Recently I had occasion to circulate the following survey among a small circle of my friends and associates. In the interest of transparency, I share the results with you here. Previously: Talking To Women About Bob Odenkirk’s Line, “My little women!” From Little Women.
Earlier this week senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Cotton were filmed doing 22 pushups on stage during an Iowa fundraiser for veterans. Did you hear about this?
NICK: I saw the thumbnail and a tweet about how it was beyond parody.
KYLE L: I did not.
CHRISTIAN: Yes, I did hear about and see it.
KYLE T: Unfortunately, yes. I saw the video of this happening, albeit out of context, and I wasn’t quite sure what was happening or who they were. The only thing I recognized was bad push-up form.
SETH: I sure did, Twitter was popping off re: their incorrect form
CHARLIE: I only just found out about this rn, when u told me lol
CALVIN: I heard about it on twitter
CHRIS: No, although the idea of Tom Cotton doing human activities strikes me as a psy-op.
DANIEL S: Yes.
If so, did you hear about this as a straightforward news item, or because someone was commenting on their push-up form?
NICK: No mention of form.
KYLE L: See above.
CHRISTIAN: It was exclusively criticism of their pushups.
HARRISON: If I did, it would probably be as a news item. I don't have a lot of conversations about push-ups.
KYLE T: I believe I saw a quote tweet commenting on the broad absurdity of the endeavor, though not specifically about the push-up form.
SETH: See above lol
CHARLIE: see above lol
CALVIN: I only saw it as a quote tweet dunking on their push-up form.
CHRIS: [Did not answer this question.]
KIEFO: I think the comment I saw attached to it was more of a resigned sigh, but the attached comments were largely concerned with form
BEN: [Did not answer this question.]
DANIEL S: Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann tweeted a video. His estimate that the Senators had performed 0.11 pushups per passionate Iowan may have been left-handed. “Wow!” he concludes.
Do you have a general sense of what “good push-up form” is?
NICK: Back straight? Your back should be a plank?
ISAAC: When I attempt a push-up, which I last did months ago, I AM vaguely aware of what my form should be — there’s a tiny haunted whisper that tells me things should be parallel to other things, things should be straightened. I’m not sure where the whisper came from.
KYLE L: I do!
HARRISON: Yes. But I try not to do push-ups in front of people because everyone judges your form.
KYLE T: Yes, I took Taekwondo for several years as a young person, so good push-up form has been drilled into my body, unlike good posture. A solid number of “good form” push-ups is one of the few athletic skills I have. Besides running from my trauma.
SETH: Absolutely not, I am a fat, gay man who slow-walked the track with the goth girl in P.E.
CHARLIE: good pushup form is when I have an anxiety attack but also a running injury so instead of pounding out five miles I do push ups until I get a pushups injury
CALVIN: a general sense, sure
CHRIS: I think it’s this faintly sadomasochistic deal where you’re supposed to get as close to the ground as possible without actually touching it?
BEN: I think so? Maybe? Probably not. But maybe?
DANIEL S: Light as a feather, stiff as a board.
If you do, where did you learn about the right way to do push-ups?
NICK: Gym teacher telling us to get our butts down. Then googling “pushups” every few years when I decide to start doing pushups.
ISAAC: Probably from seeing people complain online. That’s how I learn about most things of this kind.
KYLE L: If not elementary school gym class, my jock older brother.
CHRISTIAN: I learned good form in high school gym.
HARRISON: I had a gym teacher that said “keep your butt up” and praised kids that had their butts comically high. Now I'm not sure how far up your butt is supposed to be. There’s a hairline tipping point between “your butt is too low” and “your butt is too high.”
KYLE T: The Taekwondo master taught me that your hands should be flat pointing north and that your back and buttons should also be flat, like a bookshelf. Since the exercise is for upper body strength (of which I have very little), it’s important that the angles of the body be able to lower and lift the body. It’s like a bodyweight exercise, I think they’re called. And you can’t really do that with your ass pointed in the air or your palms at a weird angle.
SETH: I’ve never done a push-up in my life
CHARLIE: my dad. I am his clone. When he cloned me, he said, “Son, we will understand each other so dearly, and that will be beautiful. But also we will both over-exercise and both get identical running injuries.” Which is what happened, because fate is real. He messed up his Achilles, literally the symbol of weakness. And now mine is busted too [emoji face]
CALVIN: A physical therapist taught me proper form after I broke my arm.
CHRIS: Archival footage of Jack Palance performing them at the Oscars. In Canada our gym classes were called, like, “Modeling Healthy Relationships.”
KIEFO: I’m not sure. Internet?
BEN: At summer camp between 7th and 8th grade. Our cabin counselor would make us do push-ups when we swore. I never swore, but I practiced doing push-ups in secret in case I ever had to.
DANIEL S: I studied Theoretical Pushup under the calm, feckless gym teacher falsely rumored to have been gay and Applied Pushup under the volatile, brutish gym teacher falsely rumored to have been a man.
I have aggregated the most common critiques of their form here.
“This is shitty form.” “This is trash form.”
“You call that a push-up?” “Do you call that a push-up?” “I can’t believe this is a push-up.”
“Put your back into it.”“Straighten your back and get your chest on the floor.”
“These are not push-ups.” “I counted three reps at most.”
“Get your head up, butt down, chest 4 inches from the floor.” “If your nose doesn’t touch the ground it doesn’t count.” “This is just genuflecting.”
“I’ll show them how to do a proper push-up.” “I’ve done 107 push-ups in 1 minute.” “Slow down.” “Shoulders aren’t parallel with your elbows.”
Does this give you a clearer sense of what a push-up is supposed to look like, or further complicate it?
NICK: Oh right, you have to get super low on the ground for it to count. Which probably means I haven’t done an actual pushup since gym class.
ISAAC: No, there’s no clarity here. I do appreciate the person who says, with confidence and authority and very little aura of threat, that they’ll show them how to do a better push-up.
KYLE L: One complicating factor is that I don't think my nose extends four inches past my chest. However, imagining a variety of men yelling this at me makes me suddenly want to drop and give them twenty, so it provides motivation if not clarification.
CHRISTIAN: Most of that critique sounds right to me.
HARRISON: I’m more confused. This is why I don’t like doing push-ups in front of people. 107 push-ups in one minute, though? No way.
KYLE T: The comment about “chest 4 inches from the floor” is actually pretty helpful. As is the suggestion that shoulders should be parallel with your elbows. I don’t think it’s crucial that one’s nose touch the ground, that sounds like an intermediate thing?
SETH: Further complicates it
CHARLIE: isn’t that just masculinity lol
CALVIN: All of these things cannot possibly coexist in a single movement, can they?
CHRIS: For some reason I imagined the sirens barking all of those comments at Odysseus.
KIEFO: I count 17 example comments, I could do 20 example comments.
BEN: This all checks out.
DANIEL S: The image of a soft pushup that is almost like praying clears a few things up.
Many of these comments followed a similar line — it is foolish or sad for someone to be invested in doing a lot of push-ups, but it nonetheless is very important to know correct push-up form. Do you think it’s possible to pull both off at the same time?
NICK: It’s ok to be proud of doing a lot of pushups! But if you brag about it, and it turns out you do bad pushups, you will look dumb.
ISAAC: I’m sure it is.
KYLE L: Oh yes. Beyond the shadow of a doubt.
CHRISTIAN: Early during lockdown I went through a “maybe I can use this time to get strong phase” and started doing them again, and I did the nose-to-ground thing fora month, before motivation faded into lockdown soup.
HARRISON: I don’t see why not. Seems like someone could do a lot of push-ups without sacrificing form.
KYLE T: Yes, but I will not be doing more than 25 at this time.
SETH: Nope, pick one
CALVIN: a push-up is a useful bodyweight exercise; a pissing contest only ever produces piss. Anyway, no
CHRIS: Yes, but maybe only for someone saintly and guileless.
KIEFO: Absolutely. Always a good place to aspire to: foolish, competent, and sad.
BEN: No. In theory, yes, but no one can.
DANIEL S: The only thing more humiliating than failing is trying.
If I did a push-up and it was not very good, would you still be my friend?
NICK: I will, yes.
ISAAC: I’m confident you would find a way to make the bad push-up funny, but even if it weren’t funny, I would still be your friend, Danny. I promise to be your friend for funnier or for less funny.
KYLE L: Yes! It might even improve our friendship because I like to be better at push-ups.
CHRISTIAN: [Did not answer this question]
HARRISON: I’ve done 107 push-ups in 1 minute, so...
KYLE T: Yes, of course. Push-up form is not a prerequisite for my friendship.
SETH: Yes, as long as you don’t judge my inability to do push-ups
CALVIN: Yes, unless it was at a Tom Cotton rally
CHRIS: If anything, our shared weediness would make us even closer friends (that’s what happens in Brideshead Revisited, right?)
KIEFO: Just one? Hmm.
BEN: I think it would bring us closer.
DANIEL S: No.
Do you consider us friends?
ISAAC: Hell yeah
KYLE L: When I'm not anxiously running through a list of people who might secretly not like me, yes.
CHRISTIAN: [Did not answer this question]
KYLE T: Yes, dearly so.
SETH: Yes, given the circumstances we met in (neighbors and both parents to two Japanese Chins?) this friendship was destiny
CALVIN: Of course
CHRIS: Friends and neighbors!
KIEFO: Yes! Although did you see that headline the other day about how over half of all friendships are unilateral :(
DANIEL S: Yes.
Generally speaking, do you think I have “good form?” You may define form however you like it.
NICK: Probably not, but it sounds like it might become a whole thing for you now and you'll be proud of learning good form, which is cool.
ISAAC: I don’t think so at all. I forever associate the phrase with Captain Hook, and thus with a culture of English schoolboy cruelty; “good form” means a conventional and unexamined notion of honor, it means heterosexuality that subverts all queer behavior into it. It’s a compliment for a young man who snitches on a friend who has cheated on an exam.
KYLE L: Yes by some reckonings, no by others.
CHRISTIAN: [Did not answer this question]
HARRISON: I don’t generally hit it off with “good form” push-up people. Because we’re friends, I have to believe you don’t have good form.
KYLE T: Excellent form in aesthetic and prose. Prose form is harder than push-up form, I will not hear otherwise.
SETH: Good form in selecting dogs, 100%
CHARLIE: you are the definition of good form. You give advice. Which means you give us forms for living
CHRIS: If one defines “good form” as sprezzatura (and why not), then yes.
BEN: The best.
DANIEL S: Bless you, child. Good form, Jack. [Included the GIF from Hook, coincidentally.]
Do you think you can do a good push-up?
KYLE L: I certainly do.
CHRISTIAN: I definitely can do a good pushup.
HARRISON: If I pushed up like no one was watching, yes.
KYLE T: Yes
CALVIN: I can do a better push-up than they did in that video, yes
CHRIS: Absolutely not.
BEN: I’d like to think so. One, at least, but I’d need some time to practice before I show you.
DANIEL S: Would a push-up that involved a series of pulleys and winches be good form or bad?
Do you remember the last time your nose touched the ground?
NICK: Lying prone on the carpet so my daughter could jump on me.
ISAAC: Probably in a yoga context
KYLE L: I could make an educated guess.
CHRISTIAN: [Did not answer this question.]
HARRISON: Yesterday, when I did 203 push-ups in 1 minute with excellent form.
KYLE T: I am doing push-ups as I answer these questions.
SETH: Probably three weeks ago when I wanted to see how my dogs would react to my unresponsive body on the floor
CHARLIE: Yesterday, when I snorted protein powder off the naked New York sidewalk
CALVIN: Monday (not push-up related).
CHRIS: Lying down overwhelmed by hot people at the gay beach last weekend. Wait, does sand count as the ground?
KIEFO: Like it was yesterday
BEN: I was trying to get some cat toys out from under the couch a few days ago.
DANIEL S: Faceplant on a sidewalk in the Castro circa 2011.
If you were doing a push-up, for whatever reason, would you want someone to tell you if you were doing it wrong? Or would you rather everyone just let you figure it out on your own?
NICK: I’d appreciate some tips. My doctor says I should exercise. I'm not even sure which muscles a pushup is supposed to use.
ISAAC: I would want someone to tell me.
KYLE L: I would very much prefer to be informed, in the gruffest tones imaginable, but ONLY if they were correct.
CHRISTIAN: I would absolutely like to know if I was doing it wrong, but politely, not via thousands of near-identical Twitter dunks.
HARRISON: If I were doing it so wrong that I might hurt myself, I’d want someone to point that out. Otherwise, who cares?
KYLE T: Yes, I would, because I would want to do it correctly (should I ever suddenly have a burst of desire to work out), but that would almost never happen because I so rarely do them.
SETH: Sure, the same way I’d want someone to tell me if I had something on my nose
CHARLIE: I love being right but I also love pushups so that’s a complex question
CALVIN: I would want to be corrected. Improper form for bodyweight exercises can cause injury in the long run.
CHRIS: Ideally a supportive father figure would gently point it out, like William Hurt or Stanley Tucci.
KIEFO: Not so much while doing them, but upon review? Sure.
BEN: I’d want them to whisper it in my ear so that no one else can hear. Maybe they could announce “There was a phone call for you” kind of loudly first so that anyone nearby would think that I am important and probably don’t really care if I’m doing push-ups correctly.
DANIEL S: “No! Don’t help me! I’m too proud.” –Tracy Jordan
If you have seen or read Little Women, which character do you think would have the best push-up form, and why? I think Jo is the obvious answer but sometimes the obvious answer is still right.
NICK: Zero of the characters have heard of a pushup. But all the actors have perfect form. Everyone in Hollywood knows how to do a pushup and every other exercise, including ones to fight gum recession.
ISAAC: I think Jo too, although Jo seems like the kind of sui generis person who’s so far out of everyone else’s league that she decides everything she does must be highly evolved — she could easily slip into bad form because she’s not willing to listen to others. Meg takes direction better.
KYLE L: I have spent several minutes thinking this over.
CHRISTIAN: Meg would have good form, because she is the only one who truly cares about self-improvement as opposed to success.
HARRISON: I can’t remember all the Little Women’s names but the one who burned Jo’s stories has the killer instinct required for good form.
KYLE T: John Brooke (modest about it) and Jo March. Laurie, Amy, and Friedrich would have the worst form, but be the least self-aware about it
SETH: It’s definitely Jo. Amy, Beth and Meg would never
CHARLIE: I agree with you: the obvious answer often is still right. Sometimes we like to deny this, bc coming up with complex answers makes us feel smart. And ofc there are whole industries dedicated to producing false complexity and then profiting off their ability to “solve” problems of their own invention. All of which is a means to say: you’re right. It’s Jo.
CALVIN: I have never engaged with this story in any format, but I bet Bob Odenkirk can do a solid push-up.
CHRIS: As a non-American I have never read Little Women, so I just associated it with Moe Syzslak choking up over the presumably fake ending.
KIEFO: Is Jo the biggest little woman?
BEN: Laura Dern.
DANIEL S: The answer is Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin (1980).
Thank you for your time. Also, here is a video of Bob Odenkirk doing pushups, in a neat example of synergy.
[Getty Image via]