The women we work with have noticed that I’m including a lot more pushups in their routines. “Will this make us stronger?” “How come we’re doing this every session?” “Can we do women’s pushups?” I try to remain patient as I explain that they are modified pushups. There are too many men who can’t do a proper pushup for them to have another designation. This is one of my pet peeves – along with people who say that muscular women look “masculine” while men with no muscle tone just party too much. With regard to pushups, I have an answer that I haven’t shared with them yet…
When I was much younger, a pushup was just a pushup. I sensed that they were something that were important to do when I saw my father going though his Royal Canadian Air Force 5BX Routine – developed in 1962. He didn’t like to be disturbed when he was going through his calisthenics routine – particularly during pushups. He had big arms and intense focus so that exercise became pretty important to my 4 year-old mind.
As I got older I continued to do pushups but they almost disappeared completely from my routine when I discovered weightlifting in my teen years. Pushups took a back seat until my officer basic training at Fort Bragg, my time in Military Police School in Alabama, and Air Assault training at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Pushups and running were the order of the day. My youth and competitive drive helped me churn out pushups at a frantic pace. I was able to do 110 nonstop pushups in perfect form in two minutes. It was mindless but I got my respect.
After the military training, pushups again took a back seat to other, shinier objects in my training. After all, pushups weren’t going to help me in my judo or my bodybuilding competitions. I would pull them out occasionally in my work with people who were adamant in their opposition to weight training. I also used them to help rehab people including a police officer who could barely lift his arms above shoulder level after struggling with a resisting suspect. I had him do pushups against the wall until he regained most of his function. Rehab and wall pushups were for other people but not for me until…
I found myself taking high school students on work projects to places like Ghana, Senegal, and Nicaragua. Weights weren’t an option. I could only get my workout fix with bodyweight exercises. I had additional motivation when I found out the years of judo and weightlifting had destroyed the cartilage in both elbows. My upper and lower arms were now engaged in a bone on bone dance. I needed different music and exercises like pushups met the requirements.
I have made bodyweight exercise a major part of my routine. Pushups are central to this process and it is no longer for what they can or cannot do to make this 54 year-old body sexier. The pushup has served as a metaphor and as an exploration.
Pushups now serve as a meditation for me. Instead of the frantic activity of my military days where I was shooting for triple digit numbers, I now seek patience and stillness as I seek to achieve five good one-arm pushups. The movement allows me to distinguish between discomfort and real pain. Extra slow pushups allow me to practice movement without attachment or caring. It is now a moving meditation that makes me more aware of my thoughts and my emotional reactions to discomfort.
I sometimes do repetitions where I take for seconds to inhale on my way down and exhale for four seconds on my way back up. I like to imagine that the breath and the pauses between the movements are the same as the spaces between notes that DeBussy defined as music.
Moving my body with pushups and other bodyweight exercises allow me to examine my physical and mental limits with more clarity than any personal development program could achieve. I’ll continue to seek self-enlightmentment and freedom from anger, illusion, and desire. Can pushups accomplish all this? I’m not sure but because of our relationship, I’m going to keep doing them whether they’re clapping, one-hand, modified, or against the wall. It’s interesting… now that I’m older and wiser…a pushup is just a pushup.
P.S. – For more on bodyweight exercise, pick up The Sulaxmi Exercise Method DVD.