One from the vault:
Last month, I set a goal to do one hundred push-ups in a single set by the end of the month. Before I started working on this, I hadn’t done a single pushup in at least 10 years. At the beginning, I didn’t know if it would be possible, or how much it would hurt. I knew it would be a challenge, and I was looking for a challenge.
Three days before the start of the month, I did one set of pushups. I wanted to find my baseline, so I could see the progress I was making, and I wanted a chance to recover, so I’d be starting from scratch on the first of the month. That day, I did 20 pushups. I pushed, but 21 wasn’t going to happen. That’s not an impressive number, but I ride a desk all day and had spent 10 years lazy. It could have been worse.
My initial plan was to do two sessions per day, morning and night. I’d be doing a total of 56 sessions. Each session would consist of 5 sets of my baseline, progressing to 100 push-ups in a set for the 56th session. That would mean I’d have to add 1.5 pushups to my sets each session. I decided to add 1 to each set in the morning and 2 in the evening sessions. My planned progression was 20, 22, 23, 25…95, 97, 98, 100 over the course of the month.
That lasted one day. February 1st, I did 100 push-ups in 5 sets of 20. That night I did 110 push-ups in 5 sets of 22. The next morning, I hurt so much I couldn’t do 10. I did something like 8/5/5/5/cry-like-a-baby. My abs were cramping and my shoulders burned. I ended the session in the fetal position, hoping all of the screaming muscles wouldn’t cramp up at the same time. If pain is weakness leaving the body, then I was making a significant contribution to the the problem of homeless weakness particles.
Plan A failed. As I waited for the pain to end, I had some time to think. In between “Please don’t cramp! Please don’t cramp! Please don’t cramp!”, I developed Plan B.
I decided to base everything on the previous session’s largest set. The largest set would set my baseline for the next session. The first set in the session would be half of the baseline. The next three sets would be 3/4 of the baseline, and the final set would be pushed until I couldn’t go any further, establishing the next session’s baseline. Starting from my newly established baseline of eight push-ups, my next session was 4/6/6/6/15. The session after that was 7/11/11/11/16, then 8/12/12/12/16.
Plan B became an aggressive, self-correcting progression. If I pushed too hard, the next session was done at a lower level, allowing me time to recover.
The first week hurt. Going from little-to-no real exercise to an aggressive exercise regimen is painful. I was stiff and sore, but I was progressing. One of the best things about Plan B: Set #1 is a good warm-up. Warming up is important.
By the end of week one, I was back to where I started, doing sets of 20. I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I had a few days in a row that didn’t improve my baseline at all. Then I skipped a day. When I came back, but baseline jumped by 10 push-ups. I had hit a small wall, gave myself a day to recover and had a 50% improvement. Guess what got incorporated into Plan B? If I had two days in a row without improvement over the four sessions, I skipped a day.
By the end of week two, my baseline was up to 60. I stopped increasing the warm-up set, so it would still be a warm-up and not create strain. I only went above 20 for the warm-up set once before I created this rule. At this point, my session was 20/45/45/45/60. That’s progress.
At the end of week three, my baseline was at 80. I took the weekend off.
On Monday, February 22nd, I decided to see where my absolute max was. I did a set of 20 to warm up. I followed up with a set of 30, to make sure I was ready. Set #3 was 100 push-ups, a full week early. I’m not going to lie and say push-up #100 was perfect, but it was done. I went from barely being able to do 20 push-ups to successfully doing 100 push-ups in 22 days. I spent the rest of the week perfecting my form. After 75-80 push-ups, it’s hard to tell exactly how straight your body is and how low you are going, without a spotter or a mirror.
Next, I’m applying Plan B to sit-ups.