By Tammy Kovaluk, MTI Contributor
In 2019, a friend sent me an article on a female breaking the “12-hour chest to ground pushup burpee” Guinness World Record (GWR), of 5332 burpees.
This intrigued me. I did not know a record like this existed and immediately thought trying to break the record. I somewhat enjoy burpees, perhaps partially because they are tough, and almost everyone seems to complain and hate them.
This thought remained as a whisper, while I completed other ultra-endurance, tactical-inspired challenges, like the “Devil’s double” and the 36-hr “Ultimate Suck”.
After, I put my attention to breaking the burpee record. I knew the attempt to break this record would:
- Be challenging in a different sense. Even though the “Devil’s double” included one mile of burpee long jumps for example, once that task was done, I got to move onto something else in a task-to-task format, a preferred style for well-roundedness, reduced risk of overuse injury, and the mental factor. This brings me #2.
- The training and the attempt would have a high suck-factor.
- It would require discipline, commitment, and sacrifice. ie doing burpees or working on recovery over xc skiing or other fun things.
- I knew that I would not want to repeat this and wanted to do my very best. That included trying to smash the current record, not just break it, which meant embracing the pain cave and along with #2. No wussing out. No regrets.
- Even with a solid training program and mindset by having my head straight, there would still a good chance of failure due to over-use injury or other unforeseen factors (ie stomach issues).
In fall of 2020, I spontaneously began my 46th birthday with a 4.6 mile run immediately followed by 460 burpees. This was relatively comfortable, no breaks needed, and could have easily done many more. Based on pacing, this helped solidify my goals of 6,001 burpees in 12 hours.
The goal of 6,001 entailed an average of 500/hour, which did not seem a lot for a couple of hours. But I had never done burpees for more than one hour and needed to account for water and nutrition breaks, unforeseen issues, and fatigue.
I decided to do the attempt outside, using a horse stall mat on a deck instead of in a temperature controlled gym as seen with other record holders. I prefer being outside and truth be told, did not want a lot of attention. In fact, I would have preferred no attention but the attempt was a fundraiser and Guinness required several witnesses in addition to videotaping the entire attempt. The outside elements would add an additional challenge of weather, including mid-afternoon heat.
I had researched GWR-specific standards and submitted my application. I also found there was a 24-hour record of 5,555 burpees, not many more than the 12-hour record, and realized I had a shot at breaking both records at the same time. I added an application for the 24-hour record.
I also noted a several points about the GWR burpee standards:
- Even though it is ‘chest to ground pushup,’ you only need to perform a modified pushup. After starting each rep face down with the chest in contact with the ground and body in a straight line, GWR states “the chest and torso are then lifted off the ground” before continuing to raise the rest of the body. I found and checked video of the previous and current GWR holder to confirm the form.
- Your feet had to be behind one line at the start of each rep when face down, then travel in one movement to a second line. The second line was beneath your hips at the starting position, at a “minimum of one half the distance of the participant.”
- I had to ensure my head was raised each rep vs looking down, a tendency I had. I later realized looking was an unconscious reaction I used to help stave off light headedness. GWR wanted a fully straight position at the start and end of each rep.
As with any endurance feats, thinking of doing 6,001 burpees is mentally daunting. It helps to break them down into doable “chunks” – micro goals each hour. I decided set targets with a high volume during the first four hours, embracing the pain cave relatively early and trusting my endurance. Then proceed to smaller sets as fatigue would set in and temperatures would rise in following hours. Determining the exact burpee number targets during the attemp would come during training.
My weaknesses are power and speed, my strengths are endurance and mental fortitude.
Prioritize the Weaknesses:
(1) I needed to improve my speed. One more burpee per minute would pay off bit time.
Plan: include a relatively high volume of interval training
Do intervals at much less rest than what research or a text book dictates, with the goal of improving both speed and stamina at the same time. With a high aerobic base and fast recovery, personal experimentation revealed that extra rest between sets did not result in a higher burpee rate.
I do not enjoy intervals – I would rather run 20 miles vs 2 miles of interval training, for example. We tend to enjoy what we are good at, not what we are weak at. Even more reason to do intervals. I reasoned.
(2) Improve hip and ankle mobility.
Reaching the second line with my feet was tougher than expected due to poor hip and ankle mobility. This was an easy, quick fix. I incorporated some body weight squats with a ground touch as a warmup to work this specifically for the movement, quickly improving to becoming a none factor.
(3) Burpee-specific stamina.
Even though my strength is stamina, I had never done even close to this amount of burpees. In fact, I had never completed even an hour straight of burpees.
Burpee-specific stamina would especially be necessary to pull of my strategy. Instead of doing X amount of burpees per minute, or 30sec on and 30sec intervals as in previous record holders, I was going to go for it with large sets for at least the first four hours. It would also maintain my mental resilience, overall endurance, and increase confidence going into the attempt.
In my train up I would incorporate long sets and build towards attempt-like training sessions.
(4) Prevent Nausea & Dizziness.
Nausea and feeling light-headed were another issue that quickly showed themselves through some early test stamina sets longer than an hour. Addressing these would require both nutritional and pacing strategies to try out during training, particularly during longer ‘attempt-like’ training sessions, as the sport-specific phase would build.
Create a program but don’t blindly follow it.
The program and progressions were laid out. But as I do with all programming, give it an honest try but also be willing to tweak it if things are not going well.
Looking back, I do not recall really adjusting the program, aside from a) capping weight vest burpees as they were taking a toll on the body and increasing the feeling of over-use injury, and b) taking a longer de-load period during illness.
My nutrition and specific attempt-strategies, however, were adjusted several times until I found what worked to stave nausea off.
(1) Train like you play
All practice was done based on GWR burpee standards.
Most of the sessions, especially the attempt-like training sessions, started at 8am – same time as the attempt start time, at the same place (on the mat on the deck).
Often a second session was done when fatigued at the end of the day. Some days entailed multiple sessions. Once the specifics were outlined for the day, I would save some burpees and force myself to do them in random shorter sets throughout the day to achieve the daily or weekly goal. I would purposely do these shorter burpee sets when fatigued and sore and when I did not want to do them..
(2) Mental Mindset is Everything
Even though I am quite internally driven, something that also helped prepare for long training sessions was re-listening to a favorite motivational talk. I would often listen to one, especially a couple of favorites by Jocko Willink, during a light pre training run warmup.
Sometimes I would listen to the first piece of my attempt playlist to commence training. Both would help get my head straight especially on those tough colder days, when I began training sore and tired.
When I committed to breaking the record, I decided this would be no half-assed effort. I am a big believer in 110% effort, especially for things we really want. As someone who did not grow up as an athlete and who lacks talent, I especially feel like the extras are a requirement to achieve things that were once thought impossible.
I committed to attempt to break the record without any regrets afterward. I knew that if I gave 110% effort and failed, I could still keep my head held high. I had not failed because I lacked discipline to embrace the suck-factor. No regrets.
The Training Program Basics
General Prep 1 (September through December 2020)
- Provide my body and mind with a break from the intensive specific training and ultra-endurance training and events from the previous 5 months, thus reducing risk of burnout. Focus on run intervals, hiking, strength work via gym-based strength and sandbag/ruck workouts. Strength work to reduce imbalances and strengthen both muscles and connective tissue to reduce risk of overuse injury.
- Maintain burpee fitness of burpees through relatively low volume efforts (typically ranging 500-1500/week with a deload week each month of very minimal burpees). Treat this as an initial prep period, have a little fun with this and see how my body adapts and handles the consistently slightly than higher burpee volume, while reducing risk of injury and burnout.
General Prep 2 – Kettle Bell (KB) Challenge (January 2021)
- 10,000 KB swing challenge as a lead up to the burpee-specific progression program. This may not be a normal approach. However, I had completed this challenge the year prior and believed it could be helpful. The challenge has you perform 10,000 KB swings over a 4-week period, typically done as a mixture of relatively lower sets between strength sets, medium volume sets, and straight high volume sets. Completing these swings really worked my total body toughness and especially worked the entire posterior chain, forearms, reinforced “core bracing,” and despite fatigue, built strength. I also felt completing this challenge would reinforce my mental toughness prior to the 4-month burpees-intense prep cycle, without having to do a high volume of burpees for an overly long period of time. During the KB challenge, I reduced my burpee volume from 2000 during week 1, to 500 during week 4, as the KB volume and weight increased.
I took a very easy unload block of 10 days, then the burpee-specific peak phase commenced.
“Burpee-Specific” Phase (February to June 5, 2021)
Burpees included specific training of:
a) Bodyweight burpee intervals for speed and aerobic power,
b) Weightvest burpees for strength.
~15% bodyweight (5% weekly volume until approximately 150 per week with the vest). I was originally going to keep increasing the volume but decided to maintain 150 reps of weighted burpees per week, typically within one training session called “pyramid of doom,” as my body was feeling more trashed and prone to injury during peak volume.
c) Stamina Sets (at / slightly above attempt pace).
Again, specific to burpees, to increase chance of pulling off my strategy and figure out nutrition and attempt-specific strategies.
The burpee-specific phase was broken down into 3 main blocks, each building volume and a overall shift from interval burpee progressions to higher-volume, attempt-like, training days.
The plan started with 5 training days of training per week, and built to 6 training days per week. Off-burpee days still included running, other strength work. As the program progressed to phase 3, I avoided any other strength work during the off-burpee days, instead doing light running or hiking or even just a walk/rest if really needing the recovery.
Block 1 Focus: Building volume progressively, increasing pace per minute via intervals. Building frequency. Pre-training for subsequent phases.
Block 2 Focus: Continue building volume to over 6000/week via a combined weekly volume of approximately 75% burpees and 25% pushups. Maintenance of weightvest burpees, progressively increase interval training volume and weekly stamina training session, alternating longer interval sets with attempt-specific sets of up to 3hrs / burpees for time.
Block 3 Focus: Peak Volume, continuing phase 2 progressions, and including rehearsal efforts building to just over 4hrs / burpees for time while keeping energy in the bank as if doing many more hours. Weekly schedule began at 3 days on/1 day off and progressed 2 days on/1 day off as the burpee volume increased.
Rehearsal efforts included testing nutrition, playlists etc. I strategized including rest breaks and nutrition for optimal performance and to manage dizziness and nausea. Similar to many ultra-endurance athletes peaking before a race, 55-60% of weekly volume was completed between the Friday and Saturday training sessions.
Training often entailed a 2nd workout in the early evening, typically before dinner. A day or two per week also included splitting up the day’s burpee volume goal into several sessions and doing burpee training sessions throughout the day, with some in various places (ie finding a quiet spot on the side of the road during errands, around outdoor coaching to stay warm especially in colder weather, in midst of a run etc). This was especially important when I did not want to with the purpose of training my mind and embracing the suck factor, to end each day tired and satisfied. I would often think of the selection candidates who would have to run to the chow house or get a good dose of burpee punishment in middle of intensive training. All were done outdoors.
Repetition, repetition, repetition. This required keeping my head straight, maintaining discipline and consistency including those tough days and when I wanted to quit. In between training, working on recovery. I basically trained, worked, and worked on recovering from the training the four months leading up to the record attempt.
Besides burpee volume, I set goals and tracked weekly pushups, pullups, and farmer carries (for shoulder stability and core bracing/posture).
Strength maintained as well with basic gym strength for some injury prevention tactics- example, deadlifts, squats, with relative greater emphasis on rowing and scapular exercises to help offset imbalances and thus, reduce risk of overuse injury from the pushup and burpee volume.
Pushups were especially significant and included a mixture of workouts with the following focus: a) Regular pushups, b) hand release pushups using a weightvest push ups for strength (~10% weekly volume for strength, and c) plyometric ‘pops’ (~5% weekly volume) to build power and speed.
Pushups volume was combined with burpees for a weekly combined goal, reducing relative pushup volume as burpee volume increase.
Below is the weekly burpee and push up volume during the “Burpee Specific Phase” – February through May:
Phase 1 Week 1
Phase 1 Week 2
Phase 1 Week 3
Phase 1 Week 4
|March 8 *Deload/transition
*Hit with a mild virus Wednesday, very low volume week with most of week off or very light training
|Mild virus, very low volume week and did not track
*this became deload/return back week
|Still feeling unwell but improved throughout week, did not take great notes but recall similar volume as Feb 8 week
Phase 2 Week 1
*Phase 2 Week 2
Goal of 6000 combined burpees and pushups to match goal attempt in 12hrs. Adjusted as burpees were more than expected during training sets
Phase 2 Week 3
Combined goal 6500
Extra light week as feeling trashed and injury prone, and still had enough training of time. Practice tapering strategies before final phase. Increased running/rucking, strength work especially lower body and scapular activation work
Hindsight: Should have taken a deload week after 2 weeks of work instead of pushing through week 3
Phase 3 Week 1
*great week, felt recovered for final push
Phase 3 Week 2
|Goal: 750-1000 for combined total of 7500+ reps
Did: 450 (traded for 50 burpees)
Phase 3 Week 3
*elbow pain after Friday peak stamina set, did not do Sat/Sun training plan
|Goal: 500-1000 per feel
|Goal: 2000-3000 per feel
*frequency reduced, elbow management
*elbow management, chiro and massage
|Did: 500 plus
6260 during the attempt
(6116 during first 12hrs)
*Week of March 29th ended as a Highlight week: Overcame what began as a failed stamina 3hr session during an unexpected humid, warm day. Pace was off, felt very dizzy and nauseated, and wanted to quit badly after the first hour, with too many excuses. I sat for a couple of minutes, thinking of quitting and all the reasons I should. Then told myself to toughen up and not be a b**ch, swore at myself, a little humor, then changed my mindset from pity party and “I can call it, reset and do this session tomorrow instead” to “No, this shitty session is good. Not fn quitting. Going to problem solve incase this happens at the GWR attempt.” It worked. Finished that session and ended up doing 150 extra burpees for 1750 total vs 1600 planned, to spite the moment of weakness. Also now found a remedy: honey/salt/lemon drink mixture that was yummy and helpful!
Below is week of programming for the week of April 26:
AM Focus: repetition, weekly volume Light burpees sets within strength session
PM Focus: Intervals 15 x 25 burpees with 30sec rest
Finish for 400 total for the day
AM Focus: Intervals + strength
- 6 x 2min with 30SR
- Run 2 miles
- “Pyramid of Doom”
- 1-10 with weight vest as 1 pullups – 2 hand release pushups – 3 burpees …. 10 pullups (broken) – 20 hand release pushups – 30 vest burpees
- Drop vest, run 1mile
- 10-1 as
- 10 rows – 20 hand release pushups – 30 burpees….1 row – 2 hand release pushups – 3 burpees
- After: couple of weighted sets to finish week goals, farmer carries
PM Finish burpees for day goal 800 total
AM Focus: Stamina 60min as 9 min burpees, 60 sec rest
*could now do similar numbers in 9min as I was during 10min sets during phase 1
Mid-day work break. Focus: stamina and suck-factor. 20min straight burpees
- 4 x 2min with 30 sec rest
- 4 x 90sec with 30 sec rest
- 4 x 1min with 30 sec rest
- 4 x 30sec with sec rest
- *extra 30 sec rest between sets of 4
This finished 1200 for day goal
AM Focus: Repetition and weekly volume. Short sets within early strength session of 100 total + 5 x 50 burpees within 3 mile run at various areas post strength
PM focus: Intervals
- 30 x 12 burpees – 15 sec rest – 6 plyo pushups
Random sets during Jocko Willink speeches
Until day goal of 1200 complete
AM Focus: Stamina/ Rehearsal attempt set
“2400 for time” but as attempt strategy
Ended up adding100 for 2500 total, under 4hrs
That morning was nervous and felt uncomfortable. It was awkward to have witnesses, a helper, and people literally watching me do burpees. I would have much preferred to be by myself and just tape the thing, but this is what we had to do to meet the Guinness standards. It took several minutes of burpees to get my groove and for the nerves the to subside.
Soon I felt fresh, my pace was on, and I stuck to my strategy: 40 minutes of burpees, a short 60-second break to sip my electrolyte drink, then finish the hour and repeat. During training, I could easily complete 60-minutes of burpees without stopping, but would feel nausea and dizzy when I did. So my updated strategy involved a break at 40-minutes earlier. Doing this allowed able to stave it off nausea and dizziness.
Hour 2 began sets of 200 burpees with a small nutrition break. This continued largely through the four-hour mark. With well over 2,600 burpees in the bank after 4 hours, pressure subsided and I began completing slightly shorter sets, which was welcome as it was getting quite warm outside, the black mat was getting toasty.
During the heat, I had moments of feeling light-headed. When things got tough, I reminded myself of the highlight week, when I almost quit that bad session but instead, pushed through. I truly believe that session in particular, was a big reason for my ultimate success. Not only mindset, but also the problem solving that paid off during the GWR attempt.
Nutrition was simple: Water, electrolyte drink (honey/lemon/salt/ginger – find this sits better, most sports drinks get icky and make me feel sick), pro bar chews, salt chew tabs, pickles incase, small pieces of fruit. This also helped to combat an unexpected quad cramp during the warmer period, along with a quick rollout.
Aside injury, everything went well. I felt good, surprised myself by breaking both 12 and 24-hour records before the 10-hour mark. I also broke my goal of 6,001 burpees just after the 11-hour mark. Relief! If I’d failed, would have had to recover and try this again. I wanted to check this off and move onto some other things on the ‘must do list.’
Injury: Therapy and kinesio tape staved off the elbow pain, but only for approximately two hours. The elbow pain set in within 2 hours and progressively worsened, progressing to a sharp pain each burpee. I was just going to have to deal with the pain and get this done, making the attempt even more of a mental training exercise. After the first 4, I switched to shorter sets. My mind and body could still push out sets of 200 or so, but the elbow could not. Along with that and likely compensation, approximately four hours in my left shoulder started to become painful.
It eventually progressed to an inability to use my arm and finally, I could not move my arm at all, despite ibuprofen and trigger points/massage. This is when I decided to stop. did not achieve my 24-hour burpee goal or even close to it, with only a little over 100 burpees during the last 12hrs. This sucked. But I have no regrets, knowing all was given and pushed past perceived limits and broke the records. Mission accomplished. I could move onto the next challenge.
Final GWR totals: 6,116 burpees for 12hr record, 6,260 burpees for 24hr record.
The Aftermath/Lessons Learned:
I have a tendency to ‘run hot’ when it is go-time. Coaching myself, it is tough to avoid this and can sometimes hammer myself too much without enough recovery programmed in. During the peak phase, I should have prescribed two weeks on and one de-load week, instead of running myself into the ground and, subsequently needing additional de-load time due to illness or injury.
I should have incorporated some more tricep press down and other movements commonly used with powerlifters to combat common elbow tendinitis (especially from bench press).
There were no celebrations the day after. I just wanted to be left alone, in pain. Just getting out of bed was a triumph. Everything hurt, I think more than ever. Normally, after a 100-mile ultra or similar, I can use my upper body when my legs are trash. This time I could not as my upper body was completely useless, including my injured shoulder that I couldn’t movement. My abs hurt like never before and I had a slight fever.
After taking Sunday off, I was back doing light farm chores Monday morning and coaching in the afternoon, shuffling around with “t-rex arms” that my athletes liked to tease me about. But believe in activity to help recovery. My shoulder healed surprisingly quickly despite an inability to move my arm for at all over a week. It was likely a bad strain and not a rotator cuff injury. The elbows took longer and had a nice painless bursitis on one that lasted for months.
Return to sport: I was back running short distances and doing what I could with my upper body within a few days after breaking the burpee record.
Tammy is a professional strength and conditioning coach currently coaching in Arizona as well as an accomplish endurance, obstacle race and fitness athlete.
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