What I learned from trying to do 1000 push ups

Today, my body feels really sore. Specifically, my pectoralis and my abdominals. It’s been a while since I last felt so sore, and all because of this obnoxious brown guy named Ramit Sethi. I recently signed up for his email course on how to 20x my potential. He was talking about Navy Seal training and how intense it was. Jokingly I thought to myself, I can do about 40-60 push ups in one go, is he going to make me 800-1200 push ups then? Lo and behold, the first day’s challenge was to do 1000 push ups and to hold a 21 minute plank. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that surprised. I half-expected it. I knew about some high school kid in Scarborough who regularly did that many push ups in a day. So, naturally, I just tried it.

I couldn’t do it. I spent an hour getting up to 500 push ups before giving up. I took a break, went for a run, and tried the 21 minute plank hold. I made it to 16 minutes, with 5 minutes worth of breaks in between. Even though I failed, it was still more than anything I had ever done before. I heard them talk about achieving these incredible feats, but I didn’t immediately picture myself achieving them as well.

How did I manage to 10x my regular performance? I took Mark Devine’s strategy (Ramit did a video interview with the former Navy Seal who developed a training program like this) of taking it one step at a time, and broke down the 1000 push up goal into just sets of 5. This made it much more manageable, especially once I got to 300 push ups. I found myself needing to break it down even more by the time I reached 400, and after 500 I could barely do push ups on my knees. In my mind, I kept telling myself, it’s just 5 more push ups, you could do that in your sleep. Eventually, even 5 became incredibly difficult, I had already spent an hour doing push ups and kept distracting myself while I was resting to regain strength in my muscles to continue. I’m not sure if it was my mind or my body that broke first, but I can say that I officially redefined what impossible means to me.

I don’t usually do plank holds, and imagined trying to hold it for 21 minutes to be incredibly intense, especially after having done all those push ups. I thought I would try a similar tactic, but a bit differently since the difficult part of the plank is the hold – if you broke it down into 5 second holds I think that would have been too easy. So I tried doing it for as long as I could (3 minutes, 30 seconds) then resting for 10 seconds, then trying to hold it again for a minute. Sometimes I would rest for up to a minute, and usually I held it for between 30-60 seconds. I decided that I would just spend 21 minutes total doing this, so for the final hold I really pushed myself. It was strange. My final hold was for 2 minutes 20 seconds, and at the 2 minute mark I started feeling this intense numbing sensation throughout my body, mostly around my jaw, neck, and arms. This worried me, so I was glad that I was going to be done by the 21 minute mark, but it really woke me up to how much more I could be pushing myself.

Ever since I did these two things, even though I didn’t exactly succeed, I couldn’t help but think about how much more I could be pushing in all aspects of my life. While reflecting on how I felt after doing this exercise, I thought of this cheesy one-liner:

I had never felt so weak in my life before, but maybe I had never felt like I was so strong before. Strong enough to do 1000 push ups.

I get stuck with “realistic goal syndrome”. I think many of us do. Instead of thinking we’re good enough to go for the big wins, we dial it down thinking we’re only good enough for the small wins. To think big and dream big almost seems like a skill now, and we’re all too used to seeing others do it. I used to think that I liked to raise the bar, to push my boundaries. I realize now that there’s a difference between pushing your own bar and pushing the bar that others set for you. There’s immense comfort in knowing that you’re pushing boundaries that others set for you if those boundaries are actually still within your own comfort zone. Many people can barely do push ups. So when I do 40 in a sitting, I feel pretty good about myself then go about my day. But, as I just learned yesterday, I can do so much more. I wasn’t pushing my own boundary so much as living up to an arbitrary, external standard. Which brings me to another aphorism, this one coming from my high school days:

Run your own race.

Just focus on you, put the blinders on, forget about the others. They’re just trying to run their own race too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *