Burpee Challenge: Reflections and reboot

The idea of my burpee challenge is pretty old. I began training for it back in August, and finally started the project in September. In the very first week, I missed a day, and–without posting here–figured I’d restart the one-week challenge.

I managed three weeks on the terms of getting a total of 300 burpees per week (50 burpees per day for six days). I missed the occasional day, but then did two sets the next day. Once, I even managed a long, drawn-out set of a hundred.

I got stronger. I began to enjoy the middle few burpees–after warming up, before beginning to be exhausted–and started wondering what I would do after the challenge. After all, this doesn’t seem like something that would turn into a lifestyle.

Then, last week got crazy and I missed three days. I kept the running tally of the burpees I still had to do, but realized I wasn’t going to catch up.

So, because the challenge is six weeks of six days, I’m starting again. I’m not giving up, yet. There is something to be gained from the burpees, and I’m enjoying the feeling of strength I get from them.

So, here we go again…

The burpee project begins!

I decided that September would start the burpee project. For a while, I was pretty consistent with fifty burpees a day — at least every other day — but told myself that I was just warming up.

At some point, however, it seems logical that the experiment had to begin. And, with September starting on a Sunday, that seemed like a happy coincidence. The burpee experiment starts in September.

Here it is:

  • 50 burpees per day
  • 6 days a week
  • (Or the equivalent)
  • 6 weeks

What’s an equivalent?

To give myself some flexibility, the basic goal is 300 burpees per week. I’ll count a week as successful if I do three days at 100 burpees each. Or even if I do 300 burpees in one day (not today, thank you!).

The idea here is that I am afraid I’ll miss a day and then lose motivation because I “screwed everything up.” So, this gives me the chance to fix my mistakes.

Starting data

I should have timed myself doing 50 burpees. I haven’t, but now that I’m writing, that seems like the kind of data that would be interesting to keep track of. I do know that I was 106.9 kg at the beginning of this week and that I’m both eating and drinking less than usual at the moment. It’s a little unfortunate, because it will be hard to know if the burpees or the reduced calorie intake has the most impact.

Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing the data at the end.

The burpee experiment

I have an infatuation with burpees. Along with pull-ups and rope climbing, they’re the exercise that has the most mystique. In fact, maybe I like them most because I can actually do at least a few burpees at a time. (I can do a single pull-up, I cannot climb a rope… the kids play on the one I hung in the tree outside.)

A month or so ago, I watched this video.

You can guess what happened.

Naturally I didn’t think I was up for kicking into fifty burpees a day right away. I’m getting older and I’m very afraid of hurting myself. But I did go right out and do a total of fifty burpees in who knows how many sets.

And I felt it the next day, just like I expected to.

So I took a day off. And I started writing down when I did the burpees.

It felt good to see the list grow and occasionally calculate how many I’d done in total.

Being on vacation, burpees were a great exercise to feel like I was getting something done without checking out from the family for an hour for a long run (with the consequence that I now have to break back into running).

My goal: Do fifty burpees six times a week for six weeks, starting in September. I’ve had goals like this before, but we’ll see.

Every day is better than occasionally

This might seem like an obvious statement to make — especially regarding fitness — but I’ve learned that every day is better than three or four times per week.

I’m still not in a routine that ‘just fits’ or a routine that I can’t imagine not doing. I’d like to get there, but, for me, exercise is a thing that I consciously choose to do because I know what it can do for me afterward.

And I struggle with making it a routine.

Enter, the idea of every day. For a while now, I’ve been using a 4-week challenge app on my phone as my ‘strength training.’ In fact, I’m restarting the challenge for the second time (I’ve been through it at the first to levels of difficulty.)

My January activity

You don’t need to open a dictionary to know that ‘every day’ means something different from what I accomplished in January. But, in January exercising four times a week — my old stretch goal — was a bad week.

I think that counts for something.

Even more, I’ve been feeling the changes to my own body, which is a nice thing to be able to report.

I still have the beer belly (“gas tank for a sex machine!”) that I want to get rid of, and I’m not pushing the scale much. But, when I hold my increasingly heavy kids, I can feel my core is stronger. Back pain has become so rare that, when it does rear its ugly head, I almost always realize “hmm, yeah, I haven’t exercised this week like I should.” (And that means that there’s a sort of positive-reward cycle that encourages me to exercise.)

In fact, as I’m going through the challenge again for the third and last time, I’m starting to wonder where I’m going to find my next every-day workout routine. The app I’m using (here, in the Google Store) offers workouts tailored to individual muscle groups “shoulders and back” and “chest and arms” or whatever. So, that’s the logical starting point, but I’ve been enjoying the simplicity of knowing that I have to free up a bit of time, start the app, and just do what it says.

So, we’ll see what happens when I ‘graduate’ out of the challenge.

I do get a bit of motivation out of these stats… 1100 minutes (18 hours)

In pursuit of failure

“Fail forward” is a sort of mantra in the startup world. (Or, that’s how it seems, watching that world from the outside.) The idea, as I get it, is that you have to fail often and fail fast, as long as you learn from your failures and get up meaner and leaner for your next adventure.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.

I guess that what I mean could be called muscle failure. But I think it’s more than that.

Back it up a bit

I guess that today’s The Obstacle is the Way chapter on Building Your Inner Citadel got me thinking about something that haunts me periodically: my own troubled relationship with willpower. And, perhaps, my weird linking of willpower with manhood.

This will be a disjointed blog post.

The fact of the matter is, I don’t know if I’ve ever reached muscle failure. I mean, I’ve collapsed after a set of push-ups. But, as I stood back up, I’ve been haunted by the fact that I might have been able to do a few more push-ups, if I’d really tried. After all, push-ups seldom are connected to any real consequences.

Fun random aside:

One of my father’s favorite stories from the Army was in some training camp or other where he was the platoon leader, and there were only enough truck to transport two of the three platoons back to the barracks. One platoon was going to have to march.

The way the seargents on the scene decided to allocate the trucks was to have the platoon leaders compete doing push-ups. “I knew I didn’t have to win,” my father always says in this story, “I just couldn’t lose.”

According to the legend, he did over a hundred push-ups in this story. I’ve never done that many push-ups, and I often wonder if I would have the mental fortitude to really push myself, if I had to.

So, I wonder, is there a way I can engineer my own muscle failure. Can I set myself up to try hard at things and fail, knowing I’ll come away stronger and wiser? (Or with a reinforced Inner Citadel, whatever that means.)

I don’t know.

The Army Combat Fitness Test

Part of what’s got me thinking like this is the news that the U.S. Army is introducing a new physical fitness test. Up until I stopped doing sit-ups (word on the street has it they’re bad for your back) I’ve been silently measuring myself against the existing Army Physical Fitness Test. After all, my first encounter with the idea of ‘minimal fitness’ was with the Army, and it’s nice to know (or think) “I could check all those boxes. I am fit.”

The new test may or may not be an improvement over the old test. What it is, though, is a departure from the days when I could do the exercises at home and say “Yup, that was enough push-ups.” or “I smoked my old two-mile run time.”

Conclusion

I don’t know if there is a conclusion. The point is, I wonder about my ability to push myself until my body simply doesn’t have more to give. I get that I’ll probably never need to do that.

But I want to know that I can. And I don’t know how to teach myself that.

A headstand is also a burpee

This post could be titled “Burpee challenge, modified” and is inspired — like the whole burpee challenge thing, by a post on lifehacker. In this case, it was a post about getting a hundred burpees done.

How things are now

I still do burpees most days. Following my initial math, I worked up to sets of ten, by managing to get twenty done in two minutes.

The thing is, it’s not as fun as it once was, and I’m not seeing improvement. I get at least one burpee done (the old minimum) at least six days a week. And on one day, I managed seven sets of nine — in competition with my daughter who takes some liberties with form.

Still, I’m feeling more and more like I’m plateauing. The number of burpees I can do is not going up. I’m not getting more pull-ups done in a single set. And, adding burpees to my runs (the kill-two-birds-with-one-trip-outside strategy) means that I seldom run much more than a kilometer without a ‘break.’ (To be honest, the running feels like a break.)

How I want things to be

I don’t have a clear answer. I want to get back to feeling like I’m getting stronger, to being proud of my workouts, rather than just getting them out of the way.

I genuinely want to feel stronger.

A good fitness memory

Here’s a thing we did not long ago that made all of this seem a little more worthwhile: getting the kids outside (one of my biggest summer priorities) we found an oak tree that had a lot of branches that we could reach. Of course, we climbed it.

I haven’t spent much time in a tree in a while — though that is a long-term goal — and was surprised to see how effortless it seemed to about using my arms and shoulders to support a lot of my weight. I wasn’t doing insane rock-climbing stuff, and there was still a lot of weight on my legs.

None of those caveats, though, takes away from the feeling I had — not much more than two meters in the air — of being somehow stronger than I was used to being. And being strong enough to help my kids climb.

I loved that.

You can bet we’ve been back to that tree — and others, though that’s the one that seems to need my arms the most — often, as much for my benefit as for theirs.

So, here’s what I guess I want: to continue doing workouts that impress me (without injury, I might add!) and to have more of those moments of relative strength.

The way forward

I don’t know what the way forward is. Often, I make these posts after I’ve come up with an idea I want to try. Instead, I wanted to make a record of how things stand right now.

There is one change I’m making now, as I look at how to continue this fitness adventure. And, unfortunately, it revolves around an experience I had in which I felt less strong: headstands.

There was a time when my sister and I had a competition to see who could do the longest headstands. I could count to twelve and back down while standing pretty reliably on my head (not, I should add, my hands). It was one of those things that made me feel strong.

And then back hurt and I got into planks, and from planks into burpees.

Then, recently, my daughter has become interested in headstands, handstands, cartwheels, the like. And she asked me if I could still do a headstand (she’d seen them)… and it was hard. I got my legs in the air, but not with the confidence I’d had before.

So, I guess I’m going back to doing headstands. And that’s okay. I’ve just rationalized that I’ll try to substitute headstands for burpees on those days when I’ve realized I haven’t done enough burpees.

Maybe I’ll join my daughter in her handstand/cartwheel goals.

 

The slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip

It’s been hot here. Really, really hot.

I’m not complaining — I’ll take heat over cold any day — but it’s been the kind of weather that makes all movement a sweat-soaked enterprise.

But, I ran. I’m a runner, and runners run. (In addition to me prioritizing exercise as a superpower.) But I didn’t run fast.

The Wednesday speedwork was just a slow run with burpees in the shade. Friday’s mid-distance run was just a simple 5k with more burpees.

But, I ran.

I’m a big believer that the perfect is the enemy of the good. And, as an extrapolation of that, the slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip.