Sunday, March 30, 2008

push it real good


Disclaimer: I debated with myself long and hard before deciding to post that (decidedly cropped and intentionally shadowy monochrome) picture there. I guess it could be misconstrued as being too open, too revealing, too much; it's more of me than you're likely to see should you see me in person, but less than you'd see of a lot of folks, should you happen to not live in a bubble. I'm not in the habit of posting nude pictures of myself, but I am in the habit of writing about myself online, which is something of a verbal Full Monty equivalent, naked in words every time I post. Even my words aren't so revealing here, in this quiet blog spot any person could stumble upon and find, but it's still me, raw and real and honest, even if you have to squint a little and leave the rest to your imagination. This is who I am. And I'm working on being more okay with that.

Last week, I was listening the The Satellite Sisters, my turn-to podcast when I want to be amused and vaguely informed and generally kept company while I nurse a toddler or wash some dishes, and they were discussing the push-up. Of the drop and give me twenty variety, not the frozen confection out of the back of a beat-up van playing the same tinny version of Turkey in the Straw a thousand times over.

Apparently, new studies (to which I offer no links, I'm not that sort of researched blogger) find some correlation between a person's ability to do push-ups and his/her general fitness level, especially as one ages. This makes sense, in a making broad assumptions sort of way, as we might assume that if you can do twenty push-ups somewhat easily, you're likely not a two pack a day smoker. I'm not sure if the relationship is symbiotic or coincidental, I am sure there are many exceptions, but I'll buy it. I might have my numbers a little off, but I'm recalling that studies indicate that a reasonably fit 40 year old woman should be able to do fifteen pushups. A similarly aged man, 27.

Now I don't purport myself to be super fit or anything. In fact, if I'm really telling it like it is, then I'll tell you that the truth is that I'm closing in on twenty pounds above where I was a year ago, and it's not extra muscle bulk I'm carrying, no. It's twenty pounds of a dang hard year, clinging to my middle like bad memories. I don't exercise as much as I did before. The one-two sucker punch of miscarriage complications slash fractured foot followed closely by the onset of one very wet winter did a number on me and my ability to move my body as much as I did before. I'm not athletic in the slightest. I'm the opposite of athletic and dislike sports of all kinds. But I do like being active and walking and hiking and bike riding. The only weight I lift is my thirty-five pound son.

Genetics didn't give me a dewy complexion or musical talent, just a stocky and stout stature with maybe a little bit of an extra inclination toward being muscley. So despite any dedicated effort on my part, I have a strong upper body. I mean, stronger than you might otherwise think. Or I thought it was pretty strong, anyway. Who knows what you think. I may have even had passing thoughts of pride, which confused my customary self-deprecating disposition, regarding my strong back and shoulders.

So when the youngest of the Sisters (but still, a decade or so ahead of me) declared her push-up test total at 16, I was challenged to try myself. I can't recall the last time I tried to do one. Not on the on-your-knees type, but a regular full on push-up. I had no reference for guessing how many I could do, but if a woman in her forties can do sixteen, me, with my strongish back and strong enough arms, well, I can do ten, right? Easy.

Not. Easy.

I managed a measly three. And my husband, who says that at his best he could pump out sixty-eight in two minutes, reminded me that to be "right" my arms must bend to ninety degree angles. So the three I barely did? Probably not even right. I'm pretty sure I didn't go down that low. Now, I have since seen websites that demonstrate a proper push-up starting prone and working up, one, back down, up, two. Like that. If I start flat and go up, and back down, flat, I can do lots, lots of independent push-ups. But hover with my nose near the floor and my arms at right angles? No freaking way.

So all this means what? That maybe I have some serious training to do before I quit my day job and join the women's bodybuilding circuit.

My new goal is to get to a point where I can do ten in a row. I'm practicing by holding plank exercises and doing half-pushups, where I focus on just the downward motion. We'll see what happens from there. I don't really aspire to the full on body wax, oiled skin and string bikini look, arms clasped above my head in flexing competition pose, but I do want to be just as strong as I can be. I'm not there yet.


omy said...

I heard on the internet somewhere that a woman in her 40s should be able to do 16, so I had to try it too, just to see where I stood in the fitness mix. I struggled very hard and grunted and groaned my way through, but I got up to 13, surprising myself. I thought I'd be able to do maybe 5 or 6. Now, I am sure I was cheating a bit, I didn't have a mirror nearby to check my form. But I attribute my ability to do that many to my years of holding plank and doing chataronga in yoga. And my recent foray into weightlifting at the gym. So, if I keep it up, maybe I WILL be able to do 16 easily when I am 40. Here's hoping! Good luck with your challenge. :)

sj said...

yes. good luck with your challenge, i am sure you will accomplish it.

i was going to post the other day simply this: sit ups and push up are kicking my butt.

eric and i challenged each other to at least 100 sit ups a day and at least 45 push ups a day (i have only been doing the 'on the knees' girlie kind mind you)....then i saw a woman, probably in her 50's maybe 60's at the park the other day with her grandson...she suddenly dropped and did 5 very strong plank push ups. i don't think it was her first set.... 1. inspired by woman at the park 2. inspired again by your post in the very same direction....i'm going to have to give it a try.

april. said...

omy, that's probably the same study, it's been recent news. i know i've got my exact numbers all wrong. i've heard that a lot of doing a new exercise is also muscle memory, training your body to move in a particular way, in addition to strength and balance. i've only been attempting push-ups for less than a week and i already see improvement!

sj, holy moly i was not prepared for how much my abdominal muscles would need to work to do a full on plank push-up. so sore! i have bad flashback memories about sit ups and p.e. classes. i don't think i'm ready to brave those yet!

Deb said...

I can't even get through one. But I'm going to work on it! The 6-year old does pushups three times a week in tae kwon do class, so now he does them at home, too, so that he can be strong. He can do 50 proper pushups at a time! Oh, to have that youthful energy and stamina.

Lisa said...

I'm ashamedly admitting that I tried to do some yesterday and couldn't make it through one push up. Yikes.

april. said...

oh, gosh, lisa, no shame necessary! i really think it's a learned activity and i'd say very few folks can knock some back off the cuff. it takes practice. and in just over a week of trying a few every day, i'm already markedly improved!

Angelina said...

I should be doing anything to improve abdominal strength because my back is always giving me trouble and the only real way to improve a bad back is to improve all the muscles that support it. ABS.

I am going to slowly get back into my exercise routine where I do ab strengthening exercises. But I admit I'm terrified of push ups and sit ups.

I have to say you've got quite a lot of muscle definition already.

sj said...

how are your push ups coming along?

i tried full on planks again the other day. STILL SO HARD!

anyway, this post keeps me inspired.