2 to 50 pushups in 1 year – thank you Prof BJ Fogg

I wrote a post on my fitness regimen a while back. I am happy to report that I will be completing 3 years end of this month. The biggest thing is that I work with a personal trainer who is simply brilliant/world class. I can’t believe that a guy like me who hated exercise is now a fitness evangelist !! – kudos to my trainer.

I have several insights to share if you all are interested?

Today i want to write about how i went from doing 2 pushups to 50 pushups everyday?

Exactly one year back, 2 years into my fitness program, I decided to become ambitious and put exercise into my daily routine. Just then I came across Stanford Prof BJ Fogg’s brilliant Tiny Habits program [we have since adopted the broader Fogg Behavior Model for software design in my team].

Prof Fogg’s insight is that the best way to change ourselves is by building that change as a habit. While others have also talked about that, Prof Fogg’s brilliance lies in the 2 big ideas in his method to build habits:

1. Make the habit tiny enough to make the Cognitive Cost of adopting that habit close to zero.

2. Anchor the habit to a pre-existing habit, so that it becomes an extension of the pre-existing habit.

I applied these 2 ideas to create a Tiny Workout:

1. I chose pushups based on my trainer’s advice and decided to start with 2 pushups – doing one was easy, but doing 2 was a bit difficult but not too much. So the Cognitive Cost is low.

2. Next step was to choose an anchoring habit – i chose rolling off the bed – something i have to do everyday (i am sure you do too πŸ™‚ )

With this design, i started in September 2012 – roll off the bed and did 2 pushups which took me 2-3 seconds.

By April 2013 i had hit 15 pushups and i noticed for the first time, my triceps breaking out. Per the ABC theory i believe in, I started seeing benefits.

In the next 4 months, i made such rapid progress that it amazed me no end. On August 18th, i hit 50 pushups – wow – not sure i would be this happy even if I had climbed Mt Everest πŸ™‚

During the course of my journey when i hit 25 pushups, with my trainer’s help i added hyperextensions, lower-half supermans and some stretches.

Today the count stands at 50 pushups, 40 HyperExtensions, 20 lower-half supermans and some stretches. And the whole routine takes 4 minutes up from 2-3 seconds. I plan to increase the workout duration to 10 min over time. Please wish me luck.

One of the things that worked for me  is a resolution I made – never  skip my Tiny Workout. Even on an international flight, I surprised my fellow passengers and the stewardess by doing my Tiny Workout πŸ™‚ I do it when i am travelling and even when i am on vacation.

After i hit 20 pushups i changed the anchor habit to post-morning ablutions because i found it hard to do pushups without emptying the bowels. Since the habit had already formed, i was able to switch the anchor seamlessly.

I have since taught Tiny Habits to many people who find it very effective. I have also personally formed new habits in other areas of my life.

Have you all tried Tiny Habits?

A big thanks from the bottom of my heart to Prof BJ Fogg. 


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    Thats great Sukumar. I used to get more bumps from my wife to do pushups every day morning. But I some how skipped due to laziness. By reading this post I think it looks like a great achievement atleast for me πŸ™‚ Will try to do it frrom tomorrow.

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said September 1, 2013, 6:40 pm:

    Thanks Arun. Now that you have done a public declaration of your intent, you are more likely to do it. Please consider writing a blog post as you make progress. That will keep the pressure on. All the best.

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    Ha ha πŸ™‚ will definitely do it.

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said September 1, 2013, 6:50 pm:

    πŸ™‚ i meant that seriously Arun.

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    Of-course Sukumar, I will do it and will keep you posted.

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    Thanks Arun. All the best.

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    Sukumar , Thanks for introducing tiny change to all of us. It certainly works when trying to form new good habits like going to the gym during weekends and then slowly making work changes to enable sparing 30 mins for gym alternate days.
    I have applied it to learn better conflict resolution. I used to shy away from expressing a alternate point of view . I first started to pick up the phone and talk with the person to sort out differences with folks I trust, Slowly i have tried to expand to aquaintances at work as well. I found this is much better than hiding behind long chain of emails.
    I have many other areas of improvement as well , have to analyze myself and start applying more

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    Thanks Veena for sharing your experiences with Tiny Change. Glad to know that it works for you. Yes, introspecting is an important skill to cultivate to improve ourselves continuously.

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    Rajashree said September 2, 2013, 12:37 pm:

    Sukumar – this is a very inspiring post. Persistence is key however small the changes are to yield the desired results. It is impressive to know your routine didnt break even in flight! I agree with Veena, thanks for introducing Tiny Change and am now evangelizing to teachers and in education. Already seeing a big change. Identifying atleast 5 positive thinks in the classroom/school was the tiny change introduced and it is bringing tremendous positivity (combined Whale done and Tiny change in this)

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    Thanks for the kind words Rajashree. Glad to hear that TCs are working for you. It will be great if you can elaborate on what exactly you did in the school that worked with the 5 positive thinks.

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    Congratulations Sukumar.

    I had the habit of going to the gym, yes, 3 years back! One fine morning, as soon as I finished my warm-up, one of the trainers pulled me to a competition to do push-ups (just the count). Surprisingly, I was able to do 42, 8 short of yours πŸ˜‰

    In the current fitness regime, I do 20X2 push-ups. Not sure if I will be able to do 50+. Will try…

    Meanwhile, good luck to you to increase your workout to over 10 mins.


  12. Quote

    Great inspiring post.

    Triumph of Brain over Braun.

    Before truly admiring BJ Fogg, just want to view your achivement through the lens of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.16(http://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras-11216.htm).

    Two core principles of Yoga: Practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests. It is through the cultivation of these two that the other practices evolve, by which mastery over the mind field occurs), and allows the realization of the true Self.

    Abhyasa/Practice: Abhyasa means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility. To become well established, this needs to be done for a long time, without a break. From this stance the deeper practice continues to unfold, going ever deeper towards the direct experience of the eternal core of our being.

    Vairagya/Non-attachment: The essential companion is non-attachment, learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self.

    Hats off. You are an inspiration…
    And, as its human nature to feel envy/greed/macho when it comes to workout, wish to share a small update from my end too. There was an “increase” which made me happy due to regular running (5kms – avg 27mts). The increase was on my “belt hole” where my buckle held my pant on my hips πŸ™‚ i.e One inch decrease in hip size which was due to my fat-crying as sweat πŸ™‚

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said September 2, 2013, 6:39 pm:

    Thanks a lot Mur. 3 years back if you were able to do 42 and you are still doing 20X2, you can most certainly do 50. Thanks for your wishes and encouragement.

    I do plan to blog when i hit the 10 min mark.

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said September 2, 2013, 6:51 pm:

    Thanks a lot Prasanna for the kind words and the references to Pathanjali. Very nice. Kudos to you on your fitness achievements – one inch decrease in hip size is huge and so is 5Km in 27Mts. Well done.

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    Viswanaathan said September 3, 2013, 6:48 am:

    This is motivating to know Sukumar, gives a lot of hope to improve fitness. I am sharing my experience with the 2 ideas below in the past 1 month.

    My mom used to scold me or dad when she finds the water bottle/jug empty during her breakfast while she s in a hurry to go to office. I tagged the tiny change of checking and filling the 2 bubble tops, 1 water bottle ,1 jug and 1 big vessel for her to use for cooking after brushing my teeth(do value adds). Impact: No Scolding for empty water bottles 1 month :):). One challenge – each day when I used to get up at 5.30 Am this worked, when I could not when mom needed water for cooking and when the can on top of the bubble top was empty, she became anxious as she or dad is unable to lift a new can.

    I have also tagged the habit of drinking 250 ml water immediately after doing this filling as it is easy to access water and its like a reminder.

    I have also tagged habit of doing breathing exercise to drinking water. With breathing exercise, I started with 10 breaths a month ago, slowly improved to 20, 30 and now I am at 40. I will maintain it for a month.

    They key for my tiny changes is waking up at 5.30 which I am working on waking up consistently at 5.30 am so that I completely solve the water challenge for Amma and the anxiety never comes to her in future. Plus it helps me build few more tiny changes upon them.

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    Thanks for sharing your experiences with Tiny Changes. I have a small suggestion for you – the building up of a new habit works when the anchoring habit is a reliable habit. You seem to have tied your water jug filling habit to waking up at 530am which doesn’t seem to be a well-formed habit. That is why you are having difficulties. My reco is for you to tie it to some night time habit such as brushing teeth before going to bed. You can fill the water jugs anchored around that habit. That way even if you don’t wake up at 530am your mom won’t find the water jugs empty.

    Hope that helps.

  17. Quote
    Viswanaathan said September 3, 2013, 8:30 am:

    @Sukumar – Thats very true, thank you for your suggestion as well. I will move it to night after brushing my teeth and will share my experience after a month.

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    Thanks Viswa. Please do report back after a month. It will help all of us in the community learn from your experience.

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    Sukumar, the “tiny habits” model reminds of me Frank’s recent interview about creating rituals that reinforce cultures and values. It also reminds me of Devdutt Pattanaik’s business model that links beliefs to values to actions.

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    Thanks RK. Interesting connections you have made.

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    Hi Sukumar
    For an irregular workout guy like me, this is indeed a source of inspiration. I will try and post you the outcome soon.

    Thank you…

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    Thanks for the kind words Vamsi. Look forward to your post on your fitness program.

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    Santosh Singh said November 12, 2013, 11:49 am:

    Amazing achievement! Very Inspiring. Thanks for sharing Sukumar. I am adopting this TC…

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 18, 2013, 1:36 pm:

    Thanks for the kind words Santosh.

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    Arun Chandrasekaran said October 17, 2014, 11:28 am:

    Hi Sukumar,

    Nice post. Really inspiring… Will start doing things which I have been not regularly following in a tiny pieces. Thanks for the post.

  26. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 17, 2014, 2:28 pm:

    Thanks Arun. Glad you liked the post.

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