Going Forward by Going Back: My First Press Up at 49

This is something I talked about recently. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why it is that I reach sticking points I just can’t get past, and one tactic I’ve decided to try this year is to take a step right back and begin again from the start with some of the things that I’ve struggled with the most. The idea is to give myself a really solid technical foundation to draw on later when I really need it.

The theory is that one reason I reach sticking points is that I get a long way very quickly by gaining a “knack” for doing things. And that knack is sometimes a short cut. It will take me a long way but there comes a point when either my body or my mind just screams no. Possibly the best way to think of this is like doing cheat reps when you’re lifting weights. You can improve the weight you can lift really quickly by learning which auxiliary muscles you can use to help, or how to use momentum or dynamic movement rather than strictly using the strength of a particular muscle. The problem is one of two things happens. You stop making progress altogether and can never move on. Or, more likely – and certainly the case for me – you end up injured.

A really good example of this is in parkour. To get really good at parkour, you need strong muscles, and you need strong ligaments. But muscles develop a lot more quickly than all the connective tissues that support and stabilise the joints. So it’s possible to make what seems like really great progress that’s actually storing up really big trouble. If you want to keep progressing all the way to your limit, you need to build up as quickly (or slowly) as your ligaments and tendons will let you.

Do this, and 2 months in you will be way behind the person who progresses with their muscles. But 2 years in you will be wat ahead of them, if they haven’t quit altogether. And not only do I want to reach my full potential in the long term. I want a body that lets me explore the world around me for as long as I possibly can. Which means changing my approach even if it feels like taking a massive step back.

It sounds sensible, but it can be massively difficult. Fear of “losses” that will actually lead to long term gains can be a major cause not just of injury, but of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, long term steroid use. and other things that can end up doing your body more harm than good.

My first experiment with this technique began two months ago with press ups. I am 49. I have been a relatively OK powerlifter. But while I have had times in my life when I’ve been able to what I can only describe as bounce/flail my chest off the floor several times I have never performed a single proper form press up, with my back fully flat, my core fully engaged, my arms close in and my palms pointing straight forward, feeling my shoulder blades move apart and together, all fully under control.

Realising that was a real shock and a call to action. So I hit YouTube and watched a lot of videos on how to do your first push up, but this is the one I found most useful, with its very simple approach of two sessions a week, one for 40 reps, ideally 5 sets of 6, and the other 3 sets of max reps (not beyond 12), using a raised platform to perform the press ups and gradually lowering it till you could perform them on the ground.

I started with my desk in the office, graduated through chairs and shelves and then onto the stairs outside my office door. And today, after 2 months where I would not let myself progress until I had fully mastered controlled repetitions at each level, today I performed my very first fully controlled, fully engaged press up in my 49 years. I actually managed 32 of them across 6 sets. So for this at least, the go-back-to-go-forward method has worked. Until I have access to a weights room (and possibly beyond) I’ll see just how far my push up journey takes me. I’m hoping that handstands and pull ups will follow by the end of the year.

I’ll be trying something similar with my approach to running long distances without walking, and my attempts to improve my card memorization time. More to follow.

If that was helpful or thought-provoking, please like and share!

And in the meantime, if you’ve found yourself reaching a sticking point, think about taking a few steps back and really focusing on building a platform of great technique and then going forward from there very slowly.

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