Review – 100 Push Ups, 200 Sit Ups, and 200 Squats

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Image from the one hundred push ups website.

Through the past year, my view on strength training from runners has evolved from “an unnecessary distraction” to “good but hard to justify and fit in” to “an essential starting point for being a successful runner”.  And through that time, the approach I’ve wanted to take for strength training has shifted from using the typical fitness center infested with row upon row of multi-thousand-dollar weight machines to returning to the roots of using the body for resistance with minimal aides and, potentially.  It may eventually move to using free weights as advocated in this thought provoking article describing the three basic strength building exercises from which all athletic success can spring forth.

This review will focus on the journey to using the body as the only resistance needed for strength training – specifically through the Steve Speirs-designed 100 Push Ups, 200 Sit Ups, and 200 Squats programs.  These systems are designed to progress you from your current baseline to the ultimate goal through a six-week schedule.  In essence, this takes what sounds like an impossible objective and sets you up to achieve the successful milestones needed along the path to ultimately reach the goal.

Let me first confess that I fear push ups and, to an only slightly-lesser extent, sit ups and squats.  I never did well on these fitness assessments during school, so the thought of measuring myself against these standards was a bit intimidating.  However, I decided to publicize my journey through dailymile posts to help create the motivation to stick to the program, and I think that was a big factor in ultimately doing so.

These programs are all designed around a 3-day-per-week system built (typically) of 5 sets per day that, including the prescribed 60,  90, or 120 second rest intervals, required maybe 10-15 minutes of dedicated time each session.  I eventually figured out that the rest intervals could be used for other activities such as stretching, myrtl, lunges, or emptying the dishwasher, so the dedicated time needed is even less than 30 minutes per week until the late stages of the 200 Sit Ups and 200 Squats programs, where just the sheer volume of repetitions does take a little extra time.

I started my endeavors with 100 Push Ups back in August last year, with an initial exhaustion test yielding a result of 19 push ups.  This put me into the highest “level 3″ category, with still what looked like (and turned out to be) some very achievable week 1 goals.  I simply tacked the push-ups onto the end of my predawn runs three days per week – obviously on days I wasn’t already doing strength training of the “throw the weights on the machines around randomly” variety.  The first three weeks progressed pretty quickly and, by the end of that time, my maximum push ups had already increased to around 42.

It is then that things grew interesting.  I lost a bit of focus – frankly I found it difficult to remember to print out or look up the schedule, and the challenge of week 4 maybe gave me less motivation to do so.  I was running a lot then, and it became easy enough to justify skipping the push ups due to limited time available after the run.  So I gave the program up for a few weeks, then started again at week 3, then gave it up again.

And then the biggest blessing of all for focusing on these types of programs occurred – I got injured.  Suddenly, I had much more free time and motivation to focus on strength and stability, and I lost the access to the weight machines as my approach in getting to the fitness center involved running there.  The next-best blessing, happening around the same time, was receiving an iPad from work as a holiday gift.  This allowed me to purchase the 100 Push Ups, 200 Sit Ups, and 200 Squats iPhone apps.  While the websites have everything you need to execute the program, including logging applications to keep track of your results, it is far more convenient to do so on the iPhone apps, where the schedule, timers (for recovery), and log is built in.

With the renewed focus on the programs, I started the 200 Sit Ups effort and reengaged with 100 Push Ups.  I blasted through week 3 of the latter again and then, hit the wall (now several times over) on week 4.  Maybe I’m just not made for upper body strength, as I continue to butt my head up against trying to complete the full week.  Yes, you can take longer recoveries than the minimum, but I’m a purist about this type of stuff – if I can’t do the workout on the minimum recovery, then how will I ever make 100 straight.  I am still creeping asymptotically closer, just  a few push ups short of moving on to week 5 – which will likely take several months as well.

200 Sit Ups has been a different matter.  From an initial exhaustion test yielding 42 sit ups, I blasted right through the first five weeks and then, on the post-week-five exhaustion test, did 210 sit ups straight.  Now these are curl ups or crunches if you will, not the full traditional sit ups, which are believed to put too much of a strain on your back.  However, the “core burn” is still there – you can feel these when you are doing them and for a while afterward.

I would follow up the sit up workouts with more core work involving planks, side planks, leg lifts, and locust pose to balance out the over-focus on the upper abdomen that comes from the curl ups.  I’m not going to claim a six-pack ab at this point – but definite progress on the path there.  Even though I’ve met the goal, I’m going to keep repeating week 6 (or more) of the program as a good core workout, and may even see if I can’t use the same structure to achieve “200 Leg Lifts.”

As far as 200 Squats, my initial exhaustion test was 71 – more limited by boredom than fatigue.  And, to be honest, I question how valuable squats are for this runner, at least.  While squats nominally strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, it seems I felt most of the burn in my quads, which is the last muscle that needs any strengthening.  In addition, the squats created a pull on my already-strained hamstring, so this program has been shelved, at least for a few months.

Does all of this make one a better runner?  I fall under the philosophy that if you think something will improve your running, it probably will, as much of what is gained is mental anyway.  So yes, I recommend at least the 100 Push Ups and 200 Sit Ups programs.  Even if I never reach 100 straight push ups and bump along in week 4 forever, the (slightly) improved physique and strength is reward enough for having started this journey.

Updated January 2013: Over the past two years I’ve moved away from using much in the way of sit ups and squats in my strength training, favoring a broader set of strength training exercises that are more running-specific.  This has helped me overcome some of the weaknesses in my core (hips/glutes/hamstrings) and calf/Achilles to remain largely injury-free for a year.

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  • Caydel

    100 pushups is the only one of the three I’ve considered doing, although I do perform air squats to burn off some extra energy from time to time.

    If core strength is your goal, 200 situps is probably not the most effective program, as it solely focuses on your upper abdominal muscles. I’ve found that Jason Fitzgerald’s ‘Functional Core for Runners’ routine seems to be a better fit, as it seems to pretty roundly target most of the important stabilizer muscles in your core each time you go through the routine.

    From the looks of it, they are also developing a 25 pull ups routine which might compliment 100 pushups for upper body strength. The beauty of pullups and pushups is that you can vary the form a fair bit to target different portions of your upper body.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Great comments, thanks. As I mentioned in the post I did add more core work beyond the sit ups to focus on other areas of the abdomen and back (and, when healthy, will do a lot of work on the glutes), but will certainly check out Fitz’s routine as well. I know he is a fan of squats, but generally more of the weight-bearing variety.

  • Alan Ashley

    I have all 3 on my iphone and have only attempted the 100 Push-ups. I’m currently doing more over body conditioning so I’m getting plenty of ab ripping pain and core work through that. But I know at some point I will be ready for the 100 Pushups (Summer time crunch may force this move from the current XT plan) followed by Crunches and I doubt the Squats will get much use at least for me.

    Thanks for the post as I was wondering what other thought of these programs.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks for the comment Alan, certainly if you are doing plenty of other core and conditioning work than the programs are unnecessary, but as you said they are ideal for maintaining some focus on upper body strength when time or access to equipment is more limited.

  • Lydia

    It is interesting that I stopped by your site today Greg. I started doing this routine this morning. My initial test yielded a whopping 4 push-ups! I think I will start the sit-ups too. Thanks for your post!

  • Greg Strosaker

    Glad I could help Lydia, and good luck with the program – whether 4 or 19 as a starting point, it’s sure to help.

  • Thomas Neuberger

    I have only been able to complete the squats!

  • Greg Strosaker

    I’m now convinced I’ll never make it past week 4 of the push ups. Still a good workout to keep trying, though!

  • CaptainJ

    I started the 100 pushups program on 3 Feb (doing “women’s” pushups as my upper body strength is quite poor). I could only do 5 then, and thus started under “column 1″. I repeated Week 4, went on to Week 5, then incorporated an Android “100 pushups” program into weeks “5A” and “5B”. I have finally moved on to Week 6! I am not sure I can complete it, but I will certainly try!

    I definitely feel my strength improving, and can even do 5 “men’s” pushups now! Keep going, Greg!

  • Greg Strosaker

    I’m still stuck at week 4, but still appreciate having the structured workouts to include in my routine. Holding out hope that I’ll some day move beyond! Good luck on week 6, and thanks for your comment.

  • Nathan Bitecofer

    Thanks for sharing. I have been looking for some good cross training guides. I will definitely give the pushup and situp apps a shot!

  • Anna

    I just started the 100 pushups with an initial test of slightly over 20, and I started week 1 column 3. I’m finding it quite easy so far. I’m quite sure that you’ll be able to make it past week 4. In high school I got quite proficient at pushups because I was bad a badminton so my coach made me do 10 whenever I missed the birdie (which was nearly ALL THE TIME). 

  • Greg Strosaker

    Good luck Anna. I never did make it past week 4, and then stopped when my mileage started increasing. Now that I’m in recovery/base building mode, I’m starting again at week 3. I’ve always been bad at pushups though, guess I should have made more mistakes in gym class!

  • Alex R

    I just started the 100 push-ups… I scord 24 on my initial test, did the first week easy, although near th end I did really struggle… But meh, I have been doing 100 push ups before bed and 15 when I wake up for a good couple of months now… time to step it up ;)

  • Greg Strosaker

    That’s a good first test result – you will probably find the first two weeks pretty easy, week 3 a little more challenging, then things really pick up in week 4. I still haven’t gotten past week 4, but haven’t been working as hard at it of late. Good luck!

  • Art Jury

     Hello,  Looks like a good effort but I am giving up on this site.  Admittedly my aims are different.  I am going to do 100000 sit ups  and 50000 pushups in 2012 and was looking at a way to track that.  There are to many clicks to get to the data entry each time.   There is no place for comments  to the site author.   I think this is mostly a sales site.  Might work well for someone wanting to get to 100 pushups in one sitting.  Im doing 140 per day for a year.   Good luck hope you reach your goals.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Hi Art, it sounds like you definitely have your own plan so no, 100 push-ups is not for you – you look like you are looking more for a tracking system as opposed to a plan. Good luck on your aggressive pursuits this year.

  • Dominic Lahar

    Hi Greg, similar experience as yours. I went up weeks 1-3, failed at week 4 a few times, back to week 3, repeat week 4. Today I tried week 5, day 1–which jumps from 124 to 170 pushups. It recommends: 36,40,30,24,40+. I did 36, 40 (nearly died), 15, 22, 31 (2nd near death experience) for a total of 144. That’s a new personal best. But finishing it again gave me the choice of going back a week (sensible), repeating that day (very difficult), or continuing with the program (insane). I’m going to try repeating the day. I may have to do it a few times. I may not even crack it. We’ll see. Perhaps if I was doing some kind of protein-heavy muscle building diet, I would not have hit the week 5 wall. Who knows. But I do feel the program could benefit with a 5A/5B or more adaptive strategy for the many of us who run up against that wall. Thanks for the reviews.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Hi Dominic, I never did really get past week 4. Since I only do push-ups/sit-ups/squats one day per week now (no time with all the mileage I’m logging), I’ve just setted into a 5×20/40/40 combo (the 20 being the push-ups, of course). Good luck in your own efforts to polish off the program.

  • Dominic Lahar

    Update on 100 pushups: I added two protein shakes and 3-5 egg whites per day to the mix and finally broke through the wall, just finishing week 5. My week 5 day 3 was 204 pushups: 22,22,24,24,20,20,22,50. 

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks for the update – I hadn’t thought about that approach. Good luck on pushing through (pun intended) to the finish!

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  • mirkorosco

     100 consecutive push ups

  • Jim McGowan

    Did you ever make it past week 4.   I started at initial test of 52  started week. Just finished week 6 day1 category 3 on the 3rd attempt.  Taking full advantage of the 60 sec or LONGER between sets.   Drink coffee before hand and try to get really angry.  

  • Greg Strosaker

    Hi Jim, I think I nudged into week 5 once, but never made it beyond day 1. I haven’t done the program in a while, but when I do take it up again, your advice sounds like the best I’ve heard on breaking through the barrier!