Last Saturday, I hosted a men’s fitness challenge in my home gym. To make a long story short, we did a lot more pushups than any of us should have (bordering on insanity), and I’m still feeling it three days later.
When I first announced the challenge to my circle of friends, I got a lot of interest. Several guys told me that they were “so in!” However, even after rescheduling the event to accommodate more guys, several of the guys who originally RSVPed dropped out before go-time. There were all kinds of excuses between family miscommunication, herniated disks, and pure fear. And in the end, only three of us showed up – myself included.
And let me tell you. Those who did show up definitely had some courage because they had no idea what was in store for them. And I sure talked it up beforehand to weed out the weak-willed. I said in an announcement email…
So, what do you do when things get hard? Do you give up, or do you press in? Do you focus on what you CAN do, or only think about what you can’t? Do you give up, or do you FIGHT? Join us for the GMA Fitness Challenge to find out what you’re really made of…This won’t be a walk in the park, but a trial by fire. It will be very hard for all fitness levels, and you will struggle. And in the end, it will be worth it…Now would be a good time to check with your doctor to see if you’re fit enough for strenuous exercise…
And after getting many “I’m not sure if I can do this” responses, I also said in a follow-up email…
This will NOT be a Navy SEAL hell week. It will be a simple trial by fire that will probably last between 1-2 hours. You can think of it as a hard workout. So, if you are healthy enough to exercise (i.e. you have your doctor’s “Okay” and aren’t at risk of heart attack, etc.) and you prepare with some basic training over the next few weeks, you’ll probably be fine. It will be hard, of course – that’s the point. And I suspect that that’s probably what intrigued most of you. You want to see what you’re made of. That’s completely natural. It’s part of being male, and it’s good to do things like this every once in awhile. Also, keep in mind that this challenge is not about how physically fit you are. Nobody is going to care if you can do 100 pushups or only 10. We’re not getting together to compare performance. We’re doing it to learn more about ourselves and how we deal with a difficult situation, and to grow together.
So, as I said, we had a very small turnout. Plus, I soon learned that one of the guys had only gotten back into training for the last month or so. And the other hadn’t exercised in awhile, and had done absolutely nothing to prepare for this event (I’m pretty sure he’s regretting that right now!).
But we still had a great time. Once we went down to the dungeon (my basement home gym), I explained what we’d be doing and why we were doing it.
The short version is that we did this to challenge each other, share a difficult task, and to grow together through adversity.
So, I took them through a warmup, turned on some tunes, and instructed them to do as many pushups as they could without stopping. Yes, that’s right. We started the challenge with one max-effort set of pushups. After 30 seconds of rest, we did it again. And then again.
I’m sure that by this point, the guys were both thinking, “what have I gotten myself into?” We were only a few minutes in, and it was already getting difficult.
Now, after we had done those first three sets, I asked them to decide how many pushups they would like to complete during this challenge. I suggested an ambitious amount based on how many each of us had done so far. The actual number wasn’t important as long as it was enough to sound borderline impossible to each of us individually. More specifically, I wanted each of us to think, “I’m not sure I can do that many, but I’m gonna try.”
I also explained that part of the goal was to get outside of your comfort zone and reach the point where you think you cannot possibly do another pushup…and then keep going.
So, we each set a goal number to achieve. I told them my plan (10 reps every minute for as long as I could), and we started cranking them out.
One of the guys mentioned that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So, that’s what we did, one miserable set at a time.
I feel that now is a good time to make something perfectly clear. This fitness challenge was not a smart thing to do. And while we would certainly gain some conditioning adaptations from performing it, this is not a good or safe way to train regularly. I would only recommend these trial by fire-style challenges every once in awhile as a means of challenging yourself, testing your mental toughness, and stretching your limits. Not only do they require substantially more time to recover from, they’re also risky, too. So, save these kinds of events for a special occasion.
Now, over the next couple of hours, we kept cranking out set after set of pushups with short breaks to catch our breath, shake out the tension, cheer each other on, and stir the chili that was simmering upstairs. My sets of ten gradually became sets of 5. And near the end, I did a few sets of twos and threes because I was getting impatient. We were all shaking and quaking for that last stretch. Some resorted to knee pushups. All were drenched in sweat. And I may have face planted a few times, but don’t tell anyone. We laughed. We cheered. We groaned.
And in the end, we triumphed! Everyone achieved their “impossible” goal that they had set. EVERYONE finished what they had started. And both of my buddies remarked that they had never done anything like that before – nothing even came close.
So, after a precision cooldown of vibration drills and compensatory movements (or “stretches,” if you prefer), we headed back upstairs to make smoothies and eat some hearty chili that had been simmering while we were sweating (I modified this recipe, for those interested). We talked a little bit about what just happened and I encouraged them to ponder what they had accomplished, how they succeeded, and what they can learn from the experience.
Then I sent them home knowing that they’d probably hate me when they got out of bed the next morning (this may help: 15 ways to prevent and heal muscle soreness). I still haven’t heard from one of them. I sure hope he’s okay! And I also hope they’re both proud of what they accomplished – and that they look back on this day with fondness. And maybe – just maybe – the next time they’re facing a difficult situation, they’ll remember the lessons they learned while sweating it out in the basement.
Suffice to say, it was a day to remember. That’s for sure. And I highly recommend you try something like this sometime.
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Health-First Fitness Coach
P.P.S. Here’s some footage of a pushup ladder I did at the end of a workout last month. The last few sets where I’m struggling are kindof what most of the challenge was like for us…