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The Perfect Push-up Challenge

Lots of guys can bench press over 150 pounds but can’t do 10 good push-ups. Are you one of them? Take our challenge to find out.

I just did 10 push-ups — good push-ups, the kind I’ll show you below — and I’m surprised at how hard they were. I’m breathing a little heavy. My body’s kinda shaky. My chest and arms are pumped. If I did two more sets I’m pretty sure I’d be toast.

As someone who can bench press 225 pounds over 15 times, this is a bit disconcerting. I don’t remember push-ups ever being this challenging.

According to strength coach Mike Mejia — a former scrawny guy who gained over 25 pounds of muscle and went on to co-author the Scrawny To Brawny book — I’m not alone. Lots of guys are surprised at how hard push-ups can be when they do them the right way.

“Most guys perform shitty push-ups and get a false sense of confidence,” he says. “If I ask a guy to drop and give me 10, I can bet at least 9 are gonna be horrible.”

The guys who do the worst push-ups? Absolute beginners who don’t have the basic strength to maintain good body posture…and guys like me who’ve been lifting weights for a couple years and tend to rush through them, using momentum instead of muscle strength.

“Guys that bench a house start trembling at 6 reps when they’re doing good push-ups,” says Mike. “That’s the wake up call.”

Now, don’t roll your eyes. Chances are good you’re in one of those categories, too.

So the question remains: Can you do 10 good push-ups? Let’s find out.

So yeah, push-ups are a great exercise every guy should do whether he’s just starting to train with weights or has been lifting for years.  So how do you know the difference between a shitty push-up and a good push-up?

Here’s Coach Paul to show us how it’s done.

Anatomy of a Shitty Push-up

    • Sagging hips
    • Flared elbows
    • Reaching for the floor with your head instead of your chest
    • Going too fast and using momentum to push back up

Anatomy of a Good Push-up

  • Upper back, head, and butt in a straight line
  • Elbows tucked
  • Abs tight and butt cheeks clenched
  • Chest gets close to the floor before the head does
  • Two seconds down, one second pause, explosive push

The Challenge

Can you do 10 good push-ups? Drop down and try right now.

Now tell us: was it more difficult than you thought?

About the Author: Nate Green is the Program Director for Scrawny To Brawny. You can find him on Facebook or Google+.

39 Responses to The Perfect Push-up Challenge

  1. Katie says:

    Hi Nate,

     

    I recently purchased your book, Built for Show, and have been trying to
    do the workouts (I’m starting with the fall program). However, due to time
    constraints (I work full time and attend school in the evenings), I’ve had to
    break up the workouts. Rather than doing the upper body and lower body workout
    in one day, I can only find time to do one or the other. So  on Monday, I will complete the upper body
    workout and then on Tuesday, I’ll do lower body. What do you think of this? Can
    I still expect to see gains with this routine?

     

    Thanks for your help,

    Katie
     

    • Nate Green says:

      Hey Katie – Thanks for the note. The upper body and lower body workouts are actually supposed to be done on separate days. So no worries there. 

      Here’s the way it’s supposed to be:

      Week 1:

      Monday – Upper
      Wednesday – Lower
      Friday – Upper

      Week 2:

      Monday – Lower
      Wednesday – Upper
      Friday – Lower 
      And so forth.

    • Katie says:

       Hi Nate,

      Thanks for clearing that up. For whatever reason, I’m still a little confused about how the fall schedule is suppose to work. I’m reading page 52 of your book and trying to match up the six-week schedule you have on that page with the fall program on page 73-74. Can we take this conversation off line? My email address is queenkatez@hotmail.com

  2. Jeff says:

    This is better form for sure, but you can see his scapula still caving in across his back.  The perfect push up maintains scapula distance and position while moving thru the lowering motion.  Tru it – start in the upright position and flatten the scapula across the upper back, now lower without letting them cave or come together – keep the upper back wide – now that’s body control and stability.

    • Dave Mulford says:

      @Jeff sounds good, and I see what you mean about his shoulder blades coming together at the bottom of the push-up. That being said, I have no idea how to prevent this from happening. Do you perhaps have a video showing this?

    • Shaun B says:

       so the pushup shouldn’t have the shoulder in a packed position?

    • Nate Green says:

      Cool; thanks for your perspective, Jeff. Do you mind posting a video of your perfect push-up on YouTube and linking to it here? I’d love to see what you’re talking about.

    • Andrew says:

      Jeff, it sounds like your talking about fixing the scapula. Of course we know that the scapula are supposed to move in rhythm with the humerus so what am I misunderstanding here?

  3. Danielcohencpt says:

    Like this video! Lol Great example of a shitty pushup, I see guys doing those allll the time. I ain’t one of them, few.

  4. JD says:

    Here’s a video by Eric Cressey for comparison. Eric is very knowledgeable and I’m sure he is doing them correctly.

  5. Col says:

    Yes I can!

  6. Col says:

    But I’m still scrawny…

  7. Jlarteacher says:

    Nope, not difficult at all. I am glad to see someone posting proper push-up form. I also appreciated the “shitty push-up” video…I’ve seen too many guys modeling that video.

  8. Sherri_aldridge says:

    Total body workout if it’s a good push up. You can see muscles in motion! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Dr. Kwame M. Brown says:

    Nope, easy.  But then again, I have always based my “play-outs” on movement variety and quality over quantity.  

  10. Brian Eplett says:

    yep was able to do ten, but ya a lot harder felt my arms a lot more
    B-man22

  11. Ih8blackwidowspiders says:

    When I first read the headline I got down and did 10 of my regular push-ups.  I have a bad shoulder and it got sore.  After finishing the article I did it right.  It put no strain on my shoulder (which is a good thing) and I definitely felt a difference in strain.  They re harder but safer.

  12. Michelle says:

    Pushed away from the desk around noon and did 10 full, good form pushups.  Nice little break in the work day! :) 

  13. What I love about the pushup is that you are engaging the full length of your body.  This is why some people find it so challenging, getting your whole body to work in a coordinated way.

    • Grant says:

      nate, how can i make them a little more challenging? if i elevate my feet – put them on a bosu ball for instance – does that put too much strain on the shoulders?

    • Andrew Dixon says:

      Grant, elevating your feet on a bench or ball is a great idea to make them more challenging. Here is a video: 

      Raising feet may be easier on the shoulder according to Eric Cressey in this post:
      http://www.ericcressey.com/tag/push-up You can also make them harder by using power bands on parallets at super slow tempos…here is a vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivHF-TJudF4

    • chrisbellette says:

      Instead of decline pushups I go, close pushup, uneven pushup, 1/2 single arm pushup, lever pushup, then full single arm pushup. Hope that helps :o)

      Check out resources by Paul Wade (Convict Conditioning) and Pavel Tsatsouline (Naked Warrior). Great bodyweight training manuals.

  14. Jay-C says:

    Nobody makes push-ups like that. I guess everybody’s wrong. Lol. There used to be 2 types of push-ups: push-ups for boys & push-ups for girls. That makes it a 3rd one: push-up for iron men!  My only question is this: Is having tucked elbows necessarily better than having flared elbows? Let’s say I want to target more my pecs. Wouldn’t be better to have flared elbows?

    • Andrew Dixon says:

      Flared elbows will recruit more pecs and less triceps. They may also damage your shoulder joint, so you have to decide if its a good trade off.

    • Jay-C says:

      The most common way to bench press is to have flared elbows. Do you think push-ups with flared elbows is more damaging than bench press with flared elbows?

    • Andrew Dixon says:

      Bench press is probably responsible for more shoulder injuries than any other exercise in the gym. Flared elbows is more stress on the joint, and in bench press I would avoid flared elbows for sure.

      Pushups you can get away with flaring the elbows and trying different variations from time to time, but generally you want to have the elbow joint below the shoulder joint at the bottom of the rep.

      I would apply this to all pushing movements.

    • Andrew Dixon says:

      Of course, vertical pushing is a different matter in relation to the elbow position, but tucked elbows(elbows forward) would be the safer method.

  15. Moretti45 says:

    I thought it would be so easy BUUTTTTT>>>> you were right on. 

  16. David says:

    Hi Nate,
    Great challenge. I like to have a broomstick handle resting along my back and head, during the push ups, touching 3 points at all times; the tail bone, just below the shoulder blades and the back of the head, (with a finger width distance between the stick and the low back). The stick is not allowed to fall off so it calls for slow and steady. This is a great tactile cue for those who’s form drops out, especially the head.  

  17. This was good.  I am teaching proper push ups in my program and showed the video to my teachers.  I won’t show it to clients though because the word “shitty” is  unprofessional  and I don’t want that reflected back to me or my program.  Wish I could have used it more.

  18. Rich says:

    Easy peasy…but Im still scrawny. Im an ecto w the metabolism of a field mouse. Its all in the diet…best word to describe mine is inconsistent. I gained 30 pds doing the scrawny to brawny yrs ago but I was more chunky than brawny n I blew my knee out(sports injury). I did crossfit 6 days a week for a yr or so…great shape but still scrawny. Looking for a good balance to fit my small frame wout comparing myself to everyone

  19. Jeremy says:

    Hi guys,

    Thank you for posting this, great stuff!  I’ve made a video of myself doing (or attempting:)  to do 10 perfect push ups. 

     http://youtu.be/R5fHdtOXMlo

    Check it out, and please feel free to critique. 

  20. Rblackj says:

    Definitely felt the pushup around rep 6 or so. Did 20 reps; pecs still sore. :)

  21. I can do it, not well, but I did it. Just getting back into the swing of not being fat and lazy. Time to sign up for the 5 day course.