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Push-up challenge a simple way to get in shape

Before we go any further, please set this column aside for just a moment and hit the floor. Time to do some pushups.

Women, you're on your knees. Men, on your toes. Do as many as you can without stopping before your arms turn to rubber.

Whew. Glad that's over. How'd you do?

On average, a 40-year-old American woman should be able to do 16; for men that age, it's 27. By age 60, it's 6 for women, 17 for men.

So if you hit the average for your age, good for you.

You'd be doing even better if you'd spent the past year in Patty Joens' step aerobics class.

About a year ago, the Pasco County fitness instructor caught an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show in which first lady Michelle Obama joined her host for a friendly pushup competition, completing 25.

Joens, who has taught fitness classes for 20 years and also is secretary to the principal of Gulf High School, knows a challenge when she sees one.

"I said, 'Oh, heck no, we're not going to let the first lady do more pushups than us,' '' Joens told her students at the Family Fitness Centers in Hudson and Trinity.

And with that, a New Year's resolution — and a running joke — were born. Joens' faithful students, from her 11-year-old daughter, Ally, to a woman in her 70s, have been teasing her all year about this being her resolution and not theirs.

But without fail, twice a week, after an hour of heart-pounding step aerobics and a dumbbell workout, they all drop to the ground.

For 40 pushups.

Okay, maybe they don't do them all at once. Still, after an hourlong workout, even two sets of 20 is a mighty accomplishment. Some had to start by doing their pushups against the wall. But they do them. And they're all a lot stronger for it.

Now that the year is nearly up, Joens, 42, is devising a new challenge for 2013. Maybe she'll put a 5-pound weight on everyone's back as each student does pushups. But her students will keep doing them.

"You could do nothing but pushups and get benefits,'' she said. "They work every single muscle of the upper body. And there are so many ways you can do them.''

Depending on how you position your hands, you work different muscles. And if you aren't even close to doing a pushup on your knees, no worries. Just start by pushing against a wall. When that's easy, advance to the kitchen counter. Then a bench. You'll be on the floor in no time.

And this isn't just about impressing your gym buddies or looking good in a tank top. Want to be able to carry the groceries yourself? Or get up off the floor on your own after playing with the kids? Pushups develop all of those muscles.

At a time of year when life is hectic enough, this familiar move offers a simple way to keep your fitness program from backsliding.

Pushups are not magic. But they're a great, affordable basic, and they fit Joens' definition of an ideal resolution: "They're doable and simple and something that you know isn't so far out of reach.''

Charlotte Sutton I Health and medicine editor

Terry Tomalin I Outdoors/fitness editor

Brittany Volk I Designer

Dirk Shadd I Cover photo

To advertise: Call (727) 893-8535.

Push-up challenge a simple way to get in shape

11/30/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 3:30am]
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