World Record for Non-Stop Push-Ups

RECORD HISTORY

 6,006 Charles Linster (USA)     05-Oct-1965
7,026 Robert Louis Knecht (USA) 05-Feb-1976
7,650 Henry C. Marshal (USA) 01-Sep-1977
10,507 Minoru Yoshida (JAP) Oct-1980

Our club member Charles Linster was the first Guinness record holder in this category. The push-ups had to be performed non-stop, once the front leaning rest position is no longer maintained, the exercise is over. Later the Guinness editors dropped this category from their book. They changed the standard from most consecutive push-ups to the most in 24 hours leaving it up to the athlete how many rest breaks he will use and how long those rest breaks will last. However, the non-stop category will always remain the "true" record for push-ups.

Here you can read the interesting story behind Charles Linster's record:

ULYSSES' YIELD

(read also "The Godfathter of Pushups" by Charles Linster)

Copyright Charles Linster (500 W. Belmont Ave. Apt. 5-C Chicago, IL 60657 USA, chick9@ameritech.net) 1992, 1999

One evening, I asked my eldest daughter how her homework was coming along. "Terrible," she said, "I have to read the Odyssey. Of what relevance is a story about some Greek who was supposed to have lived thousands of years ago to me today?" I picked up her copy of the Immortal Bard's epic poem and fondly remembered when I had read it as a high school freshman more than 30 years earlier. But while I had always enjoyed mythology, my daughter was no fan of Hellenic legend. In an attempt to motivate her with this assignment, I told her, "Sherri, although I didn't know it at the time, this book showed me how to set a world record and gave me a new lease on life. If you'd read it with an open mind, it just might do you some of the good it did me." To prove my claim, I told her the story of my odyssey.

When I entered New Trier in 1963, I was well aware of its reputation as the "Harvard of High Schools" because of its lofty academic standards and the achievements of its students. Many considered the school's crown jewel to be its English Department. Incoming freshman cut their teeth on the Odyssey, and my love of mythology made this assignment one of my more enjoyable school tasks.

But we were taught more than the Homeric account of Odysseus' return to Ithaca from Troy. In every myth lay some grains of truth. Some of those facts I verified in my Ancient World History class. I read of Heinrich Schliemann's excavations in Asia Minor during the late Nineteenth Century where several "Troys" were unearthed. I was also taught that the men who destroyed those cities were the ancestors of the people who established the Greek civilization. Odysseus personified those men. When Rome conquered Greece, the story of the clever Greek gained a wider audience and he became better known by his Latin name, Ulysses.

I read other books in English and studied other peoples in history, but I never forgot the Odyssey. What made it unforgettable to me was the drive that compelled Ulysses to overcome insurmountable obstacles on a ten- year voyage home after fighting a decade-long war. Was his compulsion fictional like the poem or was Homer aware of some force that explained this extraordinary drive? I didn't know but hoped that one day I would find the answer to my question.

New Trier not only taxed the minds of its students but their bodies as well. Physical education exposed pupils to a variety of sports and other physical endeavors. I enjoyed gym because I had always been athletically inclined and had established a daily physical fitness program consisting of five calisthenic exercises. After eight months I had become quite proficient in the push-up.

Students were tested annually in five physical fitness tests, one of which was the push-up. Since my personal best was 200, I felt confident that I could break the school record. When tested, however, I performed only 123 push-ups, four shy of a new standard. The classmate who counted my total sensed my disappointment and suggested that I lighten up because I had just proved that push-ups were as simple as one, two, three. Outwardly, I smiled at his joke but inwardly I had become a push-up perfectionist and felt that I had failed.

Solace was found in the words of Jascha Heifetz, the concert violinist, who said, "There is no such thing as perfection, there are only standards. And after you have set a standard you learn that it was not high enough. You want to surpass it." In an effort to be able to perform calisthenic totals close to my personal bests anytime, I established daily minimum repetitions for all of my exercises and began to increase those minimums.

Late that fall and the following winter, I tried out for and earned positions on both of New Trier's Freshman and Sophomore Gymnastic Squads. During a January practice, a member of the varsity team told me that he didn't believe my push-up total and challenged me to perform 100. Picking up the gauntlet, I made a believer out of him. Successfully meeting this challenge energized me. Still flush with victory and feeling especially "good" during my workout the next day, I performed 222 push-ups. Twenty-four hours later, I still felt "good" and shattered my performance of the day before by ticking off 333 push-ups. Two weeks later, the "good" feeling returned and I executed 444.Charles Linster (JPG, 6 kB)

I owed my January push-up records to Heifetz's maxim of raising standards. Every day I performed at least one more push-up than the day before. I was like a mountain climber, using these minimums as "base camps" from which I could launch new push-up heights when feeling "good." But the greatest result of my three new personal bests was the breaking of a psychological barrier. Until that time, I was convinced that records could only be broken by small increments. By more than doubling my personal record in less than three weeks, I knew that I didn't have to settle for being merely good at the push-up, I could be great.

How great was an open question. The summer before, I read the Guinness Book of World Records. I found that the book listed records for two of my exercises, sit-ups and chin-ups, but not push-ups. I did, however, have an inkling of what that record was. Several years before while watching the TV show "People are Funny," one of the guests was the world push-up champion who had set a standard of 3,000. I set my sights at exceeding that number and dreamed of my name in the Guinness Book. By the spring, my daily workouts consumed so much of my time that I decided not to go out for the track and field team as a pole vaulter. But my sacrifice of this sport was not in vain. I kept raising the base number of push-ups I performed daily and waited for days when I felt "good" to set new records. By the end of my freshman year, my personal best stood at 2,002 push-ups.

On a day in late July, I executed 3,003 push-ups. But my dream for inclusion in the Guinness Book was dashed. After mentioning my achievement to a friend, he informed me that a Marine had performed 5,000 push-ups. So it was back to completing at least one more push-up than the day before. More than a year passed before the "good" feeling returned. In late August 1965, I performed 4,004 push-ups. The "good" feeling returned four days later and I executed 5,005. Barring some new revelation, I was the world's unofficial push-up champion. Now it was time to put it all together, a record-breaking effort in front of witnesses to make it official.

I decided to go for it during the physical fitness tests administered at school. The year before, I performed 1,000 push-ups, the most I could squeeze into a gym period. This time, I had obtained permission to sign out of a last period study hall and finish the test after school.

On October 5, 1965, I reported to the gym for my junior year push-up test. As I stretched out on a mat, I felt a bit apprehensive. Up until that time, all of my personal best efforts hadn't been planned but rather took place on days that I felt "good." I asked myself, "Can I make this day 'good'?"

After three hours of continuous exercise, my fears had proven groundless. I passed my personal best of 5,005 push-ups and felt so "good" that only the sky was the limit. However, at 5,900, the test administrator informed me that he would stop the exam when I reached my pre-test target of 6,006. For the next fifty push-ups, I pleaded with him to let me continue. But as the responsible adult in charge, he wanted to be sure that I wasn't doing something physically damaging to myself without knowing it. If I didn't stop, he'd sit on me to ensure test termination.

After performing my 6,006th push-up, I stopped and received a round of applause from an audience of about twenty students. The test administrator announced that he was reporting my feat to the newspapers and that any future record-breaking effort by me would have to be monitored by a medical doctor. When I arrived home, dinner had already been served so I ate alone. While dining, I thought about what I had just accomplished.

I had succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Deep in my heart, I knew that every drop of sweat, every hour of training, and every personal sacrifice I had made to achieve this record had been worth it. I was on top of the world and I liked the view. As Christmas grew near, I began planning to break my own record. After all, I had been stopped when I knew I could do more. Push-ups had become an obsession. Heifetz was right, even though my standard was now the best in the world, it wasn't enough. I felt that I had to surpass it.

To achieve that new standard, I'd need a "good" day, witnesses, and medical supervision. But my quest to discover the limit for my favorite exercise was never realized. Sixty-nine days after breaking the world push-up record, I broke something else, my neck, during a gymnastics practice and was permanently paralyzed.

As I lay in my hospital bed, I looked toward the future and saw only darkness. The body I had worked so long and hard to develop now failed to respond to my commands and imprisoned me. I worried that I would never be able to work or take care of myself and would be a burden on my family. Fears that I might die were replaced by the dread that I would live.

But while my body was shattered, my spirit, although badly bruised, was still intact. I decided to fight back and redirected the effort that had made me a champion toward the arduous task I hoped would lead to my physical independence.

During my rehabilitation, I harkened back to my quest for the push-up record when the going got rough. Knowing that I was capable of achieving what other people considered impossible, I did all that was asked of me and more. I lived in a world of three colors. Black represented the things I couldn't do, white the activities I could. Between these two tones were many shades of gray. I concentrated on this tint and through trial and error discovered what was truly light and dark. While doing so, I brightened my world to an extent that surprised my doctors, nurses, therapists, and me.

When I saw my name in the 1968 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, my spirit was buoyed and I worked even harder. When the next edition came out two years later, my situation had greatly improved and I was attending the University of Illinois.

In 1973, I graduated, married, and continued my education. Two years later, I began a career as a federal civil servant. Shortly after, I was informed that my record had been broken. I wrote to Guinness for confirmation and my letter was forwarded to Robert Knecht, a professional acrobat. He answered my letter by stating that he had trained for eight years to perform 7,026 consecutive push-ups. "My hat is off to you," he wrote, "Your record was a tough one to beat."

Sherri interrupted and said that while my story was interesting, I hadn't told her how reading the Odyssey helped me set my record or gave me a new lease on life. I responded by asking her what question did I ask myself as a high school freshman. When she answered, "what motivated Ulysses," I told her of a book I had read several years earlier, The Ulysses Factor by J.R.L. Anderson. It was the author's premise that "There is some factor in man, some form of special adaptation which prompts a few individuals to exploits which, however purposeless that they may seem, are of value to the survival of the race." Anderson had found that the grain of truth to the Odyssey was that Homer knew that in the soul of man there is a factor driving him to firsthand discovery. Although this factor is present in all humans, it is highly developed in only a few. In times of trouble, those few lead themselves and others to safety.

Homer personified this factor in the character of Ulysses. The hero of the Odyssey wasn't driven around the Mediterranean by the whim of the gods alone. He drove himself. Once committed to the fight, there was no stopping him. Even though he was eager to return home, he had to know what was across the sea, over a range of hills, and beyond the horizon. History proved Homer correct. Conquerors and explorers who followed were also driven by this force that compelled them to unveil the unknown.

After all the seas were crossed and the land was explored, men invented new challenges to satisfy this compulsion. Some explored the polar regions, climbed mountains, and sailed across the oceans alone in small boats. Others were athletes who prepared their bodies and minds to new extremes.

I was such an athlete. At first all I wanted to do was to improve my physical condition. As my fitness program continued, I discovered that I had a propensity for the push-up. I didn't know what my physical limit for this exercise was, but I simply had to find out.

While seeking that limit, I surpassed all who had come before me. A catastrophic injury put an end to my quest, and I was never able to find my limit. Disappointed, I nevertheless was consoled by the fact that I am one of the few who objectively knows that he'd done something better than it's ever been done before. For ten years and four months no one performed more push-ups than I had.

Eventually, my record would have been broken no matter how many push-ups I would have done. I was touched by the Ulysses factor but Robert was too. Someone will always be waiting in the wings who has trained harder, longer, and wants the record more.

But in the greater scheme of things, it really doesn't matter who can do the most push-ups. What is important is what I derived from the quest. I discovered and cultivated the virtues of discipline, sacrifice, and perseverance within me while pursuing a dream. Shortly after achieving that dream, I found myself engulfed in a nightmare. But the survival component of the Ulysses factor, that leads people to safety in times of trouble, came to my rescue. Had I known in advance that I was going to break my neck, I couldn't have prepared myself better for the demanding task of rehabilitation than to train for the world push-up record. I strove, sought, and found, but unlike Tennyson's Ulysses, my quest yielded me the fortitude I needed to rehabilitate myself to complete independence. My story inspired Sherri to the extent that she read the Odyssey with enough comprehension to pass her English teacher's test. Should her little sister Katie need similar inspiration when she is assigned to read the Odyssey, I'll repeat my story. While it's too early to know whether my daughters will set any records, I hope that they'll give their best efforts to those things that are truly important to them and find within themselves the strength to persevere.

During my life, I have fought many battles, winning some while losing others. After a loss, I still remember the moment when I stood on top of the world. That one act proved to me what I was capable of if I set my mind, body, and spirit to it. It has fortified me to go on fighting battles. The experience has stood me in good stead, because the very essence of the independent life I fought so hard to regain is struggle. The founder of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, equated those contests to life when he said, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle." My greatest hope is that during my final battle I will be able to look back on my life and know in my heart that I struggled well.

Charles Linster with his daughters (JPG, 35 kB)
Charles Linster with his daughters

The Godfather of Pushups by Charles Linster,
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