I did my first Spartan Race this weekend. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. I was among the second largest Spartan Team in the history of the race- 500 other Optimize Coaches from all over the world convened in Los Angeles for a Sprint, the shortest race in the Trifecta. At four miles long and containing 20 obstacles (I’m still not sure I can recall all 20 obstacles), it was a mental and physical challenge. But with 500 other teammates, it was IMPOSSIBLE to fail.
As we approached the apex of our first big hill, not too far from the mile 1 marker, I saw a group of people doing burpees. For a Spartan race, for any obstacle you can’t complete, you do burpees (30 is the number they tell you to do, however, you’re pretty much on the honor code. I GUESS you could get away with 10 or 20, and no one would really know, except YOU. You would know). Seeing such a large group doing burpees, I figured this was the first real challenging obstacle. Sure enough, I could make out pull-up bars and a rig where I imagined you would have to swing from bar to bar. Unfortunately for me, I am still nursing a shoulder injury from over a year ago- a rotator cuff strain. Monkey bars and hanging from my hands are my nemesis right now.
“Well”, I thought out loud, “I have to get 100 burpees in today anyway, I might as well get started.”
And here is where I realized how different my mentality is surrounding burpees from, well, EVERYONE else in the world, apparently. I have rubbed my affection for burpees off on my husband, but apart from him , I think the only other person who appreciates the wonderful idea of a burpee is Brian Johnson, the creator and leader of the Optimize program.
I think everyone else on the planet thinks of burpees as a punishment. Which I find somewhat disappointing. Here is an incredible exercise which works your ENTIRE body, from cardio to strength, arms, legs, and core, and people view it completely as a movement to avoid at all costs. Here are some of the statements I heard from (non-Optimize coach team Spartans) as we approached the monkey bar rig.
As the first Spartan approached, he overheard me thinking out loud when I said I needed to get started on burpees anyways. “I make sure I complete all the obstacles so I don’t have to do burpees.”
Another Spartan jogged past and exclaimed “Ugh! NEVER BURPEES!”
“Burpees are the worst!”
“Burpees are for wussies!”
As each sprinter passed, I smiled and wished them luck, but then also exclaimed that it was different for me because I did burpees just for fun. And that statement alone changed everything, even for these racers who wanted to avoid burpees.
The real reason you want to avoid doing burpees is because you want to excel in the obstacle. Burpees take a little longer to complete than the obstacle would if you can do it. So, for an elite athlete, I understand not WANTING to do burpees, so you can make it across the finish line in a faster time. But there is a difference between not wanting to do burpees so you can go faster, and not wanting to do burpees because you view it as meaning you failed the obstacle, or as punishment.
I do not view burpees as a punishment. I viewed them as a pathway. My shoulder is not strong enough to allow me to transverse the monkey bar obstacle. So burpees gave me a way to complete the obstacle. I was so grateful for the opportunity to do burpees in place of an obstacle I couldn’t finish. They were a blessing. I saw it as a way for ANYONE to do the Spartan race, not just elite athletes who could throw spears and carry heavy objects, and swing on monkey bars.
Can you imagine how unpopular the Spartan race would be if you failed an obstacle, you couldn’t finish the race? Burpees allow you to finish what you start, even when facing obstacles you aren’t strong enough for.
And besides, when you view burpees as something fun, it isn’t an activity you dread. Yes, they are HARD. They are challenging. But they are also a celebration. A celebration of what you CAN accomplish. You can do whatever version of burpees you need to. I did at least one set of plank jack burpees because going down to the ground was hurting my knees.
I know burpees aren’t everyone’s favorite exercise. But I was pleased to share my thoughts with other Spartans as they passed us on the way to the monkey bar.
“Burpees are the worst!” they’d say.
My response, “Burpees? Nah! We do burpees for FUN! We eat burpees for breakfast!”
They turned and smiled at me. “Yeah, yeah, that’s a super cool philosophy. Burpees for fun! You go for it.”
I do burpees for fun. BFF. It’s all about your mindset. Change your mindset, change your life, change the world.