How Doing 300 Press-Ups a Day for a Month Helped Me Deal with Losing My Dad

How Doing 300 Press-Ups a Day for a Month Helped Me Deal with Losing My Dad

In February, my dad died after a three-year battle with cancer. It still feels pretty surreal writing that sentence.

As you can imagine, it was quite a rough time but rather than mope and stay in bed all day – which did happen occasionally – I needed to find some focus. Keeping busy is my way of dealing with things. To put it into context, those first two weeks after my dad’s passing, I had completed the renovation on my bathroom, re-painted my hallway, weeded the garden, touched up the skirting boards in the living room, caulked around the door frames and cleaned every window, both inside and out, as well as all the windowsills. I told you I needed to keep busy. Oh, and did I mention that me and my partner have an 11-month old baby to care for too?

Even with all that, I needed a new focus, something that would perhaps challenge me both physically and mentally, but what? I turned to the MH team looking for inspiration, and specifically to our fitness editor, Andrew Tracey, who’s never short of a few ideas. That’s how we ended up here, writing this article about my experience attempting 300 press-ups a day for a month.

So, dear reader, come with me on a journey and let me tell you how it went, what I found out about myself, how my body changed physically, the impact it had on my mind and whether or not it was really worth it.

Effect of Exercise on Grief

Numerous studies have shown the positive effects exercise has on depression and anxiety. And while grief isn’t the same, exercise can still play a valuable role in helping people adapt to loss.

‘Exercise is a very good and positive tool that people can use while grieving, mainly because it triggers that release of neurotransmitters and the release of endorphins,’ explains counsellor Sharon Stallard, who is trained in helping people cope with bereavement. ‘Exercise helps regulate a person’s mood and can prevent them from going into a low phase, which can trigger depression.'

300 Press-Ups a Day – 5 Things I Learnt

Before beginning this challenge, I'd say my current fitness was average. I'd been pretty inactive for the past six months, but at a push, I could probably still run a 5k and perhaps manage my old workout routines. I knew I had lost a bit of strength – a few weeks before my dad died I went to the gym and was unable to complete three pull-ups or even hold the plank for more than minute. I wasn't happy with the way I looked either, with little shape on my top half and a paunch appearing around my midriff.

I really was jumping in at the deep end with this, but after 30 days, here's what I learnt.

1/ You've Got to Learn on the Job

With no time to ease yourself in, you need to learn quick. From the first day I had to figure out pacing, tempo, technique, reps and sets.

For me, morning was best. The plan was to break the 300 reps into chunks of 100 – I called these sessions. For each session I’d complete four sets of 25 reps.

I also set myself rules. Upon waking, I wasn’t allowed to leave my bedroom until I had finished the first session. It was tough, but by the time I had made my way downstairs, I'd already done a third of the day's target. I must admit, achieving something – no matter how small – so early on in the day made me feel good about myself, and I was ready to kick-start the day.

There's method to working out in the morning, too. According to Jasmin Theard, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center: ‘Morning workouts help reduce the possibility for obstacles to present themselves... Exercise leads to the secretion of neurotransmitters that promote mental clarity and an improved attention span, so you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, as well as rejuvenated and recharged.’

Studies have also found that aerobic exercise performed in the morning causes a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and helps you sleep longer at night – although having an 11-month-old baby will put a dent in anyone's sleep routine, no matter how hard they exercise.

Once I had some breakfast and played with the boy, I’d get onto my second session. Then I'd shower, complete morning meetings with my team and set the agenda for the day before completing my final session. On a good day, I’d be done by 12pm. But life isn’t always straight-forward and I found it quite staggering how the slightest inconvenience – an issue at work, an exploding nappy etc – could push things back. I was also amazed at how easy it was to forget. On numerous occasions it would dawn on me that I had only done half the amount that day. There are few things worse than chilling on the sofa in the evening with a glass of beer only to then realise you have 150 press-ups to do.

2/ You Will Ache, But it Won't Last Long

At first, everything feels stiff and it can be quite alarming but it’s not much to worry about. Delayed onset of muscle soreness – most commonly referred to as DOMS – is a natural by-product of exercise, caused by micro trauma to the muscle fibres. It happens and it's unavoidable. It's actually during periods of rest when these fibres rebuild and you get stronger.

As this was a daily challenge, however, there's no time for rest days and for that first week, having to exercise ‘through’ DOMS, wasn’t pleasant. Luckily, the body is an amazing thing and adapts very quickly and that discomfort soon dissipates.

3 Ways to Reduce Muscle Soreness

  1. Stretch: Research shows static stretching can help reduce the duration of DOMS. By lengthening tight muscles and increasing blow flow, muscles become more durable and reduces feelings of soreness.

  2. Fuel: Drinking enough water and replacing electrolytes lost through sweating as well as consuming adequate levels of proteins, carbs and fats will help feed your muscles and give them the best chance to recover quicker.

  3. Massage: After exercise, massage can aid your muscle recovery by easing inflammation, improving blood flow and reducing muscle tightness and swelling.

young muscular man doing push ups on the gym floor he is looking down
AzmanL - Getty Images

3/ Get Your Form Wrong and It Will Hurt

Although you’re only using your bodyweight, because you’re working through so many reps, even if your form is slightly off, it can magnify and cause problems.

During week two, my left elbow started to burn and I wasn’t sure why. It was only when I examined my form that I noticed my left hand was slightly turned in which was forcing my elbow to flare out.

According to our very own MH pages: elbows should maintain an angle of about 45-degrees below the shoulder in order to avoid shoulder pain when doing press-ups. A timely reminder that form is everything when it comes to exercising.

Not sure how to do press-ups? Let our guide show you the way.

4/ It’s Easy to Rush, but You’re Fooling No-One

Some days I just couldn’t be bothered, but rather do nothing, I rushed through them as quickly as possible. I’m not sure what the point was. Maybe part of me thought something was better than nothing, but it wasn’t. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

I remember having just finished my final session of half-arsed reps and I sat there, in front of the mirror, utterly deflated. No one really knew I was doing this challenge. No one really cared I was doing this challenge. So, who was I kidding? What was there to gain from not doing the challenge properly? I was cheating myself. It’s probably the biggest thing I’ve taken away from this: do it for you, be accountable for yourself and take responsibility.

man press ups
Hearst Owned

5/ My Chest Didn’t Get Any Bigger

I know, gutting. But the truth is this: doing press-ups doesn’t automatically mean your chest will grow. There are numerous reasons for this. For example, poor form, insufficient nutrition, even genetics all play a major role in your muscle-building capabilities. But one of the biggest components when it comes to building muscle is progression. Once the body adapts to any stimulus you are putting it under, to elicit more growth you need up the intensity.

Struggling to build muscle? Check out the muscle-building mistakes you're probably making here.

My Takeaway

Setting yourself a challenge and then going out and attacking it does feel good. Yes, it was tough at times – I remember halfway through one session suddenly thinking of dad and crying – but other days it was a breeze.

All in all, I completed the full amount of reps 20 times, 200 reps six times, 100 reps twice, 75 reps once and nothing for two days – although those were the days of my dad’s funeral.

Other than to keep busy, I’m not entirely sure what I’ve learnt about myself from this challenge. Maybe it’s consistency. Ok, I didn’t hit 300 press-ups every day but then again, I knew I wouldn’t. That was never the aim. It was more about doing something every day no matter how tired or fuzzy I felt. And I did it. The fact that I can now bosh out 50 reps quite comfortably is an added bonus.

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