Silver light fell from street lamps. It shimmered on the farthest corner of the subdivision pond, the palest splash of color in a pre-dawn black and white world. Everything about it was fake, manufactured, unnatural, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Up high a shooting star streaked across the sky from west to east, long enough that I was amazed. It was finally broken.
Meanwhile, a friend of mine named Jeremy Ward was jogging around the corner at the western end of this man-made, but still beautiful, pond. His heart was pounding in his chest, his lungs rose there too, and his legs were pumping and pumping and pumping even more. He was half a mile from the end of a particularly brutal workout, and loved and hated life gloriously.
He sweated and bounced and struggled as part of Make America Burpee Again (MABA), a month-long project involving Ward, the five men with him that morning, and about 400 other members of F3 Nation, a free one Man training group, attempted 3,100 burpees apiece in January.
If you had told Ward a month earlier that he was going to run two miles and do 150 burpees for fun in the wee hours of the morning, he would have laughed at you. He would have thought the proposal absurd. But the deeper he got into January, the more burpees he did, the more burpees he could do – the further away he was from being removed from his own limits. With each burpee, its limits moved.
As he walked toward the approach of the rising sun, purple glances appeared in the sky. The sight pushed him over the edge. A rumble formed in his chest. What a blessing, he thought to himself, to be out here destroying my body and restoring my soul. The rumble in his chest grew stronger, until finally the bliss shot up from his inner depths and came out of his mouth as he howled with joy. “A war cry,” he called it.
That’s a name for it. I would call it the joy of doing more than you think you can.
To do a burpee, you put your hands on the floor, kick your legs out so you are face down in a plank position, kick them back in, jump up, and clap your hands over your head. When you watch people at the burpee it looks like they are falling and getting up again.
MABA’s motto was: “Fall down. Come back up. Together. “We thought of this as a way to learn resilience after so many of us spent so much time in 2020 falling down and getting up again, but far too many times we did both on our own.
I wrote a MABA newsletter and sent it to participants every other day. The answers flowed back to me. The men involved were very happy about the misery of the physical exertion. Time and again, men thanked me for getting them to do 3,100 burpees. (Um, you are welcome?!?)
Like Ward, they told me they were surprised they could do it. When they passed this test, they thought they would fail and decided to keep raising the bar. Like Ward, by falling and standing up, they learned that they were capable of more than they thought.
One man said 31 days was not enough, he would shoot for 100. Another said he hated burpees before, but now he enjoyed them so much that he would do them “permanently”.
And then there was the man named Disco Ball.
Michael “Disco Ball” Leahy is an Army veteran father and a man eager to push the limits of his own abilities. When he heard about MABA, it sounded sweet. One hundred burpees a day wasn’t enough for him. He was already doing 150 as part of his normal fitness routine. But he wanted to get to know MABA’s togetherness, so he adapted it to his standards: he doubled his daily performance from 150 to 300. When he realized that he would get 9,300 burpees for the month, he increased the challenge again. If I’m that close, I might as well do 10,000, he told himself, so that’s what he did.
He did at least 325 burpees every day in January. He finished with 11,001. With gentleness and respect, I asked him what the hell was the matter with him. He said he was just about to read Navy SEAL’s Can’t Hurt Me and endurance athlete David Goggins, which inspired him to start pushing himself. In the book, Goggins argues that most people only use 40 percent of their skills. Leahy drove this idea through MABA.
“I’m trying to learn how to unlock some of the 60 percent of the potential that most people never unlock,” Leahy said. “So (MABA) is a physical challenge, but perhaps more importantly, it’s a mental challenge. Learning how to mentally push your way through pain and fatigue and do it for a challenge that means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things is an invaluable lesson that most do not want to learn. It is almost always the mental aspect of life that people never learn to break through in order to reach their true potential. ”
He’d put the burpees together in pieces of 25, he told me every day. He used burpees like some people use meditation – to calm down and re-center. Whenever he got angry at work or got stuck with a problem he couldn’t figure out, he would tear off a few burpees.
He also turned MABA into a game with his 3 year old daughter. “We play hide and seek. She has time until I turn off 25 reps to find a hiding place, and then I go to find her, ”he says. “This is usually good for 100 reps. It all adds up. “
It all adds up. These are words that Goggins would support. He writes that continued commitment to improvement, as Leahy described it, is how to exceed your perceived limitations.
When Goggins faced difficult challenges – Navy SEAL training, ranger school, impossible-sounding endurance events – he asked himself repeatedly: What can I do? The answer grew every time he asked how he was running farther away, faster speeds, and longer periods of time.
Goggins’ career as an endurance athlete has been an amazing change since the beginning of his life when his weight rose to 297 pounds. As he says, he was not born an endurance athlete. He became one by working hard.
In the same way, this morning you’re not going to fall out of bed with no experience and do 325 burpees like Leahy in one day, or sell 10 houses, or woo a dozen clients, or whatever bold goal you might achieve, but think you can’t . But if you do five burpees today and six tomorrow, or sell a house today and two or whatever tomorrow, soon you will be doing more burpees, selling more houses, attracting more clients than you ever thought possible.
Goggins wrote the book to help readers identify and remove that part of their mindset that is slowing them down, and to tell them that they can’t or shouldn’t push themselves, or that a goal is out of reach. He illustrates his philosophy with his own physical training, but the same principle applies to any limit that you believe will bind you. What can you? There is only one way to find out.
“The only person you play against is yourself,” he writes. “Stick to this process and soon you will be doing what you thought was impossible every day of your life.”
And in not so long time you will be howling with joy like Ward.
Photo by GingerKitten / Shutterstock.com
Matt Crossman is a writer and lives in St. Louis. He writes about sports, travel, adventure, and professional development. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.