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The Push Up Challenge

individual attempting to do a push up

Push up challenge

Have you heard about The Push Up Challenge? It is a challenge that runs from the 8th to the 28th of July and it is raising awareness for mental health and raising funds for Headspace. This year I decided to participate in the challenge and it wouldn’t be doing much to raise awareness if I didn’t actually tell people about it.

What is the Push Up Challenge

The Push Up Challenge is an event where you form a group and together you complete 3,128 push ups over 21 days. 3,128 seems like a pretty random number but it represents the number of people who lost their lives to suicide in 2017. Each day there is a set number of push ups to complete and again the numbers seem like they have been plucked from thin air but they represent mental health facts. For example today the goal is 240 push ups which represents the 240 times a night that someone with sleep apnoea can be dragged out of deep sleep and one of the lasting impacts of sleep apnoea is lowered mood, or the 125 push ups a previous day represents the $125 medicare rebate under the Mental Health Care Plan for a clinical psychology appointment.

The group I joined

'As A Man' Podcast with Mike and Piers

I joined a group organised by the As A Man Podcast. As A Man is a podcast that focuses on the idea of masculinity in modern society. I have been a guest interviewed on the very first episode of the podcast. I can see that it might seem a little odd that the CEO of a women’s organisation would join a group that focuses on masculinity. There are synergies though. How does modern masculinity fit in a feminist framework? Really though it was about saying that regardless of gender mental health is something that impacts us all and we need to work together to support each other.

There are six members in our group and most of us don’t know each other. Everyone knows Mike who with Piers (also on the team) host the As A Man Podcast and we might know one of the other people in the group but really it is a group of strangers brought together by a common goal – to raise awareness about mental health in our community and challenge ourselves. Majority of the group seems to be pretty darn fit. We have 2 group members who are doing the full 3128 by themselves over the 21 days, 2 who are aiming for half, one is aiming for a quarter by himself then there is little old me, the only girl in the group, aiming for the bare minimum of just one sixth (and to be honest I didn’t think I would manage that!).

The challenge

The challenge has been interesting in many ways. Prior to the challenge I could manage 5 push ups and it was a massive struggle. I have NO upper body strength so this was going to be difficult. Hey, mental health difficulties aren’t easy, the whole point was that this was going to test me. 

I decided that I was going to do ‘proper push ups, men’s push ups, not the women’s versions on my knees’. Hold your horses there. That was my first moment to stop and think. Firstly why did I think there is such a thing as a ‘proper’ push up? Surely doing them on your knees or even standing and doing them against a wall or a bench beats sitting on the couch and not doing any at all? Secondly why is the full plank version of the push up a ‘mans’ push up vs on your knees a woman’s push up. Modifying exercises to meet your bodies needs has nothing to do with gender, it has to do with making sure you are working safely and making progress. Hmmmm I need to look at where these ideas have come from and why they are persisting. I have made a conscious effort to think of them as a ‘full push up’ or a ‘modified push up’ rather than defining them by gender or defining them as ‘proper’ or ‘cheating’.

The second thing that made me stop in my tracks was what on earth possessed me to think that I could do this and easily. How hard could it be doing 60 push ups in a day (which is something we thought we would be doing before a couple more people joined the group)? Seriously, a month ago I struggled to do 5 and I thought I’d be able to just do 60 push ups??? What was I thinking? Clearly I wasn’t thinking 😊. 

What I found was that when we started and I had to do 20 push ups on the first day I had to break them up and do four sets of five with a couple of hours break in between each set. Within a week I was managing to do sets of 10 and could do two sets of 10 back to back with just a quick rest and stretch in between. It made me wonder. At the start was 5 really my physical limit or was it a psychological limit? Did I just think 5 was my limit? I learned that I’m stronger than I realised. Last week I actually managed to do 60 push ups in a day. 60! Me! In one day! Sure it was in three blocks spread out over the whole day but I did 60 push ups!

The last thing that surprised me was the comradery that has happened in the challenge. I still feel like the weakest link in the team. I am the one who is doing the least amount and I’m the one that is struggling with getting them done but I’m doing them. I think there is a lovely link there with mental health as well, it is often hard and at times it seems like we are doing only the smallest amount, it’s really easy to focus on the negative and to compare yourself to someone else who is blitzing it but what should be celebrated is that we are doing something! 

What I found was that at the end of a day I would get home and see everyone checking in with how everyone else was going. The guys who were blitzing the 200 in a day were being so supportive and encouraging of my doing 20! 

There have been days (ok, most days), when at the end of a long day of parenting and working, meetings and reports, the absolute last thing I felt like doing was getting on the floor and doing push ups but I didn’t want to let the team down and the team was so supportive that I found myself at 9.30 at night on the floor doing push ups so I could log them before the 10pm cut off or quickly dropping down in the reception at work to push out a quick 10 before lunch. 

Quickly fitting in some push ups before lunch
Quickly fitting in some push ups before lunch – safety note – remove heels before doing push ups in future!

Quickly fitting in some push ups before lunch – safety note – remove heels before doing push ups in future! Quickly fitting in some push ups before lunch – safety note – remove heels before doing push ups in future!

Quickly fitting in some push ups before lunch – safety note – remove heels before doing push ups in future!

Again the link I found here with mental health issues is that we don’t get to choose when we are going to struggle. We can’t choose to have our anxiety levels peak on the days when we have the most space to deal with it for example. We can’t say ‘I’m really busy today, it’s been a heck of a day, I’m shattered, I really don’t have the energy to be depressed today, I’ll put it off until tomorrow instead’. Sadly it doesn’t work that way so despite feeling like the last thing I wanted to do was push ups I made it happen. 

I also found that when I dislocated my wrist and couldn’t participate for a couple of days and one of the other group members also injured himself and he couldn’t participate either the team stepped in to cover our short fall. Despite the fact that they were doing 100% of the days challenge or 50% of the day’s challenge, instead of saying ‘I’ll say that 30 of mine are for Emma and you can say that 30 of yours are for Jake’ they actually did an extra 30 that I would have been doing or Jake would have been doing. Talk about dedication!

Final thoughts

It’s been a really interesting challenge. The main purposes of the challenge is to raise money and to raise awareness. 

To date the challenge has raised well over $2million to go towards mental health services provided by HeadSpace which is fantastic. I know how much service we provide here for a fraction of that amount so I am really excited to think of the lives that those donations will impact and the difference it will make to the mental health of our country.

Has it raised awareness about mental health? I’m not sure. I think a lot of the people participating are doing so because we are already passionate about mental health and we want to make a difference. I’m not sure that people who aren’t participating really have much awareness that the challenge is happening. 

Did my little contribution actually make a difference to anyone’s mental health other than my own? I’m doubtful. Did doing random numbers of push ups every day for 21 days with a group of strangers make a difference to my life? Surprisingly yes I think it did. Physical activity is so good for my personal mental health and it’s amazing how much of a buzz I got by actually doing the push ups. It also made me challenge my thinking in ways that I wasn’t expecting. It really did challenge me to step out of my comfort zone not only in doing the challenge but also in writing about it and sharing it with you if you are reading this. 

Finishing the challenge

It’s still a couple of days until the end of the challenge and sadly I did have to miss two days thanks to an injury (not as a result of the challenge) but I’m quite proud that I will actually see the challenge through to the end. I have joined challenges like this before and found that I have lost motivation mid way through so I wonder why this time I was so committed? I think the 21 days is a great length of time, not too overwhelming but long enough to actually feel substantial. Obviously there is the old belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit so 21 days is seen as long enough to have an impact on our long term behaviours. Really though I think I made it to the end because of the team. I think the team being so small really made a difference as well. You are a lot more accountable when there are only 6 of you, it’s pretty easy to hide in the background when there are 600 participants but you stand out when there are only 6!

If you participated in the challenge I’d love to hear how you experienced it. 

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