Back to Basics: 300 Push-Ups to a Better Body
This past February, I underwent a meniscectomy in my right knee. This injury, while it hung around for five months prior, wreaked nothing short of havoc on the daily maintenance I usually provide myself.
To someone who was so accustomed to doing burps in the minute-rest periods I allowed myself in between sets of weight training, not being able to preform a deep squat with nothing but my clothes on my back came as a frustrating realization. Being faced with burning pain at the prospect of even one of my lightest training routines meant I not only had to hold back in many aspects of my life in the jungle, but it also required a complete change to the approach of sustainable fitness.
After leaving the OR Feb 10, I was daunted by the prospect of any prolonged time on my feet. Even a month after being off my crutches, anything more than a few blocks in New York City started to bring on thoughts of Death Marches and stranded hikers fighting for their lives with leg wounds. Not good. Yet try as I did, I couldn’t find a solution to my need to condition my body that didn’t involve completely regressing the good work my physical therapist is still doing two hours a week. Squats, jump rope, and running were wholly out of the question, and weight training is still more than a month away, so how can I find I way to stay in shape until I can start rebuilding the body-kit I need? The answer: Middle School Gym Class.
In my middle school, we had a colossal, bespectacled gym teacher who always insisted that the key to a powerful chest was push-ups. “You may not give a rat’s ass now, but when you’re older.” Sure. Whatever, man.
Turns out, Dr. Smalt was on the money. Functionally speaking, the push-up is the most basic, simplest to learn chest exercise out there. What’s more, if someone learns correct form for a basic push-up and then learns various adaptations of this simple exercise, they will see their body take on a natural strength that is not only ferociously strong, it’s functional. Like your gym teacher said, it’s all about “form first.”
For ideal push-up form, you want your feet together, legs straight and level with an un-slouching torso. Your butt shouldn’t be up above your head, making your body look like a weird hill or v-shape. It shouldn’t be dipping each rep either. Keep your glutes loose, but tighten your abs and obliques slightly. When you do this, your body naturally self corrects misalignment, because anything but perfect form will give you very obvious back pain when you do a rep.
Returning to my impaired knee problem, I decided to provide myself with a daily task. A number of push-ups, to be completed every single day. I decided (as you should) to keep my early expectations reasonable. I’m not in peak condition, so I’m not going to attempt something in line with the expectations of a fit Noah. Instead, injured Noah started at 100 push ups. If you aren’t over the age of 45, Pregnant, Obese, or have some other pre-existing condition (laziness doesn’t count), you have no excuse. It’s just doable. Even with screaming pain, I started with sets of five. For the first week, I couldn’t count on myself getting more than thirty or forty reps total before I had to rest for a few minutes. For those of you really into fitness, you know how much this sucks for the overall quality of your workout. You don’t want to wait when it comes to high reps, so when I was able, I kicked my ass into gear, and started turning my double digit mornings and afternoons into triple digits. Sets of ten turned into sets of twenty. By the time I was banging out 30-reps per set with relative comfort, I had not only raised my target total, but I had sharply reduced the time it took to hit that total. Two minute breaks began to shrink by about fifteen to thirty seconds every few weeks, and by week four I could put out those first 100 push ups in under five minutes with perfect form! Those same repetitions that felt agonizing and degenerating were now an appetizer, and I am still hungry. I’ve just started incorporation new tricks to brighten up the 300 reps that have now become a casual part of my morning. Here’s a few:
1. Decelerated Reps: This is not to be confused with “slow reps”. Deceleration is a well studied and documented method of improving quality and size in muscular growth. By going slowly down on a push-up (counting down from three, launching back up at zero) and having a fast but controlled return to the start creates a whole new experience. Yes, the reps get harder, but that’s because each one is doing more for you. And because they’re harder you’ll never be able to complete them unless you control your breathing (inhale going down, exhale as you push up).
2. Walk-Up to Toe Touch: While it may sound a little silly, many people don’t know how to get up properly. When we have just finished doing a difficult number of reps (or a very heavy lift) we tend to very quickly release from the strictly controlled movement we were just preforming. This can cause unnecessary soreness, pulls, strains, and even more serious injuries, so instead, give your body a gift for its hard work with a deep stretch. When you finish a set of push-ups, slowly walk your hands back towards your toes, getting up gradually as you go. At the end of this, you’ll be preforming a bent over toe-touch, a deep and rejuvenating hamstring stretch. You can then choose to stand, or hold it for up to 30 seconds for added flexibility training!
3. Push-Up Variants (Advanced): Of course, we’d all like to do Rocky’s one-handed push-ups, or Bruce Lee’s unthinkable two-finger pushups, but the hard facts are that stuff is insanely difficult, and takes years of focused training to build towards. Instead, go for something a little more attainable first. From minor hand adjustments like triangle, knuckle-Ups, and hands-to-elbows routines, to the more acrobatic clapping, and Spiderman push-ups that incorporate leg movements, there are plenty of options. Check some out on youtube and tell us some of your favorites!
As I currently enjoy my daily 300, I know that each one of these micro-pains in the ass is going to be the key to so much growth later on. What’s more, YOU CAN DO THIS ANYWHERE YOU HAVE ROOM TO LIE DOWN ON SOLID GROUND. Oh, and you’ll look good too. Have fun, be safe, and stay strong!