by Max Shank T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- Respect the basics. A steady diet of push-ups and pull-ups will help you hit some pretty awesome gym numbers.
- Part of what makes Hershel Walker a beast is his relentless daily workout habits, like hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints.
- High-rep bodyweight exercises strengthen joints, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
- Once you reach serious rep ranges, it’s about strengthening the pattern and building a platform of endurance so you can tolerate more training.
- To make bodyweight exercises a daily habit, do them before a shower or some other daily ritual. Engrain the behavior.
A Total Beast
Herschel Walker is a beast. He was a running back in the NFL who got involved in MMA in his late 40’s. What helped him get there? Discipline and daily practices.
He did a ton of push-ups (750-1000), sit ups, and sprints every single day.
You could write him off as an outlier and say that, in spite of inefficient training, he was a genetic phenomenon. But instead why not just recognize him as someone who didn’t suffer from exercise snobbery.
He was never too good for the basics. And you shouldn’t be either.
Reps and Snobbery
Contrast Walker’s approach with someone who constantly searches for the perfect exercise that’s going to make him gain four inches of muscle in four weeks. That person may consider himself “advanced” and invariably thinks the simple or easy stuff is beneath him.
Let’s explore the roots of this snobbery. Consider that coaches and athletes all have a general agreement about how many reps to do of a given exercise:
- 1-5 reps for strength
- 5-12 reps for hypertrophy
- 15+ reps for endurance
This is how most programs are written.
But is it really so cut and dried? Think back to everyone you’ve ever met who can bang out over 50 push-ups and 20 pull-ups or chin-ups. Weren’t they all pretty damn strong? Didn’t they all have at least some decent level of musculature?
There are a lot of guys in the military who, on a steady diet of push-ups and pull-ups, hit some awesome numbers in the bench press and weighted pull-up with little or no training.
Once you start getting into serious rep ranges, it’s not simply about endurance. It’s strengthening the pattern and also building a platform of endurance so your body can tolerate more training.
It might be helpful to change your mindset. Ask yourself how you get strong:
Well, you lift heavy stuff many times, as often as possible, for a long time.
How could you get to the point where you can tolerate the volume required to get strong?
You do more reps and build your tolerance.
Not only that, but doing higher rep work in the form of bodyweight exercises is especially helpful for strengthening the other stuff that gets ignored, like joints, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage (which have no direct blood supply and only change through movement).
The Shower Trigger
So maybe high reps sounds like a good idea, but for some reason you’re not ready to commit to doing high-rep work every day. I get that. You probably can’t bust out mega-sets of push-ups any time you want at work.
So how about doing them right before you shower? Not only is this practical, you now have a trigger for the new habit:
“When I take a shower (trigger), I’ll first do push-ups.”
A Personal Story
Last year I hyper-extended my knee, which caused a deep bone bruise. The femur and tibia pretty much slammed together. I couldn’t put weight on it, even after a couple of weeks. The advice I got from ortho’s and PT’s was to “rest it, it just needs time to heal.”
So I rested it for a couple of months. Completely. And it got worse.
Despite medical instructions, I decided to start moving again. I felt better almost immediately; not 100% but a significant improvement just by gently adding movement back into the mix.
Some things, like bodyweight squats, were very uncomfortable. Once I was able do some without assistance, I decided that they’d be my healing movement. There were other specific joint positions that caused pain and weakness, but I could squat without any real bother.
That’s how I started doing squats and push-ups pre-shower. I called it The Herschel Walker Experiment.
I was also specifically interested in increasing the amount of “back-of-wrist” push-ups I could do. When I started I could get about 10 reps. At the end of 45 days, I could do 35 reps that included clapping.
The Hershel Walker Experiment
A. Push-ups 3 minutes (rest as needed)
B. Squats 5 minutes (rest as needed)
Here’s how I broke it down:
A. The 3-minute push-up set:
- 10 Plyo push-ups (for max height)
- 30 Back-of-wrist push-ups
- 30 Push-ups (conventional)
- Hindu push-ups (as many as possible in the remaining time)
- For Hindu push-ups the rest position of the downward dog movement let’s you “stay in the set” while still getting a slight rest before doing another rep.
B. The 5-minute squat set:
- Bodyweight squat
- Toe-touch (alternate between the two after each rep)
Advance the Squat Set
Within 45 days my knee felt good enough to transition into 5 minutes of Cossack squats where you descend to the side with your weight on one leg while the other legs is kept straight and to the side.
I eventually began alternating them with lunges and on day 35, jumping (which I’d been unable to do for 6 months).
The lesson I learned was that changing the exercise during the time block was easier than adding a new time block. More importantly, I learned that the important part of exercise is logistics and not specifics.
It’s far more important to carve out a consistent block of time than specifically worrying about which exercises and styles of training you’re implementing.
Get Impressive Results
This little experiment had some very cool benefits. As mentioned, I built up the number of back-of-wrist push-ups I could do.
Secondly, it had a profound impact on my squat strength. On my first day back to regular training, I easily did fronts squats for a couple of sets of two with 315 pounds.
And keep in mind this was after being injured and not squatting or training the legs with weights for six months!
Consider, too, that my best front squat ever was 350 pounds, and I was nowhere near that when I got injured.
The 5-minute pre-shower squat ritual helped me achieve a new level of competency with the squat pattern itself, which translated ultimately to bigger lifts.
Try it For Yourself
Here are three easy ways you can incorporate this concept into your training and improve your fitness and strength:
A. Set a timer for 3 minutes and do as many push-ups as you can.
B. Set the timer for 5 minutes and do as many squats you can.
Do 3 minutes of burpees using full push-up and good squat position each time.
Alternate doing 20 push-ups and 40 squats for 6 minutes.
Whatever option you go for, make sure you stick with it; don’t make excuses or exceptions. Consider doing them before your shower, like I did, so that it becomes easier to incorporate into your daily routine.
It’s about common sense. All things being equal, who’s going to be stronger, your clone who does an extra 100 push-ups and squats every day, or you?