Saturday, January 23, 2010

Now, go do some push-ups

At the end of my first two blogs, I’ve instructed you to go do some push-ups in my sign off, but it has come to my attention, that some people may not know how or be able to do push-ups or do them properly.  There are many different variations on the venerable push-up, but let’s first take a look at the basic push-up and why you should be doing push-ups in the first place.

Initially, I wrote up a detailed explanation of how to properly do a push-up.  Then I realized one of my favorite strength and conditioning coaches (Eric Cressey) has already done the work of putting together a narrated video demonstration of proper push-up form.  So we’ll take a look at that, and I’ll throw in my two cents afterward.

Two things Eric mentioned, but did not stress were hip-sagging, and elbow-flaring.  The demonstrator in the video showed the correct form, but sometimes seeing what NOT to do can help us realize what we’re doing wrong.  Here are side by side pictures of the wrong and right back posture and elbow position.  (Click To Enlarge)

Another common mistake which Eric did not mention is holding your breath.  Breathing in on the way down and out on the way up works for a lot of people, but you’ll have to find what works for you.  Working muscles use up oxygen, so you need to replace it or you will reduce the number you can do; also holding your breath while straining increases you intrathoracic pressure, but we won’t go into all that.  Bottom line, don’t hold your breath.

So, why do we want to do push-ups anyway?  I’m glad you asked.  Push-ups are a great exercise for many muscles in the upper body, in fact there are few muscles untouched by push-ups, but the main movers are the triceps (back of arms), pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), and lats (upper back).   Also, your abdominal muscles get worked in a stabilizing manner, much like a plank exercise.  In working all these different muscle groups with the same exercise, you are teaching them how to function together as well; that’s important because in the real world, you almost never use one muscle in isolation, you almost always use several together.   In addition to being a great exercise, they are easy to take with you.  You can do them nearly anywhere; all you need is a firm, flat surface.

If you are not quite ready for full push-ups, there are a few ways to make them just a bit easier so you can work up to full ones.  There is the technique in the video above, where you place your hands on an elevated object (bench, bar, counter-top, etc).  As you get stronger, you can gradually move to lower and lower objects until you can do them on the floor.  Another trick is to do knee or “girl” push-ups.  Instead of having your toes on the floor, you bend your knees and place them on the floor.  Once again, the goal is to get strong enough to do full, push-ups.  If you can do one or two full push-ups, do them at the beginning of the set, then finish up with one of the above variations.

Now that you know how to do a correct push-up, how do you go about getting better at them?  Great question.  There are numerous programs you can follow, or you can make up your own.  A good program for beginners (or anyone, really)is 3 Sets of 50% of your maximum, 3 times a week.  What you do is do as many push-ups as you can in a row, until you can no longer maintain proper form; this is your “max.”  Let’s say you did 20.  When it’s time for your work out (on a separate day from your “test”) you would do 10 push-ups, rest couple minutes, do 10 more, rest a couple minutes, do your final 10.  You would do this 3 times a week.  Every couple weeks or so, you’d want to repeat the test to see how you’ve progressed and use your new “max” to calculate how many push-ups to do per set.

A more advanced program is the 100 Push-Up Challenge at  This program moves a bit fast, so it’s okay to repeat each week a few times if you need to.  I went through the program in 10 weeks and managed 102 good form push-ups in row at the end.  It’s a solid program, that has you doing a lot of push-ups; if you’re willing to commit to it and repeat weeks as needed, you can improve a lot.

There are hundreds of ways you can make variations of push-ups, a few examples include: wide grip, narrow grip, incline, decline, medicine ball, clap, one-handed, etc, etc.  I’ve done these and many more in martial arts classes, circuit training groups, or just goofing around by myself, but the standard push-up as outlined above is by far my favorite.  If you can do thirty or forty clean, crisp push-ups, and want to mess around with some variations, go ahead, just keep in mind the basic principles of a proper push-up while you do.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Frostbite Half-Marathon

Those of us who've participated in any sort of organized road race know they can't happen without volunteers, lots of 'em.  Today was no different, it was the 29th Annual Running of the Frostbite Half-Marathon at Yokota Air Base, Japan.  I figured it was my turn to volunteer at a race, so I signed up to be a bicycle medic.  The race was aptly named "Frostbite;" take a look at the weather conditions just before I left to ride my bike to the race at 0615 this morning.  Note the temperature.

Other than being cold before the sun came up, it turned out to be a pretty nice day.  The sky was clear, the air was calm, we even had a pretty good view of Mt Fuji.

I don't really have much to report about the race itself.  It went pretty well, a few dehydrated folks, some trips and falls, the usual at any sort of race that hosts several thousand people.  There were actually three events: a kids 2k, a 5k, and a half marathon.  Between the three races I probably rode my bike 25-30 miles with a few all out sprints thrown in to answer radio calls for a medic.  I guess the best thing now is to share some pictures I took during the event (click to enlarge).

All bundled up in my safety green volunteer sweatshirt, waiting for the races to start.

Refueling between races.

Homeboy in the blue came and gave me a high-five.

Pooh was there.

And his buddy Tigger.

You knew Picachu was gonna show.

I'm not sure where you go to get a bowling pin costume.

She was trying to blend in by looking American.

And of course, no race in Japan would be complete without a Hello Kitty costume.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Ps.  As you may have noticed (both of you who've read my blog thus far), I decided to change the name.  I think this is a more suitable, more permanent name.  If you didn't catch on it's part of a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche:
"that which does not kill us makes us stronger"
I liked the thought, because as hard as it can be some days to get off your butt and make yourself stronger, it will almost never kill you.  You can even do it in a Hello Kitty costume if that makes you feel better about it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Here's the low-down, the straight skinny.  I enjoy a variety of fitness related activities; though, I don't fancy myself any sort of competitive athlete.  I've never been one to focus too heavily on one aspect of fitness, nor to train for one particular sport.  I endorse a broad general fitness base.  One that makes you faster, stronger, more agile, more endurant (is that a word?), more injury resistant.  I believe fitness is not primarily a measure of how you look (though it IS often a side effect), but of how you can perform and how healthy you keep your body.  This can be as simple as the working mom with a job and 4 kids who follows her yoga DVD, rides a stationary bike, or does some push-ups when she steals a few minutes to herself in the evening, or it can be as committed and hell-bent on elite fitness as the guys at Gym Jones, the founder of which once said:

 "The goal of physical training can be summed up in one phrase, 'to make yourself as indestructible as possible.' The harder a man is to kill, the longer he will remain effective, as a climber, a soldier, or what ever." -Mark Twight

Most of us have a day job, or go to school, or have some other non-optional daily activity that commands most of our time.  Few of us can devote our entire life to pushing the boundaries of our own personal fitness, but all of us can DO SOMETHING to better our own health.  You have to find where you lie on the continuum, decide what your goals are, and take steps to reach them.  You are probably capable of more than you think, but you'll never know unless you try.  I like the personal motto of Georges Hébert, creator of La Méthode Naturelle (or Natural Method) of physical training:

"Être fort pour être utile"--"Being strong to be useful."

Whether you're an athlete or a reforming coach-potato, whether you hold performance as the ultimate pinnacle of human accomplishment or just want to look a little better on the beach this summer, I hope you find something useful or at least interesting in the posts to follow.  I expect to post a variety of things in this blog; expect to see links and summaries of advice written by others, pieces written by yours truly, maybe some photos, videos or accounts of my own personal experiences.  

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Ps.  I am still in search of a good title for this blog.  The current "Health To Pay" is just a working title for now.  It's a slightly (and I mean slightly) amusing pun, but I think we can do better.  If you have any ideas, let me know.  I like clever.