Like a lot of folks who did the Spartan Burpee Challenge this past summer, I found myself glad to break up daily quotas of burpees with other exercises. Kettlebells, squats, dumbbell moves. Anything to break up the monotony and stress that long strings of burpees reek.
Yet often my daily schedule was a challenge (2 little kids; hard work commute; etc) and so I had to just do the 200 burpees (my 6000-burpees-in-30-days goal demanded) straight.
I learned something things about myself I think. I learned some tricks about how to Zen your way through such tasks.
That said, I felt compelled to write down the ups and downs I typically experienced in doing 200 burpees straight with no rest intervals or runs or other exercises or breaks of any kind. I did them slowly and steadily, one after the other after the other after the other.
This is what it was like:
Journey Through 200 Straight Burpees: What I felt. What I thought.
For the hour before the workout I felt bleak. A little nervous. Even if I wasn't directly thinking about the burpee workout, the stress persisted. I knew it was coming. So I felt a little bleak. Condemned is a good word.
0-25 burpees. The dread continues. Through desperation, I have trained my mind to only think about burpees in batches of ten. And in the late part of a workout, just 5 at a time. Or 3. Or less. This trick doesn’t work as well for the first 25, but I try to do it.
25-40. Acceptance starts to creep in. The noun ‘endlessness’ comes to mind and I just shrug and give myself in the new reality of my existence. A combo of annoyed boredom and the startled physical panic that comes from ramping up various and cranky energy systems. I'm like a car that has been sitting in the driveway through a below-zero-temperature night and I've just turned the ignition and hit the gas. This is the hardest part of the workout, I think.
40-50. Things brighten. Slightly. For one, I have warmed up a little bit so it doesn't feel so unnatural. Two, I feel like I've made some actual progress. This is how I feel: Like after a rain and standing around a soggy pile of campfire wood, being able to light a match. The idea that I will have a quarter of the work done reminds me that this workout will end.
50-60. Of course 25% finished means there’s still 75% to go. 150 burpees more. A fog rolls back in. I think in terms of the next five burpees and try to jam all additional thoughts and internal commentary.
60-65. I can see on the horizon that I will be at 75 repetitions and from there I’ll be able to envision the land of triple digits and having 100 done.
65-90. I feel happy now sort of.
90-95. Recriminations for letting myself feel happy between 65-90. The last 10 of the first 100 seem to take a lot longer than the first 10.
95-100. Slow-motion now. Like I’m on a planet denser than Earth, with 2x the gravity. But it's not a lovely planet like Earth. It's like a planet made of gray iron where nothing can grow on it.
100-110. A sort of gloomy acceptance of my fate takes hold. Acceptance. Acceptance of the tedium of doing burpees. Acceptance that there is no adaption to burpees like you get in running—like that deep down joy that being on a trail run can bring when you’re fit. Long sets of burpees make me think of the scene in David Foster Wallace’s last novel where he depicts what it’s like to process tax returns at the IRS.
110-125. In an attempt to make it all pass I try to stop thinking about the count and focus on form. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t really work.
125-150. I notice I’m breathing hard. And there’s really nothing to be done about it.
150-175. I don’t feel good. But I do feel a ray of hope. Like you’ve driven across the country from LA to New York City and you’re in Ohio. A lot of road behind you. But there’s still a ways to go.
175-190. This is generally where my form caves in on itself. The upshot is that by concentrating on not letting my core droop at the bottom of the pushup, or thinking about not letting my knees cave inward, 10 burpees pass with relative quiet.
190-200. You’d think I’d feel relief here and that’s what I’ve been anticipating, but in fact there’s a grim form of desperation muddling my head. The last 10 burpees unfold very slowly. I tend to break it down into sets of one and two reps. Weird. Feels like the last 10 takes a half an hour. Also, I have an inner battle going on. I want to negotiate my way out of the last five. “195 is pretty much 300.” Or “Why not save the last 5 for later?”
The only thing to do is bore through the noise.
200. I feel thankful. A little car sick, but thankful. Thankful for all that burpees provide. Thankful I can do them anywhere. I've done them at a gymnastics class observation deck with other parents. I've done them in several driveways. I've done them on tennis courts. Last weekend I did them in an apple orchard between rows of gala apple trees at Honey Pot orchard. I've done them in a stairwell. You have a floor beneath you--you have a gym. Thankful that I had a bunch of others doing this with me in the burpee challenge.