Thursday, March 20, 2008

2008: A Push-Up Odyssey

I thought I'd say a little more about my push-up program since it seems to have caught the interest of a few people.

I'd been doing push-ups on my knees for years. Truthfully, I'd been doing most of my workout on auto-pilot, just like with those push-ups. 30 minutes on a cardio machine while I listened to music, read a magazine, or often did both simultaneously, followed by 20-ish minutes of weight machines. At the end of these workouts, I was never sore, and I often wasn't even sweaty. I had a mild amount of muscle tone and was a few pounds above where I wanted to be, but I thought I was exercising 5 days a week and doing all I could.

I don't buy into a lot of wedding hype, but around the time I got engaged (August 2007), I decided I needed to bust out of my fitness rut. Something I read a while back stuck in my head: the writer was saying he really loved to be truly sore the day or two after a workout. It had been a long time since I'd felt that and I craved it. I also wanted to figure out why my hours at the gym weren't showing real results. At the time I had a longer commute and going to the gym meant I got home around 8 pm. I didn't want to keep going if it wasn't worth it.

My gym was running a special on personal training sessions and I decided to buy a few with a trainer I'd observed. I'll call her Jane. Jane had a really muscular body that wasn't in female-weightlifter territory. She was slim but certainly not underweight. She looked strong and healthy, and seemed friendly. I bought 18 sessions in all with her. After each one, I was sore, sometimes painfully so for 2 full days. She re-introduced me to free weights, squats, pull-ups, and, yes, push-ups. We did them on my knees but at the end I told her I wanted to try real ones. My first set of push-ups was pretty wimpy but I made it through (and then collapsed in a puddle).

A few weeks later, I read something in Shape magazine about how doing push-ups on your knees is a very different exercise than full push-ups. They work different muscle groups (the magazine also has an amusing quote: "[Push-ups] seem punishing, but that's only because we spend so much time dreading them"). I decided I was not going to do knee push-ups again. I started doing 10 push-ups before and 10 after each workout. I got a few admiring comments from fellow gym-goers that increased my motivation and I decided to challenge myself to do 1,001 push-ups in a month. You know how that story goes. I've continued to do about 20 good push-ups each day, going down farther than I did during the push-up challenge. Once a week, I do 50 good ones, which definitely leaves me sore the next day.

I've come to see push-ups as emblamatic of the paradox of Americans spending lots of money and time on fitness but not being truly fit. As this excellent article says (and do watch the video too), "the push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness." So many people (my former self included) put in time at the gym but can't do a push-up, full sit-ups, or a pull-up with assistance of less than half their weight. (I've resigned myself to never being able to do an unassisted pull-up, unless I quit my desk job and work out as much as Madonna.) I'm grateful that I've pulled myself out of my fitness rut and am making my workout time really count.


Happy Herbivore! said...
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Happy Herbivore! said...

you should strive for soreness. If I'm not a little sore every day (I work out 6 days a week) I know I didn't push myself.

I actually don't do pushups. I used to do tons of them but my husband pointed out to me that when he was at military school he used to be able to do over 100 straight but was unable to do one-pull up.

After being a long-time pushup freak I tried to pullup and dip. I couldn't do either so pushups have been banned. (I can now dip but am working on the pullup).

Pushups don't give me the strength I need but if they work for you, rock on!

I hope you visit! There are plenty of workouts and videos on there :)

Happy Herbivore! said...

oh & I do agree with the article on this point -- you cannot go into the gym on auto pilot! I recently gave up music when lifting weights for that very reason.

Melody Polakow said...

When I read things like this, I realize HOW out of shape I am.. I don't remember the last time I've done a real push up was... I think I'll have to make that a goal of mine.

Wheeler's Frozen Dessert said...

Good for you! I had the same realization a little while back, wondering why I went to the gym 5 days a week and yet nothing was changing. I've since tried to increase my workouts and love waking up sore the next day. But it certainly sounds like you're sticking to the program more than I ever did, so great job!

ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

I'm getting better with the amount of push-ups my little arms can do. Keep up the good work!

P.S. Can I ad you to my blogroll?

Vegan Stiletto said...

That's so inspiring to read! I know quite a bit about fitness, but that doesn't mean I live it! Yesterday I *tried* to do 10 real pushups and failed miserably (I have weak wrists) so I had to do them on my knuckles!! I'm going to keep trying.

zandria said...

I read this post days ago through Google Reader, but I'm just now getting around to commenting! I know I told you this already through email, but I really enjoyed this post.

I like how you realized you'd been doing the same old thing and not getting sore, or even all that sweaty. So you decided to do something about it! Very cool. :)

I'm going to be right along with you with those pushups one day! I'm determined!

Mihl said...

If push-ups are a barometer for fitness, then I have none, because I can't do any real once. But you convinced me to try and now I try every day!

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