Celebrate the 4th by Committing to 6000 Burpees

Celebrate the 4th by Committing to 6000 Burpees


Since writing this story about participating in Burpees For Vets, my revised total for 19 days (June 12, 2018 to the end of the month) became 2415.

It seems like there has been a large uptick in adaptation. At the 10-day mark of the burpee challenge, June 21, it was an absolute max effort to complete 100 burpees in 10 minutes. I was smoked.

On July 1 2018, in 90-degree heat, I did 150 burpees for time. I clocked 14:30.

So I'm focusing on the next 30 days to see what that will bring. What kind of fitness, fat loss and mobility gain will 6000 burpees  generate? How much will my self-discipline improve? What sort of odd places will I end up doing burpees to make the count?

As I described in the original post, the greatest value of burpee workouts is mobility. As you can do them virtually anytime and anywhere.  My wife and I are working parents with complicated Boston commutes and a one-year-old and four-year-old, day care drop-offs and all the rest that comes with having two little kids.

So in the time it might take me just to get to a gym, I can knock out 50-100 burpees.

So the experiment begins. If you're up for a July 4 burpee challenge and want to see how it works out, let me know. It could be 500 burpees or 10,000—whatever best suits your fitness and schedule. Let me know.

Original story below:

I recently took up the Burpees for Vets challenge and committed (per Joe De Sena’s new book, The Spartan Way) to 20,000 burpees by the end of the year.

The goal of the fundraiser is to help raise funds to support veterans fighting post-traumatic stress.

(You can setup your own Burpee for Vets challenge here.)

I started on June 12 with 100 burpees. This log shows my daily totals between June 12 and yesterday:

100,100,100,100,100, 160, 100, 115, 125, 100, 150, 150, 160, 150,200.

 I’ve accumulated 2035 burpees. This is my first burpee challenge and I learned a few things.

The First Three Days Sucked

No big surprise, the first couple of days were rough. The first three was maybe the creakiest burpee of my life. I'd been getting most of my exercise chasing our four-year-old and 15-month-old around the backyard. The burpees tripped a few alarms. My heart pounded wildly and I gasped for air.  I took plenty of breaks and just steadily worked through the 100 reps. 

Then whatever weird adaptation mix that happens to the nervous system and biochemistry began to take hold. At least that’s how it appeared. Little germinating shoots of fitness, or perceptions of fitness, began to grow. It wasn’t like it got easier but I grew more accustomed it.

Mobility Increased (!!)

My training for this time period was just the burpees. Unless you count walking to subway. No dedicated stretching. I expected that as I stacked up the burpees I would just get more and more stiff.

The opposite happened. Ankles and lower back/hips all loosened up. This is a welcome development. Ask my wife: I’m the limping poster boy for what happens to a marathoner after a decade or two of marathons and not enough maintenance. It’s not pretty, especially the first hour of the morning. Well, burpees (as we know) are a compound exercise with a nice jolt of mobility work in each rep. A doctor of physical therapy, like Dr. Kelly Starrett, can talk in detail about blood and lymphatic flow, tissue sliding surfaces and so forth—all culminating in what he refers to being “Motion is lotion.”

My experience has been surprisingly positive in this respect. Joint mobility is up a noticeable percentage.

Sets of 5 Are a Go-To Friend

By day three I was thinking in sets of 10 at first and then when I started getting tired I'd just think about the next five reps and then the next five reps after that.

I’ve heard a sports psychologist who worked with the Navy SEALs call this segmenting. Others call it micro goals. Whatever you call it, it’s standing in front of  a task that is overwhelming when considered all at once and breaking it to pieces that do not on their own intimidate.

For me, thinking about 100 burpees seems to trigger a stress hormone response. Butterflies. I suppose this is a relative matter. For someone fitter than me  starting on a burpee challenge, it might have taken 300 to feel overwhelming. Someone less fit, 25 burpees. We all have our own starting point.

Large sets of burpees seem to naturally instruct you on the segmenting technique. There’s a palpable drop in anxiety when you fool yourself (for an instant) that all you have to do is five burpees. You do them, then take on the next five. And over and over until you’re done.

Varying Paces Allows for Recovery

Along with segmenting, another device I gravitated toward unwittingly was pacing. The first five days it was all pretty slow. Just focused on form and took liberal breaks. But then certain days I would pick up the pace and decrease recovery times. Ten sets of 10 burpees with short recoveries was (and is) a barn-burner. The next day I would slow down the pace again with a sharp focus on form. It was kind of like following a track workout on Wednesday with an easy run on Thursday.

And of course varying paces and time frames allow you to tweak the intensity level.

Burpees are also match well with Tabata intervals. In other words, there's lots of ways to to activate the glycolytic, phosphagen and oxidative pathways in short amounts of time. Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, wrote an article on the energy systems in 2003 that was foundational in how we now think about metabolic conditioning (he also talks about Tabata). A signature point he made is that you can train the aerobic system with anaerobic training. The discomfort is packed into a much shorter time period. But the higher intensity pays off on multiple levels.

The Burpee Challenge is a Good Lab for Discipline Building

So it seems. Check back with me in a few months. 

As it stands, it's seems a good way to build the discipline muscle because there's nothing really fun about burpees. It's just you plowing through the count hoping it eventually ends. But you push through the resistance (see Steven Pressfield’s War of Art.) and just do them anyway.

When I think about doing my burpees for the day (like I am right now) I feel the resistance rise like a bad memory. I stop myself from folding into an excuse and should be better equipped the next day for the confrontation.

The trick I'm relying on is to think about the first five and committing to them, pushing the rest of my thoughts to the side like clearing a chess board. Then reset the board and move the pawn two spaces. And go from there.

By yesterday, I did 200 burpees. It wasn't fun. But it was eons smoother than how things went the first few days.

So based on that observation, I definitely gained a leap in fitness in 16 days. I'm interested to see what a month brings.

Last thought: Burpees are an excuse-killer. You can do them anywhere. You don't really need a heavy warmup. You don't need special clothes are gear or shoes. You need a rectangle of ground or floor. And if all you have is five minutes, you can still go to town.

Get started on your fitness journey (it includes burpees) in the next hour with the Get Fit Fast training plan