I like to incorporate strength and conditioning with my training. I tend to focus on it much more in the off or early part of the season and as a result it can often become one if the aspects of training that is neglected during the season or when my training load is high. Like most habits once it’s broken it can often be difficult to restart.

When you are at the beginning of any training plan we think the most important aspect is to establish a routine. The first month working with a new athlete is spent learning about their life, what training they can handle without either ending up coming home to a suitcase on the doorstep or breaking them. Initially the training often feels easy, usually too easy and we are often keeping a leash on them at the start rather than pushing them harder. But it’s essentially all about finding out what they can fit into their lives and establishing a routine.

The hardest part of the first month is rarely the training itself, it’s getting up off the couch to do it. Once the routine is in place this isn’t often an issue but at the start it’s usually the fight against inertia and the struggle to start that’s the hard part. Despite being motivated to train it can often be harder to actually get out the door or onto the turbo than it is to stay on once we are started.

So with that rather long winded intro where am I going with 1000 press ups and why the hell would a triathlete want to do it? Wouldn’t I just be better off going to the gym once or twice a week and doing a more specific training session?

Related Post: Ironman training motivation

  • Motivation: I find setting targets is very motivating. Having a vague idea that I will re-start doing strength and conditioning work this month often means that without a concrete goal or target it is constantly pushed off until tomorrow or next week. Where as if I have a particular target set like doing 500 push-ups in a month it will get me started and getting started is more than half the battle.
  • Micro goals: Start tiny. Once I’ve set an initial goal I always try to make it worth doing but very achievable. If the initial step is too hard it will often trip me up before I get onto the next step and I will fail to get going. If for example I aim for 2000 push-ups in the first month I am likely to either hurt myself with the overload or just get discouraged if I miss the target within the first week. Then I start by breaking down the overall goal into what is needed on a weekly and then daily basis. To do 500 push-ups in a month I would need to do 125 a week. If I can do 5 days a week that’s only 25 push-ups a day. 25 push-ups would take me about 1 minute to do. I don’t think there’s ever a day when anyone of us couldn’t fit in 1 minute of exercise. So with a goal set and broken down into steps I get started.
  • Keep track: I keep track of my progress in a note on my phone. I have a weekly target to achieve and know that I have to hit 25 push-ups a day 5 day’s a week. I find that the act of tracking progress, hitting and often breaking targets starts to become another source of motivation. The more I do the more I want to do. But in the beginning I get a kick from just hitting the daily target.
  • Make it a habit: It usually only takes me 2-4 weeks for something to become a habit. Once I’ve gotten a routine established it’s much easier to push the targets and start to make the exercise more challenging. Still at this stage I don’t want to add so much that the routine becomes hard to incorporate, the beauty of the push-ups is that it’s easy to fit in. If I add 5 more exercises I will very quickly start to find excuses why I can’t fit 20 minutes in each day.
  • Make it a game: Once I’m up and running I was really surprised to find how motivated I was by the numbers. I suppose it’s why Strava has become the worldwide phenomenon that it is. Add a level of competition and play and you add further motivation.

The trial run

On the 10th October I set myself a target of 500 push-ups and 400 crunches in 3 weeks. I like simple bodyweight exercises and these are two of the easiest to do as they require no equipment, take very little time and are sports specific. The crunches were one of the prescribed exercises for my back rehab after the surgery and I think push-ups hit all the main swim muscles, shoulders, lats and pecs. I just wanted to start back at the S&C and even though the back is in great shape at the moment I won’t get away with skipping it forever so I just wanted to get the initial routine and I picked one exercise I like and one I don’t.

In week one I had a target of 160 push-ups and 120 crunches.

I managed 180 push-ups, 20 ahead of target but didn’t hit the numbers for the crunches. In fact I only did a set of 80 on the Sunday. I was guilt trippin over the lack of crunches but with very low initial targets I knew I could pull it back by the end of the month. But the fact that I did the set on the Sunday out of guilt meant that the target was having the desired motivating effect.

The days looked like this


Wednesday 10th

Push-ups: 30 Crunches:  —

Thursday

Push-ups: 50 Crunches:  —

Friday

Push-ups: 40 Crunches:  —

Saturday

Push-ups: 30 Crunches: —

Sunday

Push-ups: 30 Crunches:  80


Week two’s targets were again 180 push-ups and 140 crunches and I managed to beat both targets this week and it’s starting to become apparent that the habit effect is kicking in already. I managed to do the push-ups every day and a couple of those days like Tuesday for instance were split over morning and evening. I also fit in three sets of crunches versus only one last week.

The day’s looked like this


Monday:

Push-ups: 50 Crunches:  —

Tuesday

Push-ups: 70 Crunches:  80

Wednesday

Push-ups: 30 Crunches:  —

Thursday

Push-ups: 73 Crunches:  100

Friday

Push-ups: 40 Crunches:  50

Saturday

Push-ups: 30 Crunches: —

Sunday

Push-ups: 30 Crunches:  —


I wasn’t really expecting any physical effects from such a small amount of exercises each day but within only 2 weeks I was feeling more “connected” and solid in my core. I’d estimate that even with the miniscule total of only 14 minutes of these exercises in the first two weeks I was already seeing results, albeit small ones.

I had already hit my target for the 3 weeks of 500 push-ups before the end of week two with a total of 503 done so I had shifted the goalposts in my head and thought that 1000 would be pretty good for my first three weeks back (I also thought it would make a better blog post title) To hit it I would need to do over 60 a day for the remaining 8 days but I felt that was achievable.

Here is how week three stacked up.


Monday:

Push-ups: 60 Crunches:  60

Tuesday

Push-ups: 60 Crunches:  —

Wednesday

Push-ups: 60 Crunches:  50

Thursday

Push-ups: 60 Crunches:  —

Friday

Push-ups: 30 Crunches:  —

Saturday

Push-ups: 60 Crunches: —

Sunday

Push-ups: 40 Crunches:  —

Monday

Push-ups: 160 Crunches:  70


Ok so there was a bit of cramming on the last day of the month but again the completely arbitrary, made up targets served their purpose. I got the work done. Also the fact that I could manage 160 push-ups in a day shows how quickly this sort of basic strength work can have an effect. I wouldn’t have been able to lift my arms over my head after 160 push-ups three weeks ago.

It’s also worth re stating that this habit was started with tiny micro targets. I’m now doing some small amount of strength work almost every day and feeling much better for it. Next month will be slightly harder targets of the same exercises.

Related post: The benefits of 1 hour training sessions for Ironman

To sum up it up the steps to get going were:

  1. Establish an initial, manageable but not too easy goal. I find for me a specific number works best. For example 30 minutes of plank exercise in a month or the 500 push-ups one that I used.
  2. Break it into tiny very achievable steps: There isn’t too many of us who couldn’t do 300 push-ups in a month. If you have never done one push-up before you could probably manage 5 in the morning and 5 at night to start. Even as a beginner that’s only 10 a day. Another point worth noting is that a beginner would potentially have the most to gain from it S&C if they’ve never done it before.
  3. Track progress: I do it in my phone as I always have it with me but you could use a training diary or spreadsheet but the trick to not have any obstacles to fitting in a quick “drop and give me 30” when the opportunity arises. I often do them while making the coffee’s in the morning. I know I can do 30 push-ups in the length of time it takes the Nespresso machine to make one coffee. I then just update the phone and I’m done for the morning. If I had to wait until I had a computer on or my diary with me to fill in the session I might put it off till later and then not do it. Always make it as easy as possible to be successful with your challenge and remove as many obstacles as possible.
  4. Form the habit: Firstly establish the regularity then you can add some meat to the bones. It’s easier to increase the volume of an established exercise routine rather than start with a hugely ambitious one that end’s up failing.
  5. Move the goalposts when you start to make progress: Let the targets become a game and if it looks like you can hit the numbers early, how much further could you stretch your limits? This is where you might really some significant gains.

The benefits of incorporating small frequent strength and conditioning exercises into your everyday life without the need to make a big trip to the gym can’t be overstated. If starting out at 1 minute a day leads to 10 minutes a day after 4-6 weeks and the exercises are beneficial and are done correctly you could potentially see significant gains over time.

I would also recommend rotating the exercises rather than constantly adding more. If you just keep on making the daily workload bigger it will eventually become a nuisance and you will find reasons that you can’t fit it in when life gets crazy. Instead when you are comfortably hitting the target try to switch exercises. Try doing 500 bodyweight squats or 500 walking lunges in a month or even more challenging are single leg squats. Rotating through sport specific strength exercises every day for between 1-10 minutes is achievable for just about anyone in any sport.

Like I talked about in this post longevity is more important than any one epic day or week. Imagine the ab’s you would have if you managed 500 crunches a month for a year. Making exercise a part of our lives is what we are all about whether it’s triathlon, Ironman or just getting to a level of general fitness that keeps us healthy, injury free and strong.

If you liked or found this post useful please help us by sharing it on whatever social media you use, Facebook, Twitter etc.

If you are interested in talking to us about coaching you can contact us here.

I keep a weekly training blog over here if you want to see what I get up to with my own training.

I’ve written a mini book about the training secrets of some of the most successful Kona athlete’s and you can download it free here

Thanks for reading

Rob