, and more.