Last December, Mark Divine was in need of a new personal challenge. The man who had originally prepared to be a high-powered CPA turned Navy SEAL—then entrepreneur, author, and fitness motivation maven—was looking to do something to discipline himself and change up his routine at the same time. “I set the goal to do 200 burpees in a single day for the month of December, but pretty soon even that became easy,” Divine said.
Simultaneously, the Courage Foundation, which Divine had started as a non-profit to help the estimated half-million military veterans who deal with post traumatic stress, was seeking a new endeavor to advocate for their rehabilitation programs. The foundation has a mission to foster post traumatic growth, restore purpose, and transform lives through integrative self-awareness, physical health, mental toughness, emotional resilience, and spiritual well-being.
It wasn’t an easy path back into the light. In 2017, Divine had taken a Courage Foundation group to Greece, seeking to retrace the steps of the 300 Spartans who had journeyed to Thermopylae and fought the invading Persian army (240 miles total). Along the way, his tribe walked 24 miles a day and hardened their resolve by doing fitness exercises in sets of 300 reps. Burpees weren’t the only exercise on that list, but they proved to be a lasting point of interest: simple, essential, and grueling for all involved when the task called for hundreds in a given session.
So when the time came to do something bigger and more ambitious for the foundation’s next project, Divine didn’t have to go far to find the answer: “I was already doing my daily burpee challenge, and I knew that my tribe could do this too.”
The goal? Twenty-two million burpees in 2018. Twenty-two was the average number of suicides by veterans per day reported by the VA in 2012—suicides largely due to post traumatic stress. “I started doing my burpee challenge in December of 2017, which gave me a bit of a head start, but it put me on pace to do 100,000 burpees for the whole year,” said Divine. “On December first, I will hit that goal at our next seminar.” The most difficult aspect of his streak? Getting in the burpees after a long day of travel. “No excuses,” said Divine.
How Do You Do 100,000 Burpees in a Year?
How does someone get good enough to do 100,000 burpees a year? Not by accident, that’s for sure. “Form always trumps speed,” said Divine. “Otherwise you get what we call a ‘lumbar fish’ movement. If you do them too quickly, your back doesn’t stay straight, your arms can’t support the movement, and everything breaks down.” For Divine, everything starts with a straight-backed plank form.
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“I put in variations of burpee reps into my routine. Some days it’s 15 sets of 20 burpees with short breathing exercises in-between. Some days it’s 10 reps every minute, on the minute, for 30 minutes total. Occasionally, I’ll even do three sets of 100 burpees straight through with a one-minute break in between each set. It all depends on what will get me to my goal for that day.”
For most athletes starting out, a regimen of 300 burpees a day doesn’t happen automatically. “Most people have to choose a realistic goal to do something like this every day. Maybe not 100,000 right out of the gate,” said Divine. “Most end up ratcheting their set: 50 a day, to 100 a day, to 150 a day. Some can crank out 1,000 burpees on a single Saturday. When we started this movement of ‘Burpees for Vets,’ it was accessible, and people wanted to get involved. It was cross platform. It was global. You had CrossFit athletes and Spartans alike who knew they could do it. But a few found out they had to set their standards realistically. It all feeds into our grand total.”
10 Cents a Burpee for Post Traumatic Stress
That grand total is the total of 22 million burpees that Divine has earmarked for the Burpees for Vets challenge. With the help of co-organizer Jon Atwater, Divine is set on raising 10 cents for every burpee he has committed to (of his own 100,000 total), and has also been collecting donations at large to help fund the goal. Funds go toward three days of immersive training for a group of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress, along with 18 months of support.
“So far we’ve collectively counted 12 million burpees, and on Veteran’s Day we aim to get about 2.2 million more.” Why will that day be so vital? “We knew that Veteran’s Day would be the emphasis because of the Courage Foundation, and Jon and I circled that day well in advance and thought about how many burpees we could get done in 24 hours. That was a lot of time to do burpees. And sure enough, there was a world record for it.”
The Record Attempt
This isn’t some pseudo-attempt at the record either. Divine is serious. It’s a co-ed six-person mixed team of three women and three men who will lace up to get filmed and counted for the official judges at Guinness World Records and chase the previous record of 14,000. “When we heard the record was that low, we figured we’d crush it,” said Divine. “But the catch is you can only have one person on your team doing burpees at any one time.” Divine’s goal is for the team to hit 22,000 total. That means the group will have to average about 460 burpees every 30 minutes . . . for 24 hours straight. All that practice Divine has put in will certainly pay off––and it will make history when it happens.
“Doing that many will be physically tough, sure, but I’m worried about the personnel who have to count them all,” said Divine, laughing. Here’s hoping that the record falls and in the process, veterans with post traumatic stress see the benefit of a global burpee movement in action.