The start of the COVID lockdown in early 2020 marked the ending of a lot of things for a lot of people. But for Instagrammer Polly of @polly_wants, it was a beginning. On 18 Feb., 2020, she set out to do 10 push-ups a day, every day. It was a way to reclaim control in a world that felt completely and utterly unpredictable, and it was also a way of asserting her power over a skill that had always eluded her.
"I reminded myself every single day: life happens, not everything depends on me, but I have to do all that I can. Not everything, but something. And 10 push-ups is that 'something' I can do every day."
Exactly three years later, Polly was still doing push-ups every day. Her Instagram video marking the anniversary and documenting her push-up journey went viral.
"I quit so many push-up challenges where you were supposed to add one more push-up every day, or change the amount of push-ups every other day, or do different types of push-ups," she wrote in the Instagram caption. "Every time I quit I ended up with a question: what's wrong with me? I felt weak. I felt like I'd never be able to do these stupid push-ups. February 18, 2020, I decided to be consistent and do small steps toward my goal. I started doing 10 push-ups every day no matter what."
Polly's video was flooded with comments from followers who were impressed with her journey, vowing to try the same challenge themselves. "Thank you for this. Will actually try it. This is EXACTLY how I've felt over push ups and I do really want to be good at them," wrote one user. "I can lift heavy but somehow cannot for the life of me do a push-up and it is so frustrating. I think I want to do this challenge!" wrote another.
The latter is something that compelled Polly toward push-ups in the first place: the fact that the move can be so basic, requiring just your body weight, but still so difficult for people, even those who are strong. Polly had been active her whole life, doing rhythmic gymnastics, playing badminton, and participating in cross-country skiing as a kid and teen, but push-ups were never in the cards. "I always skipped push-ups," she says, often thinking of them as too basic. "But the truth was, I just didn't know how to do them. It was too hard." And eventually she gave up, settling for the fact that she'd "never be 'that strong girl,' who can touch her chest to the ground," Polly says.
"Behind this challenge is focusing on positive things, celebrating small wins, learning something new, and living according to your values — it's huge! It's never been just 10 push-ups. It's a symbol of not giving up for me."
But on 18 Feb., 2020, Polly decided to give it another go, this time with no progressions, nothing fancy: just 10 push-ups a day. "I decided to be persistent for the first time and do small steps every single day," she says. A former editor for Vogue Ukraine, she also documented her wellness journey online, including posts about her push-up project.
She lasted a week before her motivation waned. She would've fully quit had it not been for one of her followers, who asked in the comments: "Haven't seen the push-ups, are you still doing them?"
"He didn't want to shame me, he was a big supporter since the beginning," Polly says. But his comment reminded her of her commitment and dedication. She got back on track and didn't stop. Determined to succeed this time, Polly even made a change in scenery.
"I'm a visual person, beauty in all its forms inspires me," Polly says. "I tried to learn push-ups so many times at home, and in the gym . . . But three years ago, I decided to do push-ups on my rooftop, the most inspiring and beautiful place in my city. My sacred place. And it worked! I could stick to this new routine because it was beautiful and inspiring and easily accessible, which is also important."
The mental, physical, and emotional gains were also a motivating factor.
"My arms and core now have visible muscles, which I never had. I finally can do chaturanga, which I never could. I feel strong and confident. I can do push-ups, and I can prove it anytime, anywhere," she says. "But honestly, the mental changes are even more significant. Behind this challenge is focusing on positive things, celebrating small wins, learning something new, and living according to your values — it's huge! It's never been just 10 push-ups. It's a symbol of not giving up for me. It takes little effort — it's less than a minute a day — but brings big changes in self-respect and self-confidence."
In hindsight, she credits her success to pairing the habit with something that brought her joy: the view. Over the course of three years, she also ended up doing push-ups in a variety of picturesque places: on a ski slope, on a mountain top, by the beach. All of these push-up locales were documented on Instagram, of course, and with her hashtag #pollywants_to❤️pushups.
"I started the challenge not with a particular goal, like '10 perfect push-ups,' but with an intention to love doing push-ups," Polly says. "I'm still not sure if I'm in love with push-ups, sometimes it's still hard, but I got a new skill. The most beautiful thing about any skill — push-up skill, foreign language skill, professional skill — is that it became yours deeply. Nobody can take it away."