The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Push-Ups Are Your Best Friend

Posted by thearrow on March 11, 2008

I’ve wanted to write about this for some time but The New York Times beat me to it :). I actually kind of promised myself to do that when I wrote a while back about the two trainers whose classes I take at the gym. Well, the Times article sums up pretty well why push-ups are so great: they engage the whole body and especially your core. You can’t really do them unless all your muscles are tense. What the article doesn’t say but it’s not hard to figure out, it’s that push-ups are great for one’s chest, too. So there’s an incentive to do them. And, as Susan, one of my trainers, says, you can’t cheat with your own body weight. Yes, they say that in the article, too, but wanted to give Susan some credit :).

What I want to add is my personal testimony that you can start from being able to do zero push-ups and slowly build up your endurance — to quite a few, actually. The most I could do was maybe four, on my knees, and then I’d be breathless. I never imagined I could do a full-body push-up. But I persevered and did what the trainers had us do in class. If something is challenging, that’s what really matters. Not that you can’t do a certain number of exercises or do them at the highest level. Just do whatever you can, as long as you’re challenging yourself to a reasonable extent. I didn’t do any extra at home either. With let’s say 10 minutes two times a week, I think it took me a little over a year to get to 10 full-body push-ups. It’s a slow progress, but it’s so worth the effort.

Now I’m a huge fan and, when you can do them, they’re actually quite fun, too. But I do remember how frustrating it was when I couldn’t. Don’t let frustration get in your way. If you can only do one or two on your knees, just do what you can until it becomes easy. Then you can add one more and so on. They help you get rid of your upper-arm “dingle-dangle,” to quote Susan again.

Even harder than the push-ups is the hoover, which I still can’t do. From the push-up position but with your elbows close to you, you lower your body until your chest becomes parallel with the floor and you keep it there. As long as you can :). Well, good luck with that one! Yet, a woman in her 50s in Susan’s class does it. Susan is 56 and she does it, too. So the rest of us in that class don’t have much of an excuse and she keeps making that point every time :).

American gyms are a great thing, I have to say. I’ve been bitching about quite a few American things, so it’s high time I talked about something I really like. Trainers show you how to do an exercise correctly, so that you don’t injure yourself and you get maximum results. They explain why doing it a certain way is important, what muscles you’re working, why you should do it. And I really like the competitive, gung-ho, push-your-limits approach to it.

Also very important, trainers motivate us to work our butts off. Everyone comes half dead from work and, even if the trainers have day jobs just like the rest of us, they’re always in a good mood and manage to put a smile on our face. I can’t tell you how many days I almost dragged myself to the gym and how changed I was afterwards.

Strength training is the way to go for weight loss, too, not cardio exercises (like running). After age 30, we lose 1% of our muscle mass every year. When we lose muscle mass, our metabolism slows down, too, so we can’t eat as many cookies without them showing on our butt :). So the trick is not that you will consume a lot of calories when you exercise, which you really don’t. I don’t even consume 300 calories — or the equivalent of half a chocolate bar — after half an hour on the elliptical trainer at the most intense level. The trick is to build muscle mass, which keeps your metabolism high, so you consume more calories in a passive way, if you will. Throughout the day, not just when you exercise.

So go start your push-up routine :).

LATER EDIT: Here is a blog entry by the article’s author, with reader comments: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/the-art-of-the-push-up. A lot of people well in their 60s and one even at 93 can do push-ups. Pretty impressive. More on How to do a Proper Push-Up.

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10 Responses to “Push-Ups Are Your Best Friend”

  1. Raluca said

    Wow, you made a strong argument — I’ll have to give push-ups a try. I used to beat boys to it in high school (centuries ago). I go to the gym three times a week, but I never do push-ups. I’ll let you know how it went πŸ™‚
    I go to the gym in the early morning, before work, when I’m most motivated. I’ve always been curios about the people who exercise with a trainer next to them. Do you have to be a beginner to get one? Does the gym membership usually cover such services?

  2. thearrow said

    If you go to the gym three times a week, you have no excuse :). You HAVE to try push-ups. They’re a pain to do, but that makes it even more rewarding when you can do them.

    I can’t tell you much about having a trainer other than that it costs a lot. Having the money for it is probably the only condition you need to fulfill :). Gym memberships don’t cover this; mine offers classes that anyone can take and that’s where I’ve learned everything I know. If you pay extra you can have a personal trainer, too, but I don’t think it’s worth it if you can take classes.

  3. Raluca said

    So I’ve tried – and did 17 in the first sitting. I guess I could have done more, but I forgot to breathe (!), so my lungs were exhausted. I’m not going to the gym this week (spring break), so I’ll stay home honing my push-up skills πŸ™‚
    Have a splendid week!

  4. thearrow said

    Full-body push-ups? Awesome! Seventeen from the very beginning is VERY impressive. I can comfortably do two sets of 20 now but start running out of breath at the 15th in the second set :). Susan has us do 2-3 sets of 30 but I can’t do 30 in one sitting if my life depended on it :). I have to take short breaks but I’m sure I’ll get to 30 at some point.

    I’ll write about other gym tips & tricks soon. I’m glad you’re enthusiastic about push-ups πŸ™‚

  5. JC said

    So funny I would read this tonight. I did 10 pushups this evening after not have done any in, oh I don’t know . . .years. Something just came over me and before I knew it, there I was doing them. Then I woke up and couln’t go back to sleep, hopped on the internet and found this post. I’m going to keep doing the pushups and see how far I can go. Good luck with yours.

  6. thearrow said

    Hi, JC! One of those coincidences, eh? I’m glad to hear one can still do push-ups even after a break of a few years. The only secret is to just keep doing them; do 10 every day and your strength will keep building up. I’m now able to a first set of 30, but in my March 17 comment above I was saying I couldn’t. Happy push-ups! πŸ™‚

  7. SOG knives said

    SOG knives…

    Interesting ideas… I wonder how the Hollywood media would portray this?…

  8. thearrow said

    Um… SOG, is this a real commentary? Looks like spam to me :).

  9. Hey, nice tips. I’ll buy a bottle of beer to that man from that forum who told me to visit your blog πŸ™‚

  10. thearrow said

    Haha! Nice to hear there’s some good word of mouth going around about my blog. And about push-ups, of which I am a big fan! If I were to choose what to preach about, it would be push-ups.

    So which forum was that? Just curious.

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