My favorite purchase from the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll marathon was a pink t-shirt that says, “My sport is your sport’s punishment.” As in, the coach makes you run a lap if you’re a smart ass in class. But gym teachers could take a lesson about real punishment from the Marines. Their punishment of choice? Push ups.
Think about it. How many military movies have you seen some drill sergeant say, “Drop and give me twenty!”? Soldiers know a thing or two about how to make people hurt.
My fear and loathing of push ups started in high school. Gym was never fun. I was in all the geeky AP classes and had no coordination whatsoever. I felt as self conscious and embarrassed next to the jocks as they felt next to me in English Lit.
Every year we had to take the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, only I went to Catholic school so they thought of new and creative ways to make this ordeal even worse. They combined this tribulation with introducing us to ROTC and had local Marines administer the test to us.
And I never got the cute marine either. I always got the 45 year old career Marine that smelled like Lucky Strikes and looked like he could kill me in about 15 seconds just for shits and giggles.
“Ladies,” shouted the scary drill sergeant, “The year is 1990. There is no such thing as a ‘ladies push up!’ You will do as many sit ups as you can when I say go.” He held up a stop watch. We got on the overly polished gym floor on our hands and feet and looked at the soldier in frightened anticipation.
“Go! Do you think that is a push up? Move! Move! Move! Get lower. Nose to the ground! Do you think you’re done? I’ve got 40 seconds left on my stop watch. Don’t even think of stopping!”
Other fifteen-year-old children collapsed around me. I was too scared to stop. The push up examination completed, I fell to the floor wondering how long I would have to be here until I could escape to AP History class.
“You!” He was pointing at me. Oh God, why is he pointing at me? My entire body flushed crimson. Please don’t kill me scary Marine. Please don’t make me do more push ups.
He walked over to me in stern strides. His body was so erect there seemed to be a rod up him. Everyone in 5th period gym class was looking at me now. I was on the floor panting. He was nine feet tall.
“How many push ups did you do, young lady?”
He’s gonna kill me! He’s gonna make me drop and do twenty more in front of the entire school! Oh why didn’t I lie and get a doctor’s note that excused me from gym?
His face broke into a broad smile and he gave me a thumbs up. “Good job!”
And here I am today in the gym with Daniel and he wants me to do something called ‘push ups until failure.’ I thought failure was a bad thing?
“You do as many push ups as you can and then stop when you can’t do any more,” he said.
I hate push ups. I hate chest/shoulder/triceps day. He demonstrates as though it is the easiest thing in the world. I am dubious. I get on the floor and balance on my hands and toes and press down.
This did not make me feel better. No wonder I hate planks: they are just stationary push ups. A drop of my sweat falls to the floor. He’s trying to adjust my shoulders but then my hips go down and I am a clumsy mess. I can’t even do one push up right.
“Let’s do a modified push up. Put your knees down.”
I am shocked. What would scary Marine think? The push ups are not getting any better. I’m not going low enough. I feel off balance, like I’m going to fall.
“Lisa, what are you afraid of?”
“I’m going to fall and bust my face open and you’re going to laugh.”
“I would probably be more concerned that you injured yourself.” This made me feel better. At least he won’t laugh as I break my nose falling on the floor.
“If you feel like you’re going to fall, just turn your face. Try it.” I do. It’s not so bad, I guess.
“I can’t wrap my mind about doing something to failure.”
“That’s the only way to test your limits and push past them.” I do five. He smiles. “Good job.”
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