The Lowly Push Up, Still the Gold Standard in Body Strength

By © Alan Davidson- All Rights reserved

It was 7:30 in the morning, and I was plastered again.  I don’t mean plastered in the usual sense of “way too many beers,” but plastered as in soaking wet, of every fiber of my clothes drenched in sweat.  I was half way though an hour of military-style maneuvers.  My chest was heaving from a vigorous blend of calisthenics and running/walking. Welcome to SEAL Physical Training (PT), the exercise (some might say torture) program developed by a former U.S. Navy SEAL.

“Wide-grip push-ups,” called the instructor, “Twenty of them. Starting position. Ready!  One, two, three,” he droned.  “One,” we completed the four-count chant. “One, two, three,” he repeated. “Two,” we counted the reps. The count volleyed until we reached the magic finishing number of twenty.

With just a millisecond to breathe, the instructor barked, “Close-grip push-ups, twenty of them.  Starting position. Ready!  One, two, three,” started the chant.  “One,” we called back.  And so it went as we worked our way through a series of chest exercises, abdominal workouts, tricep dips on the bleachers, step-ups using the benches of picnic tables.  I was momentarily relieved when he called for a run/walk (how tragic is that—running as a welcome break?). “Intervals, at your own pace. Two laps.”

Push Up: the best body move

Nothing surpasses the lowly simple push-up as a symbol of body, mind, spirit wellness; or for building your Physical Intelligence.

Jack Lalanne, the fitness pioneer says, “It takes strength to do them, and it takes endurance to do a lot of them. It’s a good indication of what kind of physical condition you’re in.”

The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness. It tests your whole body, engaging all your muscle groups in the arms, chest, belly, hips and legs. It requires the body to be taut like a plank with toes and palms on the floor. The act of lifting and lowering one’s entire body weight can be taxing even for the very fit.

“You are just using your own body and your body’s weight,” said Steven G. Estes, a physical education professor at Missouri Western State University. “If you’re going to demonstrate any kind of physical strength and power, that’s the easiest, simplest, fastest way to do it.”

Body Camp is billed as a four-week workout for those too injured or out of shape to complete the hard core SEAL PT Boot Camp. Body Camp graduates can join the “Navigators,” designed as an ongoing, easier program. I opted for the Body Camp, and It was still hard work.

What a turnaround. I took two years of Air Force ROTC in high school so I could skip the required phys-ed classes, partly because I felt embarrassed about my body and partially because I hated the exercises. As a kid I did like to hike and ride horses when we lived in the country, but overall I was lazy.  I would just as soon watch TV or read as to exercise.  After years of neglecting my body I was disgusted with it. When I reached a weight of 320-plus pounds, when climbing a flight of stairs left me winded, I realized that if I was ever to be fit and trim (which I’d always dreamed of) exercise would have to become my friend.

I was shocked that I liked SEAL PT. I had never worked as hard in my life as I did with the Navigator program. But I liked the challenge and felt slow, often achingly slow, progress.  I was getting stronger and my stamina improved.

As I jogged along through Memorial Park that July morning, I marveled at how even calisthenics, the bane of high school gym classes, had become an invaluable part of the development of my physical IQ.  As the slogan said, I’d “come a long way, baby.”  And all these efforts provided the added benefit of mending my aching back. I smiled to myself as I contemplated this amazing turn of events.

I still use regular push-ups in my workout program toady. Here’s some tips on how to work this gold standard into your program.

Push-Away:

If a floor-based push up is too hard start simple by leaning against a wall or counter top and press up and down. Start with a count of ten and work up.

Easy Push Up:

Lay flat on your belly, knees bent back.

·        Rest your hands alongside your chest, palms down.

·        Tighten your muscles.  Your head, back, and thighs form a plank.  Breathe in slowly, straighten your arms and lift your body up.  Finish inhaling and pause just before your elbows lock.

·        Slowly breathe out and lower your body, maintaining your even plank. Your chest hovers four to five inches above the ground (the thickness of a water bottle) as you finish breathing out (exhalation). Repeat ten times.

Full Push Up:

·        Lie facedown on the ground and curl your toes up so that you rest on the balls of your feet. Rest your hands alongside your chest, palms down.

·        Tighten your muscles.  Your head, back, glutes, legs and ankles form an even plank.  Breathe in slowly, straighten your arms and lift your body up.  Finish inhaling and pause just before your elbows lock.

·        Slowly breathe out and lower your body, maintaining your even plank. Your chest hovers four to five inches above the ground (the thickness of a water bottle) as you finish breathing out (exhalation). Repeat ten times.

Extra Credit:

There's always a show off

Push up with one arm or on one foot.*

*See Pavel’s The Naked Warrior: Master the Secrets of the Super-Strong—Using Body Weight Exercises Only

Have Big Fun!

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