Update and review: 100 Pushups Program

I posted a while ago (in February I think) about starting the 100 pushups program to try to get to 100 pushups in a row. I was a bit skeptical at the time of the 100 pushups program but figured it was as good a place as any to start. I quickly became impossible though. I tend to find that this is the case with most programs that claim to be able to do X number of something in X weeks. I’m pretty sure they just do the math to see how many you’d have to increase per week if you want to get your goal by week X. Anyways, I found the the number required in a given workout soon outstripped my ability. I simply cut the workouts down to what I could reasonably do. This usually meant 3-4 sets out of the prescribed 6 or so. I kept on that for a while, improving in 2 weeks from 42 max to 48 max pushups. I was pretty happy with that. Slow and steady. Unfortunately, I injured my wrist shortly thereafter (possibly related). I tweaked it trying out a Jiu Jitsu class, but given the way it’s been behaving since then, I suspect it was borderline before the Jiu Jitsu. After hurting it, it was painful trying to support weight in a pushup positions so I took a few weeks off.

Since then, my wrist hasn’t really improved, but I figured out that I can do pushups pain-free if I do them while gripping dumbbells or on my knuckles. So after  a few weeks off I got back to doing the pushups. My latest plan has been to try to do 30-35 pushups 3-4 times during the day and every few days to max out (or near-max). Doing so I’ve managed to get my max up to 53 as of today. I think if I rest a bit I could probably add a few to that number, but I’m going to keep pushing before I rest.

So some results here:

Max pushups:

2/12/11: 42

3/1/11: 48

4/20/11: 53

Rebooting and the 100 Push-up Program

The last few months have been frustrating physically for me. I injured my back a long time ago (December 2009). After doing physical therapy at 3 different places, getting an epidural shot, and working with a few different trainers, I’m still pretty clueless as to what to do. I have an aggravated nerve in my lower back that flares up during a number of activities, most notably while sitting and after working out. Well, I sit all day at work (although I recently acquired a standing desk, which helps). Because of all this sitting, my back stays in pain for several days after I work out most typically. Anyways, I don’t want to go on about that too much other than to say that I’ve been frustrated with it. I haven’t been able to work out and as such, I’ve been losing muscle mass and weight. I don’t like losing.

I recently started tracking in a spreadsheet all of the activities that I do in a day and pairing those with a 1-10 scale of pain for the day. I’m hoping I can determine the most damaging activities and avoid those, while still remaining as active as possible. This finally brings me to the point of this post: I need something to work towards physically, and I need that activity to not aggravate my back too much. Near as I can figure, push-ups don’t hurt too much.

I’m hereby embarking on an attempt at the 100 push-up program. It’s a program designed to get one to 100 pushups in 7 weeks. I’m not sure that I believe the hype of the program, but it looks like a good starting point to get myself to 100 pushups in a row. I did my test to start off and I got 41 in a row to start, so I’m starting off on week 3 of the program. I’ll be modifying as needed to include more rest and some cycling, but consider this game on.

Who’s with me? If you want in, do the initial test and post your score in the comment and what week you’re starting on.

Life-Mod: No Soap

Back in December, a co-worker sent me an article (this one I think), written by a guy who had decided to give up soap and shampoo for a month and seemed none the worse for it. At the time I was looking for some good things to experiment with and this one required no additional time from my schedule and cut some chemicals out of my daily routine, so I quit showering with soap and shampoo on December 6th, 2010 (note: I still showered. I’m not a hippy). The only real caveats I have to applying chemicals to my skin and hair are the occasional deodorant, shaving cream, aftershave, and hair gel. I also have to confess to using shampoo once when I got my hair cut.

I warned my co-workers and the girl I was dating at the time: if I start to smell to let me know. In the past month and a half, no one has mentioned anything, and I haven’t noticed it myself. I actually haven’t noticed much in the way of side effects. My skin has felt fine (no more than the rare zit or dry skin on my face). I normally have pretty healthy skin, so that’s not a change. My hair has been a bit greasier, especially in the first few weeks, but it’s settled out to a pretty minimal amount of grease and it feels and looks health and soft.

I would recommend trying this to pretty much anyone. I don’t see any real downside to it. In reading a few other blog posts on the subject, no one has noted any serious issues after stopping. In face many have noted an improvement in hair and skin health. For me, I prefer to avoid putting chemicals on my skin that I don’t have to. If all else is equal, I might as well just shower with water, it seems less likely to kill me. For the time being, I plan to continue with this experiment.

Life-Mod: Waking Up

I spent 2-3 weeks in November making an attempt to wake up without an alarm clock. The hope behind this was that I’d be able to wake up more naturally and feel more refreshed.

Turns out this was difficult. My initial plan was to set an alarm for later than usual, and get to sleep early enough that I’d wake up before it went off. Unfortunately, I just ended up waking up and then laying there or falling back to sleep a lot of days. On the days when I actually managed to wake up earlier and get up, I didn’t really feel like waking up was easier or that I was more awake during the day than usual. I did notice, however, that my desired sleep level seems to be between 9 hours and 9 hours and 20 minutes.

Last week a friend of mine sent me a link to this article, originally from sleepwarrior.com (which claims to be down temporarily for maintenance, but has been down for at least a week). The article contains 40 different sleep “hacks” ranging from suggestions on how to sleep better, to specifics on what do do if you want to learn to sleep less. I highly recommend reading it. It’s missing some information that I would have like to see about the cognitive impacts of lessened sleep over time, but reading it sparked a lot of ideas for me to experiment with.

One mistake in my approach that this article brought to light was not waking up at the same time every day. Because I usually work out in the mornings Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sleep in sometimes on the weekends, I was never really giving myself the recommended 10 days to settle into a sleep pattern. If I ever decide to try this again, I’d have to pick a time for 2 weeks and stick with it.

Another suggestion made in this article that I think I’ll try out, is to train yourself to get up right away when the alarms goes off. The suggested method is to go through your normal getting-ready-to-sleep activities and then set your alarm for 5 minutes later and lay in bed with eyes closed. As soon as the alarm goes off, jump out of bed. By repeating this process, it claims you can train yourself to react this way in the morning when your alarm goes off. Seems to me like it could work.

On a bit of a side note: during this experiment, I also discovered that there are both Android and iPhone apps which claim to wake you up when you’re in a less deep sleep state. The best one I’ve found for Android is called sleep-as-an-droid and is in the market. All of these apps seem to try to guess what state of sleep you’re in by using the accelerometer to detect movement. The theory is that you move more when you’re closer to being awake I believe. So they allow you to set a time frame in which it’s allowed to wake you up. It will then wake you up within that frame if a suitable sleep depth is reached. I used it for four nights last week and during only one of them did it wake me up before the last possible time I’d specified. Looking at the graph of movement, it also did not appear that it was gathering much useful data to determine my level of wakefulness. I tried messing around with sensitivity of the sensors and placement of the phone on my mattress, but I’m not convinced that these apps really work.

The article I linked above references a watch which has similar properties. I’d imaging that a watch would be better at measuring movements, but that said, I don’t want to pay the $180 or so that they cost just to see if it works.

Post any sleep-hacks you’ve tried in the comments.

Focusing Life

I’ve recently discovered Tim Ferriss’ blog and have been making my way through some of his older posts and some videos. I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before. He has an interesting and valuable approach to life. I’m going to steal a few of his ideas and try them out for myself.
In his post on the Superstar Effect, Ferriss paraphrases Steven Martin, stating that “the key to diligence isn’t the work applied to your pursuit, but instead the work you don’t apply to other pursuits.” This phrase hit me. I’m constantly trying out new pursuits, often to the detriment of those which I am already pursuing. In my defense though, trying new things can be extremely rewarding. In fact it’s probably one of the only things I’d really say I’m a master of.
I’ve decided after some thought to try some refinement of my daily activities. I can’t find the quote, but I feel like I read a suggestion somewhere to pick 3 things to be good at. I like this number, but I’m having a hard time coming up with this few. I can clearly see the benefit of at least three. Ferriss mentions this in this video, but I’ve had the same experience where doing something great in one persuit (pulling a PR, learning an aria) can make up for failures or frustrations in another (flat site traffic, injury). Getting up to three is not my problem.
I made a list of activities that I want to continue to improve or start doing while trying to narrow down to three. Here’s my list (in no particular order):
  • Opera Singing
  • A Cappella Singing
  • Coding
  • Guitar
  • Bass
  • Lifting
  • Free Running
  • Making Jewelry
  • Photography
  • Leadership Reading/Writing
  • Nutrition Reading/Writing
  • Creative Writing
  • Learn About Robotics/Electronics
  • Work
  • Cooking
  • Surfing
  • Hiking/Backpacking

And I’m probably missing a few. Looking at this list and trying to narrow it down to 3 things makes me very depressed. It’s not possible. Or rather, it is, but it would defeat the purpose. The purpose of this whole experiment is to make me a happier person, both by simplifying my life and also by allowing me to focus more and become better at certain activities instead of being mediocre at a lot of them.

I tried a few different approaches to narrowing the list down. I made a spreadsheet and ranked them along different variables and I made lists of pros and cons for each one. But in the end I’ve come to realize that 3 is not possible, so I’m going to try something else. The approach I’ve decided on is to select 3 activities at a time and pick some measurable goal to complete. I will then have a list of three things at any given time which I can work towards when I have free time and energy. The hard part will be avoiding taking up other activities until I complete one of those three. My starting list is: Finish a website project I’m working on, play bass for 10 hours, and write a leadership related blog post.

I should also mention that I separated this list in my head into required activities (like work and excercise), group activities (a cappella singing, opera rehearsals), and more one offs (almost everything else). I’m not going to have the required stuff be part of my list, I’m just going to do it regularly. The group activities will likely factor in as part of the list, but in a more granular fashion. For example, “learn song X”, as opposed to “be in this group.” The latter is too hard to measure and account for. Rehearsals will count as regular activities, and thusly will not be included in the list.

Ok, that’s the plan, now it’s just a matter of execution on my part. So far I’m doing ok. I’ve been working on my site, but I haven’t practiced my bass, and I’ve outlined the blog post, but instead I sat down and wrote this one. Oh well, I’m not perfect.