What happened when I did 30 burpees for 30 days

A few months ago, I read an article about a lady who had taken on the challenge to do 50 burpees per day for 30 days, and saw some great results. I felt inspired to try a similar 30-day challenge, so roped Sye into taking one on. We decided on 30 burpees for 30 days, which we kicked off a month before we left for Australia. I chose to do the standard burpee with pushup, like so:

Diagram from Radiant Health Mag article

As it turns out, my memory of ‘not hating burpees as much as others’ is entirely down to the fact that whenever I’ve done them in the past, I didn’t do the pushup. I hate pushups. My arms are weak and I usually do them on my knees to make it less embarrassing for myself. However, this was a challenge and challenges aren’t meant to be easy: so the pushup had to be part of the movement.

From Oct 22 until Nov 22 (32 days total which included 2 rest days) I took 10min out of my day to complete the dreaded burpees. Sometimes Sye joined in, but mostly it was me doing them alone at 10pm on our bedroom floor because I’d forgotten/not found the time earlier in the day. Once the initial excitement of taking on the challenge had worn off, I found it increasingly difficult to bring myself to do the set. However, I got it done and completed the whole challenge on the day we flew out. Here are some things that I learned along the way.

Burpees are tough

Burpees are a great whole-body exercise and don’t require any equipment. You use your arms for the pushup, your legs in the jumps, and your core to hold you in plank position. It is a plyometric, cardio movement – basically the whole kit and kaboodle in one go.

But they are hard. On day one, I couldn’t do more than 10 in a row because my heart-rate skyrocketed and I had to take a break to bring it back down again. Even as I was able to do more and more in a row as the days progressed, I found my heart thumping by the time I hit the 6th or 7th repetition. Often, I’d have to lie on the ground for a few minutes once they were done – and that was only after a few minutes of exercise!

There are many different variations of burpees which you can do to make them more difficult (if they’re not hard enough!). Another way to increase the sweat-factor is to do them after a hard run or a strength session, where your body is already tired. The burpee is not to be underestimated – a set can be a workout all of its own.

Break it up

30 burpees is a lot. It may not sound like it, but it is – especially when you have to do them every day for a month. I chose to always do my burpees in one session, but I only actually did all 30 burpees in a row twice: once on day 21 and again on day 28. At first I broke them up into sets because I wasn’t able to keep going without a break, but later it was more of a way to mentally get though the challenge. By splitting the 30 into 3×10 or 2×15 or even 12+12+6 (or whatever) I could refocus on each section – a strategy I also use in running a marathon to get through all the kilometres. It also became easier to convince myself to get started: “OK Julia, let’s do two sets of 15 burpees” feels a lot better than “OK Julia, let’s grind through 30 burpees”.

Another option that I chose a few times was to do the burpees as part of a superset (usually core). This meant that I would do one or several movements, a set of burpees and then repeat. While the burpees were usually more difficult to get through, particularly during the first set, it was an effective way to incorporate the challenge into a gym session or to turn the burpees into a workout of their own.

While it was a 30 day challenge, I chose also to break up the month by taking two days of no burpees and instead did two extra days at the end. One day was when I ran the Nice-Cannes marathon and there was no way I was able to do burpees after that. The other was on my last day of work, when I simply forgot 🙊 Taking those days off gave my body a chance to recover, as well as mentally helping to get through the 30 days.

You will get stronger

When I started the challenge, my arms hurt so much. Having not done any pushups for a loooong time, my piddly arms took the brunt of the effort during the burpees. However, after ten days or so I noticed that my arms weren’t hurting any more. Sure, now it was my quads which were aching towards the end of the set(s), but somehow, miraculously, over the time my arms were getting stronger.

I wanted to see how I was progressing, so every 10 days I tested myself by trying to do as many pushups as possible in a row. On day 11 I managed 15, on day 21 it was 23 and at the end I successfully hammered out 30 pushups. 30 pushups, in a row, on my toes. I wish I’d done the test at the very beginning but I doubt I would have been able to do more than 5. It was a clear indicator that this 30-day challenge had made me stronger.

Taking on the 30burpees30days challenge was a great way to show that a small daily effort can lead to great results. Although my running has been in a bit of a lull lately, reaching day 30 of the burpees felt like a big achievement (and a big relief!). I may still be ridiculously slow at churning them out (Sye has them finishined in the time it takes me to do 20), but I stuck it out to the end. That’s another type of strength.

If you want to challenge yourself to something different and see progress over a short period of time, a 30-day challenge is a great place to start. You could choose anything you want: 30 burpees, 30 minutes of running (check out Advent Running!), daily yoga – whatever you feel would challenge you. Then just pick a date and get started!

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