It is that time of year again, when the '30 Day Challenges' start popping up on Pinterest and Facebook and other social media platforms. Suddenly little groups are springing up to take the challenge.
'Zero to 100 pushups/pullups/squats in 30 days!'
'Nought to 5 minute plank/wall sit' etc. In fact those are probably the more conservative ones. I did a quick Google yesterday and found challenges going up to 250 reps in a month. No experience necessary.
They look so tempting. Imagine being able to do 100 pushups in one set! That would be amazing particularly if you can only manage a couple now. And in only a month! It doesn't look too difficult either. You're starting with fewer than 10 and just adding a few reps every day. How hard can it be?
Well the simple answer to 'how hard can it be?' is 'very'. In fact, 'impossible' would not be too much of an exaggeration. There is a notoriously difficult benchmark Crossfit WOD called Murph which involves 200 pushups and 300 squats, and I have never seen anyone do them in unbroken sets, and I know some extremely fit Crossfitters. Generally Murph only gets programmed in Crossfit boxes about once every six months. To be churning out that kind of volume of exercise everyday, particularly as a beginner is not just completely unrealistic, it is bordering on recklessly inviting injury. Quite apart from which, what would be the value in being able to do 250 reps of an exercise in one set anyway? You are building endurance, not strength, with high volumes, and I can't bring to mind any endurance squatting activities that I need to be participating in. Strength, on the other hand, or hams in this case, is never a weakness, as Mark Bell would say.
Not that anyone is going to get anywhere near the end. In my experience (and yes, when I first started doing exercise I did try the 150 pushups in 30 days challenge, naively thinking it would be a good way of building my strength. It wasn't), all goes well enough for the first week or so while the numbers are still low and the progressions are manageable. Then sometime halfway into week 2, the daily increases start to really bite. You are piling on another 10, 15 reps every day where ten days ago you could only manage 5, and then around the beginning of week 3 it all grinds to a halt as your body simply cannot cope with the volume of work any more.
and what happens then?
At best: Disillusionment, disappointment and rather than blaming the flawed (that is a place holder word for the much stronger word I would rather use) programme, you blame yourself for failing. You have no gainz. You probably don't try another pushup/squat/wall sit again for a long time or perhaps ever because you suck at them.
At worst: Injury
Sooo... we don't like those 30 day challenges.
This year, however, rather than just moan about them and roll my eyes and try and talk people out of them, I have decided to throw down a 30 day challenge on my Blog the way I think it ought to be done; the kind of challenge I would have benefited from when I was starting out. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me from the forum (or read the post title, even) that it is a squat challenge.
I like squats. My children are always asking absurd questions like "If you could only have one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?" I usually pretend I haven't heard them. But if I could only do one exercise for the rest of my life it would be the squat. If for no other reason that the main cause of elderly people having to give up independent living and move into care homes is because they can no longer use the toilet unassisted. They are unable to sit down and get up again. If you can squat, you can use the toilet until the day you shuffle off this mortal coil. (of course the irony of this statement is that the day after a heavy squat session, getting on and off the toilet is the one thing you can't do, but let us not dwell on all things lavatorial for now).
It is aimed at beginners, so if you are back squatting 200kg or training for the Crossfit Open you're not going to get much benefit. Although I find, even though I have done tens of thousands of squats in the past few years, I find every time I go through the basics again I discover how my form has slipped into bad habits, and am better for the reset.
The goal is to get from not squatting at all to being able to do a reasonable number of unassisted airsquats with proper form and depth. No massive volume. No weights. No one-legged balancing.
The challenge runs for a month, starting Sunday and running up to the day before Valentine's Day, just in time for you to put that new found thigh strength and toned butt to... well, whatever purpose you like. There will be rest days, it's not going to be overwhelming, each week will be a progression, rather than more reps. It will not take more than 10 minutes a day, tops. The emphasis will be on getting the technique right and developing a daily routine that you can do going forward for the rest of your life, and still be able to get on and off the toilet when you're old(er).
I'm posting this today to give y'all a day or two's notice. Tomorrow or Saturday I will put up another post eulogising about the benefits of the squat and looking at the mechanics of it, tackling some of the nonsense talked about the squat (you are not going to wreck your knees). Then on Sunday will post the first week's plan. Feel free to sign up in the comments section on the blog today or on Sunday as you prefer, or just follow anonymously if you prefer. It's free, obviously.
It's going to be kinda epic.
My blog is here. Don't bother reading the post today about the challenge as it is almost identical to what is written here. But do tune in on Saturday for the anatomy of the squat post ahead of starting Sunday.