Last night’s glorious windows-wide-open weather almost made up for the fact that I barely slept.
When I put my head down at midnight, I struggled to fall asleep. After I managed to conk out, I woke up at least once an hour. At 5:07 a.m., I declared my extended nap done, put on a pot of coffee, and decided to make the best of the situation by going to boot camp at 6.
Some people would view going to boot camp at 6 a.m. as making the worst of it, but I love the class. We exercise outdoors, the instructors push and encourage us, and I’ve really bonded with the other campers. Even when my body doesn’t feel like going, my spirit does. As I walked out the door at 5:52 and reveled in the 65 degree temps, I thought, spectacular weather and a workout with friends…what could be better?
A lot of things, it turns out.
During the warm-up, our instructor, Chris, fired a warning shot.
“We’re going to do something a little different today,” he said, which translates to: “After this, you won’t be able to flare your nostrils without wincing.”
Chris told us we’d have to do five exercises: push-ups, band-resisted squats, sit-ups, burpees and overhead claps. It sounded almost benign until he told us to repeat each exercise 250 times before moving on to the next one. Squats, sit-ups and overhead claps might be manageable, but two hundred-fifty push-ups and burpees? I might accumulate that total over the course of a month, but definitely not an hour.
For those unacquainted with the burpee, Wikipedia describes it as “a full body exercise used in strength training and as an aerobic exercise.” I would have tacked on, “in Hell,” but whatever.
To execute a burpee, you start from a standing position and do the following:
- Drop down into a squat and place your hands on the ground, on the outside of your foot.
- Kick both feet back so that you’re now in a pushup position.
- Kick your feet forward again, right back to the spot in between your hands.
- Stand straight up.
It’s a simple move and you can do it anywhere – hotel room, parking lot, prison cell. After you knock out three sets of ten, you’ll have taxed your core, exhausted your quads and depleted your life forces. Vomiting is optional.
If you’re wondering how this exercise came into existence, it was created in the 1930s by a physiologist named Royal H. Burpee. (Burpee is also how you feel after you’ve done a few dozen.) I know what you’re thinking –with a name like Royal H. Burpee, the transition to sadism was just a matter of time– but this move began as a fitness test that was meant to be repeated just a few times. The military, which is always on the lookout for advances in misery, began to inflict dizzying numbers of burpee reps on recruits at basic training. Civilians and yuppies figured out they could get a piece of the action without enlisting by just paying fitness instructors for access to this exciting new form of torture.
But before I could even get to the burpees this morning, I had to knock out 250 push-ups, band-resisted squats and situps.
I did 10 full-blown push-ups and then, on realizing my triceps were about to be fully blown, switched to the kneeling plank position to do the rest. I felt almost giddy about the prospect of switching to squats. That giddiness carried through the first 100 squats and I gritted my teeth through the next 150. By this time, my core was wising up. When I moved on to the sit-ups, it opted to save its best effort for those burpees and quit after 200 reps.
I took a few sips of water, a risky move when you’re on the verge of burpee-ing, but I needed a stall tactic. After a brief rest, I knocked out the first 30 burpees at a break-neck pace. My pace on the next 30 was decidedly break-spirit. After rep number 60, I could barely manage a break-wind pace.
As I got to 100, Chris came over to me and said, “Time’s running out.” I figured he meant my earthly suffering had ended and I’d earned the right to start walking toward the proverbial light. Nope. I’d earned the right to do 250 overhead claps, which I executed as “near ear flaps.”
Oh what a beautiful morning, indeed.