Push-ups FTW!

According to a recent New York Times health article on push-ups, a 40-year-old woman should be able to do 16 FULL push-ups in a row without rest, and a man of the same age should be able to knock out 27 push-ups.

I don’t know about you, but I doubt that most of the women I know who are my age (33) or even younger could reach 16 good reps without dropping to their knees. And even then, their kneelies might be as sad as the ones being performed by the women in this accompanying video. In fact, I remember BEING one of those headbobbers myself at age 21 when I entered basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and was told by my drill sergeant that only 9 of the 11 or so reps that I performed at my first diagnostic PT test were good enough to be counted.

Women are at a particular disadvantage because they start off with about 20 percent less muscle than men. Many women bend their knees to lower the amount of weight they must support. And while anybody can do a push-up, the exercise has typically been part of the male fitness culture. “It’s sort of a gender-specific symbol of vitality,” said R. Scott Kretchmar, a professor of exercise and sports science at Penn State. “I don’t see women saying: ‘I’m in good health. Watch me drop down and do some push-ups.’ ”

But back to the topic — the article states that push-ups are an excellent measure of fitness because they work so many parts of the body at once, not just the back, chest, arms, and shoulders as some people think. Your core, glutes, and leg muscles must also be held rigid while you perform the exercise with only your hands and toes on the floor. The ability to perform multiple push-ups is an indicator of an individual’s strength and endurance, measurable factors which may help them as they age since up to 30% of a person’s muscular strength (read: muscle fiber!) can be lost between the ages of 20 and 70. Someone who strength trains enough to retain the ability to drop down and knock out 20 push-ups is far more likely to be able to save themselves from a forward fall, too, both as a result of greater strength and because muscle memory might just kick in to break their forward momentum before they faceplant into the kitchen tile.

So ladies, hop on the push-up train today if you haven’t already. There’s no reason that women can’t do just as many push-ups as men if they are properly trained (if not more, since many of us are pears with lower centers of gravity than our male counterparts, and therefore don’t have to push as much weight), and honestly, how pathetic are the chicks in the NY Times video bouncing away with barely an elbow bend while doing so-called push-ups from their knees? If you look anything like that when performing this mother of all bodyweight exercises, then you really need to get with the program.

Here are two good ones:

Mistressing the Push-Up at Stumptuous.com
The GrrlAthlete 4 Step Process to Becoming an Expert at Push-ups

If a formerly overweight, completely sedentary geek girl like me could go from 9 push-ups in two minutes to 34 in the space of 8 weeks with regular practice, anyone can.

And now? Well, let’s just say that my husband burns out before I do, and when fully-rested I can usually hit 50-60 reps or more without pausing. I’m currently working on diamonds and then I want to give one-handed push-ups a go after catching G.I. Jane on cable this past weekend. And Jack LaLanne’s cool modification is on my workout schedule for tomorrow:

Mr. LaLanne, who once set a world record by doing 1,000 push-ups in 23 minutes, still does push-ups as part of his daily workout. Now he balances his feet and each hand on three chairs.