Jez Davis commited himself to a year of movement, here’s what happened.
(Editors Note – I have known Jez for a number of years and he’s one of the most practical and consistent individuals I have met. When he said he was going to do 100 Press Ups each day for a year, I knew it was going to happen. This is all about Every Day Activity. The 100 Rep Challenge was established with that sole purpose in mind. So whether it’s push ups, pull ups, squats or stair walking, Jez will help you think about ways to get more movement in 2014)
For those of you who may not be aware, just after Christmas 2012 I set myself a rather unusual challenge. I’d been ‘into’ fitness for a while and I’d found myself wondering what the results would be from doing 100 press-ups every day for a year – so I decided to try it and find out. In the past I’d done similar challenges for shorter periods but I was out of shape. I knew that if I simply jumped straight in on January 1st I’d be as stiff as hell within 48 hours so I took the last week of December to build up: 50 on the first day (five sets of ten spread throughout the day), 60 the next, then 75, back to 50, up to 70, then 80. I was pretty much making it up as I went along.
By January 1st I was as ready as I’d ever be. That day I did ten sets of ten press-ups, opened up an Excel spreadsheet (had a bit of a play with borders, colours and the date format) and then entered the magic number: ‘100’. Due to having spent the last week preparing the following day wasn’t too bad so I was off and running. As far as I could predict from this point on there were only two potential problems: illness and fatigue.
Paradoxically illness wasn’t too much of a worry. A couple of years’ previously my wife and I had both fallen ill one day in November – properly ill; food poisoning. That day I had lost nearly 3kg – about 6lb. At that time I had been engaged in a ‘100-press-ups-for-100-days’ challenge and I had been slightly upset that the food poisoning was going to put paid to it. But having felt a bit better by the end of the day I’d gone for it and pushed out a press-up; a single one. A couple of minutes later I did two more. Then three. All the way up to ten and back down to one – one hundred in total. It took me nearly two hours. The point is that I knew that, even feeling terrible, I was sufficiently obsessive to grind my way through just about anything.
That only left fatigue as a problem. Exercise-wise, fatigue is the killer. It’s pretty boring to perform the same exercise in the same way every day (for example 10×10) so you end up setting yourself small challenges. But you have to pay for everything you achieve. Ordinarily, for every day you break your record and push out 29 or 30 in one set, you’d need to drop back and perform 10×10 for the next two days just to recover. If you really go for it you might want to take a day or two off.
But what if taking a day off isn’t an option? What if you never stop, if every ‘rest day’ also includes 100 press-ups? Being past 40 I’m no spring chicken so recovery would be nowhere near as smooth as it would be in some nineteen-year-old gym rat. Old and crumbly as it was, would my body even hold up for a full year?
There was only one way to find out.
It was a strange experience. Some weeks I decided to build them into my morning schedule and get them out of the way before breakfast. Some months I found that I was struggling just to get out of bed and I was still pressing them out in the evenings. One day I almost forgot completely, remembered quite late on and had to do 70 just before bed. I played with different rep counts: (10×10); (5×20); (1-10-1); (30/25/20/15/10); (40/30/20/10), etc. One month early in the year I even pushed it up to 150 per day, but coupled with some handstand training that began to cause so much discomfort in my wrists that pretty soon it was back down to 100 per day again. In addition to this I joined a gym for a few months in the spring. I did some barbell work and a sixteen-week training course on an indoor rower. I practised some century-old ‘odd lifts’ with kettlebells and barbell combined.
Whatever I did though, the constant were always the press-ups. The trick was simple: make a decision and keep making it, again and again; every day. Keeping making it until the disappointment of not doing so would be greater than the stress of just getting down and getting it done. It was like breaking an addiction, but in reverse.
The year rolled on and I got to know my floorboards increasingly intimately. Then one day it was September. Everything felt easier. I was approaching 30,000 for the year so far and the end was in sight. My two-minute test was improving: I was regularly hitting 67/68 before running out of time and energy. One day towards the end of October, with no warning, I had a particularly stupid idea: if I performed ten press-ups on the minute, every minute, for how long could I keep going? It turned out the answer was: one hour and forty minutes. 100 sets of ten: 1,000 press-ups. You’d be surprised at what a mess that makes of you. I was very grateful to drop back down to 100 the day after that and it took me nearly a week to recover. But that day saw a switch thrown in my head. I knew that targets were there to be achieved and that so long as the mind has a goal firmly fixed the body will keep going through just about anything.
The end of October saw the total rise to 35,800 and by early November I found myself wondering what I could achieve by the end of the year. There were still around eight weeks to go so 40,000 would be hit easily. 45,000 would be a bit of a challenge but the problem there was that it wasn’t a particularly striking number. Of course, there was the spectre of a rather ‘nice’ and seriously striking number lurking just past that. But was it feasible?
On November 9th I decided to go for it. The target was 50,000 by 31st December 2013. I had 36,600 in the bank and therefore there were 13,400 to go in 52 days – it worked out at just over 250 per day. A couple of 400-500 days would bring that average down to just under 250 and then it was a matter of pushing my body through a serious but manageable amount of press-ups every day from then on. Would it hold up? Had I built enough condition over the past ten months to cope with it?
I’ve got to admit that I’m hovering on the verge of over-training. I’m balancing on the edge of a performance precipice and my shoulders and chest know it. But I’m there; I’ve done it. As of today I’ve clocked up 49,100 so from now on it’s a gentle jog home to hit the magic 50,000 by New Year’s Eve. Barring catastrophe I’m there. To quote Vinnie Jones: “It’s been emotional.”
So why write this now and not in nine days’ time? The reason is: I’ve already had somebody else pick up the baton – and there may be more out there. I had a run up before starting proper so maybe you’d like one too. Would you be interested in a similar challenge? You don’t have to choose the same movement that I did, nor the same numbers. In the case of press-ups, if you regard yourself as particularly unfit we can scale the movements until you’re capable of hitting a full rep; it may take three months, it may take six. What’s the hurry? I’ve written a spreadsheet for those who want in and if a few of us sign up I’ll start a Facebook group too – a place where we can encourage each other, measure progress and be accountable. I’ve got my own goals for next year but I’ll definitely be including a 365 challenge, if nothing else it’s a way to get your daily movement in. No matter how down you feel, how awful your day was or how terrible you feel about yourself – you just get on and take your medicine. I can promise there was never a single day when I didn’t feel better afterwards.
THE TAPE MEASURE BIT
For those who are interested: I’m 6’4” and c.96kg (15stones/210lb). This year has seen noticeable development in my shoulders, upper arms, chest and back as well as an easily visible reduction in bodyfat to the point where my abdominals are permanently visible. Not ‘cut’ as they say, just visible. It’s nice to achieve too when you’ve just had your 42nd birthday. I eat healthily but not like a monk; my diet would best be described as ‘relaxed’. I work a full-time job and worry about money. I’m like you.