Thursday March 26th, 2020 was my start date. I was working from home and decided to schedule my burpees during my lunch hour, where I would walk around the corner to the local park. In my research, Chase Barron identified that he completed his 100 burpees a day in sets and reps of 10, taking his time and using correct technique. Barron’s burpees were also spread out across the day due to time or availability – but I decided that I would complete my 100 burpees all at once, no matter how long it took.
Many negative or disparaging remarks are associated with burpees. Revulsion, disgust, fear and “love to hate” were comments I had come across as I researched the topic. As an all-round body weight exercise, the burpee is in a league of its own. There’s a reason for this, of course – it’s hard! If it wasn’t, all fitness enthusiasts would be using it in their exercise regime. ‘Love to hate’ I thought was an interesting comment. The love must come from the completion of achieving something difficult, the joy and euphoria of this, and knowing the health and fitness consequences of completing a series of burpees. The hate must come from what we are about to physically receive.
A full body weight workout means exactly what it says: from a standing start to a downward sprawl, a push up, jump back into the squat position and then a vertical jump to conclude the movement. Sounds easy on paper, but I’d have to complete 100 of these, each day for a month! The repetitive nature of the exercise is boring, technical yes, but with a little time and thought I decided I could make the movement effective and efficient for 100 attempts. I was expecting to “hate” to experience my respiratory and circulatory systems working extra hard to compensate for the lack of oxygen in my muscles. But of course, I expected to “love” the feeling of completing something which to me is more psychologically difficult in its nature than physiological in its execution. So this was my standpoint: this was how I was going to approach a month of 3,000 burpees. Obviously an efficient technique is important, but to me the psychological aspect of completing this monthly task was far harder. I would have to be mentally strong to be successful in achieving my goal.
At 1pm on March 26th I started my first 100 burpees. I was very apprehensive, yet excited to start what would be a month of pain and success. I am one of these people who sets themselves achievable and realistic goals, and only injury would stop me from reaching 3,000 burpees. But through my pain, there would have to be small amounts of pleasure to fight back and use as medicine, so I was in control of the pain.
My ‘medicine’ was:
I made a playlist of Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia to accompany my lonely foray into the burpee wilderness.
I needed a focal point to look at in the distance when I came up from the squat to vertical jump. I had to have something to concentrate my mind on.
My first week of burpees consisted of sets and reps of 10 at a time to reach 100 per day, 700 for the week. The first 4-5 days were pretty tough. I was inhaling large volumes of air into my lungs to compensate for my haste in completing the exercise movements quickly. I soon realised that my 52-year-old body was not as well acclimatised to the burpee as I had originally thought! Something had to change, and this was my mentality. I took a different approach by the end of the first week. Firstly, I slowed down my technique and spent more emphasis on the press up, squat and vertical jump. This allowed my whole burpee movement to become more efficient, and consequently I got into a rhythm and routine so the burpees became enjoyable. This was a key moment for me.
Halfway into Week Two I changed my reps per set. I wanted to push myself physiologically but also wanted to change my mindset. I went to 20 reps of 5 sets to complete my hundred burpees. I was now conscious of the need to pace myself, there was no rush, and to my surprise after 3-4 days I found my body was adapting well to this too. But more important for me was the sense of euphoria I felt on completion of the second week of the burpee challenge. The endorphins in my body were reducing the perception of pain but more importantly, they were triggering positive feelings. These feelings at the end of Week Two saw me reschedule the monthly plan. Week Three, I was now going to complete 150 a day! Burpees were now becoming behaviourally addictive. This was not something I had planned for psychologically.
A change of schedule also saw a change of music playlist, as this was now becoming repetitive. A Spotify burpee search came across plenty of high tempo music at 130-150 beats per minute. The music was a great motivational tool for what is a very repetitive exercise movement. With an increase in burpees to 150 per day, I now looked at completing 30 reps of 5 sets. The first day or two of this was considerably harder, but I wanted to do this as it pushed me well outside my comfort zone. Completing the reps was no issue, but what I did realise was the rest time in between sets was taking longer to recover. This was expected, though 25 years ago I would have pushed myself harder during recovery time. That said, the objective for me at this time was to complete 150 burpees at a time irrelevant of how long it would take me. By the end of Week Three I had completed 2,450 burpees, I was well ahead of schedule and looking forward to the final week. I still had high levels of motivation to complete the task, but more rewarding was the fact that I felt really good and positive. I had to remind myself that burpees are not “everyone’s cup of tea” and there is a very good reason for this. They are hard and repetitive. But I was still mentally feeling very strong. I could now see the horizon, the end of the month was coming around. I wanted to make a final change to my approach as I started Week Four.
Two hundred burpees a day! Even my wife thought this was a little crazy. But my mindset had changed. I was doubling my original target from the beginning of the month, but I had the energy and fitness to complete this. Once again, more important than my fitness, my mentality I believe was greater or stronger than my fitness. Progressive weeks of steady increments had shown me what was possible with the right mindset. Thursday April 23rd saw me complete the first of the 200 a day burpees. The first hundred went by pretty quickly. At the halfway mark I took a 90-second rest and took some water. I felt good. However, starting the last 100 burpees was a different matter. I struggled to get back into a rhythm, consequently the final 100 burpees were torture; it was the worst I had felt over the entire month. It was the first time I had thought of deliberately miscalculating my count. Finally, after reaching 200, I walked off to cool down both physically and mentally. I was annoyed. I was so disappointed with myself. Had I been unrealistic in wanting to achieve 200 burpees with only three weeks of training behind me?
I thought long and hard about my approach for the following day. I had some options:
- 8 sets x 25 reps
4 sets x 50 reps
2 sets x 100 reps (completed this once, surely it could not be as bad again?)
1 set x 200 reps
The plan for Day Two of the last week of the burpee challenge was to choose option 4. Looking back to the previous day, the first 100 burpees went relatively smoothly, then I had a short break and then struggled to find any form or rhythm for the final 100. For the second day, I planned not to stop at 100 but to continue in my slow, rhythmic, and methodical manner to 200 burpees. This I did, and it felt fantastic. The key was to pace myself, get my breathing right, and get into a rhythm. The endorphins in my body were going crazy, I felt incredible on completion, I walked away with hands on my hips and inhaling/exhaling very deeply – but this was offset by my sense of accomplishment. Deciding to complete the 200 burpees in one swoop was fundamentally the difference between today and yesterday. The remainder of the week was completed. I also mixed it up, using options 1, 2 and 4.