After just completing the 21 Day Fix, I decided that I need a new fitness project, specifically one that will help me improve my abilities within the realm of “functional fitness”. After a bit of deliberation, I decided to focus my attention on three goals:
- Complete 125 consecutive push ups
- Complete 30 consecutive pull ups
- Close the Captains of Crush #3 gripper
I chose the three targets above for two primary reasons: One, I think that the training required to achieve them, and the strength and muscular endurance gained upon completing them, will compliment my new favorite pastime, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And two, I’ve done enough calisthenics and grip training over the last few years to believe that the marks I set, while challenging, are actually obtainable…in other words, I might not quit in after the first month.
I have a decent plan of attack for the #3 gripper (I’m basically going to do more of what I did to close the #2.5), but I wasn’t quite sure how to approach my push up and pull up goals. A series of Google searches lead me to Stew Smith’s site, where I found that, as it turns out, he specializes in this type of thing. He’s been helping members of our armed forces ace their physical fitness tests (push ups and pull ups, among other workouts) for the last 15 years.
He’s written dozens of revered books, including The Complete Guide to Navy Seal Fitness and The Special Ops Workouts, but what drew me to his site in particular were his 14-day Pullup Push and Pushup Push programs. I figured these programs would be the perfect boost to rocket me toward my goals. He also offers this content on his site for free…and I’m cheap.
I encourage you to follow the links above and read the details on Stew’s site, but here it is in a nutshell:
You can either do the Pullup Push or the Pushup Push separately for 14 days each, or alternatively, Stew says you can go for both at the same time. I went with the latter, more punishing option. Both efforts require a maximum reps benchmark to determine how to outline the rest of the two weeks.
My benchmarks were:
- 51 consecutive push ups
- 15 consecutive pull ups
Now, at 6’3″ 245 lbs, I have a lot of body to be throwing around, so I’m not exactly ashamed of my starting numbers. However, keeping my eyes on the prize, I set out to shatter them. Once you’ve determined your maximum reps, you multiply your push ups by four, and your pull ups by five. Those numbers (~200 and 75 respectively, in my case) represent the number of reps that you’re to complete every day.
On odd days, you do all of your reps in one workout session, and on even days, you complete the reps however you want to do them throughout the day (being the shameless meat head that I am, I got a lot of them done in my cubicle). Because I was going for both, I did all of my push ups in one session and my pull ups whenever I could get them on odd days, and the opposite on even days. You carry this on pattern for 10 consecutive days, then you rest.
Once you’ve abstained from both exercises for three or four days (I chose four), you re-test yourself to see how you’ve improved.
I just tested myself this afternoon. Here’s how I came in:
- 64 consecutive push ups (20.5% improvement)
- 19 consecutive pull ups (21% improvement)
I feel pretty good about my results. On one hand I experienced 20% gains in two calisthenic movements that I was already pretty good at. Looking at it in another way, that would be like me increasing my bench press max from 300 to 375 in two weeks, which is almost unheard of (not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but you get the picture). On the other hand, however, I read about some folks who tried Stew’s “push” programs, and had 50% gains…some actually doubled their counts!
While I definitely didn’t expect to double my count on either movement, I was optimistically hoping for somewhere in the 35% range. Having said that, I’d like to present you with my excuses for not hitting the numbers I sought after…
I think that my biggest issue was that I was “too good” at push ups and pull ups when I started the program. Now, what do I mean by that? I’m not saying that I’m anything special, but on his site, Stew mentions that folks who experience the greatest success on this program (i.e., those who see 100%+ gains) begin in the 3-10 pull up range.
Anyone who has ever focused on skill-building from the ground up can attest that the first few weeks–even days–working at the said skill are when you experience the most progress. Applying the same logic to calisthenics, or any workout for that matter, it makes sense that someone starting off with four pull ups on Stew’s program might be able to hammer out eight or nine at the end.
When you take all of that into consideration, and that I’ve been doing pull ups on-and-off for five or six years, the fact that I achieved 20% gains in such a short period of time is quite a testament to Stew’s program as a plateau buster.
So, I’m too awesome…that’s my first excuse. What are my others? The second, lesser reason I didn’t see the gains I dreamed about is probably because I was over-trained. I banged out 2000 push ups and 750 pull ups over the course of ten days. That might not be a lot to some of you super studs, but for a 32 year-old obese guy (obese on the BMI scale anyway), who has never once in his life worked a fitness routine that hammered the same muscle group even two days in a row (much less 10), it was a lot!
After the third day, my shoulders and tendons were screaming at me to quit. I was on a steady diet of turmeric and fish oil; naproxen and ibuprofen anti-inflammatories; and icing my joints and muscles (especially around my elbows) every day. I realize that I’m probably an idiot for continuing on when my body was giving me so many opportunities to stop, but dadgummit, I was curious.
In fairness to Stew Smith, he is a staunch proponent of incorporating rest in any strength training program, even calisthenics. He addresses the over-training element of these programs specifically on his site, and advises no one to complete it more than once every six months.
Basically, I’m just not an ideal candidate for a 10-day calisthenics marathon. I finished it though, and never had to resort to anything harder than Advil (I didn’t even drink…alcohol can cause inflammation)…I’m cool with that.
And my last excuse…I mentioned that I recently started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (I’ll go ahead and plug my school’s Facebook page here: Relson Gracie–Athens, OH). I continue to grow obsessed with it, and you’ll likely hear me ramble on about it as I create future posts, but relevant to the current discussion…arm bars and tendinitis don’t mix.
Yesterday, one day before my self-administered pull up and push up test, I went to an open mat with a couple more advanced guys who routinely murder me (I’ve only been going for two months, so pretty much everyone and their mother has been running a choke train on me). I was rolling with a guy who worked me into an arm bar, and I tapped right away, right? No, no I didn’t…even though I knew better, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could muscle my way out of it…and I ended up tapping, a few degrees past my comfort level. It didn’t do any serious acute damage that I’m aware of, but my freakin’ arm has definitely been bothering me today.
Would I have been able to get a couple extra reps had I not been a stubborn idiot at BJJ yesterday? I don’t know, probably, but regardless, the results are what they are.
Despite a very minor disappointment in my final results, I’m sold on the effectiveness of Stew Smith’s Pushup and Pullup Push programs. He did what I thought was impossible, and displayed how one can actually reap benefits from a calculated over-training regimen. I would love to see the results a guy or girl in their early twenties, with an average build gets when they run through this program. If you’ve had any success (or otherwise) with either of the “pushes”, I’d love to hear about it.
As it stands, I have 61 more push ups and 11 more pull ups to do in order to hit my goals. My plan is to use this coming week to let my inflammation settle with some light cardio, BJJ and a little yoga, but I plan to get back on it after that. I’ll keep you informed of my progress. If you have any relevant tips or hate speech, drop them in the comments below.