Push-Ups to Failure

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For the past month I’ve been doing a little experiment.  Each day I would do a set of push-ups until I couldn’t do any more.  Push-ups to failure, I called it.

On day 1, I only could muster up a mere 27 push ups.

By day 30, I was up to 72, a 267% improvement!

Exciting stuff.  Here’s how it went down:

Nerd Bonus: You can see from the trendline with an R-squared value of .96, the improvements were very consistent.  The average gain was 1.25 push ups a day.

I forgot to do my push ups on 2 days (the flat section near the middle of the graph) on account of snowboarding and skiing those days.

Are these perfect push ups? Not at all. But I was consistent in my methods.  You know, for science.

I found that doing them faster yielded better results as there seemed to be a physical limit of both repetitions but also time under resistance.

Each day I tried to meet or beat yesterday’s total, and only failed to do that one time.

Should I keep going and try to get to 100?  If the formula holds true, it should only take another 3 weeks.

I think this experiment is a great example of how focusing on tiny incremental improvements can produce dramatic results.  A month ago the idea of doing 70 push ups would have sounded crazy, but by specifically NOT aiming for it, and instead just trying to beat yesterday’s total, I was able to get there.

This kind of incrementalism is the opposite of the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) theory from Built to Last.  I think both can work, but in the end even the most outrageous goals have to be broken down into smaller steps.

Now to put this tactic to work in other areas of life, business, and my goal of earning $1000 a month in passive income by the end of the year.

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

15 thoughts on “Push-Ups to Failure”

  1. Love this! This is encouraging and inspiring. I am going to try this for myself. You should definitely try for one-hundred. At this pace it shouldn’t take long. Great work and bonus points for the nerd factor.

      • Thats a great read,I have two questions for you actually,first,were those pushups all the way up and all the way down?Like they do it in the military,in that case,its a damn good form.Second question,how much size did you pack on,and by pushups till failure do you mean resting in a plank position or ending the set as soon as you could not push through a rep properly,thnx in advance.

    • Hey Chuck, thanks for the note. I’m sorry to report I didn’t get to 100; I stopped doing the daily pushups a few days after this post.

      But I am excited to be making some good progress on the passive income side — will definitely share an update here soon!

  2. I started this on Sunday. I have already improved from 25 to 30 pushups! I have also started a goal to write 1 blog post a week, working on it every night after work. Thanks for the motivation Nick.

  3. This is really cool. I’ve been working on my push-ups and pull ups. I can do around 20 pull ups at a moderate pace and only about 40 push-ups. I use to do 6 sets of each 3x a week in addition to my lifting program, but I quickly plateaued.

    I’m defintely giving this a try.

    My next goal is 30 pull ups and 100 push-ups.

    I’m having a dilemma with the debate of packing vs unpacking the shoulders for pull ups, which causes me to go slow and lose reps.

  4. I really appreciate you sharing this technique and it’s something I’m willing to give a try. I started a similar attempt to “gamify” a daily fitness regime by starting on January 1 and doing push-up “plus one” every single day.
    Jan 1= 1 push-up
    Jan 2 = 2 push-ups
    Jan 3 = 3 push-ups, etc.
    In theory, by the time I reach the end of the year I should be doing 366 (it’s a leap year!) push-ups a day.
    Any bets on where I’ll end up tapping out??
    I was thinking that perhaps I’d have to break them into sets of push-ups throughout the day when I hit a high enough quantity, but your process gives me a different way to activate a daily practice.

  5. Hey Nick – interested to see how that passive income goal played out for you. I’ve just found your blog and really like some of your stuff so far, I think you certainly deserve a strong following and some solid revenue streams from that!!

  6. Everyone has to start somewhere. I failed for many years. Lack of content marketing knowledge, failure to learn quickly about content distribution, feeling fatigue, and disappointment in life. All of that has turned around now. :-)

  7. You should do this again with a more challenging pushup. Maybe hand stand or type writer pushup/archer pushup
    I’d also be curious to see, how you would look going from 10 to 100 archer push ups.


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