Push-ups, Sit-ups and Sprints

When Herschel Walker was asked at the University of Georgia about his weightlifting routine, he had a curious response. He said he had never lifted a weight in his life. For those of you who do not remember Walker, he was an extremely well muscled and fast running back for the Bulldog football team in the early 80’s.

When he was asked how he got so big and fast, he responded “Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints.” He went on to say when he was a scrawny young kid of about ten, he asked a gym coach how to get bigger, stronger and faster and the coach responded with the same answer as above.

What he did not tell the young Walker is how many. So, while watching TV, Walker would do push-ups or sit-ups during the commercials. He said it got to where he was doing about 1,000 of each routine every day. Then, he would go out and do sprints until he dropped.

Walker may have been the finest high school and college football ever to play a down. When I lived in Atlanta, I saw footage of Walker in high school. It is not an exaggeration to say the majority of times he touched the ball, he scored a touchdown, often playing only 1/2 the game as the score was so lopsided. The Hall of Fame quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, said in a guest sports news appearance, wherever Walker decides to go to college, the team will be an “immediate contender for the national title.” Georgia won the national title in Walker’s freshman year and he won the Heisman Trophy for the best collegiate football player.

Walker’s pro career was successful, but he did not stand out as much as he did in high school and college. I think he came up against equally talented athletes, so the margin was smaller. His positives were his strength and speed, but pro football longevity is predicated on elusiveness as well, which he did not need as much in the amateur levels.

Nonetheless, he was a significant player. He was also very humble and polite. Let me leave you with one telling story. After his career was over, a couple was stuck in their car as it was wrecked and rolled over with smoke coming out of the hood. This large African-American man was jogging by, so he immediately went over, realized the dilemma and ripped the door open helping the couple to safety. Then he ran on once he knew they were OK.

He never said a word to anyone what he had done, until a reporter asked him about his role in helping the couple. He shyly admitted he had helped them. He was called Superman by the couple and press.

Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints. We can always better ourselves. I am not saying do 1,000 of each, but a few each day would not hurt. The key metaphor is we have the power to make ourselves better, be it through physical or mental activity. It can be as easy as doing a few push-ups or sit-ups with each commercial.

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The more I practice, the luckier I get

One of the better golfers and competitors of any era was a diminutive man from South Africa named Gary Player. He held his own against the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer winning nine major championships.

During one of his major wins, a reporter asked Player about a lucky shot Player had hit during the round that day. Player responded, “I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

This straightforward answer applies to many things in life. Whether it is golf, basketball, baseball or another sport the more you practice the luckier you will get. But, it applies to music, art, school and work. The more time you practice, the luckier the outcome.

Golf is as good a metaphor of life as there is. In essence, playing golf is managing your mistakes. By practicing, the mistakes are narrowed. In other words, you can more easily find your golf ball in the realm of play after a shot the more you practice.

Very few golfers practice like Vijay Singh. Singh was a very good player, but made himself a great player through outlasting anyone on the practice tee. Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy winning football player made himself bigger and faster by doing over a thousand sit-ups, push-ups and wind sprints each day. That is not a misprint. Larry Bird made himself a better shooter by shooting countless shots  after team practice.

Per Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers,” The Beatles became better musicians by playing seven sets, six nights a week in Hamburg, Germany. To keep their sanity, The Beatles had to learn and play new songs.  Joe Walsh, who had many hits as an excellent guitarist and member of The Eagles said, the more you play the less awful you become.

So, practice and practice some more. You may get luckier or, at least, become less awful.

The bane of my youth – stadium trips, line drills and gassers

People who have participated in high school sports will likely know these terms, even if they referenced them differently. While my children are more artistic and musical than me, I spent my youth on some ball field or gym floor. So, I became well acquainted with training tools known as “stadium trips,” “line drills” and “gassers.”

Stadium trips required concentration, as you did not want to fall (which I did), especially coming down. At the end of practice for cross-country or before a football season might start, we would be required to run up and down the bleachers of the stadium. If you think about most high school fields, the stadiums are fifty or sixty rows high. So, a stadium trip would constitute one run up and one run down. A coach might say do 30 stadium trips and then hit the showers, e.g. This would be a phrase you would learn to love and hate. The hate part is obvious. The love part is you knew practice would be over.

The same could be said for line drills. They usually were done at the end of basketball practice, so you knew it would soon be over. Line drills are, in essence, a series of growing sprints from the baseline (end of the court) to the closest foul line and back, then to half court and back, then to the other foul line and back and finally to the other baseline and back. The key to making good time is to slide into the line and using your hands to set yourself back up and return. It was not uncommon for the coach to make it a contest, where the winner of each line drill would get to leave the court sooner. So, the key would be to win early.

But, nothing was as bad as something we called gassers. I mentioned these before, but when training for cross-country, after running a three-mile practice run, we would rest and then end practice with gassers designed to make you faster. For my foreign readers who are on the metric system, please forgive the reference to yards. We would start with two 880s (twice around the track), then do four 440s, and finish with eight 220s. The 220s would be killers as you would round the turn and feel like someone slapped you as you finished each race. Living in Florida, I vividly recall awakening in the middle of the night to cramps in my legs, with my parents running into the room to see what was all the fuss.

So, remember these survival tips. Pay attention on the downward half of a stadium trip, slide into the lines on line drills, and drink water before and after gassers.