The Becoming Badass “Hell Week” Challenge
After one of our normal workouts I remember casually saying to Zach, Ryan and some others from the Badass Bootcamp family that it would be cool to someday take all of the Ashley Seeger’s classes for a whole week. Nothing more than that — it just sounded like something cool to do. At the time, the Becoming Badass Fitness Center had not yet opened and there were not that many classes on the calendar. By the time I actually decided to attempt the challenge, the new gym had opened and the number of classes had ballooned to twenty-nine. Ashley liked the idea of the week-long challenge and she offered 3 months of free classes if I were able to complete it. The other part of the deal was that I could not take it easy — which was more than fair. Anyone could just show-up to 29 classes. I committed to Ashley and to myself that I would treat each and every class as if it were the only class I was taking that day. No pacing myself. Give it my all, shake it off, grab some water and start the next class.
The Planning Stages
My first impression of the schedule was that a handful of those 29 are going to be Yoga classes and if I can do a 12-hour endurance event then I should be able to do twenty-some hours of work spread over the course of a week. Right? What I didn’t consider at the time is the intensity of the workouts we do. Where an endurance event is often a heavy grind at a “move-with-purpose” pace, each of the Badass workouts leave me gasping for breath, sweating, wobbly, nauseous and drooling on myself.
Then there’s the day-to-day logistics. When would I eat? At times I would be burning upwards of 600 calories per hour in back to back classes. During the workouts, I can’t consume enough calories to keep pace with the rate of depletion. Somehow I would need to consume thousands of extra calories. My wife, Jill, agreed to be my pit crew and worked on a shopping list. We went to Total Nutrition and grabbed some aminos and carbs for mid-workout replenishment.
I also pondered some prior workout mistakes. I’ve been known to tweak my back on occasion (it is still stiff from the last time I did something stupid). Most of the time this happens when I get tired and my form slips. I knew that it will be critical that I stay in the game mentally and keep vigilant about doing everything with perfect form. One mistake here — a single poorly executed rep anytime during the week — could derail the entire attempt.
I obsessed over the schedule. Can I do double-strength workouts–on the same muscle groups–on Tuesday and Thursday? Two cycle classes on Monday? Three Spartan SGX workouts in the same week? I started to get worried but then I stopped looking at the entirety of the task and narrowed my focus to day at a time. Then a class at a time.
I was hoping to reach the end of the week feeling invincible instead of broken. Completing the challenge would be important to my confidence leading into the SISU Iron at the end of April.
Day 1, April 10th.
The first day began at 5:00 AM with an upper body focused workout. I then had a two hour break to eat a little something. I knew I would be unable to keep a protein shake down…especially with a cycle class ahead. So I opted for something light — a banana, whole wheat toast with peanut butter and honey. 8:00 AM was an hour-long full-body workout then 9:00 AM was an hour of cycle. I’ve been on one of these bikes maybe 5 times before this. I was mainly just dreading the uncomfortable seat. After this I went home and ate and went to work.
- Protein Shake with aminos and chia seeds (>50g protein)
- 2 Eggs
- 4 Egg Whites
- Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter
- Feta Cheese
- Bone Broth
- Coffee with half-and-half
I ate again a few hours later around 2:00 PM. With classes starting again at 5:00 PM, I would need time to digest. I had a turkey breast sandwich on whole wheat. Also adding to my full feeling was all of the water I was consuming. At home I drank plain water but during the workouts I supplemented with aminos and carbs. I remember being excited about how much I would get to this week but in practice it wasn’t much fun at all.
The evening workout was a glutes-focused circuit. It was my first time attending that class and I had a blast. D.J. and Andrea are a little bit crazy so I recommend attending if just for the show. I picked-up some knowledge too. Apparently, hard workouts can start your monthly cycle. Who knew? The ladies speculated that maybe by week’s end I might start mine. Anyway, I have a feeling the glutes class would be a good one to continue post-Hell week for my back health since tight hamstrings and glutes have caused back strains in the past.
I wandered home around 8:45 PM. I showered and grabbed clothes for the next morning. Jill had 16 ounces of chicken breast and some Asian noodles waiting for me. We watched a little TV while I ate. Right before bed I forced down over a cup of cottage cheese and another half avocado. Have I ever mentioned that I hate cottage cheese? I went to bed just before 11.
It’s important to point out that day 1 was the day I did my best tracking of food intake and calories burned.
I consumed nearly 3400 calories…about 40% of them coming from Protein, 30% from fat and 30% from carbs. However, I had burned almost 4100 calories. That caloric deficit would be the first of many struggles with nutrition throughout the week.
Day 2 — Tuesday, April 11th.
The morning alarm rang much too soon for me. I was tired. My legs felt weak. My stomach churned from all of the food and supplements. This was the first morning that I thought about quitting. I didn’t entertain the thought for long but oh yeah, it was definitely there. I got out of bed, got dressed and left before I reconsidered. I managed to get through the lower-body focused workout (deadlifts day!) and went home to eat and work a full day. My nutrition was much the same.
The evening string of classes began with a repeat of the lower body focused workout. I always feel better in the evenings and I even added an extra 70 lbs. to the bar and knocked out a couple of deadlifts with a much higher weight. Next was Becoming Spartan, our Spartan SGX workout. For me, all of the other workouts are for training but these are my “race day” trials to see how I am progressing. I push as if there is a podium and a beer waiting for me at the end. I had a good outing but I did start to notice a drop in endurance — especially in my legs.
We finished the night with yoga. While Yoga is a break compared to the other crazy stuff we’re doing, yoga is not easy. I was still dripping sweat at points during the class. The stretches and twists felt so good and I’m sure were critical to my ability to get through the “Hell Week” challenge. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and my wife, Jill, had two grass fed rib eye steaks and a Greek salad waiting for me. Time for bed already as I was on track for another 5 ½ hours of sleep.
Day 3, Wednesday
I took a day off from work as the classes would come at a steady rate throughout the morning. Wednesday would bring 5:00 AM cycle to start. I was definitely sleepy when the alarm went off and my stomach was a rumbling mess.
I survived the first cycle class and moved on to the 8:00 AM total body workout. During that class Ashley casually asked, “Do you have any plans for Friday evening?” Note to future aspiring Hell Weekers, just say “YES. I am completely booked up” if you are asked.
At 9:00 there was another damn cycle class. While we were warming up Ashley decided that 29 classes in a week just didn’t have a nice ring to it. She added a Friday night 90 minute cycle class to the schedule…just for fun. Now the challenge would be 30 classes.
Originally I thought the double leg day on Tuesday would be my undoing. Ashley was more concerned about Wednesday. She was correct.
With 10 classes in the first two days followed by a Wednesday morning TWO cycle classes, my legs were toast. I was able to stand and able to sit during cycle but the transition between the two positions was nearly impossible. My legs started to collapse when I called on them. This was the first day when I thought my body might not make it. I can definitely say that this was as close to the limit of my physical abilities as I would come at any point during the week. I hung on and counted the seconds till it would all end.
The PM Class was an outdoor workout at Pelona Vista Park. Unfortunately, this meant there would be hills in my future. Each successive trip of the hill my legs felt worse and by the last loop I was resigned to walking. But I survived and was now 15 classes complete in just three days. I started to feel like the worst might be over.
Days 4 and 5, Thursday and Friday
By the 4th day into the challenge, I could no longer deal with the cauldron of vileness that my stomach had become. It was now the biggest threat to my completing the challenge. I stopped the protein shakes Wednesday evening but did not really have a plan to compensate for the further drop in calories. Despite this, I felt fine through the Thursday and Friday workouts–even through the grueling 90-minute cycle class (900 calories burned!) that had been added to the Friday night schedule.
Friday would also include another first–I fell asleep during the restorative yoga class. At the end we were in Shavasana (fittingly, known as the “Corpse Pose”) and I passed-out, to be awakened some time later by my own snoring.
But despite my feeling okay, my body had been insufficiently fueled and started to cannibalize some of my muscle to extract its stored glycogen. By week’s end I would lose over a pound of muscle tissue. Next time (did I actually just write “next time?!”) I will need to meal prep all of my food for the week and find a protein that will be easier on my stomach. I know how many calories I burn during the workouts so all of this is a manageable task but I have to stay completely on point. By Friday my stomach was feeling better and by Saturday morning I felt normal again. Just a few tough classes to go.
Also by Friday I started to feel as if my body was actually adapting to all of the work. I felt good! Were I to fix my nutrition and skip some obviously silly things like double-cycle, double-upper body and double-lower body days, I really felt like the bulk of this schedule was sustainable. One strength workout, one cardio and some yoga could be done almost all week long. Rather than accumulating injuries, I built endurance and confidence.
Day 6, Saturday
The big “oops!” All week long I had been setting two alarms out of fear of sleeping through one of them. THAT would have been a rough way to fail the Hell Week challenge. Saturday morning both alarms went off just fine but I had inadvertently set them for the wrong time! After a full week of attending 8:00 AM classes I had just gotten used to that schedule and forgot that the Spartan workout begins at 7:30 AM.
It was a big turnout at Saturday morning and everyone was asking about me. Had the evening cycle been too much? Had I tapped-out? I am sorry to have scared everybody. On the other hand, it was nice to know how invested everyone was in my completing the week. If definitely felt like the whole team was involved.
Ashley handed down the usual penalty for tardiness–two burpees for every minute late. So I would start my workout with 40 burpees. When I joined everyone else for the already in progress giant AMRAP, I found that the first exercise was another big dose of burpees. I laughed at the irony. I also attacked the workout with every bit of ferocity that I could muster. I felt pretty guilty for being so late so I attempted to make up for it by punishing myself. Being so far behind the group also fueled my competitive nature and I tried to catch up to the leaders. Somehow in my head, I felt that getting to the front of the pack would erase my being late and I would be shielded from further icy stares from the boss!
After Spartan class was another cycle class on tired legs and then I knew I would survive. Two of the final three classes would be yoga. Even if I were to twist an ankle or something during Sunday bootcamp I would crawl if I needed to.
Day 7, Sunday
Sunday bootcamp fell on Easter which was nice. We had an egg hunt where the 50+ eggs contained a few prizes and a whole lot of exercises. One particularly “rotten egg” contained the dreaded “elephant walk” which terrorized the stiff backs of all of us old guys. But overall, the day felt more like a celebration than a typical workout. I even got to give out a hug after one egg contained a “prize” of “A hug from Robert.” I’m sure our “lucky winner” would have rather had a shirt but oh well–at least I’m better than burpees.
After bootcamp I went home and showered, picked up my wife, Jill, and headed to number 30…restorative yoga. That’s it! Mission complete! I even found my car had been decorated by the ever-thoughtful, Deb Biggerstaff.
Back on Wednesday, Ashley said she would ask me a question after I finished on Sunday. She forgot to ask me the question but I have a feeling it would have been this:
Originally published at robertgoudie.tumblr.com.