Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Death, Taxes & Push-Ups

I'm going to dispense with my usual section by section review of this book. It's too much, otherwise, even with this short book. It's 214 pages, but it takes until page 151 of a 214 page book before he discusses pushups. It's page 181 before you get the programming. And it closes with examples of pushup records, with a warning not to attempt that kind of crazy stuff.

This is a book about doing pushups. One thousand pushups a day, every day. And that's it. No other exercises. The author is convinced the pushup is all you need.

If you are wondering, what about legs? They do get some love? Well, he says the quads and hamstrings get isometric work from pushups. They do; they act as stabilizers and keep your body from sagging down. But that's not a lot of work for them, really, since each leg should be able to do that for your entire bodyweight when you stand, or you'd fall over when you tried to walk. So it's not clear they get that much extra training doing pushups.

I'm dubious that a one-exercise program is the ultimate answer for anyone and everyone.

Good Points:

- he's a "do it every day" person. So is this program. None of this "work up to 100 pushups" stuff, you'll start right now and try to get 100 a day. You'll do it every day.

- the progression is good. The emphasis on not moving up until the reps are all comfortable is good as well, especially since your total volume - 100 reps, 200 reps, whatever - doesn't change. It's not forward-or-bust, it's forward-when-you're-ready.

- it's a solid exercise to base a fitness plan on.

- the book is entertaining in some parts and it's easy to breeze through.

Bad Points:

- it's just pushups; they're great, but the author's claims aside, it's not a magic exercise. Yes, as he notes, the military does pushups, but they also run, do situps, and do pullups, and many of them also do much more. Herschel Walker did thousands of pushups, but he didn't stop there - yet he still recommend just pushups as athletic training, but has no athletic clients to hold up as examples of its efficacy. This program was worked for the author, but it's a dubious claim that it will work for others. He doesn't have others to cite. One man doing 10 million pushups is not the same as 1000 people doing 10,000 pushups or any other maths derived from that number.

- How about variant pushups? Nope. He dismisses them as "circus pushups." Okay, so it's straight up pushups, and nothing else.

- the diet is just Nothing special, it's low-sugar, low-fat, you don't need a lot of protein. It's working for him, but he's obviously a fanatic about it, doesn't care about taste, and stopped eating sugar in his teens. The food pyramid doesn't seem to work for everyone . . . but it worked for him, so it therefore will work for you.

- 1000 pushups a day is arbitrary. It's what he chose to do eventually. But he's convinced it's the number that everyone should aim for; it's the top level of his three fitness levels (100, 500, and 1000 pushups a day). Less is less fit, more is crazy. What's so special about 1000? Easy to count doesn't mean optimal fitness for all.

- It's an hour a day of pushups. Nothing else. You'll need to budget 7 hours a week to pushups with this program. It'll never get shorter, it'll never get longer. You're going to need to put 1/24th of your life into pushups. The total time isn't crazy, but it means any other exercise or sports activity you choose to do has to bite out of your non-pushup time.

- Your strength gains, if that's what you're after, will be limited. After you hit 10 pushups, the ability to 20 means you've got twice the endurance, not twice the raw strength. 500 to 1000 is the same thing, it's just putting in the time and conditioning yourself for it.

- He's convinced that any other exercise, even other pushup variations, will result in INJURY (yes, all caps). He doesn't have proof of this, though, he just makes the claim.

- as noted repeatedly above, the author's approach is one-size-fits-all. If it worked for him, it'll work for you. No one has any need of anything except the approach that's worked for him personally.

If you get the book, it's hard to avoid the irony inherent in it. The author dismisses people who need trainers (especially trainers who need trainers), dismisses fad exercise books, and dismisses anything diet and exercise related that costs more than $0 . . . but he's pushing a one-exercise and one-diet solution for everyone and charging you for it.

Content: 2 out of 5. The actual pushup technique description and progression section are very well done, but that's a handful of pages in an overwritten book.
Presentation: 2 out of 5. The book is self-published and it shows. Spelling errors (Arnold Schwarzenneger doesn't have a "T"), apostrophe errors ("tran's fatty acids) and RAMPANT USE OF CAPITALS doesn't make a good advertisement for the services of the proofreader and editor. The cute illustrations and well-laid out tables of numbers don't make up for those downsides. It's overwritten as well.

Overall: Just do the pushups, skip the book. I applaud the author for his devotion and consistency, and it's a lesson worth learning. But it's a very simple program for one exercise. The progression is good and worth looking at, but there are a lot of other ways to do this. If you're looking to get that magical 100 rep pushup set, though, you certainly can look in his book for another way...or just google a dozen other progressions. I'm not convinced you need to do a 1000 of them and nothing else.

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