There’s no way around it: Pushups are hard. That’s probably why I typically avoid doing them, or drop down to my knees for a modified version when I must. Though I do my fair share of chaturangas in yoga, my arms have always been on the scrawny side, and as a runner, I rely on my legs to do most of the muscling.

This winter, though, I took a little hiatus from running to rest a cranky knee, and I started swimming. Emboldened by how much stronger my arms and shoulders (and core!) felt after just a few weeks, I decided to push myself one step further…with pushups. Could I finally muster the strength to conquer my longtime nemeses?

Determined, I set daily reminders for mid-morning and afternoon to get out of my desk chair for pushups every workday for a month—and hopefully strengthen my upper body in the process. At first I searched for a 30-day push-up challenge on Pinterest, a.k.a. the land of good intentions, but I couldn’t find one in between beginner and advanced that suited my abilities. So I constructed a rough game plan for myself that went something like this (with some variation, based on my other workout plans each day):

Week 1: 10 wall pushups (morning), 5 standard pushups + 5 knee pushups (afternoon)
Week 2: 15 wall pushups (morning), 10 standard pushups (afternoon)
Week 3: 15 knee pushups (morning), 10 standard pushups + 10 wall pushups (afternoon)
Week 4: 20 wall or knee pushups (morning), 15-20 standard pushups (afternoon)

Here’s what went down.

I realized how weak I was.

Knee pushups? Easy-peasy. Standard pushups? Not so much. Originally I planned to jump right in with 10 regular ones in the afternoons during week one, but then (after an arm-quakingly slow 10 reps on day one) I cursed my weak arms and adjusted my schedule to gradually build up strength. After all, my office door was shut, so who was I trying to impress? Still, I bemoaned how it could be this difficult to press my own body weight.

My office wall became my best friend.

Wall push-ups are a good alternative to standard ones if the idea of touching the questionable carpet at work repulses you. Plus, they’re a far gentler way to strengthen your upper body. I can’t say that I always looked forward to my afternoon push-up breaks, but I happily welcomed morning breaks where I could stand up, stretch, and press out a quick, energising set on the wall. Especially as the week went on and my arms became more fatigued by the day.

I worked hard to correct my form.

Done properly, you should feel push-ups in your core as well as in your chest and arms. Though I thought I’d learned from my plank breaks at work over the summer, I still struggled to align my body correctly. Zeroing in on my weaknesses in plank yet again (unengaged core, caved-in back, drooping neck), I focused on setting myself up better for my push-ups. Of course, the next step was maintaining that form while actually doing push-ups.

Push-ups got easier.

Once I corrected my form, I started to feel the push-ups through my midsection and into my upper body as I bent and raised. By the middle of Week 2, I could already tell that I was getting better at regular push-ups, but it wasn’t until the end of Week 3 that I felt confident doing them. Some days I struggled more than others, but whenever I started to get defeated, the next day’s set would be a breeze. And on those days that felt like a total slog, I dropped on my knees to give my body a rest.  

And that made me dread them less. 

Really, push-ups aren’t so bad once you get the hang of things. And as they became less painful (and I felt more powerful), I even came to enjoy them. I’ll be honest: I don’t plan to continue taking twice daily breaks, but now I feel comfortable doing a few sets of push-ups while stretching after an easy run.

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By the end, my arms got noticeably stronger.

Maybe it was the combination of swimming and push-ups, but my arms felt firmer and looked a little more defined after my monthly challenge was over. My end goal was just to be able to do push-ups comfortably, and I achieved that. Were my biceps popping? LOL, no. But I could tell I was stronger, and that made me feel pretty darn good. 

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