Subj: 100 Perfect Pushups
It was around 2AM when I finally puked. I had just finished a set of assisted bear crawls through the mud, and luckily for my partner, I was able to get off of him before my gastronomic expulsion.
The first word in the name “assisted bear crawls” tends to give people the impression that someone is “assisting” you with the exercise… That is not the case.
To perform an assisted bear crawl, you get down on your hands and knees. Your partner then lies beneath you and grabs hold of your waist. You must then bear crawl, while dragging the added weight of your partner along the ground beneath you.
The key is momentum. You need to build up speed and not stop. If you slow down at all, the drag from your partner along the ground will stop you dead in your tracks.
For those of you who don’t know, the culmination of the First Phase of BUD/S (Navy SEAL training) is a 136 hour marathon known as Hell Week. Five and half days with no sleep, doing almost nothing but running, pushups, pull-ups, lifting logs, and carrying boats, with non-stop cold exposure to boot.
Only the truly tough ever attempt it, and only the toughest survive.
I was at an undisclosed training location on the East Coast with a couple Navy SEALs. I was covered in mud, and for the past twenty six hours I’d done almost nothing but work out. I wasn’t actually going through Hell Week. I was taking part in a private, invitation only, training course for guys who are already in, or seriously considering going into special operations.
The leader of the training was a former SEAL team leader who I’d been introduced to through a family friend. Many of the guys training with me were preparing to go through a Spec Ops selection course. SEAL, SWCC, Special Forces, and Pararescue. All of us huddled down in the mud together like one big happy family.
By the time our “Hell Weekend” had ended, we had been awake for over 38 hours straight, held telephone pole sized logs over our heads until our arms collapsed, crawled hundreds of yards through mud and gravel, carried 320lb boats for ungodly distances, and done more pushups than I care to think about.
Many of the exercises were set up as competitions. The teams who won got to rest during the second round and watch the other teams compete.
Like the SEAL motto says, “It Pays to Be a Winner.”
Once our Hell Weekend was over, the real fun began. We spent the next few days riding in planes and helicopters, shooting, fast roping, driving zodiac boats, doing force on force drills, and running a few mock night missions. It was an intense and fast paced experience.
It was during our down time when I took the opportunity to talk to one of the SEALs (we’ll call him Jake) about his experience going through the SEAL selection process.
The first thing he told me was that what we’d all gone through was just a taste of what it was really like.
He explained that there’s no preparing for the real thing. You just stick your head down and take it. “Most of it is mental.” Jake said. “You need a reason to be there, so when you’re lying hypothermic on a beach in the middle of the night after not sleeping for three days, you don’t quit. Once you’ve got the physical part handled where you can run for miles and do pushups for days, the mental part is where it’s at.”
We spoke a lot about mental preparation, dedication, goal setting, and training. When I asked Jake about how he trained for all the pushups they do in BUD/S, he introduced me to a training technique called Greasing the Groove.
Greasing the Groove (GTG) is an old Soviet technique created by a man named Paval Tsatsouline. Tsatsouline was a physical training instructor for the Soviet Special Forces (Spetsnaz) in the 1980’s. He is also credited with bringing the kettlebell to the United States and popularizing its use. He was so successful that kettlebells can now be found in almost every fitness club and gym in America.
GTG is a form of neurological training. It’s based on the idea that strength is not just based on how big someone’s muscles are, but how neurologically adapted someone is to a particular exercise. In the West we think of muscular strength as being based on size, where as the Soviets thought of muscular strength as being based on skill. The muscles didn’t just grow, they learned.
You can see this phenomenon of neurological adaptation in guys who are new to weight lifting. The first time they bench press, they may only be able to lift 190lbs. The next week however, they may be able to lift 215lbs. That’s a 25lb increase. Their muscles haven’t gotten any bigger in a week, but neurologically, their body has adapted and learned how to do the exercise more effectively.
Both bodybuilding and neurological training will make you stronger, but they do it in two different ways. One by giving you more muscle, and one by giving your more synapses.
Paval called it “synaptic facilitation.” By frequently and repeatedly giving your nervous system intense, specific stimulation, you increase the strength of the synaptic connection. In other words, your muscles will have “learned” to do the exercise better, resulting in more strength and endurance.
As Paval said, “Strength is a skill.” His equation was simple…
Specificity + Repetition = Success
To use Greasing the Groove training, perform multiple sets of one specific exercise throughout the day, doing 60-80% of your max. For example, if you can only do 50 pushups, do 4 or 5 sets of 30-40 reps throughout the day.
I used this Greasing the Groove training and took my maximum pushups from 65 to 109 in four weeks, and 121 two weeks after that.
I also used this training to increase my pull-ups. I placed a pull-up bar on the door to my room, and every time I passed by it, I would do a set of pull-ups to about 75% of my max. In the span of about six weeks, I took my max pull-ups from 21 to 30.
Here’s how to use Greasing the Groove in order to reach 100 perfect pushups…
- Perform one max set of pushups on your first day.
- Calculate 60-80% of your max.
- Perform 4-6 sets throughout the day of 60-80% of your max (1 set every few hours). Do this 4-6 days out of the week.
- Once a week, do one max set of pushups to figure out what your new max is and recalculate your 60-80%.
- Repeat until you can do 100 pushups.
Depending on your starting point, it may take you anywhere from a few days, to a few months, but I promise you, you’ll be amazed at the results.
One hundred pushups in a few weeks isn’t impossible. Stick to it, and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.
Until next time,