There was an article in the NY Times today about pushups.
An Enduring Measure of Fitness: The Simple Push-Up
It was explaining that:
The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness. It tests the whole body, engaging muscle groups in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. It requires the body to be taut like a plank with toes and palms on the floor. The act of lifting and lowering one’s entire weight is taxing even for the very fit.
“You are just using your own body and your body’s weight,” said Steven G. Estes, a physical education professor and dean of the college of professional studies at Missouri Western State University. “If you’re going to demonstrate any kind of physical strength and power, that’s the easiest, simplest, fastest way to do it.”
Now I wouldn't say that they are the ultimate measure of fitness - I think fitness is a bit more complex. However it was what the article went on to say that interested me.
Push-ups are important for older people, too. The ability to do them more than once and with proper form is an important indicator of the capacity to withstand the rigors of aging.
Researchers who study the biomechanics of aging, for instance, note that push-ups can provide the strength and muscle memory to reach out and break a fall. When people fall forward, they typically reach out to catch themselves, ending in a move that mimics the push-up. The hands hit the ground, the wrists and arms absorb much of the impact, and the elbows bend slightly to reduce the force.
In studies of falling, researchers have shown that the wrist alone is subjected to an impact force equal to about one body weight, says James Ashton-Miller, director of the biomechanics research laboratory at the University of Michigan.
“What so many people really need to do is develop enough strength so they can break a fall safely without hitting their head on the ground,” Dr. Ashton-Miller said. “If you can’t do a single push-up, it’s going to be difficult to resist that kind of loading on your wrists in a fall.”
And people who can’t do a push-up may not be able to help themselves up if they do fall.
“To get up, you’ve got to have upper-body strength,” said Peter M. McGinnis, professor of kinesiology at State University of New York College at Cortland who consults on pole-vaulting biomechanics for U.S.A. Track and Field, the national governing body for track.
Natural aging causes nerves to die off and muscles to weaken. People lose as much as 30 percent of their strength between 20 and 70. But regular exercise enlarges muscle fibers and can stave off the decline by increasing the strength of the muscle you have left.
It is this idea again of functional fitness. I've spoken about it before in terms of the importance of balance training as we get older in order to prevent falls. Here is another side to the coin - if you do fall you need to be able to break the fall and to get yourself up again. This is what training is really about - being fit for real life, being able to look after yourself.