by Martin Rooney T-Nation
Men love to exaggerate. If you’re a guy and can’t remember the last time you told a tall tale about the size of a fish, how much you bench, or some sports accomplishment from “in your prime,” then you probably should get your Testosterone levels checked.
Typically, men do this to either feel part of a group or impress others, although exaggeration can have consequences. Not only can it make you look delusional or dishonest, but constant exaggeration by enough people about a certain statistic – such as bench press scores or 40-yard dash times – can cause that statistic to lose significance.
For example, while presenting to 400 young athletes, I shared an interesting stat about my training history: the NFL athletes I’ve trained for the NFL combine have signed contracts for a combined total of well over 1 billion dollars.
Although I consider that fact interesting, I’m surprised to find it doesn’t seem to impress that many people. Apparently the media has so exaggerated the amount of money made by professional athletes that a collective billion dollars just doesn’t sound like that much money anymore.
On the other hand, my experiences as a young athlete on the US Bobsled team taught me to appreciate having a few bucks in my pocket. After moving from the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center to get the first crack sliding at the Salt Lake Olympic track in Park City, Utah, I got a quick education in the challenges of living a true Spartan lifestyle.
My driver, friend, and future Olympic silver medalist, Todd Hays, shared a tiny apartment while starving to get by. In between frozen sprint sessions on the Park City HS track where ice and snow had to be chipped and shoveled from a lane in which to sprint, we’d find ourselves bickering over who got to eat more of the beef heart we’d bought to save money. Instead of million dollar contracts, our dream was to represent the US before the daily rations of rice and tuna ran out.
However, despite not having a nice crib, car, clothes, or training facility, there was one way we were exactly like those wealthy NFL athletes I previously mentioned – we knew we were guaranteed free beer on Friday nights.
At the time we’d arrived at Park City, there weren’t any state-of-the-art gyms in which to train. As a result, apart from our sub-zero sprint work, we had to get creative, and much of that creativity focused on how to create resistance using our own bodyweight and stimulate as much muscle fiber as possible.
The physical goal for a bobsledder is simple – be fast and strong. Although it’s easy to recognize that the quads, glutes, and calves have to be powerful to generate sprinting speed, the chest and triceps must also be strong to stabilize the aggressive push start and drive phase without collapsing.
In other words, I was in most guys’ dream scenario for training – I found a sport that I needed to bench big and look good in a lycra skin suit (okay, half of the dream scenario was cool).
The lack of ideal training centers in Park City meant that benches were in short supply, so we did push-ups instead – a lot of push-ups. And those thousands of reps not only taught me to understand the push-up, they also helped me get really strong. (At one testing event, I hit 395 on a 14-inch close grip bench!)
But back to the free beer – while living the Olympic Dream, everything you did was a competition. Even a game of Jeopardy could result in a screaming match about who got the answer to “What is the secret ingredient in Cheese Whiz” first.
During that frozen winter in Park City came the challenge that would direct a lot of my training for the next 15 years:
“I bet you beers I can do more push-ups than you in 4 minutes…”
Now depending on what “legend” you hear, both Todd and I thought we’d won that original challenge, but also realized we had a test on our hands (literally) that blew up the upper body and could be done anywhere.
We also realized that even with all our training, 100 reps in 4 minutes with proper form was a number that most normal people were never going to hit on their first try.
Interestingly, just like a billion dollars, most people have exaggerated their ability so often that 100 reps of push-ups in 4 minutes doesn’t sound like much.
So we had our Friday night beer scheme ready. And thanks to the lowly push-up (along with other people’s need to exaggerate), we never had to pay once.
Now it’s your turn to see where you stand.
TLAM Challenge: The 4-Minute Pushup Test
Humans crave challenges. However, rather than jumping right into a mud run where you get hit over the head with pugil sticks and shocked with electric barbed wire, this challenge is more conservative, but just as rewarding.
I challenge you to perform 100 or more push-ups in 4 minutes. The push-up, which is also known in some countries as the “press up,” tests the strength, stability, and endurance of much of the body by challenging muscles of the arms, chest, core, and legs.
Although this test may sound easy, I guarantee you’re going to be surprised by the results – especially if you haven’t been doing push-ups recently!
If you don’t achieve the number you’d like the first time (I didn’t), don’t give up. With the tips below and a little practice, you’ll improve your numbers (and confidence) in no time.
Who knows, maybe you’ll even go after the world record for consecutive push-ups – 10,507 – and that’s no exaggeration!
Begin the test in the up position.
Start the timer before the first descent.
For a rep to count, you must go all the way down until the elbow is at least at a 90-degree angle (chest 2 inches off the floor) and lock out the elbows at the top. The core must stay locked and move up and down with every rep using the toes as the fulcrum of the movement.
You can rest/stop whenever you want, but the clock must keep running.
Poor reps in terms of body position or putting down a knee before a rep is completed don’t count toward the total score.
Stop counting when 4 minutes have elapsed and record your score.
Not Your Father’s Push-Up: Tips on Proper Form
I take my push-ups seriously. When I perform a push-up, I get my whole body involved. Begin lying on your stomach with your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart and make sure you’re barefoot – the push-up is a great way to get dorsiflexion at the big toe and ankle and maintain foot health.
Next, place your feet together and squeeze your ankles against each other to engage your adductors and contract your glutes and quads so that your knees lift from the floor. With the legs engaged, posteriorly rotate your pelvis by tightening your abs and pressing your hips into the floor.
Now that the core is firing, press the heels of your hands into the ground to activate the triceps. With the whole body engaged, press up until your elbows are extended and your scapulae protract around your ribcage.
In the top position, your shoulder should internally rotate so the crook of your elbow is facing forward. From the top position, lower yourself under control while keeping the elbows close to the body.
Pacing during the test is critical to achieving your best score. Although I like to jump out with a big number in my first set, I caution you not to push your initial sets to complete fatigue because once you’re out of gas, you don’t have enough time during the test to recover.
When you feel you’re slowing down, rest for 15 seconds and then start again. As you get more tired, however, you may have to rest more often and then you must try to bang out as many smaller sets as you can until the finish.
If your wrists bother you, perform the push-up on your knuckles, which keeps the wrists in a more neutral position.
Make sure to complete each rep. There’s nothing worse than going for an extra rep, missing, and not adding to your score.
Here’s an example of me getting 100 reps in 3 minutes and 33 seconds with proper pacing:
Rooney’s Rating Scale
Below Average: Under 49
How to Increase Your Score
The first time they take the test, most people score in the average range and are usually disappointed (and sore). To increase your score, you can do four things:
1. Practice the 4-Minute Pushup Challenge.
The more often you take the test, the better you will learn to perform it. I suggest hitting the test once about every 2 weeks in between push-up training every 3 days. Here are a few good videos on push-up variations that should keep you busy:
Cruel and Unusual Variations:
The Hardest 4-Minute Pushup Challenge:
2. Get to your optimal bodyweight.
Adding push-ups to your training routine and reducing bodyfat (don’t drink the free beer) will dramatically improve your total on the next test. And who would’ve thought push-ups would ever make you want to lose weight?
3. Get The Push-up Warrior App to track everything.
I always wondered how many push-ups a year that I performed. After creating the Push-up Warrior App, now I don’t have to. With over 120 different push-up variations, 80 different push-up workouts, and a belt scoring system like the martial arts, I promise you have the next 5 years of push-up training (and results) ahead of you. You can get the app and dozens of tutorials at www.pushupwarrior.com
Or You Can Do Nothing – and Keep Exaggerating.
Skipping the work in favor of just continuing to exaggerate like a half-drunk frat boy is certainly the path of least resistance, and you’ll have plenty of wing men to keep you company.
So when you hear about a Ukrainian 7-year-old boy like Andriy Kostash hitting a new record of 4,000 push-ups in 2 hours and 29 minutes, you can say to your crew “Ah, that’s nothing. I did 5,000 when I was his age.”
Granted, this won’t make you fitter, but at least you can use it to make your delusional self feel better. That is, until young Andriy is old enough to drink all your beer.