Doug Larson: “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”
Why can’t burpees be like cicadas, and only appear once every 17 years? I suppose that if I stayed away from all CrossFit facilities, that would be the natural order of things. I would get to remain perpetually upright, and in my little corner of the world the burpee would become as extinct as the dodo bird. But instead, I am the dodo because I keep going back to CrossFit, a place where zealots are of the opinion that burpees are better for you than pizza. The sad part of this scenario is that they might actually be right.
According to an article published last December on the website of the European Society of Cardiology, a Brazilian study found that there is a direct correlation between life expectancy and the ability to get down on the floor, and then back up again. Why anyone would want to do this regularly and on a voluntary basis is beyond me. But someone must have found this proposition intriguing because research dollars were applied for, and granted, to study the question: will a human jack-in-the-box outlive a human jackknife. Specifically, the study concluded that:
“If a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand – or even better without the help of a hand – they are not only in the higher quartile of musculo-skeletal fitness but their survival prognosis is probably better than that of those unable to do so.”
The test that researchers used to determine longevity was depicted in an accompanying YouTube video, so naturally, I decided to take it. After all, I’ve been ingesting massive doses of vitamin P (that would be “pizza”), usually in the form of vitamin P-2 (that’s “pepperoni pizza”), and that made me quite confident that my calculated life expectancy would be in the Methuselah-nian range. Bad news. Like Schrodinger’s cat, I came up with a negative number. I guess that means that I have to give some time back. Either that, or I had better cram for the next test by working on my down-to-the-floor-and-up again skills. If only there was an exercise that would help me do that. I think you know where this is going.
Even critics like me can’t deny that burpees do enforce the concept of bouncing off the floor. (If you are unfamiliar with the burpee, then I suggest that: first, you stay that way, and second, you check out this post for my description of the movement.) Being as fair-minded as I am, I must now revise my position on the burpee in light of the results of the Brazilian study. Ever so reluctantly, I have to concede that because of the flop-to-the-floor-and-fly-up-again nature of the exercise, the burpee, like broccoli, is probably entitled to be included in the category of “unpleasant things that are good for you.” Accordingly, it is my new opinion that the burpee is the CrossFit equivalent of a colonoscopy. Though beneficial, both elicit the “Oh, crap” response.
My stumbling across this new “sit down, stand up” science was fortunate, because it has validated a decision that I made several months ago, one that flew in the face of my boisterous burpee bashing. I had decided to do (gasp!) more burpees! That illogical decision came after my initiation into the 2013 CrossFit Open. The very first workout included four sets of burpees that descended from 40 to 30 to 20 then 10, assuming you could get that far. I couldn’t. By the end of the first set of 40, I was collapsing to the floor like a tipped over Tin Man, and by the second set … well, let’s just say that even the gentle encouragement of CrossFit Ulster Coach Sean couldn’t motivate me to move my hands, feet, knees, or elbows off the ground any faster than an arthritic centipede sinking in quicksand.
When that workout was over, and sufficient time had passed to erase the emotional scars and ease physical memory of the effort, I figured that if I was going to stick to the program, I had better find a way to tame the wild burpee. Despite all the mental gymnastics I employed, the only solution I could come up with was to do more of them. But how? How could I create a program that I would stick to without in the process killing myself, or anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity when I was forcing myself to do these freakin’ burpees? And then it hit me … I should start a streak.
As a runner, I am very familiar with the concept of trying to string together a long chain of consecutive training days. Though difficult to begin, once a streak has taken root it provides a huge source of motivation to keep getting out the door. You just can’t accept the fact that this day will be the day that the streak ends, and so the momentum of the streak often times propels you to take the hardest step of all … the very first one. Although I have known runners who have accumulated streaks of gi-normous numbers of consecutive days run, one such in excess of twenty years, I am not one of them. Those people are crazy! But me? Well, maybe only just a little, which could be why I have only attempted modest streaks on a cicada-like frequency. (Note: for those who might be interested in these things, there is now an organization dedicated to running streaks, the United States Running Streak Association, Inc. If there is an organization devoted to the other type of streaking run, I haven’t yet found it.)
My first attempt at a running streak came in the late 70’s, and started the day after we brought our firstborn son, Chris, home from the hospital. The fact that I started a streak then should in no way be considered a reflection on baby behavior or parental instincts. It was simply my response to a new life style resulting from our addition to the household of someone who had no concept of, or regard for, the different days on the calendar. Well, at least that’s what I told Ma Kettlebell. Anyway, I started running that morning, and did so for each of the next 270 that followed. That remains the longest streak of my running career, and I have to admit that it produced excellent results. During those 271 days, I pounded out just under 2500 miles, ran my fastest marathon ever, and four weeks after that, ran what was at the time, my fastest half-marathon. But I also learned that a streak can take its toll, and that’s why mine ended.
The second time I decided to use the streak theory of motivation happened nearly 16 years later, (I told you I’m like a cicada!) and was again influenced by family milestones. It was in the mid-90’s, I was about to turn fifty, and my youngest son, Ben, was about to enter high school. With Chris now able to drive my cast off Izuzu Trooper (top speed 48 MPH) and assume some of my transportation duties, and my role in sports being relegated to the last stage of the competitor-coach-spectator cycle, I figured that the timing was right for a monumental effort. But I was also cognizant of my history of recurring injuries whenever I try to do the tempting “too much” that so often leads athletes to trouble, even average athletes like myself. Thus, I gave myself some leeway. Instead of limiting myself only to running every day, I could choose between doing a run or a one hour weightlifting workout (later I would add kayaking as an option). On good days, I would do all of the options. This additional flexibility worked well for me, and though I could not sustain the streak for every day of Ben’s entire high school career (that had been my goal), I did last for 1085 consecutive days. My “racing” career long over by this time, I have no best ever races to report, but during this streak I did run my “official” 50,000th mile while accompanied by both of my sons, and that was a lot better than any personal record race time ever could be.
It is now closing in on 15 years since that last streak ended, so like an impatient teenaged cicada, I feel that the time is right to start a new one. Unfortunately, this one involves burpees. Drawing on the experience that came from my two prior streaks, I decided to modify the requirements to stack the odds in my favor. For one thing, I would not tie the streak to consecutive days. Rather, I would do burpees in combination with something else, an activity I enjoyed. I’ve got it! How about hot fudge sundaes? After every hot fudge sundae I ingest I would have to do burpees! No, too messy. Besides, I ought to connect burpees to something arguably more healthful. Why not tie burpees in with the physical activity that, for me, has become more of a habit than a hobby? Why not tie them in with running. Starting in the middle of March, I resolved to do burpees after each of my runs, and as of now, I still am.
Let Me Think … I Have To Bend …Then Fall … Watch Out For the Face Plant! … Stretch Out … Reverse Hump My Rump, Then Jump … That’s One! … Maybe I Shouldn’t Do Any Thinking
I started the streak by completing six burpees after my first run-burpee run. There wasn’t anything magical about that number; I probably got to six and thought, okay, that’s plenty. After the second day, though, I decided that six wasn’t enough. How about increasing the number to eight the next week? Incredibly, I had no argument against that thought, and the last week in March saw me doing eight burpees after each run. Then, halfway through that week, I again thought that this number just didn’t seem like enough. Why not do 10 in April? So I did. I was able to rein myself in a little in April, agreeing to keep adding to the total, but limiting it to only an extra two per month. This pattern probably highlights why I have had problems with streaks; I have an easy time adding but a real difficulty with subtraction. Once May arrived, I grudgingly absorbed the additional two burpees, and then to satisfy my masochistic need for more, increased the amount of running days from the month before. When it comes to testing your willpower, there is always a way to get around a limiting rule.
It now being June, the post-run burpee requirement is up to 14. That’s not a big number, but considering how much I still don’t like doing these things, it’s big enough. And about to get bigger because July is only three weeks away. Ma Kettlebell asked me last week how long I’m going to keep adding my monthly two, and I honestly don’t know. I have done this just long enough so that the streak has taken on a character of its own, and the diabolical thing about streaks is that as hard as they are to start, they’re even harder to stop. Though my body says “no” every time, it is now only a whisper and I know I can ignore it. But at some point in the future, that whisper will become a scream, and the streak will end. Then I will retreat underground, gradually restore my willpower, and emerge in 17 years to start another. Maybe this time I’ll make it easier. Maybe I’ll combine hot fudge sundaes with vitamin P-izza. Yeah! Now that’s a streak I can maintain!
[Note: speakin’ of streakin’, I now have several posts in a row ending with a music video, and like the wise man once said, the diabolical thing about streaks is that as hard as they are to start, they’re even harder to stop. So here is another music video to keep that streak going. Do you have any idea how hard it was to find an old-time music video with a burpee in it, even if the burpee was inadvertent and assisted? You can find just such a move a little over two minutes in, and besides, this song sets a great tempo for burpees … assuming you can ever couple the words “great tempo” with burpees.]