100 Burpees A Day

Why Challenge Matters


Maybe burpees are not your thing. I know they are not mine. In fact, I hate them.

Jump to plank.
Jump to squat.
Propel yourself 6” off the ground and clap
(For what I‘m not sure)

Every month, I‘m supposed to pursue a crucible—an experience that pushes my limits and takes me to the edge of what I believe is possible. These crucibles force me to acknowledge my untapped potential I regularly underestimate. 

Why put myself through this, you may ask. Answer: Partly, because I have a fascination with Navy Seals and I would love to say that I have “what it takes” to be one. (I am profoundly aware that I do not.) 
Beyond that, however, is my new understanding of intense physical challenges—which require more than just “fitness” to succeed.

No matter what shape you‘re in, there will be a point where more than “fitness” has to drive you to the finish line, whether learning a language, controlling your anger or surviving Hell Week. And, that's what I‘m really after--that persistence, perseverance and ability to ‘embrace the suck’ with confidence that I will get up more times than I fall down. 
Physical crucibles allow me to practice that mindset through the training period and throughout the actual event, while indirectly preparing me for real life events, sometimes minor and sometimes overwhelming. 

In August, I agreed to a team challenge for the Mark Divine Courage Foundation, a charity for war veterans suffering from PTSD and severe disability. A teammate agreed to donate $500 for each member who completed 100 burpees a day for the entire month of August. 

3100 burpees. 
I hate burpees. 
Every day.
100 per day. 

I signed up. 

Physically, burpees highlight my many deficits:

  • weak upper body strength impeding the proper push-up
  • weak core strength and a spongy mid-section giving sag to the plank 
  • low stamina making consecutive reps an extra challenge

Emotionally, burpees make me whine and sulk—something I despise in others and now have to acknowledge in myself. About ten days into the challenge, I longed for just one day OFF. The whole process started weighing me down. Until I finished the burpees each morning, I could not begin my day. Instead, I became irritable. 

Mentally, it took every ounce of discipline to keep this promise to my team, the sponsor and the charity. I toyed with quitting. I had an injured right shoulder causing a painful push-up. I could have bowed out legitimately. Others would understand. They wouldn’t know, but I would know: quitting at the first sign of things being “too hard.“

My morning routine of gratefulness and setting my daily intention became imperative around Day 12. I had to remind myself daily “What is my ‘Why?” Answer: Those stuck in situations they didn't choose and hopeless that things could change.

The dread of an exercise I hated began to wane in the shadow of something bigger than myself—a promise to my team and to those enduring suffering far beyond my imagination. 

I could  tolerate the “discomfort“ for 15 minutes a day.

Challenge is uncomfortable, often brutal.  
But the importance of regularly setting challenges for ourselves is, in fact, to grow, learn and practice for real life situations, tasks and obstacles we are bound to encounter.

It’s a simple concept, but difficult to execute:

Step 1—Reflection—Where do I need work, improvement, transformation?
Step 2—Action—How do I change? Where do I start?  
Step 3—Results—Is what I am doing effective? If not, what needs to happen?
Step 4—Momentum--Continually setting the bar higher and repeating the process.

Of course, nothing can adequately prepare anyone for tragedy or heartbreak; but, having a set of tools in place from regular practice—breath control, reducing negativity, setting microgoals, and an understanding that you only have control over yourself—may allow you to approach ‘the impossible’ with less panic and fear by reducing the problem into smaller chunks. A clearer focus makes space for better choices and decisions, rather than reacting to life‘s pushes, trips and shoves.

To some this challenge may seem stupid, but to me it was a basic and effective exercise that allowed me to take inventory of where change is needed in my life. 

Suddenly, August was over. 3100 burpees for 31 consecutive days. One burpee. One day at a time. A seemingly ridiculous task at the outset...now completed.

The ‘impossible’ was possible.  

“The only easy day was yesterday.”
—Mark Divine—