Productive Failure: My Push-up Challenge Results & What I Learned

If you suspect OlderBeast is “rigged” – that I always (at least claim to) accomplish fitness goals I set for myself – this should counter that suspicion, man.

For the 90-day Push-up Challenge* begun in April, I did NOT reach my target of 84 push-ups. I did raise my max from 58 in mid-April to 68 by mid-May. But then I hit various challenges and setbacks, and I haven’t managed any further increase.

In support of your quest for continued physical accomplishment and sense-of-possibilities, here’s a debrief on what I tried, what happened, and lessons to move forward with.

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If you suspect OlderBeast is “rigged” – that I always (at least claim to) accomplish fitness goals I set for myself – this should counter that suspicion, man.

For the 90-day Push-up Challenge* begun in April, I did NOT reach my target of 84 push-ups. I did raise my max from 58 in mid-April to 68 by mid-May. But then I hit various challenges and setbacks, and I haven’t managed any further increase.

In support of your quest for continued physical accomplishment and sense-of-possibilities, here’s a debrief on what I tried, what happened, and lessons to move forward with.

I (and other OlderBeasts) would also love to hear about your experience and learning, via this Facebook discussion.

*Challenge details are here: why do it, theories on push-up-maximizing workouts, and formula for setting a targeted increase.

WHAT I TRIED

I experimented with and blended three approaches.

1. “Grease the groove” day-long effort two days/week. That is, I did a manageable number of push-ups, many times throughout the day, to add up to a substantial total.

I began with 20 each hour for 12 hours during the day. My high-water mark was 40 each hour for 13 hours – over 500 push-ups. This felt “cool” accomplishment-wise – and unscientifically I feel this most helped me improve on my initial max. But it was hard to sustain this week-to-week. It was hard to mix with daily life – where do you hit the floor each hour when you’re at work, in transit, etc.? It also posed conflicts (time- and energy-wise) with other workout plans.

2. More traditional “handful of sets to the point of muscle failure” approach on another day during the week. Following some of the advice from links provided in the original post, I did this with varying hand positions – narrow, regular, wide.

This approach is most like my “normal” use of push-ups within a fitness regimen. I think it’s good for maintenance and slow increase of your max (up to some point). And, it fits comfortably into a more sustainable pattern of working out – where and when you plan to – compared to grease-the-groove.

3. “Dead-Stop” push-up’s once a week. Dead-Stop means you come to a complete, motionless stop at the bottom of each push-up, to focus on form and make each one a lot harder. When I included this in a workout (often as a solo tack-on to a cardio session), I did ten sets of ten, every minute on the minute. The last few sets were hard to reach ten — surprisingly so.

This approach drove me to muscle failure toward the last reps of the latter sets. But I’m not sure it was really that different in effect than traditional push-ups. Just another variation to sometimes throw into your mix, I think.

***

Also, beyond push-ups, I was doing other workouts that worked the chest, shoulder, and core muscles used for push-ups. This included swimming and “metabolic resistance training” (a variation on HITT — more detail here).

WHAT HAPPENED

Well first of all, if the preceding section left any doubt, I was doing a LOT of push-ups. Probably too many, too often.

I made strong progress the first 30 days, and was on track to reach my goal within 90 days. *If* I’d sustained the initial intensity, and the incremental improvement trajectory, for another 60 days.

But I started feeling sore in both shoulders (a prior problem area I’m hyper-conscious of now). And I was losing a bit of mental focus – not as “excited” about push-ups as I was at the beginning, if I can use that word.

I dialed down push-up frequency and quantity for the second half of May, intending to start “onward and upward” in early June. Then I started an extended period of work and family travel – always a threat to routine – and got a sinus infection along the way that truly diminished intense exercise, including push-ups, for a couple more weeks.

So by the time early July came around, I was back somewhere near where I started.

#$%^!*@.

LESSONS LEARNED

Was all this a failure…a partial victory…a learning experience? Probably some of each. I don’t think “failure” is a bad word, man. The only way to not fail sometimes is to not endeavor.

Here’s what I’ve learned and will move forward with:

  • Challenges are great motivation; they add a goal-driven urgency and refreshing variety into your normal routine.
  • However, challenges that are purely about numerical achievements (reps, weight, time, etc.) can get pretty obsessive – at least for me.
  • And that can lead to the “over-do” pattern I experienced…
  • …as well as hi-jack some of the other fitness things you do that are less numerical-goal-oriented

So, I’m still going to periodically set these types of challenges for myself (and suggest them for you).  For pull-ups at some point soon. Maybe something related to using kettlebells. Working up to a longer-distance bike ride, definitely. A killer day hike or short backpacking trip. Eventually, push-ups again.

BUT, I’ll be careful to avoid the too-much-too-fast syndrome. And also focus challenges more on areas where I’m new to something, returning to something, or not as strong at it. And I’ll be less inclined to use challenges to “pile on” to an area I’m already relatively strong in. This is because it’s easier to make substantial progress from more of a “beginner” level, and also because it seems like that “last 10% type improvement” on an already-strong base is where the overdo/injury risk kicks in the most.

SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE & INPUT

What was your experience?

  • Did you try the challenge, and if so how and with what results?
  • If not, what held you back? How might future OlderBeast challenges be more engaging?

Let’s use this Facebook post for discussion.

 

“You can get it if you really want. You can get it if you really want. You can get it if you really want. But you must try, try and try, try and try. You’ll succeed at last.” (Jimmy Cliff, You Can Get It If You Really Want – click to listen)

If you think this would be useful to others, please help spread the word about OlderBeast by sharing this post with the social media buttons below. THANKS, MAN.

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