Recently, while scrolling on social media, I came across a post that screamed, “I did 100 push-ups for a month, you won’t believe…”. This, however, wasn't the first or only post that I’d seen that claimed that drastic positive changes were possible by doing 100 reps of an exercise every day for a month.
Partly due to non-stop travelling since January and partly owing to a chronic tennis elbow I picked up while losing an arm-wrestling challenge to a 18-year-old in February, I hadn’t done much strength training in the first half of the year. So, instead of wasting my energy disbelieving what the fitness influencers and ads were peddling, I decided to do a 100 push-ups every day for a month to find out if there was any truth to the claims. I knew I had the task cut out for me because for a majority of people, doing just three sets of 10 push-ups is a struggle, let alone doing a 100. I decided to pursue it anyway.
A push-up is a great full body workout and foundational movement for all exercise routines. While it might feel easy for those who workout regularly, it is quite challenging for anyone starting out. It recruits your core — to maintain the position, your hips can’t flop down nor should they be pushing skywards, the body has to be straight, arms, chest, shoulders and back.
Since I had been thinking of going back to the gym, 100 push-ups a day for a month seemed like a good way to get back to strength training. I began on 5th July, and barring two days owing to red eye long haul flights and acute sleep deprivation, did them religiously till 5th August. The data is on my Garmin and Strava profiles if anyone wants to check.
Difficult, slow start
The first day was challenging. I’d wanted to do 5 sets of 20 push-ups, but I couldn’t do more than 15 in the first set. By the third, I could only manage 10. I finished the day with a combination of sets of 15 and 10. I woke up feeling sore the next day and could feel the muscles where the shoulders connect with the chest. I also recorded my weight, muscle mass and fat percentage using a smart scale. I was 54.25 kg with 17.7% body fat and 78.2% muscle mass — pretty poor in my case as I am usually close to 13% body fat percentage.
Things got better by the end of the first week. I was able to finish the 100 push-ups quicker than when I’d started out, but as far as physical changes go, I couldn’t see any difference at all. The scale didn’t show much change either. I had to remind myself that physical changes take some time to kick in.
After two weeks, the scale started tipping: it showed some drop in body fat percentage (17.1%) and marginal gain in muscle mass. By this time, I was able to do the 100 push-ups in quick time as six sets of 15 and one set of 10 with shorter rest intervals and zero struggle. I didn’t see any change in my abs as per the claims. In fact, I could barely see a line across all that I had accumulated over the six months in liquid calories.
After a month
As I moved into the middle of the third week, I started feeling a niggle in my left shoulder that got progressively worse, making it difficult for me to sleep. The pain would disappear after the first set and so, I was able to do my 100 without any trouble. By this time, the chest was showing some signs of bulking and I had also started losing a wee bit of flab around the belly. In retrospect, I realise I could have achieved the same in half the time had I stuck to my regular exercise mix of strength training, HIIT and cardio. By the end of a month, I did have some gains but nothing extraordinary or surprising as per claims. My weight after a month was 53.3kg with 16.9% body fat and 78.9% muscle mass.
The one positive was that I had developed fairly good upper body strength, so when I finally went back to the gym a few days after completing my challenge, I could lift what I used to when I was working out regularly. But it came at a cost. Doing the same thing every single day felt like a chore. I also suffered overuse injury and the left shoulder was stiff and painful until recently.
Mainly though, after doing the challenge, I am convinced that I never want to do a ‘100’ of anything for a month on the trot. It’s boring, causes overuse injury and the gains are marginal. And yes, I don’t believe the claims of what 100 of any exercise for a month can do for anybody. Exercise doesn’t work like that. My lower back, glutes and legs are proof.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.