30 Days, 50 Years, and 2,475 Push-Ups
I have always prided myself on being fit, easily lifting things half my size like big bags of dog food, sleeping children, and Christmas trees.
At least I could until this year.
In January, while helping my husband store our heavy Christmas tree, my arms let me down. The previously solid limbs were shaky and not strong enough to lift my end of the tree to the high shelf in the garage.
My poor husband held most of the weight while I loudly yelled for our dog to help.
I might have laughed it off if I hadn’t recently turned fifty and become increasingly concerned that my body was starting to fail me.
Since entering my fifth decade, I’ve had an uncomfortable case of Shingles, a full cardiac workup after an unusual syncopal episode, and then the darn Christmas tree. What in the world was happening to me?
It was time to take action.
The Push-up Challenge
In my 20s, I was in the Army and could crank out an impressive number of push-ups in two minutes. I had plenty of opportunities to practice and develop this skill during my years in the service. They are a powerful strength-building exercise that I dropped from my routine when I left the military.
It was time to start pushing pavement, or perhaps carpet, again.
This previously strong skill had atrophied from lack of use, so I created a 30-day challenge to get back in shape. I started day one with ten push-ups and added five more each day for thirty days.
On the final day of the challenge, I did 155 push-ups. This last day brought my 30-day total to 2,475, with 980 push-ups completed in the final week alone.
Not only did I discover that my 50-year-old body is still capable of impressive things, but I look better and feel healthier. I can now heave every holiday decoration we own onto a high shelf with ease.
Here are a few strategies that helped me during this challenge.
Find Your Baseline
A few days before starting the challenge, I checked to see how many push-ups I could do in a row. It was 20 — my baseline or starting point.
Although I could do 20 push-ups, I began day one at 10 to build some initial momentum. Since small successes make it easier to stick to goals, I built early wins into my program.
If my baseline had been 10, I would have started day one at five push-ups and added 2 or 3 a day.
Another option is to begin with one push-up and add one each day. By the end of the challenge, you will have completed a total of 465. A noteworthy accomplishment!
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, has a helpful technique for developing new habits. Clear recommends pairing the new behavior with a well-established one which he calls the “habit stacking formula.”
We have a higher likelihood of success when adding a new habit into an already established routine.
The habit stacking formula is: After (current habit), I will (new habit).
- After I get out of bed, I will do 10 lunges.
- After I drink my tea, I will meditate.
- After dinner, I will play with the kids.
Instead of stacking the new habit after an established behavior, I did it before the behavior. This strategy worked well for me. Follow whichever habit-building routine works best for you, so it is easier to maintain.
I did my first set of push-ups before drinking my morning tea. As the days went on, I added a set before walking the dog, before showering, before dinner, before doing the nightly Wordle puzzle, and before brushing my teeth.
In the final week of the challenge, I was doing six sets of push-ups a day.
My husband did the challenge with me, and it was nice to have an exercise buddy.
Our motivation waxed and waned, but we held each other accountable which made it easier to stick to our goals. Plus, my spouse shared a helpful tip from his military days. While doing the push-ups, count down from 25 instead of up from 25. It somehow feels easier.
Towards the end of the challenge, my husband would do push-ups at work while I did them at home, and we would text each other when we completed a set. This communication helped keep us accountable. We always did the last two sets of push-ups together.
Allow For Change
My initial plan was to do no more than 20 push-ups per set. This was too easy by the second week, so I increased to sets of 25 and remained there for the duration of the challenge.
The most successful programs are modified as we get new information.
After 30 days of incrementally increasing push-ups, I feel stronger.
I tested my strength when a recent storm dumped several inches of snow at our house. I have a long driveway and removing the snow requires heavy lifting.
In the past, I couldn’t easily lift a full shovel of snow, but after doing push-ups, I could lift and toss that snow like a motivated teenager. I felt strong!
My body is also a little leaner, and my abs are tighter, so that is a nice change. Plus, I can now do 45 push-ups in a row which is a substantial increase from my previous baseline of twenty.
I am in my fifth decade and still capable of cranking out push-ups. That is reassuring to know. I have now turned a lapsed habit into a new one, and push-ups will continue to be part of my daily routine.
Although I improved over the month, there is still some work to do to make it into The Guinness Book of World Records. In April 2022, Daniel Scali of Australia did 3,182 push-ups in an hour.
That record is likely out of my reach but maybe not yours. It starts with one.
This article was first published on Medium.
About the Creator
Jill (Conquering Cognitions)
Outdoor Enthusiast | Animal Lover | Mom to Five | Psychologist Turned Writer
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