Earlier this year, I could string together a solid 14 to 16 push-ups without stopping. It was a skill that took me quite some time to master. And by "quite some time," I mean months and months. For that, my gratitude lays with CrossFit. When I'd see them on the list of to-dos for a daily WOD (workout of the day, in CrossFit speak), I felt excitement over dread. I got to a point where I looked forward to seeing just how many I could crank out before dropping to my knees for that modification. I looked forward to watching what was four up to six, and six up to eight.
But then I hurt my back. Lifting too much weight overhead during the CrossFit Open triggered some nagging arthritis in my lumbar spine, and push-ups were one of the first things to go. Maintaining that tension in my core, rep after rep, bothered my back. Although I was taking the time to work on my core strength, I didn't want to risk the unintentional pain; I started doing push-ups constantly from my knees, reverting back to my pre-gains status. I felt like the last year of strength successes were subsiding.
Here's the thing: I'm not the kind of person to take "subpar" as status quo. So, naturally, after a couple of months of accepting this on-the-knees approach, change was imminent. The logical decision? I was going to work back to stringing together a slew of push-ups, ASAP. The plan? Rise to the challenge. Using the app Spar, I challenged three friends (including my boyfriend) to do 20 push-ups every day for two weeks. The best part is hands down the penalty: if you miss a day, Spar charges your credit card $3. Thus, I present you with four lessons I learned doing 20 push-ups a day for two weeks:
1. Not every goal has to be astronomical.
I knew going into this challenge that just because I started on this goal didn't mean I was automatically going to crank out standard push-ups easy-breezy. Setting a goal of 20 push-ups felt like a lot, but I knew that 10 would be a little too easy. So I started small. I wasn't going to crush all 20 push-ups from high plank from the get-go. So, after doing a few going through the motions from high plank to low plank, I'd drop to my knees and finish the rest of them modified. Being easy on myself made this OK. Being easy on myself made me feel like I could make positive progress. As the weeks progressed, I worked on doing more and more in the standard format before giving in to the alternative.
2. A support network makes everything better.
If I had simply challenged myself to do 20 push-ups each day, I probably wouldn't have stuck it out. Not because I don't have willpower, but because . . . let's be honest: things always get in the way. Watching my friends execute their reps (Spar makes you record a 10-second video every day when you check-in to show the challenge participants you're not fibbing), I felt motivated to do mine. The trash talking . . . well, that motivated me a bit, too.
3. When you think you can't go any more, do one more.
That's when I focused on all the things you're supposed to focus on when executing the perfect push-up: lean slightly forward, keep your shoulders stacked over your elbows, engage your core. When I felt like my triceps couldn't bear lowering my body weight back to the ground (nevertheless pushing it back up), I took a deep breath, paused, and then pushed past my comfort zone. Despite struggling before the rep, I'd say that almost always that last can-I-keep-doing-this push-up was my best.
4. The best is yet to come.
Probably the best part of the challenge was waking up to a "You lost!" email (both my boyfriend and I missed one day each, paying out a total of $3 to our friends). Within an hour, the group text was lighting up with questions like "What's next?" paired with suggestions. Sure, we all like a little friendly competition. But now that I've built up my arm strength, I'm thinking those lunges are a good idea.