Challenges. Do you accept them or do run from them? If you are never challenging yourself or always staying in your comfort zone, how can you really have any success?
When you train, do you throw on the same 225lbs on the bench year in and year out only to see no growth in your chest? What if you had slowly added weight to the bar over the last year and 225lbs for 5 reps is now 245lbs for 5 reps? Would your shirts fit differently? Would your chest be bigger?
Do you go to the squat rack each week and perform putrid half or quarter squats with too much weight? Does it baffle you that your legs are still weak and small after a year of workouts? What if you had squatted deep into the bucket and forced your legs and core to work harder? Are you using 405lbs because you can, or are you using it to impress the uninitiated lifters at the gym with your partial version? Is your ego preventing you from being a real lifter and squatting correctly?
Lose the ego and the laziness. Challenges will mold you into a better lifter and a better human being. I have a story to tell you about the ultimate challenge.
Lunges of death - the ultimate challenge
The year was 2012. I was scanning the web while listening to my Miley Cyrus CD and reading more about training when I came across a video on YouTube entitled the “Lunges of Death.” I am a challenge junkie and this peaked my interest tremendously.
Already one of the most brutal moves of all time, the barbell walking lunge was now being performed in a seemingly impossible situation of walking it 100 yards from goal line to goal line with 185lbs. The only way to win this challenge is to score a touchdown. Now I have performed barbell lunges in the parking lot during and after lower body workouts, but it never dawned on me to attempt a full 100 yards.
The first official Lunges of Death challenge I saw was first attempted by Adam Rees, a strength coach out of Iowa and the owner of Grit Gym. Rees looked as if he was a big and strong athlete, maybe around 215-225lbs. He valiantly gave the Lunges of Death a shot and made one heck of an effort. He fell short at 60 yards with 185lbs strapped to his back. After watching this I became inspired and then decided I had to give it a try.
I decided to up the stakes to make the challenge seemingly impossible. Even though I typically weigh 165-170lbs, I would also use the same 185lb barbell lunge that Rees used. Now this would be extremely difficult as the bar would outweigh me.
But my belief in myself, my strength and conditioning level, and my ability to have success in adverse situations is second to none. I always stress to my clients and people in general that the MENTAL aspect of the fitness game is way more important than the physical aspect. Think about the "flu game" with Michael Jordan, or Curt Schilling pitching with a blown ankle winning in the World Series. These men were in extreme physical pain, but overcame it mentally and had monumental success.
When I brought the idea up to friends, fellow trainers, and associates, the response across the board was “You have ZERO chance.” What! The average man might have broken down after hearing that from close friends and family, but this motivated me to unearthly levels. How could 99 percent of the people I know just flat out say it could not be done? The first attempt was officially set up for September 29th, 2013.
In order to prepare for this, I programmed barbell and dumbbell lunges into my scheme. They are always a part of the plan, but now they had to be performed in a fashion that would try to simulate the Lunges of Death.
The first lower body day would involve heavy barbell step back lunges using a 5×5 scheme. This was to develop as much strength as possible to make 185lbs feel as light as possible. I topped this phase out by doing sets of 255lbs for 10 reps.
Most people never do the barbell lunge which baffles me. It is truly a total leg movement, but like most great moves, it is ignored for the likes of some new fancy machine.
In today’s get fit quick society, shortcuts are in like skinny jeans and old fashioned hard work is unpopular. The fear that you will get injured while performing barbell lunges is also a myth. Injuries come primarily from bad form, incorrect preparation, or unaddressed pre-existing injuries. It can definitely be loaded heavy if it is being performed correctly.
The second lower body day would involve walking dumbbell lunges using Vince Gironda’s classic 8×8 scheme. This was to develop the supreme conditioning needed to lunge for 100 yards.
Barbell lunges are a big time heart rate move. Even if you are in great condition, you will be hurting really bad. I had to make sure I was in excellent condition to even attempt this.
On top of the lower body lifting days, I ran hard sprint workouts on Saturdays to ensure my conditioning would not be an issue at all. This was a brutal six weeks of top level programming but I felt amazing coming out of it. I took seven full days off the week after the scheme was over to heal my body and get rejuvenated.
Ready for the insanity?
I felt ready and prepared to take care of business. However one question remained…was my programming enough to set me up for this insane challenge?
At this point do not scroll down any further until you view the video. It will ruin the story like the family member who tells you the ending to a movie before you have seen it yet. PLEASE watch this entire video before reading anymore of the article!
As you see I failed and I got folded at 71 yards. And even though the 71 yards was now the longest recorded LOD (lunge of death) of all time, I was not even close to satisfied. I was actually pretty disappointed. My goal was to do 100 yards and so in my eyes this attempt was a failure.
This is like a music artist who was aiming for their album to go platinum but it only went gold. Admirable, but not the goal. Why did I fail? I felt fine (very, very relative) as far as my legs, heart, and mind go. The issue was my mid/lower back. It locked up like Akon in 2004.
If you have ever felt mid-lower back fatigue, then you know it is crippling and it can fold anyone. During the Lunges of Death my back fatigue was 1000 times worse than any deadlift or squat workout I have ever done in my life. I could feel my back muscles bulging and it felt like they were going to rip out of my skin.
Addressing what went wrong
When I do not accomplish something, the first thing I look for are the reasons why. I had to look in the mirror and figure out what happened. I deduced that the issue was not a matter of fitness or strength, but it came down to flexibility and mobility which I was absolutely lagging behind in.
I set a date of October 26th, 2013 for the second attempt, but in the meantime the focus was to work extensively on my flexibility and mobility. I had to release my lower back in order to have a chance for this challenge.
I feel that there are areas of fitness that I am highly skilled at and areas where I am not the greatest. Stretching and mobility were not my greatest attributes and never have been dating back to collegiate track. But I was determined to fix these issues.
I scanned the web for techniques and tactics to help release the lower back. I learned a lot from the great Joe DeFranco and the very knowledgeable Kai Wheeler. Specifically Joe DeFranco introduced me to the lacrosse ball for releasing muscle tension and Kai Wheeler introduced me to a few new stretches for the hips and glutes that I had never did before.
I implemented this newfound knowledge into my program and my back tightness and fatigue began to dissipate quickly. But fear was beginning to set in because the ominous date of October 26th was approaching.
I have performed and still perform my training sessions in a progressive, but brutal manner. These training sessions can be labeled as unsanctioned because I like to experiment with schemes whether it is in the gym or on the track. The human body is very resilient and training hard is a great way to test it.
My approach to training has always been that there is never an excuse for someone to outwork and out hustle you. You may not be as big or as muscular because at the end of the day genetics are the father of a person’s size and structure. But YOU ultimately determine how hard you want to work and how much heart you will put into in. And being a smaller man most of my life I have always trained with a chip on my shoulder which led to creating a training system that is extremely tough and keeps you highly accountable.
But of any training workout I have ever done, the Lunges of Death installed a fear and anxiety into me that is unmatched. Hill sprints in 99 degrees outside in July and extremely difficult compound supersets do not even come close.
The anxiety of the approaching date mixed with fear of trying to walk 100 yards with 185lbs strapped on your back is rough. You have to keep your mind as solid as possible, but somehow fear sneaks in. And the black cloud of failing once before loomed over me too like a vulture over an expired carcass. But the time and the day of October 26th was here.
Lunges of Death, round 2
The day did not go as planned. I awoke to some wonderful low back fatigue. I had rested for seven days, so I do not know where the new fatigue came from. Can’t get ahead I guess!
The weather, which was a fantastic 73 degrees the first time I tried the challenge, was now predicted to be 45-50 degrees at the time of the second attempt. Not too cold, but when you factor in the wind and a setting sun it gets chilly, and I do not like cold weather at all. On top of that, the fear of this challenge was now taking over my mind.
I had a high carb, high protein shake to start the day, and then a short few hours later a pre-workout meal that included a Chipotle burrito. I needed the heavy dosage of carbs and protein to fuel me through this. My pre-workout remained the same as always: black coffee and creatine. I also had about eight tangerines. I was going all out because I knew I would need a lot of energy.
But I had to wait for one of my peers and training partners, Chris Gilbert, to finish training his clients before I could get out there. Someone had to film it. And with him arriving around 5pm, it looked as if I would be performing lunges in the cold.
I called one of my young proteges, Cory Scott to accompany me out there a little earlier so I could get warmed up. Once Chris arrived, it was showtime. Again, do not ruin the story by skipping ahead. PLEASE watch the entire video below before reading anymore of this article!
IT HAS BEEN DONE. The Lunges of Death have been completed for the first time ever! I guess I can call it the training equivalent of breaking the 4 minute mile or landing a man on the moon, in the sense that this is the first time the challenge has ever been completed and recorded.
It was an extremely daunting challenge and it took every single ounce of moxy and gumption I had inside of me to get it done. But at the end of the day it got done!
It is crazy because the challenge works in phases. 20 yards in and I’m thinking everything is going to be fine. 40 yards in and I am beginning to feel the onset of horrific pain. 60 yards in and my hands began to go numb. When I passed 71 yards, I felt a sense of relief and a sense of agony at the same time. A relief that I exceeded my old world record. And agony knowing the challenge was not even close to being finished. And at 80 yards in, I began to taste victory even though I felt my familiar sensation that my back beginning to pulsate out of my body and through my skin.
I always tell clients and trainees that in order to get past your physical limits of pain, you must turn your brain off and direct your focus to the task at hand. If your mind gives into the fatigue, it is all over for you like a lowly rated sitcom.
The difference this time was that my back did not really begin to get tight until the end of the walk. And by then I knew I had to push through the searing pain because I was so close to slaying this giant dragon. I must thank Joe DeFranco and Kai Wheeler for their insight.
I feel that what stops a fitness professional from learning new ideas is pride. I read articles daily and keep my mind open to new ideas in the game. And although 90 percent of advice and articles can truly qualify as bro-science or pure garbage, there are some very knowledgeable folk in the game who offer top flight advice.
The challenge has been completed…the bar has been raised
Now as for you who is reading this my goal was to show you that through hard work and a belief in yourself, you can achieve things that are seemingly impossible. Trust me, there will always be naysayers around telling you that you cannot have success.
But you have to cancel them out and focus on achieving your goal. The Lunges of Death is the ultimate physical challenge, but also the ultimate mental challenge. You can be supremely fit and STILL fail as I found out.
Get your mind right first, address your weaknesses, and then begin your walk to greatness!