Fitness challenges are sort of my jam, playing into my love of organization, community, and friendly competition. I’ve done all sorts: 30-day squat, plank, and yoga challenges, as well as a yearlong burpee challenge, which called for one burpee on day one, two burpees on day two, and so on until we reached 365 burpees on the final day.
My most recent — and favorite — challenge is Million Pound November. Created by Minneapolis strength coach David Dellanave, this dare begins with a question: Can you lift a total of a million pounds in one month?
I first attempted this in 2014 with an eight-person team. Together, we hit our million-pound goal a week early; I lifted a solo total of about 400,000 pounds.
In following Novembers, I refocused my attention to how much I could lift alone. In November 2015, I hoisted 411,134 pounds. In 2016, I hit 590,607; in 2017, my total was 655,608.
And this past November I lifted 901,861 pounds.
With all challenges, success and defeat depend on your perspective. It would be easy to see this as a repeated failure: For five years I’ve accepted the Million Pound challenge and for five years I’ve failed to achieve it. That is not untrue, exactly, but it is inaccurate.
The beauty of this challenge — and, in my opinion, the beauty of every challenge — is in framing it as a series of questions: Can I lift a million pounds? What would that take? And most intriguing, what do I get out of trying?
Estimating that there are 20 training days in a month, I’d be looking at lifting 50,000 pounds each session. (For context, that’s like deadlifting 100 pounds, 500 times. Tip: If you try this challenge, vary your lifts and follow a training plan, please.)
Every year, the math feels daunting to the point of discouragement. So, instead of setting a million as a goal, I resolve to lift as often as feels good, using intuitive training to determine what my “good” is. I track my sleep, mood, energy, and overall mobility, and I test range of motion with toe touches to assess my readiness to lift. (Read “How to use Intuitive Training” to learn more.) If I get a green light, I lift to my heart’s content; if my body gives me a red light, I never fight that message.
True: In the last five years, I’ve tried and failed to lift a million pounds in a month.
Also true: In that time, my total has more than doubled, increasing 120 percent.
This type of steady progress indicates not only year-over-year success, but also that I’m training well year-round. I’m stronger and more conditioned, able to handle — and reconcile — more exercise stress. That’s a win, in my opinion.
Moreover, I maintained a consistent workout regimen during a month that is usually fraught with inconsistencies. Consistency has a domino effect, and even when the challenge is technically finished, it sets me up to keep working into December and beyond.
The fact that I’m more jacked, as Dellanave pointed out to me last week, is a bonus, though not a surprising one. Volume training of this kind calls for high reps at lower weights, which has a muscle-building training effect known as hypertrophy.
Challenges often get a bad rap. For each one, you’ll find a naysayer who criticizes the sustainability and safety of pursuing an arbitrary goal. Again, not untrue, but also not entirely accurate.
If a challenge is a question, then it is no more than an entry point to practice consistency and develop a deeper connection to how your body responds to and recovers from training.
If I had dived into this challenge with the notion that I must lift a million pounds at all costs, I’d probably have gotten hurt and frustrated early on. But each day was an invitation to do as much as I reasonably could, which allowed me to stay safe, stay sane, and very nearly reach the (arbitrary) goal.
In the end, the million pounds wasn’t what I was after. I’m much more interested in what I can learn from the experience of curiously and voraciously trying. The challenge — and the reward, after all — is in the doing.
This originally appeared as “Up for a Challenge” in the April 2019 print issue of Experience Life.