Editor’s Note: This is a final report on what it was like to do a 30-day Spartan Burpee Challenge this past July and into August. We had a great time and are planning a new burpee/pull-up challenge for the Fall, starting Sunday September 23. We’ll set individual goals and keep in touch with each other in a Facebook group. All levels welcome—this is about setting individualized goals and working together to achieve them. Sign up here and more info will go out on September 11).
While on vacation with my family in Maine two weeks ago, we were out having fun on the beach and my wife and I took turns scrambling after our two kids, ages 18-months and 4. About halfway through the day she and my brother and sister-in-law were watching the kids. I went off to find myself a patch of sand to do 200 burpees. I do 200 burpees a day now. A few months ago I wasn’t doing any. Now I can’t seem to stop. I blame a rather amazing group of Spartans for instilling this new — Habit? Routine? Compulsion? Obsession — into my life.
I started doing 200 burpees a day in early July for the Spartan Burpee Challenge (goal 6000 in 30 days). A month before, after having joined Burpees for Veterans, I built up to 100 per day and then made the uncertain jump to 200.
For the first couple of weeks it was mentally hard. I was nervous. I’d get butterflies and I think, I’m not altogether sure I can do this. But thanks to other Spartans (see some of their photos here) who embarked on the project with me, I kept at it. (If you want to skip ahead, they share some of their stories in the second half of this article).
So there I was on the beach, 10 or so days after the Challenge had ended. I got in 100 before our 4-year-old boy and company had wandered down to where I was to search tide pools for crabs. So I let it go at 100 and joined in the fun.
But the remaining 100 haunted me. And after a visit to a Portland (Maine) brew pub to pick up some beer with my brother-in-law, it was bugging me even more. So when we got back to the vacation house I excused myself for 15 minutes to finish up the 200. I did them on the cracked asphalt of the driveway.
I tallied 6000 burpees in 30 days. Benefits: I burned off about eight pounds. When I started, the first 10 burpees were like trying to jumpstart a rusted out VW Bug. Since then my mobility has been reawakened. I can carry kids up and down steps with confidence. My stamina has gone through the roof. I can do 300 burpees in a workout mixed with kettlebell swings and whatever else.
A couple of hiccups: One day I tweaked my back slipping on a rock and missed some that I had to make up. And weirdly, I almost threw up day 30 because I was doing my last batch of the 6000 on a 90+ temp day in the grass of a park near the daycare I had to make a child pick-up. (I held it together but felt like a shaken-up bottle of soda for the next 24 hours). And the next day happened and I just kept doing burpees.
So it’s kind of a blessing-and-a-curse thing.
How I Got To Doing 200 Burpees A Day
So anyway, this is how I got stuck in not being able to not do 200 burpees every day.
Around July 1st I mentioned in an article I was going to challenge myself with a goal of 6000 burpees in 30 days. I had been resurrecting myself with burpees for a few weeks after having fallen out of shape. I basically said hey, if anyone wants to do this with me, let me know.
I figured about 3 or 4 people might be interested.
I then spent the next 72 hours replying to over 500 emails. Spartans and new Spartans had heard the call.
So the next thing you know, between July 9, 2018 and August 7, 2018, a bunch of Spartans, myself included, set goals appropriate to their fitness levels. I know we had at least one of our gang do more than 10,000. But most of us set goals between 1000 for the 30 days and 3000.
Some were like me: time stressed and not able to consistently get to a gym of their choice. Or just starting out. Others added the burpees to their overall training plan. I personally am looking forward to when our kids start sleeping later more consistently so I can go to CrossFit Mountain Strength. Burpees are great, but I always benefit from good coaching.
So the 6000 Burpee Challenge: I’ve had my share of fitness adventures over the years but this was unique. And powerful. I managed to meet my goal of 6000 but it was a down-to-the-wire barn-burner.
As some of my fellow Army of Spartan Burpee Champions noticed, it was very much a mental exercise. I would say that this was by far the most beneficial aspect of the challenge: Whether your goal was 300, 3000 or a zillion, the daily repetition of squaring off with your inner-self to make sure you go do your mandated burpee workout — burpees being hard because there’s no way to get around the fact that they are equal parts hard and boring. And relentless in their hardness and boringness.
But the drumbeat discipline of doing something hard and boring and good for you has gifts. Like these.
You Get Fit Fast
Perhaps a no-brainer and barely worth mentioning, but I was one of those in the challenge who noticed pretty rapid results when it came to fitness.
Challengers reported some stunning measures of improvement. In my case, at the start I could just barely do 10 sets of 10 burpees on the minute, every minute. I had worked up to that from a rusty first workout a few weeks prior. In the third week of the challenge, in the sun on a hot July day on a high school soccer field I had all to myself, I found myself in amazement as I did 20 sets EMOM in 20 minutes.
In our Facebook group, there were numerous reports about shocking little jumps in stamina, form, endurance. Being able only do sets of 10 at the beginning and at the end being able to do sets of 30. Not to mention weight lost and definition gained and improvements in other skills (One of our group got a first pull-up, for example. Another dropped his pace for a 5-mile run by 30 seconds per mile).
It probably goes without saying but the big leaps and bounds were either fitness comebacks or new-to-fitness stories. But some of the fitter of our group reported some surprising gains as well.
Burpees are Charged Discipline-Installation Tool
I’ll talk about myself. Our daughter was born in February of 2017. Our son was three. As my wife will tell you, I will never win an award for multi-tasking skills. I was knocked on my butt by complexity that the second kid brings. Whatever fitness I had at the time vaporized and my sense of workout discipline strained against the sleep deprivation and new stress. The excuse that I couldn’t get to my gym was defendable. But could I have figured something out?
I think one lesson that came from our Spartan Burpee Challenge shared experience was that burpees, no matter the number —10, 50, 100, 200 per day, more — cast a spell on you if you do them consistently over a solid period of time. You face your internal-discipline demons up close. Internal machinations of the mind turn up and you have this opportunity to see them try and work their magic then beat them one by one. You have to to finish the workout.
I gained fitness at the end of 30 days, but the real strength was a new (or renewed) skill of swatting away workout-ending excuse ideas. I had a mantra in my head: There Are No Deals to Be Made.
Example. TJ’s Lizard Brain: Hey, let’s wait until tonight to do the burpees. Response: Start doing burpees.
Example 2. Lizard Brain: Hey, you’ve done 175. There’s just 25 more. Why don’t you stop and do the final 25 later so you can run that errand you need to run? When you stretch or something? Response: Do the next five burpees now. Then another five. And so on.
The Daily Internal Pressure To Get Burpees Done Helps One Overcome Tendencies Toward Bashfulness
In our Spartan Burpee Challenge experience, I think a common insight shared was that you never knew what life event was coming your way, large or small, to try and trip you up. Just after finishing the first week of 200 per day, on the money, I decided to stand on a large granite boulder while hanging out with my 4-year-0ld after his gymnastics class at a Y. The rock was a little wet and, swoosh, my feet slipped forward and I fell hard on my butt. My son squinted his eyes asked me something in the spirit of: “Why would you do that daddy?”
Excellent question. In the act, this is how I tweaked my knee. The good news was I had already done my burpees for the day. The bad news was that I was pretty sure I was going to need to take at least one day off.
But burpees are more forgiving when it comes to tweaks (unlike running) and I was able to do 60 the next day and make up the missed burpees shortly thereafter. But to do that often means doing them whenever and wherever you can. That gymnastics class I mentioned? I had done those 200 burpees while in the observation deck with a bunch of other parents. Most didn’t seen to really notice or care. I got a couple of odd looks. One woman frowned and said something in German about it. But so what? I know six words of German anyway. You feel a little weird about it at first but after 25 you start focusing on the count and the work and any innocent civilians nearby disappear into a fog. I also have done plenty on a strip of park in downtown Boston near work. I had some people yelling things at me from passing cars but being yelled at by motorists is a common enough in Boston that you practically don’t even notice it.
Community Is A Supreme Source When it Comes to Getting it Done
So for me, and this was echoed by other burpee challenge finishers, the hard part is the stage of going from not having to do burpees every day to being stuck in overdrive. The Spartan community is the answer. We had 500+ people join the Challenge in our Facebook group and it was a remarkable experience. All levels of ability represented. People from all over, in including a soldier stationed in Iraq. Different colors. Different reasons for doing it. Universally supportive of one another. And that support led to keeping people on task. For me, it translated into waking up every morning with an annoying sense of impending guilt if I didn’t get burpees done.
Here are some stories from within the Spartan Burpee Challenge:
Dan Harvick’s goal was 3000 burpees. He knocked out 5280
“My time for 100 burpees started at 13:40 and improved to 10:20. Max pushups improved from 35 to 50.”
Dan shared this video from the airport:
Liza Cason’s 30-day goal was 3000. Final tally: 4300. By the end she was able to do 200 burpees in 18:36 at a “comfortable pace.”
“Fitness definitely improved,” she says. “I did 200 burpees at a comfortable speed and finished all in 18:36.”
“One-a, natural competition occurs and group members foster this with their posts. This in turn inspires other group members to become better by coming out of their ‘comfort zone’ and increasing their daily burpee numbers. One-b, It’s apparent that ‘self belief’ is enhanced in a short period of time due to frequency in posting and depth of shared info. Number two: Personal/mental discipline is enhanced because of my personal burpee goal …I made sure to orchestrate my day to accomplish my burpees and used a motivator — no coffee! — until my burpees were done … but most importantly is, number three, that people work best together, sharing emotions, praising or comforting when needed and work together to make all stronger… showing empathy, compassion, understanding. Because all those in the challenge knew how each other felt — we willingly accepted the challenge with no medal being given. We bettered ourselves for ourselves.”
Chris Boyd’s goal was 6000 burpees. He did 6008.
“When it started doing 200 was pretty challenging but by the end I was able to do 600 in a day. No way I could have done that in the beginning. My recovery time improved as well. This may seem strange but my feet feel stronger. I did quite a few barefoot and it really strengthened my feet.”
A challenger named Tabitha accumulated her 1501 burpees (goal: 1500) by creating one of the more interesting games I heard about in the challenge.
“I would do a set number of Burpees each time a Ninja completed an obstacle on American Ninja Warrior. I logged higher numbers than ever before.”
David Padgett set out to do 3000 and did 3400.
“I didn’t time myself very much during the challenge but I know at the beginning of the challenge it took me about 15:00 to do 100 burpees and towards the end of it I was able to do 150 burpees in 17:30. So I improved my speed and endurance quite a bit.”
Bo Bryson DC set a goal of 6000. He crossed the finish line and kept going to 6200. In an outdoor experiment of sorts, he answered the question, how do I burn a couple thousand calories on a one-mile trail walk? Punctuate the walk with 700 burpees. It all gave a jolt to his fitness. (It was a two-hour walk).
“My wife did this with me,” he adds. “She did 3600 for the month. Couples who burpee together, stay together. Just kidding, but having a wife who also desires to be challenged and be healthy is a blessing! If not married, find a friend who can keep you accountable. The journey to health is an individual daily effort but that effort is made easier if someone journeys with you.
Here’s a video from a year ago when he did a burpee challenge. “I first challenged myself, family, friends and patients to do 30 burpees per day. Now, I just did 200 per day.”
James Eck (aka Darth Vader) set a goal of 3000. He did 3200.
“Being part of the challenge definitely proved to me that when others are working with you and motivating you it gives you that extra accountability and drive when you are ‘not feeling it’ that day. It helps to see others push through the struggle of doing this every day. Most importantly I proved something to myself. It was fun and I didn’t die so that’s good.”
Erik Myer’s goal was 1500. He did 2550, concluding: “You can do it just about anywhere and you get a great workout. You can learn to love the burpee.”
Tramayne Young-Minor set a goal of 3000 and knocked out 3880 while training for a Spartan Beast.
“This was a true test of determination. There were many days I didn’t want to do the burpees. I had good reasons to skip- I was tired, running late, doing other workouts, the list was endless but I made a commitment to myself and I felt that I owed it to myself to complete the challenge and test myself.”
Jason Wilson ground through 2050 burpees.
“Overall fitness was given a jump start as I was in a exercise lull and needed something to get me back on it. I noticed an improvement in muscle tone particularly triceps. Also, overall stamina increased. The camaraderie that developed within the group. People of differing backgrounds, fitness levels and reasons for taking part came together to do burpees. They supported one another wholeheartedly, without any negativity —which I believe exemplified the Spartan way.”
Kyle McCabe beat his goal of 2250 by 10 reps.
“I went from being gassed just doing 50 in a day to being able to do 150 on makeup days with seemingly the same effort. What really improved was my form. Burpees are physically difficult, but the real challenge was mental. The body is easily conditioned, but the mind has to get you to START. This was a stealth self-motivation and discipline challenge, and that’s where the main improvement was for me.”
Debbie McMahan reached her goal 2500 through savvy. At work, “I did burpees behind my desk because I was determined to get them in that day and my desk was where I was.” Although it wasn’t the weirdest thing in the world: “At least I own a gym so not too many people thought I was too crazy for doing them there.”
Misty Williams achieved her goal of 2500. She did some of them in her office wearing dress clothes.
“During the challenge I succeeded in doing my first ever pull-up and improved my three mile run time. I’ve noticed a big difference in my overall endurance and speed. I think one thing no one expected is how awesome the Facebook group would be. Everyone, people from all different levels of fitness, were so positive and encouraging to one another. It was really a lot of fun.”
Taylor Huffman posted 3005, five over his goal.
“The first day I did a timed 100 burpees in 13:03 and was feeling nauseous and crappy the rest of the day. On day 30 I did another timed 100 after a 4 mile tempo run and I finished in 8:24 feeling great.”
Lupita Almend recorded 6000.
Unfortunately Lupita’s month of July was especially difficult and stricken with grief. Her mother became ill and passed away. She wrote that the challenge and the exercise helped helped her through it all and we in the group both felt for Lupita and were moved by her posts.
Michelle Bauer set out to do 1000. She did 1046. “I have more stamina, can see more definition in my arms and shoulders. When I first started it took me about 30 seconds to do 5…now I can do about 12 in the same time.” [Editor’s note: 12 in 30 seconds? !!!! Wicked fast.]
Kim Riech ground her way to her goal of 3000, 100 per day.
“I definitely gained more upper body strength. Before the challenge I was barely able to complete one push-up. Around 10 days into the challenge I began adding the push-up step into my burpees and was able to do 30-40. Being part of this burpee challenge was great. The accountability of reporting to the group each day was what helped me stay determined. I felt a ton of support and people cheering me on – people I have never even met.”
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Mattia Stipa went after 3000. She did 3315.
“At the beginning of the challenge I was able to do 125 burpees in around 20 minutes but the last day I did 300 in 30 minutes. I managed to push my limits over and over and now I can do 100 burpees in a single set. Thirty days ago it was very difficult for me to do them in a full day.”
Michelle Preston: Goal 1000. Result 1020.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of community. Being part of a like-minded group of people striving towards a similar goal helped inspire me to get my burpees done, especially on days where I struggled to find the motivation.”
Daniel F. Westergaard: Goal 6000, tally 7000. Some in a laundry room.
“I improved my 20x rep-set down to 36 seconds. Additionally, my overall running performance improved.
“The biggest takeaway is not that a person can do burpees through this challenge. This challenge is more about the dedication and habit-building that developed through the course of the challenge. Prior to the challenge, I was doing 165 burpees daily (for over a year). I increased to 200-a-day for the first 20 days of the challenge and then I challenged myself (within the challenge) by increasing to 300 a day, for the last 10 days to reach a new goal of 7,000 Burpees for the 30-Day period. Challenges like these allow people to learn more about themselves and to find out just what a person is capable of achieving.”
Alphretta Erdmann: Goal 2000. Completed 2451. She started off with a more modest goal but built up. In true Spartan fashion, she would bust out some burpees on her lunch break walk in a park, in a skirt and wearing bright red lipstick.
“When I started, I couldn’t do five burpees without a recovery break. A long break. So I set a goal to do 30 a day, 900, in the hope of being able to do 30 by the end of the 30 days. A few days ago, I did 100 without a recovery break! Not only can I do more, but I’m recovering my breath in less than a minute so I can go again. My pushups are better and my jumps are higher. Today is day 30. I did 200 this morning, and 101 more throughout the day. Why 101? Because it takes just 1 to start, and you can always do just 1 more.”
She adds, “This was hard. Harder than anything I possibly thought it would be. But I’m stubborn. When I say I’m going to do something, I don’t quit. So I pushed. I pushed hard. It was exhausting. My body wanted to quit. So I pushed harder. I still hate burpees, but it’s soooo rewarding to be able to do them! Suddenly 10 burpees is easy, and 50 is a challenge I can take on with gusto!
Aiden Page’s goal: 1000. Finished with 1852.
“Instead of just sticking with one amount everyday, I usually increased the number of burpees to be more than the day before. I ended up doing 115 in one day even though I started with 30 a day. I am so glad that I decided to join this challenge even though I was a day or so late. I had no idea I could do so many burpees in 30 days and that sticking with it makes it worth it in the end. It has been a fantastic experience.”
Justin Moore’s beat his goal of 3000 by one burpee. Weirdest place he used to get in his daily dose? “Behind the maintenance shed at the train station.”
Remarks: “I improved by PR for burpees in 5 minutes by more than 15%.”
Also: “If you’re thinking about doing burpees, make sure your cat is not in the room. Cats are burpee hazards.”
Ryan Olsen did 500 more than his goal of 3000.
Observations: “100% improved my discipline, which was my focus. Also, by slowing my burpee down and maximizing each movement I leveraged the workout.”
Advice: “Burpees are a terrible idea. Do them anyway.”
Hans Straube did 2800, some on his boat on a lake.
“My family was a little annoyed that they had to stop inner-tubing and watch me do burpees but hey I had to get them done.”
Also: “Burpees are terrible to do at first but once you get started you find a rhythm to it and when you’re done you felt like you’ve had a great work out in less than 20 minutes.
Andy Ouvrier: Goal 1500, and did 1500.
“My first few sets of 50 took over nine minutes to complete. My last set—4:48.”
Some thoughts: “Think about this for a moment – with the current overabundance of fitness centers, fitness equipment, diet advice and other information that is readily available 24/7, why aren’t people (in general) in better shape? I think it’s because while we all ‘want’ to get into better shape, that ‘want’ competes with all the other ‘wants’ that vie for time in our lives – we want to watch TV, we want to go out with our friends, we want to check social fees, we want to sleep-in in the morning, etc. I think for most people, it’s not enough to simply ‘want’ to get into shape, you need to elevate that ‘want’ to another, higher level. That’s where this burpee challenge helped me. I find that committing to something, and having at least some accountability to another person for that commitment, makes all the difference. This burpee challenge elevated the burpees from the ‘want to’ category to the ‘need to’ category— I certainly didn’t want to do the burpees at night after a long day at work, or late on a weekend after going out with friends and family, but looking at the calendar I made, and knowing that I would need to make up every burpee I missed, I didn’t matter that I didn’t want to do them – I needed to do them and so I did them. I’ve found that being part of the Spartan community, committing to these types of challenges and, of course, signing up for a race (Castaic Lake, 12/9/18!) are all powerful motivators and are forces for positive change.”
Steve Deignan: Goal 3000, recorded 3038. “Some on the roof of a facility I was working on.”
Additional win: “Became able to do 15 burpees consecutively without blacking out!!”
Trish Corbett: 3000 burpee goal. Came in at 3008.
On a modified hospital burpee: “I work in a hospital so I double-gloved it and did my burpees in my scrubs but without the push-ups because I didn’t want to wear scrubs that had touched the hospital floor.”
Adding: “They don’t get easier….BUT you will hate burpees just a little bit less by the end.”
George Hogan did 3080, beating his goal of 3000.
On being ready for the Spartan Race burpee penalty box: “I lost 8 pounds. Also, I was only able to do sets of 10 in beginning and now can do sets of 30.”
Catherine Cates came in at 2400.
“At the beginning I could barely do 10 burpees in a row, now I can do 20 or 30 at once.”
“I had a pretty traumatic experience where I was at the gym doing burpees and a man died in the cardio section. I was questioning this whole culture of fitness and doing all these crazy burpees. Was everyone (as a culture) going too far? When I finally posted about my experience, people in this community were very encouraging. They shared actual knowledge and experience to help me feel more reassured about my efforts and my love for being fit and healthy. It took a few days, but I got back on it and finished the challenge.”
Scott Lockhart knocked out 1680.
“My goal started at 1000, then bumped to 1300, then 2000. Never truly did for time or a 5-minute max, yet found if I paced myself a bit I could do more at a time without resting. I noted the fitness improvement when powering up hills during a trail run. Definitely felt stronger, with more aerobic capacity and a stronger core. Lost about 4-5 pounds over the course of 30 days.”
Advice for others on the mental aspects: “Embrace the suck! I found that it was mentally harder to get started on any given day than it was to keep going. Seemed to get stronger and more determined as the burpee count climbed. When I wasn’t thinking…’damn this sucks. I am dying here..I want to quit’ and focused on good form, power and just kept pushing to the end, there was a mental and physical boost. Setting mini-goals and even counting backwards helped to get me through the toughest days. Very cool to feel and see the determination of folks in the group to push on. Whether someone’s goal was 30 a day or 200, the challenge community was supportive and encouraging. I did not achieve my stretch goal off 2000 in 30 days, but did in 33 days. Feeling that I let off the gas at the end, this has motivated me to do it for another 30 days and this time dig a little deeper to get ‘er done.
Camilo Sanchez did 3000.
“I noticed my hip mobility improve considerably along with my overall endurance and breathing. I felt less tired and recovered more quickly as time progressed. It doesn’t matter how many burpees you do, what matters is just going after it. Some days I was feeling great and ready to do 100 burpees where as other days I wasn’t and didn’t really want to do them at all. However, once I got started I felt better and eventually realized it was what I needed to do.”
Shelby Cosgrove bested her goal of 360 with a 464.
“Well, I am now able to do 10 burpees without stopping. When I started I was barely able to do 5 without feeling totally winded. I am also happy to report that I actually have a bit of a bicep! Something I can’t remember seeing in a very long time, if ever.”
Advice to those new to burpees and all. “Don’t be afraid to join a Spartan group because you’re not as fit as the rest of the group. Everyone was so positive and encouraging. I was afraid to put my low number out there to start because most of the other people were saying 100+ per day. However once I posted everyone jumped in and started encouraging me and someone else mentioned they were also not sure about posting because of their low numbers. I still don’t like burpees but they do have some very good benefits. Easy to do anywhere. You can fit them in throughout the day so you don’t have to do them all at once. They will tone you and give you definition.”
Celia Winsor did 1855. Goal was 1000. A therapist, she found herself clicking off burpees in her office between clients.
“I increased my daily number of burpees by 5 per set per day during week 1: 10 per set, week 2: 15, week 3: 20, week 4: 25. I completed one day of 50 per set (150 total for the day), and ended the challenge with 5 consecutive days of 4×25 (100 total per day). Over the course of the challenge, the number of consecutive reps I could do without stopping increased. I feel better muscle tone in my arms, legs, and core.”
Insights: “I discovered that burpees are incredibly versatile and easily modified to fit anyone’s fitness level. For example, when I first started the challenge, I would not always do the jump at the end. As I progressed and felt stronger, I was able to add it in. Some days my arms felt fatigued, so on those days I would hold a plank instead of the full pushup. No matter how one does them burpees offer a benefit.”
David Croston’s goal 3900. Cracked 4k with 4185.
“I could complete more burpees in a session,” he says about the end. “Did many of my burpees in a 10, 15, or 20-rep session and my times for each session reduced and my heartrate dropped by an average of 8 beats per minute doing the same amount of burpees.”
Savannah Lacy hit her goal of 4200.
“My stamina improved and I was able to hit a record for time taken to complete 30 burpees.”
Deb Rath logged 4265 burpees.
“My stamina improved and I was able to hit a time record for time taken to complete 30 burpees.”
Thougths: “It was inspirational seeing everyone with all types of fitness levels doing something like this they may have never done before. We supported each other and we fed off each others accomplishments to succeed even when we did not feel we could. Loved it and it really showed you that you can workout anywhere, even the aisle of an airplane.”
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