Push ups – part 1

When I set out to do a year’s worth of weekly mini lifestyle challenges, there were a few things that I wanted to do but that didn’t fit the format. One of them is push-ups. I could set out to do push-ups every day for a week, but it’s not going to be enough to have an impact, and since it takes up so little time, it’s something I can easily sustain in a way that I couldn’t with a major diet change or another form of exercise like distance running. So, I’ve given myself the goal of doing push-ups every day for the whole year.

Need to make something very clear, because otherwise this challenge sounds very underwhelming. When it comes to push-ups, I am really quite remarkably weak. If you put me and Superman in a room, we would both be of normal strength, on average. A year or two ago, without understatement, I would struggle to do more than one push-up. I could probably manage two, but Superman would have to pick me up off the floor. And that’s assuming he’s still in the room and hasn’t buggered off to extinguish a fire at an orphanage with his super-breath or something, the big show off.

My goal is to build up my strength so that I can do a lot of push-ups, but I needed to factor in my inability to do them at the start. It’s not something where I can just say “OK, I’m going to do 20 today”; it would be physically impossible for my weedy muscles (wusscels?).  I decided the best way to do it would be a kind of push-up escalator, whereby I would do a set number of push-ups every day and increase the count by one each week. That way I start low and realistic but hopefully by the end of the year I’m doing something genuinely impressive.

Having a toddler has improved my arm strength considerably, what with all the picking him up, and swinging him around, and saving his life when he falls from playground apparatus that’s really intended for older kids but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Four push-ups (still highly unimpressive, I know) is pretty comfortable now, so that’s where I started.  That means by week 52, I should be doing a daily set of 56 push-ups. Maybe I can speed it up a bit more and get to 60, which would be a nice round number.

It’s going well so far, as you can see in this clip where I’m dressed as Gaston from that Disney film.

Actually that’s not really me, it’s an actor at Disneyland. The real me is finding it a lot more difficult.  I’m currently up to 25 daily push-ups, which I’m quite proud of, but it started getting really difficult at around 22 and at the moment it’s hard to imagine making it to 30.

It’s not helped by the fact that I keep forgetting to do them on weekends and work trips, or just when my routine is off for whatever reason. I let them pile up, and catch up by doing multiple sets another day, so I don’t feel guilty, but the second and third sets in a day are particularly challenging, so that’s not going to be sustainable for long. Just going to have to start leaving myself notes around the house I guess.

My dog Kingsley is weirdly obsessed with me doing push-ups, and he growls then runs in circles around me whining, and sometimes runs under me, which makes it quite challenging to up the push. He’s a rescue mutt, so perhaps he had a bad experience with a push-up when he was on the means streets of LA.  At least he doesn’t have any interest in trying to hump me. If you’re reading this, Kingsley, don’t get any ideas.

I’ll revisit this topic with a new post once I either make it to the end of the year (and sets of 56), or fail at some point along the way. I might need some sort of fail mechanism that allows me to continue to the end of the year but without undermining the goal to build strength. Maybe if I can’t do 30, I can instead do three sets of 15 or something. Let me know in the comments if you’ve got a better ideas. But fingers crossed I don’t need it.

For now, it’s time to switch it up to 26. Wow, the floor is dirty in here.

  • Difficulty: Mild, then medium, then increasingly hard and possibly impossible
  • Worthwhiliness: High. Only takes a few minutes and builds a surprising amount of strength over time.

Header image by Robert McGoldrick.

The Plank

I’m talking about the the exercise move, not the lying in unexpected places. The Plank, wherein you prop yourself up on your forearms, toes on the floor, and hold yourself straight. For as long as you can.

The Plank position, as illustrated by Alex Hughes Cartoons (nibster / Flickr)
The Plank position, as illustrated by Alex Hughes Cartoons

For fans of exercise, this is an astonishingly effective way to workout and develop your abs and core. For everyone else it’s a horrible, torturous form of self-flagellation by way of penance for beer and Tunnocks Tea Cakes. That last bit might be just me.

There’s a thing going around on Facebook – The Plank Challenge – which sets a gradually increasing duration each day for a month, but I don’t have that kind of time. Within the artificial constraints of this 52 resolutions in a year challenge thing, I’m going to compress it into a week.

It needs to be significantly challenging, but also plausible for a man of my natural *ahem* strength. I had a go and figured out roughly at what point it hurt. That can be my starting point. So here’s the plan:

  • Day 1: Plank for 30s
  • Day 2: 2 repetitions of 35s
  • Day 3: 3 reps of 40s
  • Day 4: 4 reps of 45s
  • Day 5: 5 reps of 50s
  • Day 6: 6 reps of 55s
  • Day 7: 7 reps of 60s

Look at me, saying “reps” like a personal trainer.

Anyway, those 7 reps could be spread out however worked. Plenty of time to recover. Let’s do this.

Let’s not do this. Planking is bloody horrible. Much harder than it sounds. Seriously, go try it now and meet me back here in a minute.

See what I mean? Ugh. And you only managed 37 seconds.

Day 1 was uncomfortable, because I’m weak, but it’s only 30 seconds. Easy enough to get through. By day 3 I was feeling it though, and on day 4 I was seriously asking myself whether I’d been too ambitious with the 5 second daily increases AND the increasing reps. 5 seconds seems like such a short space of time, but it feels like an eternity when your abdominal muscles are twerking uncontrollably like a Kanye West back-up dancer having an epileptic fit.

Day 5 was a disgraceful show of grunting because I forgot about the whole thing, and had to do the last three repetitions in quick succession right before bed, which almost caused me to give up. I discovered that it helped if I stared at something distracting, instead of the clock, and settled on Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth by The Oatmeal. By day 6 I was using Lamaze breathing from the child-birth classes I had thought were a waste of time.

I highly recommend taking a birthing class before doing plank exercises, by the way, with or without imminent parenthood.

Day 7 was … well, awful, but actually manageable. I spaced them out well, and the end was in sight. So I did it.

I’d post a photo of my abs, but there’s no noticeable effect and no-one needs to see my pale belly. Still though, it feels good in the way that makes you feel like it’s working. It takes almost no time, and I’m pretty sure it’s a highly efficient workout for those specific muscle groups. I think I’m going to keep this in my daily routine. Perhaps one 60s plank a day. Perhaps.

  • Difficulty: hard
  • Worthwhiliness: high