Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Up For a Challenge?


So, you think you’re tough physically and mentally. Prove it.

Jim Wendler came up with this challenge. Jim played football at the University of Arizona, was strength and conditioning coach at the University of Kentucky. He has a 1000 pound squat and a 2375 pound total. He’s now part of Elite Fitness Systems.

There’s no long term plan in this challenge to increase your dead lift by fifty pounds or add 3 inches to your biceps. Though the challenge is excellent for hypertrophy and for increasing muscle stamina, the main purpose is to test you mentally.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to reach the understanding that to get stronger or bigger or fitter you are going to have to face some discomfort. To accomplish anything at all in your workout you have to push yourself to get those two extra reps that count. Every set you do has to be very near, at, or even past muscle failure. If you can’t do that you are not going to reach your goal. If you are going to succeed you are going to have to learn to live with some discomfort.

The quicker you learn to handle the discomfort the quicker you’ll see gains. To learn to handle the discomfort you have to practice it. Do you think Navy Seals train in freezing water just for the entertainment of the drill sergeant? They train in harsh conditions because that’s where they usually have to perform their duties. Bad conditions are where they work.

Remember two-a-day practices in high school athletics or college athletics? Remember running the bleachers or hills for hours? As far as I know there isn’t a sport where the winner is determined by how many times they can run up and down the bleachers. But that exercise made you physically and mentally stronger. Mainly, you learned that you were physically and mentally equipped to do what needed to be done to be competitive at your sport.

That’s what challenges are about. Learning to do what you need to do to reach your goal- And to do it safely.

The exercises you’ll do in this challenge are simple. The weights you’ll use are light. But you will be tested both physically and mentally. You will be sore and you will learn what it means to be uncomfortable. And you’ll find a way to handle both.

Jim’s challenge programming is a bit more complicated than what I’ve outlined here. But for the average gym rat I think starting with something simpler is the way to go in the beginning.


You can use any exercise you choose but extremely high reps with the big compound movements are not a safe choice. If you choose to substitute something other than those I suggest below I’d choose exercises that focus on any lagging body parts.

·        Pick at least 4 different exercises. Two upper body and two lower body.
·        Do one upper body and one lower body exercise per day on non-consecutive days (Tuesday and Thursday for example)
·        Do the challenge exercises after your regular routine
·        Do 100 reps of each exercise.
·        Shoot for 50 reps on your first set, 25 reps on each of the second and third sets.
·        Try to increase the number of reps on the first set by at least 10 on each of the subsequent weeks for six weeks. At the end of six weeks your goal should be to do all 100 reps in one set. 

As I mentioned earlier, the exercises I’ve chosen are based on working muscles that are lagging and/or hard to train for most people. With single joint movements and light weights the only risk is from overuse. So don’t continue the same exercises for more than six weeks. Change them up.

Upper Back and Shoulders-Front Plate Raise  Begin with 10 -25 pounds. See Video Here

Calves-Standing or seated calf raise. Begin with 25 to 35 pounds

Hamstrings-Lying leg curl-Begin with 35-50 pounds

Traps and shoulders-Karwoski Row. I can’t find a video for this move so I’ll try to describe it. It’s basically a shrug/row hybrid. Holding a bar at arm’s length against your thigh, shrug/row the bar straight up to your belly button. Hold for 1 count and return to the starting position.

You will grow if you can do this and your muscle stamina is going to shoot up. But the main benefit may be that you you’ll know what real discomfort feels like and those last two or three money reps you need to be doing on every set don’t seem so bad any more . And that’s where the real progress starts.

And yes, I’ve done the challenge and continue to do it doing 2 or 3 100 reps sets per week. But I change the exercises up often.

By the way, you’ll get some strange looks using such light weights. If you catch someone watching just start counting reps out loud 39,40,41,42……and ask them if they want to work in for a few sets.

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