The Summer 2023 Fitness Challenge

Last year, during the summer of 2022, I toyed with several conditioning goals. Honestly, most of those revolved around rehabilitation from my late 2021 shoulder reconstruction. There was also some deconditioning to be addressed secondary to a major medical experience. As much as I knew the best way to stay in shape is to never let yourself get out of shape in the first place, the spring of 2022 presented a hole out of which I dug last summer. It all worked out. For the most part, I’m in decent shape right now.

I’m sure we all have personal definitions for what “decent” actually means. Probably somewhere between “not bad” or “pretty good” comes to mind. I’ve got some orthopedic issues to manage and work around. Some have been there for years, and a few are related to my new cyberjoint. My experience is that’s true for most of us, especially as we stack up a few decades in the old journey of L-I-F-E. 

What I’d been wanting to do, and I’d been hinting at for months, was come up with a meaningful goal or two for this 2023 summer season. I already knew I would be doing some pre-season training for backcountry hunting, hitting some of the workouts of our local and online Training Tribe, and joining a few clients in their sessions. But I wanted something that might shape and drive my efforts a little better. My criteria were relatively simple. This goal had to be reasonably challenging. It had to be safe for my body and where it’s currently “at.” And it had to be fun in a “push yourself but don’t take yourself too seriously” kind of way.

Power has been on the table a lot lately. The Training Tribe is in their Power Block right now. Dragging sandbags, running stadium steps, and throwing medicine balls. Hunters in Fit for the Field are doing similar things. I find myself encouraging folks to get a few doses of power into their lives. It’s animalistic and ballistic, and the benefits are many.

At TLA, we recognize two categories of power: anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic power is that blend of strength and speed that lives along the force-velocity curve. Pushing sleds, pulling drag rigs, doing explosive lifts. Aerobic power is the ability to sustain redline output for several (let’s even say up to 10) minutes and it equates to VO2max or maximal oxygen uptake.

Earlier this year, I began to think that rebuilding, and testing, my power might be the most appropriate goal for me now. I was looking for a way, or just a couple, to develop and express power. Such an endeavor would also have a positive impact on overall strength, speed, and endurance…at least to some degree. Seemed like a great bang for the old fitness buck.

I thought a lot about what might be the best power training and testing applications. Immediately the air bike and rowing machine were considered. These are both excellent, full-body movement patterns and are well-respected in the power realm. They are low-impact and incredibly effective devices. And uniquely, each can blend anaerobic and aerobic power beautifully.

But…I was thinking of separating the two modes of power in my pursuit. I also wanted to take some of the training outdoors to take advantage of summer sunshine and team camaraderie. I had a desire to make this Power Challenge something that I could share with and offer to others. I realized not everyone had access to air bikes and rowing machines, or bikes with power meters, force plates, and other sophisticated devices.

As my goal began to take on a definitive shape, I selected running a mile and repping out some deadlifts as my tests. But I wanted to refine and personalize the tests and also make them very accessible for others in our community.

Before I get into a detailed description of our Summer 2023 Fitness Challenge, I want to give credit to my friend and client Brad. We were doing a coaching consultation over Zoom the other day, and I was telling him all about this project. He suggested that I shape it so that everyone could participate along with me (if they chose) and to set it up with a timeline. Thanks, Brad…that was a great idea. Not only does making one’s goal public increase consistency and accountability, adding the elements of group participation/support and competition takes things to the highest level. A multi-million dollar prize purse, ESPN helicopters, corporate sponsorships, and a Rihanna concert would also be good…but maybe we need to grow TLA a little more first.

I’ll use some bullet points to describe the Summer 2023 Fitness Challenge and then circle back with some text on each of the points.

  • The goal is to rep out some deadlifts and run a mile at a high level.
  • There is a pre-test week and a post-test week. The pre-test happens any time (you decide what’s convenient) in the week of May 29 to June 4, 2023. Post-test week is August 14-20, 2023. We’ll also have a few interim competitions to keep everyone (and me) in the game.
  • The deadlift becomes a power test because we are exploring the maximum tonnage which can be moved in one minute. We are going to use a hex or trap bar variation of the lift and I’ll explain how this can be set up several ways, even if you don’t have weight equipment (and for very little cost).
  • We are going to put some age and gender criteria into the mile run. Men have to target 5 minutes plus their age in seconds, with additional bonus seconds added to the time goal for every decade of life. Women do the same thing starting from a baseline of 6 minutes. I’ll provide more details below.
  • I will also be offering some suggestions on how a very small amount of specialized training can be inserted into your programs on a weekly basis.
  • On the blog and podcast, we will be touching base on The Challenge throughout the summer. I’m asking everyone who participates to share their results. I’ll celebrate you and I also want to establish a normative data set if we can get enough team members to join in the fun.

Testing Protocol: In order to standardize the protocol and get results which are both reliable and valid, as well as keep things safe and fun, let’s observe the following. Don’t do both events on the same day, because you want to be fresh enough to produce a true max effort. Make sure you are adequately warmed up for either event and also be sure to cool down properly. Record your results (more instructions below for each event) and email them to me. I’ll set up a spreadsheet with a few calculating features so we can analyze everyone’s pre and post results.

Deadlift: You can select any weight you think is reasonable for the 1-minute test. I’m going to suggest you use your bodyweight, or something close to that (give or take) depending on your familiarity with the movement and your personal assessment of your strength level. A very general range of 100-150 pounds for women and 150-200 pounds for men is quite reasonable. Again, you can choose lighter or heavier weights but because Power = Force x Distance/Time you want something that you can move relatively rapidly versus a slow grind. The rules are pretty simple. Using a “tap and go” technique in which the weight starts on the ground, lift as many reps as you can in one minute. You can never let go of the bar. If you need to pause to rest, you must do so in standing while holding the weight. When the clock chimes 60 seconds, count your last full rep. Your result will be “X” pounds times “Y” reps in 60 seconds. Multiply the weight times the reps and, showing your math, determine your total poundage power output. For example, 100 pounds x 20 reps = 2,000 pounds total.

I’m less concerned with setting an absolute gender or age standard with this test. My main focus is to collect data on what different bodies are capable of, have each participant show progress over the summer, and make some comparisons between individual mile times and lift totals.

I selected the hex or trap bar deadlift because it is arguably the most functional of all the lifts. Trap bars are usually safer for most people because they improve how the body is loaded and they allow for a slightly “squatty” deadlift, which I often call a “squedlift.” If you don’t have a trap bar and bumper plates, but you do have access to fairly heavy dumbbells or kettlebells, these work fine as well. Just use lifting blocks or stack boards to get the top of the handles at 14” off the ground, which is where the “high” handle of a loaded trap bar is located.

Now, here’s how to set up a home deadlift station if you don’t have either of those options. Go to any building supply store like Home Depot, etc. Buy 2 standard 7-⅝” cinder blocks. These are less than 3 bucks each. Next, get two 5-gallon buckets. Those are under 5 dollars apiece. Grab a 6-foot section (smallest they have, you’ll have leftover) of  ½” pipe insulation for under 2 dollars. Lastly, get a cheap ($4) roll of duct tape. All this comes in under $22 and it will last practically forever. Place the cinder blocks together side by side. Narrow stance/small statured people will stand on them parallel and wider stance folks will place their feet perpendicular. Put some pipe insulation on the handles and wrap it amply with the duct tape to provide the necessary padded grip. Then fill the buckets with sand, gravel, dirt, or rocks to the weight you want and have at it. Depending on what you use, you can get very close to 100# in each bucket. I have a couple that I replaced the wire bails with heavy rope and scrap sections of conduit for handles and they work great as well. That option only adds a few dollars and a little time so it’s up to you.

Mile Run: This has to be run on a track and it has to be a full mile, no exceptions. A mile is 1,760 yards or 1609 meters and modern tracks are 400 meters. So it’s 9 meters more than 4 full laps of the track. Either move your start line back 9 meters (traditional method) or place your finish line 9 meters further than the painted finish line. On your marks and go, then stop your watch or clock 1609 meters later. Don’t hold your phone and try to run a mile using the timer. It will slow you down. Try to run fairly even splits but really pour on the effort in the second half to maintain pace.

I selected the mile for this test because it’s a pretty standard measure of aerobic power and has been so for over a century. For those who cannot run, I can help you select a low-impact option that is evidence-based…just let me know if I can help. As many of you know, my view on locomotive capacity for Lifetime Athletes is that everyone who can locomote should have some of this ability. My baseline standard is threefold. Sprint a 40 without blowing a hammie. Jog a mile without stopping. Walk 5 miles continuously. Be able to do this on demand, back to back if necessary, and even on consecutive days. That’s a good place for most of us to be. But when we want more than a low or even moderate level of locomotion-based aerobic power, that’s the max level or “A” standard I’m offering up with this challenge. It represents the “3” score (highest) in the Athletic Capacity Rating System.

The table below explains how our adjustment system works. Males and females have a base time, plus their age in seconds, that they have to meet. Additionally, there is a bonus time added to the target performance for each decade of life past the 20’s (when you are in your prime and you deserve no breaks). You’ll also notice that the time bonus doubles with every passing decade. This isn’t super-scientific, but it seems pretty fair. The standards represent times that are relatively challenging, but not unattainable for most people with a little training and dedicated racing effort. And they are well below performance levels regularly established by age-group competitors, who are specialists as opposed to the athletic generalists most of us strive to be. There is also a big difference between being at the beginning versus the end of an age group and how significant that time bonus is. In my own example, at 51 I didn’t even need the bonus but at 59 I needed almost every second of it. Just something to keep in mind.


BASE TIME 5:00TTB = time to beat6:00TTB = time to beat
19-29+age in secondsAge 27
TTB = 5:27
+age in secondsAge 27
TTB = 6:27
30-39+age in seconds
Age 34
TTB = 5:44
+age in seconds
Age 34
TTB = 6:44
40-49+age in seconds
Age 46
TTB = 6:06
+age in seconds
Age 46
TTB = 7:06
50-59+age in seconds
Age 59
TTB = 6:39
+age in seconds
Age 59
TTB = 7:39
60-69+age in seconds
Age 63
TTB = 7:23
+age in seconds
Age 63
TTB = 8:23
70-79+age in seconds
Age 72
TTB = 8:52
+age in seconds
Age 72
TTB = 9:52
80+UnlimitedJust finish!UnlimitedJust finish!
Give it a try!

Training: I’d like to offer up some minimalist suggestions that you can fit into your regular summer routines. If you don’t already have a good program you might want to get a personalized program or some coaching consultations from me…or join T2 or Fit for the Field. But if you’ve got a sport or fitness regimen that’s working well…just add the following things into every week. Twice a week, spend a little time at your deadlift station. You can tack this on to any training session. In the first workout, practice simply holding your weight for the full minute and getting a few relatively slow reps…but go for the full minute and try to add a few reps each week. In the second go-round, (once fully warmed up) do 2 sets of 20 seconds with full rests in between, but try to rep as fast as safely possible. For the running, (not counting warmup and cooldown stuff), once a week try to accumulate about 1200 meters (3 laps worth total) of mile paced running intervals. This could be 6 laps of stride (at mile pace) the straightaways (100m) and walk the turns (totals 3 laps of pace work), or 3 x 400m (one full lap) at mile goal pace with a full one lap walk rest after each. There are many more options and these are great basic places to begin. I’ll provide some more suggestions most weeks on the podcast as well.

Team Support: That’s what it’s all about. I salute you. I want you to succeed. I’d like to do the same. We’ve got each other’s back, but let’s compete a little as well. Get some friends and family involved. Trash talk your training partners. Let’s get inspired and see what we can do.

Speaking of that…it’s Memorial Day and I hope you are remembering the heroes as well as enjoying your long Holiday weekend. I just got back from a Training Tribe event…our Memorial Day Mile…which fittingly enough was the pre-test in this Challenge for our local group. I’m buzzing from all the excitement.

I’ll be the first to offer up some pre-test results. I did the deadlift yesterday. I’m currently weighing around 175 pounds so I loaded up the bar and banged out 37 reps in one minute. This gave me a total poundage power output of 175 x 37 = 6,475 pounds. Honestly, I was pretty pleased with the effort. My glutes and grip held up fine but my upper back got tired at the end. I think I can do a little better by summer’s end doing the extra training we discussed. Today’s run went reasonably well. I felt bullish if not light and fit and my splits were not horrible. Managed to cruise home in 6:34, which put me just under the standard of 6:39 I was hoping to beat. I definitely want to lower that time over this summer. I actually hope to knock on the 6:00 door but let’s get some training in before the talk gets too big. Neither of these measures were easy, but they didn’t destroy me either. Headed out to do some yard work this afternoon before the grilling gets serious.

So that’s the Summer 2023 Fitness Challenge. I’m in it. We’ve already got a bunch of folks taking it on. I hope you will join us. Cheers!

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