In my twenties, I met a beefy Marine who told me that they were required to perform something like 200 pushups at a time (or some such number), and I was duly impressed. (He was also very dismissive of the physical fitness of Israeli combat soldiers—but I let that slide…)

I was reasonably fit at the time, but I couldn’t do more than twenty at a time, so out of curiosity, I wondered if I could increase it by one each day. I couldn’t—the body doesn’t strengthen that quickly, and you need to give time for muscles to recover (strength exercises involve microscopic tears in the muscle, which then needs time to patch them up with additional muscle tissue, making it bulkier and stronger).

So I changed tack, and tried something you can try, too: every time you enter the bathroom (or any other room), drop down and do a modest number—say, ten. In the course of the day, you’ll end up doing 150–200 or so, but not in one go. If your body is cold or you’ve just woken up, don’t force your body to do the full pushup if the muscles aren’t up to it, but rather ten “miniature” ones. Try also just staying immobile in the up position—that’s known as a full plank—for, say, a minute and a half:

It will take a full week for the results to begin to show, in terms of strength (and possibly, appearance, as well), but after a week or two, when your body’s warm, you’ll find that your chest and triceps have strengthened to the point where you can fairly easily do the allotted ten or more full pushups. At that point, do as many as you feel comfortable doing, but it’s likely still to be no more than 20.

And finally—do other exercises, as well. Pushups only exercise certain sets of arm, chest, back, neck and stomach muscles, and you should do other, complementary exercises that deal with other parts of the body. Mix it up—the human body thrives on variety, as it evolved having to run, throw spears, climb trees, pound rocks, and all sorts of other physical challenges.


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