Op-Ed: 5 Workout Challenges Every Athlete Should Try

If your training is stale or you want to test yourself, try these challenges.

Personally, I’m not fan of extreme racing — if you’re the type of person who likes competitions, pain, and/or physical punishment, I prefer different kinds of fitness challenges.

When your training gets stale, you want to test yourself, or you’ve invited a buddy to the gym and want some friendly competition, take a look at one of these articles below. 

You’ll be sorry mid workout, but the feeling of accomplishment once it’s over will tempt you to try yet another one of the entries. You should.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

kb squat
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1. The Eagle

Who came up with it?

Dan John, weightlifting coach, discus thrower, and American record holder in the Weight Pentathlon.

Why do it?

To improve your work capacity, grip strength and mental toughness.

How to do it

  • Do 8 double kettlebell front squats.
  • Drop the weight to your side and do a farmer’s walk for 40 yards.
  • Repeat this combo for 8 rounds, or until you drop.  

The suggested load for a male is two 24-kilo bells while females should start with 12-kilo bells.

You use 2 kettlebells and never put them down the entire time.  Good luck.

[Related: The 9 Best Kettlebells On the Market]

pause squat
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2. The 100-Rep Challenge

Who came up with it?

Kim Wood, the first full-time strength coach in the NFL. (Now retired, he trained the Cincinnati Bengals.)

Why do it?

Because you like intensity. And if you want to get stronger with a lift, you need to practice it, because strength is a skill. Doing 100 reps with the same lift will test your strength and hopefully improve your lifting technique.

How to do it

  • Pick a barbell lift, pick an appropriate load, and do 100 reps with it.

Not 10 sets of 10; it’s 100 singles. Lift, stop, reset and lift again.

Pick a weight that’s challenging for you, probably somewhere in the area of 40% to 70% of your 1-rep max, and continue doing it over and over until you’ve completed 100 reps. Higher level athletes might use up to 80 percent of their 1-rep max, but we’re talking top top level talent.

Please rest as much as need during this challenge because this can last over an hour.  

You might want to clear the rest of your schedule so you can nap afterwards.

[Related: Why 20-Rep Squats Are the Best and Worst Thing Ever]

Squat Challenges
Photo By UfaBizPhoto / Shutterstock

3. The Birthday Challenge

Who came up with it?

Me. 

Why do it?

To test your relative strength as you get older. And you get to eat your cake afterwards guilt free.

How to do it

  • Around your birthday, choose a barbell lift (deadlift, squat, press or row variation) and put your current bodyweight on the bar (or close enough) and do the same reps as your age.

Unlike the 100-rep challenge, it’s not a single after single. Do as many reps as you can before technical failure and rest and repeat until you’re done. Then it’s party time.

Chin-Up Guide

4. Chin-Up Challenge

Who came up with it?

I’ll claim it.

Why do it?

There’s no bodyweight exercise that tests your relative strength better than a chin up. This will improve your pulling power, grip strength and the size of your lats. And it works the biceps too.

If you can raise your arms to flex after this, you should.

How to do it

  • This is a every minute on the minute (EMOM) workout.
  • Start with 3 reps every minute on the minute.
  • When you can no longer get 3 reps go down to 2 reps per minute, and when you can’t get to 2 reps, go down to one per minute until you cannot do another rep with good form.

Keep track of the amount of reps you do and try to beat it next time.

kettlebell swing
Lyashenko Egor/Shutterstock

5. The 10,000 Swing Program

Who came up with it?

Dan John.

Why do it?

That’s a good question. I performed this many years ago and after I finished it, just looking at a kettlebell made me queasy.

Like the 100-rep challenge, strength is a skill that needs to be practiced, and practice it you will with this challenge.  Combining low rep strength exercises with high rep KB swings will improve your overall strength, conditioning and your ability to grind.

This program is brutal.

How to do it

Dan explains it better than me in this article, but here are the basics.

This is a 4 trainings a week, 5-week program. At the end, you’ll have completed 10,000 swings.

You’ll pick 4 strength movements, a press variation or two, a pull variation, and a squat variation. And you’ll do one of those per workout per week. (For example, weighted dips, weighted chin ups, double kettlebell front squat and a bench press.)

Men will swing a 24-kilo bell and women 12 or 16 kilo bell.

Here how’s it’s structured on chin-up day.

  • 10 swings
  • 1 Chin up
  • 15 swings
  • 2 chin ups
  • 25 swings
  • 3 chin ups
  • 50 swings

Rest and repeat for 5 rounds. That’s 500 swings and 30 chin ups.

tired athlete
lunamarina/Shutterstock

Wrapping up

Challenges are a great way to shake things up, bust through plateaus and to improve your strength and conditioning, and this is all done in the comfort of your own gym.

No mud required. 

Featured image via Niyaz Tavkaev/Shutterstock

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

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