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Push-ups, Pyramids, and You

July 20, 2015

 

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built around 2500 BC. Its individual stone blocks weigh up to 50 tons, and its base contains roughly 2,300,000 blocks, measuring 592,000 square feet. This combined with its height, 481 feet, would be enough to earn the pyramid a spot on the Seventh Wonders of the World, but it's even more impressive at second glance.

 

The ancient Egyptians installed the pyramid's cornerstones in a special ball and socket configuration, allowing it to flex slightly in case of an earthquake. Indeed, the structure survived just such a quake in the 14th century, although the tremors loosened its smooth outer covering, which is mostly no longer with us. (Some believe the local population took advantage of the freed stones, carting them away for a variety of purposes. Who wouldn't want a pyramid souvenir?)

 

When that limestone facade was intact and polished to a full shine, it would have been so bright that some have theorized it would be visible as a twinkly dot from the moon. Scholars believe it took over 20 years to build, and an army of workers that totaled somewhere between 14,000 to 300,000, depending who you want to believe.

 

The pyramid was built so that each side aligns with one of the four cardinal directions, with such precision that it's only 3/60th of a degree off. Even with modern equipment, this is a remarkable feat.

 

And perhaps the most remarkable feat of all: 4500 years later, it's still here.

 

And now for another kind of pyramid, one designed to build your core muscles and help out your brain. I'm talking about—drum roll, please—a push-up pyramid. It may not be as exciting as the one at Giza, but it's far more accessible for most of us, and it can have quite an impact.

 

You might be surprised to hear this, but strength training is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do for your brain, according to John J. Ratey, psychiatrist and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Developing your muscles can increase your cognitive skills and reduce your chances of dementia.

 

A push-up pyramid works like this: do one push-up and then sit back on your heels and rest for three seconds. Then do two and sit back on your heels for another three seconds. Add a third push-up next time, and rest in the same way. Continue this pattern all the way up to ten push-ups, and then all the way back down. If you counted correctly, you've knocked off a total of 100 push-ups.

 

If you aren't much of a weightlifter, this may sound like a Giza-sized goal. The thought is not to start out with an entire pyramid, but to simply do as many as you can, and then take a day's break. The priority is to use good form and take your time. As you get stronger, you can work your way up to that 100.

 

If even one push-up eludes you, start off by doing push-ups off your knees instead of your toes.

 

It's a slow process. Nobody would ever say pyramids were easy—least of all those workers at Giza, operating without such flashy modern technology as the wheel. Still, history shows they were successful.

 

When working on your own push-up pyramid, here are five building tips we can take from the ancient engineers of Egypt.

 

1. Build with a clear goal.

2. Build up your base first.

3. Build slowly and incrementally.

4. Build with an eye towards perfection.

5. Build with the future in mind.

 

So tomorrow morning, you might consider dragging yourself out of bed and getting to work. And the good news is, in this case, it only takes an army of one.

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