Like most things we do with our bodies, push-ups are half physical, half mental. We need muscles to push ourselves up from the ground, and a good strategy to keep going or even to get started in the first place. While we all know why we need our muscles, most of us are not familiar with the mental aspect of our performance. These two parts combine to make a performance successful:

1) The mental part – represented by the right strategy (inside);

2) The physical aspect – determined by the perfect setting (outside).

Your strategy is directly related to how you think and feel about yourself. That strategy consists of how you perform. The settings are determined by where you perform, and the equipment you use to perform (gear, audience, environment, etc.) To have a successful performance, you need to have the right strategy and the perfect setting. That is the reason why World and Olympic records are not broken in training. They are broken only in world-class competitions, and most of them in the finals.

Here’s an example of how that works: A few years ago, we had a push-up competition among the trainers at Results Gym in Sherman Oaks, CA. I offered to go first. My strategy was to do as many as I could, but not to the point of exhaustion. I had planned to stop right before I couldn’t do anymore. My structure was to do blocks of ten push-ups, then five, then blocks of fours, threes, two’s, and finally one push-up at a time until I could no longer push myself off the floor. The setting was the competition itself, the audience, and the other competitors. With that plan in mind, I was able to achieve my personal best – 166 pus-ups. However, the pound-per-pound strongest competitor by far, one of my trainers, had a different approach and ended up among the last competitors with fewer than 75 push-ups. Once I saw his strategy, I wasn’t surprised by his results. On that particular day, he had the right setting, but the wrong strategy. Baffled by his performance, he vowed to do more than everyone else after a few day’s rest. I warned him that next time we would do even fewer push-ups because there wouldn’t be anyone in the gym besides him and me. I was right. Although the next time he indeed had a better strategy, there was no energy in the room to help him achieve a personal record. This time, he only did 67 push-ups.

The moral of the story:

Just like a trampoline giving us a boost or the opposite, our mind can act just like quicksand, causing us to slow down, or even to choke. The combination of our strategy and the settings in which we perform dictate the outcome and the results we achieve.

Now, let’s look at the general population. What would most people say if you asked them to do, let’s say, ten push-ups? The answer would be: “I can’t.”  Most people immediately presume that they need to perform in a certain way – usually better, faster, and longer than they actually can.  Those same people would give you the same answer if you asked them to run ten miles, swim ten laps, lift weights, or if you asked them to cook a gourmet meal, build a shelf, fight a burglar, or survive three days without food.  They would, because we all believe we “know” how things need to get done and how we expect to feel.

We get our ideas from reading, research on the internet, social media, seeing others perform on stage, live events, or even by just hearing others talk about those ideas. These ideas turn into the voices in our heads telling us about the world around us – what we need to fit in, how to speak, act, walk, run, or perform. These voices tell us whether we can or cannot do things based upon how we feel about ourselves. However, when these voices tell us what to do and how to do it, they don’t choose as a reference an average male or female of the same age in similar physical shape. Oh, no. We always compare ourselves and our performance to someone faster, stronger, leaner, and better than we are. We apply this to every new task.  I don’t blame the average person for not wanting to even get out of bed to attempt measuring up against a world class athlete! I wouldn’t either! Our minds play tricks on us if we’re not careful. But it doesn’t have to be this way.  The rules are tight and strict, and not to our advantage. We religiously obey them. Our expectations act as prison walls keeping our dreams and goals outside. These walls obstruct our movement and prevent us from taking a deep breath. That explains why most of us don’t even attempt to do the ten push-ups or run, not ten miles, but even one. We don’t, because we run out of breath prematurely and don’t trust our bodies to takes us there.

Without proper mental training, our psyche will always bet on someone else to win first place – or the race against ourselves. If we want to achieve more of our goals, we need to be flexible with our expectations. Therefore, when it comes to doing push-ups, instead of comparing yourself with a pro athlete, how about starting to modify the number of push-ups to fit your own fitness level? Instead of trying to run a mile faster than you can, how about walking that mile? Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Set small goals and do as much as you can at the beginning of your journey. Raise the bar just high enough for you to reach it. Have the right approach and the proper settings when you go after your goals, and watch your dreams become a reality.

Let this story inspire you to gear up and start going after your goals. Take control of your mind, and your body will follow.

Thank you and wishing you the best of luck


Leo Frincu is a world wrestling champion, author, speaker and performance coach for business leaders and athletes worldwide. To learn more about his training philosophy, check out his latest book, “WELCOME HOME, 3 Simple Steps On How To Reach Your Highest Potential,” available on Amazon and iBooks.