The Year of Muscle: Project Push Up

April was the 2nd month in my year of muscle campaign. This is my post marathon quest to do a push up and maybe even, dare I hope, lose a little Jelly Belly.

The first month of the year of muscle, I spent most of my time dipping my toe into Crossfit and free falling onto the toilet from all the squats. That Crossfit water was ice cold and didn’t feel inviting. Me and my scotch tape thighs decided to try something else for awhile. So I joined a gym. Go, me.

I joined a gym once when I was stupid and 18 and no one had warned me about not signing long expensive contracts to a place I really wasn’t that interested in going. I’ve never been a member of a gym since. And I was never a regular gym goer when I was. It’s new to me. And it felt new and strange. 

I picked the gym based on the range and schedule of group exercise classes they offer as well as the fact that it gets us a discount for a summer camp we were already planning to send our kids to. The discount times 2 kids and the gym membership pays for itself through the summer. So it’s practically free and has a variety of classes and a schedule that fits my life. That’s what I call win-win and a sign from the universe. 
This is the face of a woman that successfully joined a gym and is going to leave her house and go there.
I successfully went for a week of classes and then got sick. And then I spent 2 weeks hating life and wanting to crawl in a hole and die. Seriously. I was so tired at one point I was trying to decide if it felt like the time I had mono back in college. It didn’t. I had a sinus infection, constant headaches from the sinus infection which led to lack of sleep and all of that successfully distracted me from noticing that I had a terrible urinary tract infection that got bad enough that I had back pain and fever and chills. I also felt like I had to go to the bathroom every 3 minutes. It was awesome. Especially at night when you may want to, oh, I don’t know, sleep 8 hours in a row.

When I finally started feeling better, I started going for walks outside to get some fresh air and sunshine. I am convinced fresh air and sunshine have medicinal properties. They eased me back into exercise and I was reminded how much I like going for a walk and listening to the radio.

Even though I joined a gym and essentially didn’t get maximum usage out of it in the first month, my year of muscle campaign did actually make progress this month. A couple months ago, I read a post by Mama Laughlin explaining how to gain muscle. It essentially explained that you have to systematically increase the volume.   You can increase the amount of weight you are lifting, the number of reps or the number of sets. For example, if last week I did bicep curls and I did 5 sets of 8 reps using a 10 pound weight, then the next week, I could up it to 5 sets of 10. Then the next week 5 sets of 12. Then the next week 5 sets of 15. And then I’d increase the amount of weight I was lifting but lower the number of reps and sets back down. So maybe the next week I’d do 3 sets of 8 reps with a 12 pound weight. It said you should do 3 to 5 sets and that your sets should have between 8 to 15 reps in them.

For stuff that doesn’t involve weights, you just increase the number or the difficulty. So for push ups, you might do 10 on your knees and then increase the number you do each week. And then when you feel ready, you start substituting in some that aren’t on your knees and then the rest on your knees. Each week you’d try to progress.

This all made perfect sense to me. It was like a total light bulb coming on for me. I’m not a weight lifting kind of girl. It’s almost pathetic how clueless I feel about all of it. But this made absolute and complete sense to me so I clung to it and gave it a go. I decided to pick some arm exercises and then work on them using that strategy. Then my first day doing push ups on my knees, my marshmallow core spoke to me and told me my arms weren’t the only body part holding me back from doing a push up. So I added sit ups to the plan, too.

For my arms, I do push ups, bicep curls curling the barbell up to my chest from my waist , tricep extensions extending my arm behind me, shoulder presses lifting straight up while standing and chest presses lifting straight up while laying down. For sit ups, I do a full sit up coming all the way up, a reverse sit up lifting my legs up straight above me and tons of crunches coming part of the way up.

Every Saturday, I work on my goofball little plan in my bedroom using my little barbells. And that includes weekends where I wasn’t feeling well. Just that one day a week and the fact that it is only one day helps to make it feel less intimidating.

My memory is a sieve and I always suck at remembering how many I’ve done. But that’s what dry erase boards are for! So I use one. I go in groups of 10 on everything that doesn’t involve barbells and then I get one tick for every 10. Nice and easy to keep track of.

My children decided they each needed their own chart, too.  The effect is sweet but cluttery.  Pretty much summarizes my life with kids. 
For the stuff that involves barbells, I use the same number of sets and reps for everything and I mark the number down so I don’t have to remember. Then when I do a set, I mark it down along with the amount of weight I used. Because the weight does vary. I really wanted the weight to be the same for everything, too. It seemed so much simpler. But my biceps would not cooperate. So now the weight varies for bicep curls.
My main goal was for the muscles to feel really sore the next day. Not, incapacitated sore. More like, heaven help me washing my hair in the shower requires a lot of effort sore. I try to decide before I start what I’m going to do and that includes intentionally increasing a little from the week before. Deciding before I start is important for me so I can’t decide to do less once it starts to feel hard. It’s going to feel hard. I’m just going to do it anyway. In the beginning when I was still figuring out what I was doing, I’d gauge if I’d done enough based on how hard it felt. I’d go as far as I thought I should and then intentionally did a little more to be sure I was good and sore the next day. Because my natural instinct is to do less. So when I get to that “less” that feels like enough, I don’t listen to my brain telling me that’s enough. Now that I’ve settled into my goofball little plan, it’s a lot easier because I just stick to the plan and it feels like enough.

I started with 10 pound weights and progressed pretty quickly to 12 for most things. Makes me think 10 was probably too light to begin with but you have to start somewhere. I’m up to 15 for bicep curls and 20 for the others. My biceps have been hating life with the 15s for the last 3 weeks but I’m really going to need them to get it together because they are some dead weight considering my triceps are ready for 25. My shoulders will likely protest the 25 but I’ll drag them kicking and screaming. 
I'd like to know who actually purchases 1 pound barbells.  Do they not own a can of soup they could use instead?  And next time I start to think I have made no progress, I'm will go back to the sporting goods aisle to lift the 1 pound barbell with 2 fingers.

I have no idea what I will do after 25 because the Target sporting goods aisle does not appear to stock barbells that weigh 30 pounds. I might have to actually leave my bedroom and use the weights at the gym. Although I find that super intimidating so let’s agree to not speak of that until I get there.
Pumping iron with the tiny 1 pound weight.
For push ups, I started by doing 20 on my knees. I couldn’t even go all the way down. It felt really, really hard though so I was convinced my nose was practically in the carpet fiber. But I was just a hot mess express going down a little. The paparazzi got a nice shot of my craptastic form from when I started. Note the lack of straight line in my back. That’s my marshmallow core hard at work. Don’t be jealous. 
Note all the space between me and the floor.

Each week I’d up the number of push ups I did by at least 20. When I got to 100 push ups on my knees, I started trading out some of the knee push ups for regular (not on my knees) push ups. I started out doing 20 regular and then 80 on my knees. And by “doing 20 regular” I really mean “attempting.” Because I barely dipped my chest down. It was a pathetic mess.

I’ve now traded all the knee push ups out for regular push ups and I’m up to 100. Now I’m working on dipping down more each week. How low I dip is becoming hard to gauge though so it makes it hard to push myself each week. So I’m debating upping the number of push ups instead. My brain likes things to be exact like that. Because then I know I made progress. Except this whole operation is super not exact. I’m still mulling it over. I also periodically start my day with 10 push ups in my closet before I get dressed for the day. I like to think I’m getting bonus points for them. If I could give myself a gold star for them on the magical dry erase board, I probably would.

For sit ups, I started out doing 20 of each kind (regular, reverse and crunch). I quickly noticed that crunches were easier so then I started doing twice as many of them to even that out. I’m up to 100 of the regular and reverse sit ups and 200 crunches. I’ve done that for two weeks now and am debating how to make them harder. I tried holding a barbell in my hands last week while doing the regular sit ups but I think my neck didn’t appreciate that. I have a finicky neck. I’m going to be spending some quality time with my friend Google this week working on this problem. I may actually have to dust off my yoga ball and use it. The horror.
My attempt at a reverse sit up. 
Since doing a few sit ups, I can vouch for them playing an essential role in Project Push Up. Should you be as stupid as me and want to do a push up, you might consider doing a few sit ups to help you out. I can also attest to the fact that when I started, my arms would still be sore on Wednesday after doing all the arm stuff on Saturday. It would be Thursday before I felt capable of doing push ups again. Except if I did arms again on Thursday, I wouldn’t have 4 days to recover again before I do it again on Saturday. And my arms needed to be ready for Saturday because that was my day. So I stuck with only doing But, lo and behold, 2 months in and my muscles seem to recover better. They feel a lot better by Tuesday so I might add something on Wednesday. So maybe I am making progress even if my scale doesn’t think so!

My Handy Year of Muscle Summary:
Month 1 – Dipped my toe in Crossfit. The water was cold and uninviting. My core is the consistency of marshmallow and push ups on my knees are hard. Started using a 15 pound barbell.
Month 2 – I joined a gym but got sick and didn’t go much.  My push ups aren't on my knees anymore but Push ups not on my knees are hard, too, even when you barely dip down.  Bought a 20 pound barbell.


The Running Nurse said...

We are in the same position. I've been trying to do a real pushup too. However, I did go to Crossfit and love it! I am looking forward to reading about your "gains". haha

Gabriel said...

Want to get strong and tone do what I do, bikram yoga. You'll strengthen muscles you 1) didn't know you had and 2) not know you're getting stronger.

Fabulously Always said...

That really made me laugh. :) The part about the 1 pound dumbells..for real though! Use a soup can :)

Really interesting to read and learn a bit about your journey. I will be back :)

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