Ladies … Looking for Ways to Increase Personal Power?
I love working out, especially my upper body! Up until recently, my favorite thing was push-ups, full-body often termed “men’s push-ups.” I never thought of doing this as work, because I enjoyed the feeling of getting on the floor, powering through a giant set of push-ups, and the stretching I did afterward. Yes, sometimes I felt DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) the next day, but that is a good sort of sore. It means I did something, I worked something, I maintained my strength or built it up. That sort of sore makes me feel powerful, proud, and confident. It makes me feel like I can do ANYTHING!
I started doing push-ups at about the same time I got serious about working out — in the 1990s — when I was dating a bodybuilder. He treated his body like a temple, was so diligent about his workouts, eating well, and avoiding anything that could have a toxic effect on his physiology. It was inspirational to me — the fact that his priority was caring for his body as opposed to building huge muscles. I was already accustomed to working out, but hanging out with him motivated me to consider new exercises. Push-ups seemed logical because women tend to have weaker upper bodies than men, and because we all get a certain amount of lower body strength just from moving around, and from doing aerobic exercise.
I began by doing push-ups on my knees; first a few every few days, then I was able to increase to 10, and eventually graduated to three sets of 12 three days a week. Months later, I decided I didn’t want to do these “modified,” “girl” push-ups anymore, I wanted to do the real thing. And again, I started small, integrating a few full-body push-ups into each workout; over time I was able to do the same three sets of 12, but on my toes instead of on my knees. As I got stronger, my muscle tone improved, I could make a good looking bicep muscle in the mirror, and I noticed the skin tightening over my chest so I no longer had that puffy, muffin-top look where my bra cut around my armpit. But the results were so much more than physical…
I had learned to do something new, I had applied that knowledge to create a routine that I enjoyed, I was happy to PUSH UP each time I did it. The boyfriend was temporary, but the romance with push-ups never got old! Eventually, I quit my corporate job and went back to school to study exercise science because I fell in love with what physical activity did for me — it made me feel confident! And what I learned from getting my Masters in exercise science and my Ph.D. in exercise psychology is that my experience with push-ups read like the classic example of why some people maintain exercise habits while others tend to quit within six months.
Self-Determination Theory (SDT) developed by researchers Deci and Ryan was the framework I adopted for my research to address the key psychosocial variables that drive motivation to engage in consistent exercise behavior. SDT explains that if we can meet basic human psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness through exercise behavior we will develop an intrinsic desire to continue doing our exercise.
Using my push-up example, this means that I developed a habit and continued it over time because I created my push-up routine on my own, to fit my needs (autonomy), I felt capable of performing them and confident I was doing them right (competence), and in regularly completing my push-ups I felt a sense of community with others who wanted to build healthy bodies (relatedness). SDT suggests that ultimately, we do whatever we do, whether push-ups, running, weight-lifting, or biking because we are intrinsically motivated — we like it, enjoy it, and see it as an extension of who we are as individuals.
I love push-ups. Why? Because I can do them whenever, wherever I want, I don’t need any trendy equipment, I’m good at doing them and I know it, and they give me a sense of being at ease with my upper-body fitness when I’m out in the world among other strong women. They are tough, but I’m up to the challenge, when I finish doing them I know I did something to keep myself well, and my sense of accomplishment contributes to my overall sense of myself as a strong, powerful woman, capable of doing anything I put my mind, heart, and soul to. Quite a payoff for an old-school exercise, huh?
A couple of last points:
· When I started doing push-ups, I wasn’t confident and capable, but I used available resources, and I learned.
· Push-ups may not be for you, but there is some activity out there that you can enjoy… explore, and consider autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
· Ponder the possibility of your physical activity’s impact on your emotional state as well as your physical state. The payoff is twice as nice!
· Wouldn’t it be great to WANT to exercise?
This year I developed De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, which is a long-winded way of saying that my wrists hurt like hell, and I need surgery. Needless to say, I’ve been missing my push-ups. I intend to return to them when I recover, but in the meantime, I am looking for other things I can do that aren’t hard on my wrists, but still give me that emotional confidence, and sense of pride. Yes, I am a trainer, an exercise physiologist, and a teacher, but sometimes, getting ideas from outside yourself is just what is needed to stir the pot and infuse new energy!
If you have any thoughts, please send them my way!