David Whetton, 40, from New South Wales, Australia, has been performing a minimum of 100 burpees for a whole year. He shares with Men’s Health how this physical challenge has transformed his body—and his outlook.
When covid completely shut down my business, I suddenly found myself at home with more time on my hands. I felt a real need to have something to ‘anchor’ my day in the swirling waters that covid became for small business owners.
I had always kept fit and active—rugby league and rugby union, running, weights, tennis—but these outlets were now largely closed, and I had no idea when they would reopen. I had spoken with a mate and leading boot camp operator in Sydney, Patrick ‘Sarge’ Ritchie who has dedicated his professional life to guiding others on their fitness journeys. He suggested a movement that was whole-body in nature.
So, I looked online for a a fitness challenge that I could do within the confines of my home during quarantine. I came across a Pittsburgh personal trainer named Chase Barron who had recorded his own challenge of 100 burpees per day for 30 days. He spoke with such clarity and insight on how his mindset had to adjust to the pre, during and post aspect of daily burpees, he really inspired me.
I can definitely understand why the burpee is hated in CrossFit circles; no day ever gets easier with burpees! They are a constant, rolling movement that requires precision in breathing, hand and feet placement, with no break, no reprieve, no breather. Additionally, the burpee hits every part of your body if you do it right, from your toes to your neck.
But mainly, doing burpees is a mental game. Your mindset begins to shift from ‘Do I have to do this?’ to ‘How much can I squeeze out of this?’ and you find yourself waking up with burpees on your mind, and hitting the pillow with a great sense of accomplishment that no matter what else may have not gone your way that day, at least you gave your body and mind the respect of a daily practice that is of benefit to you, and therefore, of benefit to your loved ones, friends and colleagues because you presented the optimized version of yourself.
Because actually, it’s not about the burpees. They are just a vehicle for finding what drives you. It’s about clawing back a fraction of your day to make your life—and your interactions with those around you—better. It may initially seem like a selfish act, rolling out the mat to bust-out another 200 burpees, but it soon swings towards being a way of giving your best self to those around you who depend on you.
My motivation over the last year came from within. It was never about being ‘the biggest guy at the bar.’ I am a smaller frame, and am aware of my genetic and physical limitations. Instead, I was determined to create a daily habit of mind and body that required preparation, persistence and passion. At age 40, I’ve crystalized that these are my core skills, so why not harness them? For me, burpees were the answer. I recorded each day in the top corner of a paper calendar, which kept me accountable to myself.
I went from having a little pot belly to a six-pack by about the ninth month. My back muscles really developed, and my shoulders became broader. My biceps and triceps elongated and became very defined. My pecs and chest broadened, and shirts now fit me much better. My waist slimmed and overall, my legs toned up, especially my calves from the constant flexing and pushing motion required in the tuck and jump. But by far, the biggest development was mental. Resilience, daily dedication and the ability to drop and do 200 burpees was far more rewarding than the physical gains, as welcome as they were!
The only time I had an injury was when I overloaded with other bodyweight exercises, such as chinups. They hurt my forearms and forced me to focus more closely on best-practice burpee technique. I was also completing 100 daily kettlebell or dumbbell squats per day for the same period of time, as this gives me the extra leg strength to really complete the high leap component of the burpee effectively; it’s the element of the movement that really drives the cardio aspect as you are fighting gravity, as well as the cumulative fatigue that comes with completing that many burpee reps every day.
I started the challenge on April 2, 20202, right when my area in Australia first went into lockdown. I began with 100 consecutive burpees per day, and then added 10 more reps with each subsequent month; 110 per day in May, 120 in June, and so on. This week, I completed a full year of burpees with 220 reps. Over the course of 365 days, I have completed a total of 55,000 full pushup, tuck, jump and repeat burpees.
Along the way, I’ve kept in close-touch with Chase and connected with like-minded burpee enthusiasts around the world on Instagram like @charlieburpee and @theburpeeguy who have become close mates across the ocean and continue to inspire me and hopefully, vice versa.
I’m still going, and I always will. Daily burpees have now become as integral to my life as the other fundamentals; family connections, good diet, rewarding work, fresh air and restful sleep. As I complete this first 365 days, I’m starting again at 100 and adding 10 again each month, only this time I will will be holding two 5.5-pound dumbbells, and completing 55,000 weighted burpees into curls into shoulder press, over another 365 consecutive days.
The universal reaction when I began this journey a year ago was: ‘Why? Burpees suck!’ And that’s because they do… if you only hit them every now and again, or if they are presented as some sort of training torture in the gym. But that’s perception over reality. Burpees are a highly efficient whole-body movement and when performed regularly and with the right mindset, they can even be fun (well, almost)!
Sure, people started noticing the physical difference in my body after a few months, but mainly they noticed how much more positive my interactions were, how my focus had sharpened, how I was more dedicated to completing work tasks or chores. I think that’s the true benefit of the burpee for me, just a re-framing of my values towards a more positive mindset, valuing each day for it’s highs and lows and displaying gratitude and goodwill in my interactions with others.
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