Deck of Cards Push Ups: What is it and How it Works

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 8, 2022

Popularized by an NFL superstar, the deck of cards challenge or deck of cards push up program is a workout with a unique gimmick surrounding an ordinary deck of playing cards.

The deck of cards push up challenge involves entering a push up position on the floor with a full deck of cards in front of you, and performing a set of push ups based on what card is drawn from the top.

While seemingly a fitness fad, some individuals do indeed see a marked improvement by performing the deck of cards push ups program - not to mention the fact that it can act as an excellent temporary workout when away from the gym.

What is the Deck of Cards Push Up Challenge?

The deck of cards push up challenge is a method of performing push ups that is meant to feature unpredictability and a high tempo between each set - though the sole exercise within this program is simply that of the push up.

How to Do the Deck of Cards Push Ups Program

To perform the deck of cards push up program, the exerciser will assume a push up stance on the floor with a deck of shuffled cards in front of them. Taking the first card from the top of the deck, they will then perform a set of push ups with the number of repetitions corresponding to the number of the card.

This can appear as 5 push ups for any type of card with the number 5, or an ace card for a single push up, and king cards for 3 push ups.

To illustrate:

pushup numbers

The exerciser can take between 10 and 60 seconds of rest between each card drawing, allowing them to continue at their own pace until the deck is complete.

The standard number of push ups per card is as follows:

  • Ace = 1 push up
  • Jack = 1 push up
  • Queen = 2 push ups
  • King = 3 push ups
  • Joker = Rest Of course
  • 2 = 2 Push ups
  • 3 = 3 push ups
  • 4 = 4 push ups
  • So on and so forth until 10 = 10 push ups

If performed according to the usual rules, this will equate to the exerciser performing 244 total push ups with an ordinary deck of cards, though more advanced variations can involve even more push ups, or less in the case of a novice exerciser attempting the program.

What Muscles are Trained by Deck of Cards Push Ups?

The muscles trained by a deck of cards push up program are simply that - muscles trained by the push up.

These are the pectoral muscles, all three heads of the deltoid muscle group and the triceps brachii muscle group alongside smaller stabilizer muscles like the serratus and rectus abdominis.

The exerciser can choose to focus more on a specific muscle group by performing a variation of the standard push up, such as the diamond push up to place a greater focus on the triceps brachii, for example.

Variations of the Deck of Cards Push Ups Program

As previously mentioned, the deck of cards push ups program is not quite set in stone, and there are certainly quite a number of variations that change how many push ups the exerciser will have to do in a deck, or what sort of push ups they perform.

More advanced exercisers may wish to perform a variation of the deck of cards push ups wherein they perform double the number of push ups per card, or perform a more difficult variation of the standard push up instead.

Conversely, novice exercisers or those wishing for a lighter workout can perform half the usual number of push ups per card, or an easier variation of the standard push up - such as the knee up.

One may even choose to assign a certain type of push up variation to different card suites, providing variation in the muscular activation and difficulty of the program.

Is Just the Deck of Cards Push Up Program Enough?

In the long term, the deck of cards push ups is not enough, as performing only one sort of exercise at very high volumes with no progression scheme will yield no results. 

This is especially true due to the fact that deck of cards push ups only trains the pectorals, deltoids and triceps muscle groups - leaving the majority of the rest of the body untrained.

Furthermore, extremely high volumes of resistance exercise tends to have a diminishing return in terms of muscular hypertrophy, instead developing muscular endurance and expending calories.

Who Should Do Deck of Cards Push Ups?

The deck of cards push ups is most suitable as a temporary training method for individuals without access to proper gym equipment, or those wishing to directly increase their maximum number of push ups within a single set.

Deck of cards push ups should not be used as a permanent training program, or as the sole muscular training as both instances will result in muscular imbalances and poor muscular hypertrophy at best.

Closing Statement

All in all, the deck of cards push up program is just one among a dozen different ways of getting your workout in - and is perfectly fine to perform in the short term, or when paired with other methods of inducing training stimulus.

If at any point you begin to experience wrist or shoulder pain, it is advisable to stop and reassess the intensity of your deck of cards push ups.

References

1. Skipper, Clay. (October 31, 2017) “The Only Gym You Need Is a Deck of Cards” GQ Lifestyle Magazine, Fitness Section. Retrieved on September 2 2022 from: https://www.gq.com/story/deck-of-cards-workout

2. Dhahbi, Wissem & Chaabene, Helmi & Chaouachi, Anis & Padulo, Johnny & Behm, David & Cochrane Wilkie, Jodie & Burnett, Angus & Chamari, Karim. (2018). Kinetic analysis of push-up exercises: a systematic review with practical recommendations. Sports Biomechanics. 21. 10.1080/14763141.2018.1512149.

3. Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Gonzalez AM, Townsend JR, Wells AJ, Jajtner AR, Beyer KS, Boone CH, Miramonti AA, Wang R, LaMonica MB, Fukuda DH, Ratamess NA, Stout JR. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep. 2015 Aug;3(8):e12472. doi: 10.14814/phy2.12472. PMID: 26272733; PMCID: PMC4562558.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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