It’s no surprise that pushups aren’t everyone’s favorite exercise. Even celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels admits that they’re challenging!

To help get past the pushup scaries, we developed this pushup challenge with Michaels, creator of the My Fitness App by Jillian Michaels, and Rachel MacPherson, an ACE-certified personal trainer.

It’s a 30-day program to increase muscle strength in your upper body and abdominals.

The goal of the program is to gradually go from doing basic or modified pushups to full and improved pushups within 30 days.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of the pushup challenge, how to get started, tips, and the variations to keep it interesting.

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5
Scapular wall pushups

8–12 reps,
2–3 sets
Basic wall pushups

8–12 reps,
2–3 sets
Basic wall pushups

8–12 reps,
2–3 sets
Incline pushups

8–12 reps,
2 sets
Incline pushups

8–12 reps,
2 sets
Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10
RestRestScapular pushups on the floor

8–12 reps,
2–3 sets
Scapular pushups on the floor

8–12 reps,
2–3 sets
Basic floor pushups

8–12 reps,
1 set
Day 11Day 12Day 13Day 14Day 15
Basic floor pushups

As many reps as you can
Basic floor pushups

8–12 reps,
1–2 sets
RestRestScapular wall pushups

Incline pushups

Basic floor pushups

8–12 reps each,
1–2 sets each
Day 16Day 17Day 18Day 19Day 20
Basic floor pushups

4–6 reps,
1–4 sets

*Record sets & reps this week
Basic floor pushups

4–6 reps,
1–4 sets
Basic floor pushups

4–6 reps,
1–4 sets
Basic floor pushups

4–6 reps,
1–4 sets
Rest
Day 21Day 22Day 23Day 24Day 25
RestTriceps pushups

8–12 reps,
1 set
Diamond incline pushups

8–12 reps,
1 set
Basic floor pushups

Triceps pushups

Diamond incline pushups

8–12 reps each,
1–2 sets each
Basic floor pushups

Triceps pushups

Diamond incline pushups

1 set each, as many reps as you can do
Day 26Day 27Day 28Day 29Day 30
Time test!

As many pushups of your choice for 3-5 minutes
Triceps pushups

8–12 reps,
1 set
Diamond incline pushups

8–12 reps,
1 set
RestBasic floor pushups

Triceps pushups

Diamond incline pushups

1 set each, as many reps as you can do

*Record results to see your progress

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Both arms and feet should be hip-width apart.
  • Line up your thumbs at armpit level, not in front or behind your armpits.
  • Keep your head and neck in line with your spine.
  • Keep the core engaged to protect the spine.
  • Keep your elbows slightly tucked in instead of flared out too wide.
  • Stay hydrated during all of your workouts.
  • If you can no longer maintain proper form, stop the exercise.

  1. Start by standing facing a wall, about 1 to 1 1/2 feet away from it.
  2. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart, with fingers turned slightly outward.
  3. Without bending your elbows, pinch your shoulder blades together as you bring your chest toward the wall.
  4. Don’t dip your hips or tuck in your chin. Keep a straight line from head to toe, with your core tight.
  5. Push back to the starting position.

This exercise is a small movement with a short range of motion, only pinching your shoulder blades together and pulling them back apart.

  1. Start standing facing a wall, about 1 to 1 1/2 feet away from it.
  2. At shoulder height, reach out and place your hands on the wall, shoulder-width apart, with fingers turned slightly outward.
  3. Bring your chest toward the wall by slowly bending your elbows. Keep your back and hips straight without dipping, and keep your core engaged. Breathe in while you lower.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position, breathing out.

  1. Start by kneeling facing a workout bench — or stand facing a countertop or couch — about 1 to 1 1/2 feet away from it.
  2. Reach out and place your hands on the edge of the bench or counter, with fingers turned slightly outward. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders.
  3. Extend one leg and then the other behind you, with arms extended and your body in a straight line.
  4. Bring your chest toward the bench or counter by slowly bending your elbows, breathing in. Keep your back and hips straight without dipping, and keep your core engaged.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position, breathing out.

This version of scapular pushups also asks for a relatively small movement and range of motion, only pinching your shoulder blades together and apart. Resisting gravity to keep your form is what takes the strength building up from scapular wall pushups.

  1. Start by kneeling on the ground.
  2. At shoulder height, reach out and place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart, with fingers turned slightly outward.
  3. Extend your legs one at a time behind you, with toes on the ground and your body in a straight line, core engaged, in plank position.
  4. Without bending your elbows, pinch your shoulder blades together as you bring your chest toward the wall.
  5. Don’t dip your hips or tuck in your chin. Keep a straight line from head to toe, with your core tight.
  6. Push back to the starting position.

This is the basic bread-and-butter pushup, whether you’re performing it on your knees or toes.

  1. Start by kneeling on the ground.
  2. Place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart, with fingers turned slightly outward.
  3. Bring your chest toward the floor by slowly bending your elbows, breathing in. Engage your core, and keep your back and hips straight without dipping.
  4. Stop the range of motion when your shoulders are at the same height as your elbows.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position, breathing out.

For a full pushup, extend your legs behind you with your toes on the ground. Your body should be in plank position, in a straight line, with your core engaged.

Trainer tip

If a modified pushup on your knees is too difficult, take the challenge to the wall.

In addition to being more comfortable, MacPherson explains that wall pushups help take the pressure off the joints since you’re not lowering your body up and down from the ground.

Pushup variations help the muscles gradually build strength, ensuring that a full range of motion is possible.

  1. Start by kneeling on the ground.
  2. At shoulder height, reach out and place your hands on the floor, armpit-width apart, with fingers turned slightly outward. Hands are placed slightly closer together than with basic pushups.
  3. Extend your legs one at a time behind you, with toes on the ground and your body aligned in plank position.
  4. Bring your chest toward the floor by slowly bending your elbows back against the side of your body, breathing in. Keep your head, back, and hips aligned, without dipping and keep your core engaged.
  5. Stop the range of motion when your shoulders are at the same height as your elbows, with elbows against your rib cage.
  6. Slowly return to the starting position, breathing out.

  1. Start kneeling facing a workout bench — or stand facing a countertop or couch — about 1 to 1 1/2 feet away from it.
  2. At shoulder height, reach out and place your hands on the edge, with index fingers and thumbs touching each other in a diamond shape.
  3. Extend one leg and then the other behind you, hip-width apart, with arms extended and your body in a straight line.
  4. Bring your chest toward the bench or counter by slowly bending your elbows out, breathing in. Keep your back and hips straight without dipping and keep your core engaged.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position, breathing out.
  6. To make this exercise easier, separate your hands by a couple of inches.

Burn calories

Pushups are an effective way to burn calories since they require lots of energy to perform, Michaels says. Your body may even continue to burn calories after your workout has finished.

Practice coordination

As an additional benefit, pushups are considered a functional exercise.

“They train your body to perform the way it needs to in everyday life, with most multiple muscle groups working synergistically to move your body through its daily rigors,” said Michaels.

Strengthen many muscles at once

“Pushups are such a fantastic exercise because they work many different muscle groups simultaneously,” said Michaels.

This includes a large focus on the upper body muscles, such as the pectorals, triceps, deltoids, biceps, and the core.

They also work the glutes and leg muscles, which stabilize the body during the workout.

Pushups are a great exercise for full body strengthening. While not everyone’s favorite, they burn lots of calories and help sculpt muscles. You can do them pretty much anywhere, without any equipment.

Just be sure to follow the safety tips, which include stopping when you lose proper form.

As always, consult with a doctor before beginning any health program.