My wife and I lived in San Francisco for a year starting in the summer of 2013 and the summer of 2014. One of the very best things about living there was the fantastic Ultimate scene. Some of our friends had a weekly track workout on Mondays that we participated in, and I felt that it helped me be a better competitor on the field by being in better shape. Some of them were participating in a fitness challenge, and it sounded like fun.
The next year, starting around October, they announced that they were expanding the fitness challenge to include anyone that wanted to join. To join, you put in $10 and most of the proceeds went to the Bay Area Disc Association. About a hundred people signed up, and I was one of them.
The challenge was fairly easy to grasp: every day and every week there are certain fitness requirements to be done, with one off day for the daily requirements. If you miss two daily exercises (not done by midnight) or miss the weekly requirement by midnight on Sunday, you are out. All participants get a weekly email on Monday discussing the week’s requirements and explaining any new exercises if there are any. Deciding whether you were in or out was just based on the honor code (Spirit of the Game, in Ultimate terms.) The exercises were all body weight, so no special equipment was really needed.
As they say on the website, one week’s challenge might be:
Below is an example of a hypothetical workout routine for a given week with daily exercise requirements of ten push ups and ten squats and a weekly exercise requirement of one hour of non-Ultimate cardio.
- Monday: ten push ups, ten squats
- Tuesday: ten push ups, ten squats
- Wednesday: ten push ups, ten squats
- Thursday: ten push ups, ten squats, one hour non-Ultimate cardio
- Friday: ten push ups, ten squats
- Saturday: OFF DAY
- Sunday: ten push ups, ten squats
The challenge started out very simple, and could be done in about two minutes per day. There was no weekly requirement to start. Really the challenge at this point was just remembering to do the exercises. A few people were knocked out because they forgot to do the exercises.
I think this approach was very similar to the Tiny Habits that I talked about in my detailed habit forming post. You start a very small success spiral (almost laughably easy) and slowly build up the challenge over time. Most of the battle is starting small enough and being consistent enough. At some point, it becomes easier to do the challenge then to not do it. That is when you know you have a solid habit.
Another positive quality of starting easy was to ensure everyone started somewhere manageable. If they started with the week five or ten challenge, there would have been people that dropped out just due to the physical nature of it. I think by starting slow you give everyone a chance to get further and have better fitness.
I liked that you could pick one day to take off for the daily exercises. It made the challenge a lot more bearable since there was often one day a week that was difficult to find the time to do the exercises on. I think that I learned that one key for challenges is to give yourself a decent grace period. Instead of no time on social media, what about fifteen minutes or an hour a week?
The keys to doing well in the fitness challenge in my opinion were:
- having a positive mental attitude
- not getting injured
- doing the exercises without fail
At some point, I realized that to succeed I would just have to be doing the exercises every day. If I skipped a day, I was committing myself to absolutely needing to do the rest of the week to stay in the challenge. So it was taking a risk if I got stuck in bad weather, got slightly injured or was too tired or busy to do the exercises. So one goal was just to do it and not think about it. The more that I could automate doing this, and not have to devote willpower, the better off I would be.
My wife was doing the challenge as well, but needed to drop out because the pushups were giving her shoulder pain. She ended up needing to do physical therapy and take time off. It was unfortunate, but a good reminder to try to stay ahead of injuries and try to do the exercises with good form and not push myself past the limit. When you need to do something nearly every day, injuries will quickly compound.
Doing the exercises was straightforward when at home, but more challenging when on the road, especially when flying. It was fun exercising on the beach, but airports were pretty hard. I also was known to just start exercising randomly in social situations to make sure I got my exercises in.
At some point, realizing you have to just do it was the key to success. Tired? Doesn’t matter. Sore from yesterday? Doesn’t matter. Don’t want to do it? Doesn’t matter. JFDI and by the time you get rolling, you’re already basically done and feel pretty good.
Setting up an exercise routine
I found that the best way to remember the daily exercises–since they eventually numbered in the dozens–was to make a routine. Each week, I would plan out how I was going to do the exercises. Generally, I would slot in an exercise where it made sense relative to the other exercises.
I found that by keeping a relatively consistent routine of:
- arm/jumping exercises
- pushup related exercises
- core/ground work
that I could progress through the exercises with greater ease and not accidentally forget an exercise. Forgetting an exercise would be bad because I would then miss a day while still doing most of the work.
It also helped me get in a flow where I knew what the next exercise generally would be. I wouldn’t need to go from a floor exercise to a jumping exercise, and so forth. I generally did the hardest exercises first, and then progressed to easier ones. This helped combat mental and physical fatigue.
Also, there were a number of timed core exercises, so I found it easier to do these in a circuit of thirty seconds per exercise. I might have to do two or four circuits to get them all done, but it was easier than doing two minutes straight of forward planks, two minutes straight of right arm plank, etc.
I enjoyed learning the different exercises and can do most of them without much thinking now. I think there is value in doing the same good exercises to continue building strength. I had a probably-unrelated-to-the-fitness-challenge back injury a few months ago, so I am slowly working back to doing some of the exercises.
One additional challenge that was special to our situation was living in Indiana in the winter. While most people were based somewhere in California and had good to decent weather, we needed to do things in the cold and snowy winter or otherwise plan for being inside.
Some exercises we could do at our weekly indoor Ultimate match (like stairs). An hour of weekly cardio was a bit harder, so we joined the local YMCA and did swimming. Sometimes if the weather wasn’t too bad, we could do interval running outside at a local track. Overall, it was probably more challenging, but it was pretty good to get outside.
Nearing the end and dropping out
The challenge ended up being very time consuming and physically strenuous. At the end, I was spending an hour a day on the daily exercises, and had a few hours combined of non-Ultimate cardio, yoga, stair workouts, and unfortunately, prancercise. It ended up being probably around ten hours total per week, in addition to any Ultimate training I was doing or games I was playing.
Another negative was the routine of the exercises. I was starting to worry that I was overdeveloping certain muscles and not focusing enough on other muscles. I did swimming for my hour of cardio, but maybe this wasn’t enough to balance things out. Sometimes I would reverse my daily routine to try to get a slightly different load on the muscles and to alleviate boredom. I also resorted to watching documentaries on Netflix to have something in the background to keep myself entertained.
With the club Ultimate season starting to ramp up, I didn’t have enough time or energy to keep things up. It is really hard to travel to a tournament or practice and also be doing an hour of exercise afterward when being cooled down.
I ended up finishing fourth in the competition. It was a relief to be done, but I continually would get nervous that I wasn’t doing the exercises. :) I likened the feeling to wearing a watch for a long time and then not wearing it and missing it. The remaining competitors didn’t finish for over a month after I stopped though, so I was glad to be done when I finished.
After it was all over, I was pretty physically tired, but in one of the better shapes of my life. I feel that mentally I was on top of my game as well due to the physical shape that I was in and the fact that I was usually tired enough to sleep very well.
I loved the challenge and joy of being consistent. This challenge showed me that I could do something basically every day for almost six months.
I logged how much of each exercise I did, so you can see a decent summary in the workout compilation I made. I didn’t list what the exact exercises were, but could put them in a new post or you can probably find them by searching online. I calculated the 5580 number by tallying the number of pushups and burpees (which are basically dynamic pushups with some jumping thrown in there.)
I’d like to compile a list of many body weight exercises and make a program to randomly generate workouts that are of the challenge level that I am at. I think this would be a good way of keeping things interesting. Also, the body loves homeostasis, so some way of continually randomly shocking it would be useful.
Give me feedback
I ended up doing a couple more challenges inspired by this that I may write up: the social media challenge and the writing challenge. Would you want to read about them?
What did you like about this post, and is there anything I can do to help you start a challenge of your own like this? If I started a local fitness challenge, would you be interested?