Yes, I’m talking to you Desk Jockey!
One day, I returned from vacation to find my team and office mates periodically dropping to the floor for push-ups. This was strange, to be sure, but strange diversions are not altogether uncommon in our small group of unique dynamics.
Soon enough, I succumbed to peer pressure and joined in the push-ups, which were becoming a regular part of our days. But, even though strange behavior is not uncommon in our group, I remained curious about the genesis of these shenanigans.
It turns out that our program was inspired by a larger company-wide phenomenon that we first became aware of on a conference call. During one of our daily stand-ups, we heard some unusual breathing coming over the conference phone, apparently from our operations champion in the Denver office.
After exchanging wondering looks around the room, someone ventured to ask what was going on.
“Push-up club.” was the frank answer. Apparently, there was a pushup club, and someone had issued the cue during our call! Intriguing.
We later learned that push-up club was a company-wide phenomenon that included hundreds of technical/corporate employees throughout the company, stretching from C-level execs to the leaves of the org chart. It first started around a year ago in the Social Media team, the brainchild of Noah Plumb. In the early days, it was exclusive to their team, but they had a rule that anyone from other teams could walk by and yell “GO TIME,” and the team would drop and give them five pushups.
Apparently, people like the idea of compulsory push-ups. Who knew? It sounds like boot camp to me. As word spread and more people were interested in joining, Plumb’s Social Media compatriot Alon Waisman formed an instant messenger contact list, and thus the Push-up Club was born.
The membership list quickly expanded across contingencies in our corporate offices in our three Arizona offices, Denver, CO, and Hiawatha, IA, and included participants from all levels of the organization. Before long, the membership grew beyond what the instant messenger list would accommodate. People kept the club growing by serving as proxies for localized groups.
The original push-up club encouraged members to do three sets of 20 per day (people are, of course, allowed to work up to that). Some more aggressive participants try to maximize their set counts or day totals. The “go time” notifications are sent out by the contact list master three times per day, intended to be at regular intervals: 9:30, 11:30, and 2:30.
… which explains why our poor ops guy was suddenly huffing on the phone during our 9:30 stand-up meeting.
So, the push-up club I walked into upon my return from vacation was a spin-off of this interesting phenomenon, which we adapted with our own twists. We started with four incremental sets per day: 10-15-20-25.
As it became apparent that this was going to be more than just a passing fad, we formalized our system by adding a little software automation. Our QA oracle in the room created a scheduled task running on an overhead monitor in the room. Every two hours, during core work days, the task audibly announces “Push-up Time” in a synthesized voice. People in the room are required to complete the set within a minute. We’ve even roped unwitting visitors into participating when they happen to be in the area when the command goes out!
Before long, everyone became conditioned to the incremental sets and we increased the baseline four sets of 25, yielding a cool 100 per day. But, even that can get monotonous to some extent. So, we started upping the ante: people starting increasing sets and hitting hundreds of reps per day. We also started mixing variations to bring more balance to the workout:
Under desk pull-up:
Hand stand push-ups:
Not everyone attempts all of these, but all are done by some.
There are plenty of ways to get in a quick exercise in the office setting. Just don’t get caught using poor form.
Something will be said.
Have You Gone Off the Rails?
So why am I talking about this on a tech blog? Jobs in this industry are typically extremely sedentary. I think most people recognize that this has a negative affect on our health. We sit for hours, staring at back-lit displays. The most sustained activity we get is in bouts of fevered key mashing during a troubleshooting episodes or prolific session of coding.
The push-up clubs offer a break from the chair. It’s a quick way to get a little blood flowing and it does not interrupt the workday to any great degree. The baseline set takes from 30 seconds to a minute and you return to your chair feeling invigorated. It requires nothing more than a little floor space or a desk.
Give it a try. A break from sitting is almost always a good thing. Mixing a program like this with a brisk walk over lunch gets you nicely close to a minimum recommended activity level. It could even extend your life.
Special thanks to my guest illustrator, Brent Strange.