On a humid spring night in Charleston, South Carolina, my girlfriend and I toast to the end of our vacation at the bar perched atop a swanky southern hotel. As one does when there’s a lull in conversation, I check my phone. It’s 11:50 p.m. I have 25 more push-ups to do before midnight.
I sigh, get in a plank position on the floor, and begin. As my girlfriend sips her rosé, people are looking at us funny, probably wondering why this strange guy is publicly working out so late on a weekend.
Did I lose a bet? Was I trying to impress my girlfriend? Was I trying to show off to the patrons of this fancy bar? Nope. I was attempting to complete the One Punch Man challenge and I needed to check off 25 more push-ups for the day.
What is the One Punch Man challenge?
The Japanese television show One Punch Man follows the journey of Saitama, the most powerful superhero in the world, who defeats all of his enemies with a single punch. The anime is propped on the joke that he’s so strong, he’s bored of fighting enemies and hopes to eventually face a worthy opponent.
One Punch Man pokes fun at tropes from superhero cartoons and anime. Typically, protagonists in such shows have insanely intense workout routines that make them all-powerful (such as Dragon Ball Z’s Goku performing one trillion sit-ups to fight an enemy). Saitama’s training, in comparison, is simple—so much so that when he announces it to his protege and a few enemies, no one believes him.
What’s his training? 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and a 10K run—every single day for a year and a half. Also, never, ever use the air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter, to strengthen the mind. And of course, eat three meals daily, but just a banana in the morning is fine.
The workout regiment became a viral hit, appearing across the internet with people trying to stick to this regime for days, weeks, and months. As an avid runner, occasional gym-goer, and someone who is always up for a challenge, I had to throw my hat into the ring. While I hit all the physical elements of the workout, I did allow myself the simple pleasure of air conditioning and heat.
What does a certified personal trainer think of the One Punch Man challenge?
Before I took on the challenge, I called Anthony J. Wall, director of international business development for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and certified personal trainer. I asked him if he’d ever heard of such a challenge, and what he thought about it.
Wall was blunt: “From ACE’s perspective—and as a certified personal trainer—there are obviously some red flags in a program like this.”
The first red flag, Wall said, is the body needs time to adapt to exercise. If you attempt this challenge with no strength-training background, the volume can lead to overload injuries—100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and a 10K run per day is something you need to work up to over a long period of time.
That bleeds into the second red flag—your body needs rest between workouts. If you’re doing the same exercises every day, your body doesn’t actually recover after the previous day’s efforts—your muscles get sore, making it more difficult to continue the challenge the next day. Eventually, this can lead to serious injury.
Thirdly: repetitive challenges like this can be demotivating for a beginner, and actually lead to a negative mental association with exercise. “Not everyone understands that discomfort does go away, that muscle soreness goes away,” Wall said. “So someone’s saying, ‘gosh, I feel sore now. How am I going to feel in two weeks—or six weeks?’ It’s hard to tell people, don’t worry about it, that’ll go away.”
As mentioned, I’m an experienced runner who lifts twice a week, so I was pretty confident I’d be fine. Regardless, Wall recommended that I only attempt two weeks to start, with the option to continue if I felt good. Two weeks is far cry from the year and a half the anime proposes, but as it turns out, it was just the right amount of time.
Attempting the One Punch Man Challenge
On day one, I was optimistic. Based on another of Wall’s suggestions, I broke the push-ups, sit-ups, and squats into sets. If that sounds like cheating, Saitama never said they had to be continuous—and even so, I probably could not have done 100 push-ups in a row without breaking my fragile runner’s arms. In my prime as a post-collegiate athlete, I ran 80 to 90 miles per week, so the 10K run was expectedly pretty easy for me to handle.
Such confidence lasted through the first several days—probably because I was on vacation and had the time to do it. I woke up, ran, did half of all the strength exercises, enjoyed my day, then did the final sets at night before bed.
On day five, soreness set in. My shoulders and chest were toast from the push-ups and my squat’s range of motion shortened. I began to take longer and longer breaks between sets. I found myself in the scenario mentioned earlier, grinding through push-ups while out for a drink. I was becoming consumed by the task, diligently focused on getting the right amount done every day, no matter if it meant sitting up during commercial breaks while watching TV or excusing myself at social gatherings to squat in the back room.
By day 11, I tossed my optimism aside and dejectedly submitted to the bland routine. My abs, arms, and glutes were inflamed, my runs became slower and slower, and my mental fortitude disintegrated. I was no longer getting most of it out of the way early—with vacation behind me and work ahead of me, I procrastinated my exercises. At 9 or 10 p.m. every night, I squeezed out slow, exacerbated sets. I no longer cared about form or gains. I just wanted it to end so I could work out differently or go play tennis or basketball with my friends without worrying that the ensuing soreness would make my push-ups, sit-ups, and squats more difficult.
But I only had three days left. So I stayed focused, knocking out set after set during the day, running after work, and praying that I would recover enough that it wouldn’t suck the next day.
Finally, after two weeks, I finished. I sadly didn’t become the most powerful superhero in the world—but I did look kind of swole.
One Punch Man Challenge: The Aftermath and Takeaways
I called Wall after the two weeks to discuss my findings. As expected, his previously discussed red flags were spot on.
My body was already adapted to running, so that wasn’t much of a challenge. However, my body was not adapted to such a high volume of strength training every day. I was so sore that my form for all exercises suffered and my body’s natural range of motion tightened. If I had recovered properly, then my body would have been able to bounce back between sessions. But because I was doing the same exact routine every day, it was impossible to recover. Soreness plus repetition equalled demotivation, so with each day that passed, I became more and more mentally detached from the challenge.
Wall asked me how long I thought I could realistically keep this routine up if I had to try. I responded that physically, I could probably handle another two weeks. But mentally, it was not an enjoyable experience. I’m someone who likes variety, running some days, playing different sports on other days, and going to the gym twice a week. Not someone who can do the same exact thing over and over. And that’s the catch with the One Punch Man challenge—or any workout, for that matter: If you don’t enjoy it, it’s going to be really difficult to do consistently.
“If you don’t adhere to the program, it doesn’t matter how brilliantly it’s programmed,” Wall said. “If you don’t like something—regardless of what the magazine says or what the personal trainer says—then you’re not going to adhere through for any reason, and you’re not gonna be successful.”
Wall criticized these types of challenges, often promoted by influencers or pro athletes. He stressed that every person is different, so no workout routine is one-size-fits-all. The one thing all workout regiments do have in common, however, are goals. Goals are derived from the five main components of fitness: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.
“Very few people come [to a personal trainer] and say, ‘I want every dimension of fitness,’” Wall said. “Most people are going to say, I want more strength, or I want to lose a little bit of weight, or maybe I want to look and feel a little bit better.”
The One Punch Man challenge touches on cardiovascular fitness and body composition from the running, and muscular strength and endurance from the push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. But in all cases, Wall believes the challenge falls short.
The average person can’t safely jump into 10K runs, which are just over six miles, or do 100 push-ups, sit-ups, and squats without the soreness and repetition damaging their long-term motivation for fitness. The goal of the challenge is simply to check the boxes—which Wall and I agree is not an enjoyable way to work out. Instead, being present in the moment and feeling the energy, mood, and confidence boost from your workout is a much better way to approach fitness.
I won’t do the One Punch Man challenge again. And unless you’re confidently fit and want to dabble, you shouldn’t either. Wall’s advice? Be skeptical of fitness challenges and fads you see on social media or read online—but also don’t be afraid to have fun.
“If you have a challenge, monitor your body. If you have to take a rest, take a rest. If you have to stop, you stop,” Wall said. Fitness is supposed to be physically and mentally engaging. It’s supposed to help you lead a healthy life. So if you try a challenge, consider whether you’ll come out the other side excited to tackle your next fitness goal—rather than frustrated and sore like me.