Tag Archives: push-ups

My Fitness Experiment No. 4

And now for something completely different….

Push-ups are one of Chris Highcock’s favorite exercises

If you’re new here, let me fill you in.  I don’t like to exercise.  But I want the benefits of exercise.  So I’m experimenting with ways to gain the benefits with minimal time involvement.  I want to keep my costs down, too.  I’ve already demonstrated I’m fit enough to be in the U.S. Army while working out only 70 minutes a week.

The guys at Whole9 had a series of blog posts on “the five best exercises.”  That’s where I heard of Turkish get-ups and man-makers (see links to YouTube demo videos below).

Everybody has their own ideas as to the Big Five exercises, the ones that are critical to any well-rounded strength training program.  The finalists typically are squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, bench presses, push-ups, overhead presses, and chin-ups (or pull-ups).  The Big Five aren’t necessarily the Five Best exercises.

Turkish get-ups and man-makers incorporate many of those big five moves.  For instance, the man-maker incorporates a squat, row, overhead press, and push-up.

I’m also interested in maintaining what I’ll call aerobic endurance: the ability to maintain a steady workload at a relatively high heart and breathing rate over a significant length of time.

Heres’ my new plan:

  • Alternate man-makers (MMs) with Turkish get-ups (TGUs) for 20 minutes twice a week, with 1-2 minutes of rest in the middle of the session
  • Finish the sessions with high-intensity intervals (HIT) on a stationary cycle:  easy warm-up for 3 minutes then 1 minute of hard and fast cycling alternating with 1 minute easy coasting while I catch my breath, for a total of 6 fast/slow cycles (15 minutes on cycle)

I did my first session yesterday and it kicked my butt.  The MMs are the most vigorous; at some point I just couldn’t do any more due to breathlessness and weakness, then I switched to TGUs.  After I got my breath back, I returned to the MMs, then alternated back and forth.  I did both MMs and TGUs with 15 lb (6.8 kg) dumbbells.  I’ll increase my weights as able.  I’m not sure the stationary cycle HIIT adds much to this regimen.

Here are YouTube examples of man-makers by SEAL Fit and Travis, and Turkish get-ups by Max ShankGray Cook, and Till Sukopp.  Some man-makers incorporate one push-up, others do two (one before each renegade row).  Here’s an video example of HIIT on a stationary cycle.

MMs and TGUs are scalable for most folks who are starting out in poor condition.  For instance, man-makers require a push-up but many people can’t do even one.  In that case, do a knee push-up.

Again, if one is starting out in poor shape, burpees could be substituted for man-makers; they’re similar.  Burpees can be done with knee push-ups or regular push-ups.  As fitness improves, you graduate to regular push-ups and man-makers with kettlebells or dumbbell weights.

I’ll admit I have some trepidation about hurting myself with this program!

Steve Parker, M.D.

Update August 25, 2012

Not pertinent, but a cool picture

I dragged the old Schwinn Airdyne in from the garage, dusted it off, and replaced the batteries.  Worked like a charm even though no one’s ridden it for eight years.  This war horse is at least 15 years old; we got it used, like my set of dumbbells.  My natural “coasting” speed is around level 2.4; my “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” speed is about level 5.5.  I burned 200 calories over 15 minutes, which is about what I did with my treadmill HIIT.  With the MMs, I stuck with 15 lb (6.8 kg) dumbbells.  For the TGUs, I increased to 20 lb (9 kg).  The MMs and TGUs are tough; I’m breathing fairly heavily for the entire 20 minutes.  Not fun.

Update October 6, 2012

This thing is not fun.  But I haven’t missed a session.  I look for excuses to postpone the workout.  After the hellish man-makers and Turkish get-ups, I look forward to the 15 minutes on the bike.  I can’t see keeping this up for the long run unless it pays off big, fitness-wise.

I have to guard against slacking off on my bike performance.  On the treadmill, by comparison, I dialed in the treadmill speed and had to keep up or I’d fall off the back.  No such risk, or motivation, on the bike.

A couple weeks ago I increased the man-maker weights to 20 lb (9 kg) and the Turkish get-up weights to 25 lb (11.4 kg).  I don’t think I’ll be able to increase those weights any time soon; already I’m so short of breath at times that I have to stop and rest for a minute.

My body’s holding up OK.  At one point, however, I developed some mild pain and swelling in my left knee that I thought could be a problem.  It cleared up after a few days and hasn’t recurred.

I’ve completed six weeks of Fitness Experiment No.4.  After resting a few days, I’ll retest my fitness.

Baseline Measurements Before Starting a Fitness Progam

Impressive jump!

Before beginning or modifying a fitness program, it’s important to take some baseline physical measurements.  Re-measure periodically.  That way you’ll know whether you’re making progress, holding steady, or regressing.  Seeing improvement in the numbers also helps to maintain motivation.   

Not taking measurements would be like starting a weight loss plan without a baseline and subsequent weights.

Around this time last year, I finished a home-based, 15-week, six-days-a-week fitness program called Core Performance, designed by Mark Verstegen.  I was pleased with the results.  The only problem is that it’s very time-consuming.  Perhaps fitness just has to be that way.

I regret that I didn’t take any fitness measurements before and after starting Core Performance.

For much of the last year, I modified Core Performance to a thrice weekly, then twice weekly program, until a couple months ago when I pretty much abandoned it.  I miss the benefits now, but just didn’t want to put in the time to achieve them.  In other words, I lost my motivation.

Who needs this much flexibility?

Intellectually, I know that regular exercise is important.  I’m starting to get motivated again.  Not sure why.  Perhaps because I’ve read that you can be fairly fit with as little as 30 minutes of exercise a week.  I’m not convinced yet.  I’ll be test-driving some of these time-efficient programs soon.

This new style of fitness is promoted by the likes of Dr. Doug McGuff, Chris Highcock, Skyler Tanner, Nasim Taleb,  and Jonathan Bailor, among others.

What to Measure

  1. Weight
  2. Blood pressure
  3. Resting heart rate (first thing in the AM before getting out of bed)
  4. Waist circumference (upright and supine)
  5. Height
  6. Body mass index
  7. Mid-arm circumference, both arms, hanging relaxed at your sides
  8. Maximal calf circumference, both calves, while standing at ease
  9. Maximum number of consecutive pull-ups
  10. Maximum number of consecutive push-ups
  11. Maximum number of consecutive sit-ups
  12. Run/walk one mile as fast as you can
  13. Maximum vertical jump (stand by a tall wall then jump and reach up as high as you can with one arm, noting the highest point above ground your fingers can reach)
  14. Can you touch your toes?  Stand up straight, locking knees in extension, then bend over at your waist and touch your toes with your fingertips.  If you can touch toes, can you flatten your palms against the floor?  If you can’t reach your toes, measure the distance from your fingertips to the floor.
  15. Optional blood work for special situations: fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, cholesterols (total, HDL, LDL, sub-fractions)

The particular aspects of fitness these measure are strength and endurance in major muscle groups, cardiovascular and pulmonary endurance, a little flexibility, and a hint of body composition. 

You may appreciate an assistant to help you measure some of these.

Record your numbers.  Re-test some or all of these periodically.  If you’re in fairly poor condition at the outset, you’ll see some improved numbers after a couple or three weeks of a good exercise program.  It takes months to build significant muscle mass; you’ll see improved strength and endurance before mass. 

Am I missing anything?

Steve Parker, M.D. 

Update April 4, 2012:  I added the sit-ups today after finding out that’s one of the measurements the U.S. Army monitors in soldiers twice yearly.