On Pushups

I’ve always disliked pushups. When you are tall and lanky, pushups suck. Although I did some pushups as a kid, my first real introduction to them was in Army basic training from a screaming drill sergeant. Not exactly a positive association.

Until recently, the only other time I did pushups daily was when I was 17 at Army basic training. Me on the left.

Outside of my military commitment, I mostly avoided pushups. I favored other chest exercises such as the bench press or dips. Then in 2020, the world shut down and I was away from my gym. So grudgingly I did a handful of pushups a few times a week. Every now and then, I’d miss a week or two before starting up again.

I knew the pushup was a great exercise, yet I couldn’t be motivated.

Habit Stacking

I am really good at building and maintaining morning habits. The key is to start with one thing and do it every day. No negotiations. The decision has been made. Just execute.

Once you have made one perfect habit, staple the new habit you wish to build to the previous one, so it becomes part of the same routine. Habit stacking. For me, I started with Duolingo. Once that habit was firmly established, I added breathing exercises to be executed immediately afterward.

In 2020, I added cold showers.

In 2021, I added yoga.

Every morning.

All these have become firm habits that I don’t even think about. Like brushing your teeth. For pushups, I decided that starting on January 1, 2022, I would do 10 pushups a day. That isn’t a lot, but for someone who dislikes pushups a lot, this number seemed doable. I needed to build the habit first. I could add reps later. And that is what I did. I did pushups every morning and then increased the reps by 5 at each 6-month interval.

  • 2022 1st half: 10
  • 2022 2nd half: 15
  • 2023: 1st half: 20
  • 2023: 2nd half: 25

What do I do when I really don’t feel like doing pushups? I divide the number of reps in half or thirds and then do multiple sets with breaks.

My streak ended last week after my hernia surgery. Once I’m cleared to exercise, I will resume my daily pushups. It is a firm habit now. I never would have predicted that would happen.

Pushups and Posture

In June, I posted Perfect Posture Progress. It was a summary of different habits and gadgets I was using that I could tell were having a positive impact on my posture. I briefly mentioned doing pushups from yoga blocks as a potential chest stretch to improve posture. But there may be more to the pushup.

After that post went up, I was catching up on my podcasts and I listened to Tim Ferriss #675 with Eric Cressey. Eric was discussing mobility restrictions and the problems with the bench press related to having the shoulder pinned. The solution is to develop chest strength in ways that allow full shoulder mobility. Pushups, yoga downward dog, and cable work are three solutions.

Interesting. I started daily yoga in October 2021 which always included the dogward dog and daily pushups in January 2022. My posture has never been better. Although I’m not as “bro strong” as I was when I was benching the most in my mid-30s, I also don’t have the rounded shoulders and back pain issues I got when I followed Pavel’s Russian Bear protocol. I have strength with mobility now.

Making Friends with Pushups

I went from requiring a Fort Benning drill sergeant to yell at me to get me to do a pushup, to a daily habit I look forward to doing. I look and feel great.

TIP: Watching and re-watching some of the Athlean X Pushup technique videos on YouTube helped me a lot.

7 Comments

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  1. Glenn Lawrence Whitney

    Sep 30, 2023 — 2:29 pm

    For me anyway, it’s not a good idea to do the same exercise every day. I benefit from resting the muscles used in any particular exercise for at least 48 hours.

  2. I’m always curious as to what people mean exactly when they say that they take cold showers. Does that mean that there’s zero hot water in the picture or does it mean that the water is cool/slightly warm but not comfortably hot?

    I had to take a shower without any hot water when the water heater broke recently and it was damn near painful. It’s worse than jumping into a pool or a lake in cool weather because the water is constantly rolling off of your skin and taking heat with it.

  3. @Glenn – I think you are right. I wonder if different variations of the pushup would get around your concern? If not, I would need to swap in a new exercise – maybe body weight squats – to maintain the habit.

  4. @Poorchop – For myself, I should have said “contrast showers”. I start with a 1-2 min warm Navy shower. Then I flip it to cold.

    When I first started, I didn’t go full cold. I aimed the water between my shoulder blades. Then I learned how to slow my breathing and enter the cold in a calm state. Gradually, I went full body and as cold as my shower would allow.

    In the summer, I found the water never gets super cold. In the last place I lived, the water heater went out for a few days. It was during a winter freeze. That was very cold water, but I tackled it just fine, because I had trained for it.

    So start with half-cold water and the shoulder blades. Once you nail the calm breathing, increase the coldness, areas the water hits, and the duration.

  5. Perfect timing. I think I’ll reboot a daily AM pushup routine for October.

  6. Have you thought about weighted calisthenics? Advocates argue that once you can do a reasonable number, like ten with good form, you can microload with weight plates, to progress the exercise, rather than increase volume. Fitnessfaqs has a good video on it.

  7. @Jonb – I like the idea of weighted pushups, but I haven’t got it to work.

    The bands are difficult to work with and my cheap weighted vest has too much slack. To dial up the intensity, the best thing I have found so far is reducing the speed and static holds.

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