Alex Wisch was born to succeed, and he always knew it — but not everyone did. After being diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD and facing bullying for being overweight in elementary school, a young Wisch developed anorexia. But leaning on an innate desire to do great things, he spent years rebuilding his body with weights in a healthy manner, and — after taking up sailboat racing — even became one of North America’s top sailors by the age of 18, with sights on the Olympics.
But he took it too far. Wisch’s intense drive morphed into unhealthy perfectionism before his eyes, and suddenly the University of Pennsylvania sophomore found himself striving for a 4.0 GPA while sacrificing his health, his social life, and the only thing that he consistently relied on to bring him happiness — sailing — to get there. Spiraling into deep depression and suicidal thoughts, Wisch made the difficult decision to leave school and avert his eyes from Olympic dreams. But that was years ago.
Since then, Wisch has harnessed the power of grit and hope to change his life — and now the lives of others. He is the founder of Wisch Fit and a Peak Performance Coach, helping people optimize their physical and mental wellness to achieve the impossible. Having now competed in over 30 OCR events — mostly Spartan races — he’s coached several world-renowned athletes to victory, including OCR star Rebecca Hammond and rock climber and ninja warrior Josh Levin, in preparation for the Olympics.
THE Unbreakable Feat
On the day before Memorial Day, Wisch completed a different type of challenge, one that he calls the Fitness for Mental Health feat. With a goal of bringing awareness to the mental health crises and invisible wounds that our veterans battle with, Wisch completed the unimaginable undertaking of 1,000 strict pull-ups, 2,000 push-ups, and 3,000 squats within 10 hours, all while wearing a 20-pound weighted vest to symbolize the weight of mental illness. All donations from the feat benefit Team Red, White & Blue, and Wisch’s accomplishment has so far — at the time of publishing — raised nearly $30,000 of the $50,000 goal.
“Veterans are one-and-a-half times more likely than non-veteran adults to commit suicide,” Wisch said. “I have reached a point in my life where I have overcome most of my challenges with major depression, and wanted to use the feat to help share my story to inspire others to attempt the impossible, show the power of fitness and other holistic ways to improve mental illness, and inspire people to never give up.”
How He Prepared
Wisch powered through every single rep at the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial in Boston's Seaport District, while Spartan livestreamed the event on Instagram. But completing 1,000 pull-ups, 2,000 push-ups, and 3,000 squats is hardly the same as OCR, and Wisch faced a mountain of mental challenges even just to be standing there that day. Here’s how he optimized his training and nutrition to ensure that he was victorious at overcoming yet another tremendous feat.
Wisch has been training for the Fitness for Mental Health feat since December 2020, but said it has been an enormous learning curve attempting to find the right balance between volume, stimulus, and recovery.
“Originally I focused on a strong strength base with significant volume,” Wisch said. “Most of my workouts were 30-minute to two-hour EMOMs of a specific number of pull-ups, push-ups, or squats with my 20-pound weighted vest. Any remaining time in the minute, I would finish on an Assault bike.”
But three days into his training, Wisch tore his lower abdominal and left adductor, meaning heavy leg-strength training, core exercises, and running were out of the question. Like he’s done for most of his life, the coach adapted to a challenging situation and came back better. Wisch focused his cardio on long, slow StairMaster and bike training, he would perform Tabata workouts on the Assault bike and arm ergometer, and some days he’d even just go to the park with his 20-pound vest and do walking lunges for two hours.
“Eventually during my training, I started working with three essential movements and would either perform high-volume long workouts with subtracting weight from my body, or high-intensity shorter workouts with my vest,” Wisch said. “This method helped me reduce rest days needed between training days.”
And so the pull-up, push-up, squat combo was perfected.
Throughout his vigorous training in the months leading up to Memorial Day, Wisch partnered with registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics Nancy Clark, whom he has known since he was a child.
“She is the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to nutrition,” Wisch said. “Early on, we adjusted my diet to include more carbohydrates for all the anaerobic activity. I made sure to eat every 15 minutes during my training to understand what foods work best with my body.”
The morning of the feat, Wisch consumed what he called his typical breakfast — a large bowl of granola with almond milk, two scoops of whey protein, powdered peanut butter, and a banana. While a meal of that size might upset the stomachs of some athletes or affect their overall performance, Wisch’s body welcomes all the fuel it can get in order to power through the intense stresses of training for such an event.
“I have always been able to train after eating decent-sized meals, which offers me an advantage to being fully fueled,” Wisch said. “My strategy has a one-minute rest every 15 minutes to allow me to eat around 250 calories and hydrate. It’s essential to stay on top of my nutrition to reduce variables.”
Despite setting a 10-hour time limit to complete the feat, Wisch clocked in at six hours and eight minutes — a truly incredible accomplishment. He said that his personal performance, however, was never the final focus.
“This feat was less about the outcome and more about attempting something no one else has done, and breaking down stigmas of mental illness,” Wisch said. “It’s so important to educate people on ways to improve mental health prior to when one faces challenges. It is much harder to learn skills when you already feel mentally impaired. Preventative health is essential for a brighter future.”
To donate to the cause, click here.