Lessons From the Waterbury Challenge 2011

On July 1 of this year, the Waterbury Challenge 2011 ended. As a recap, here’s what it was. On January 5, five days into the new year, it started with 5 pull-ups, 5 push-ups, and 5 reverse lunges with each leg. The next day, six days into the year, it was 6 reps of each exercise. From there you were told to add one rep each day until the halfway point of the year, July 1. On that day the workout was 182 pull-ups, push-ups, and reverse lunges with each leg.

The Waterbury Challenge served many purposes. First, it made fitness a part of your daily life. You don’t need to train everyday to get results, but it only helps. Believe or not, I think it’s simpler to train everyday. The less frequently we do something, the more likely it is we’ll miss it. That’s been my experience, anyway.

So I challenged the readers of my site to embark on the challenge. I promised that on July 1 the guy or gal with the fastest time to completion would win $500. About 100 people said they were “in.”

Of course, there was no way for me to know if the competitors did the workouts everyday. A guy could’ve just said he was “in” at the beginning of the challenge and continued to do whatever workout he was doing. In other words, bucking the system I set up was certainly possible. A guy could’ve submitted a video on July 1 doing 182 reps of each exercise, and won, if he had the fastest time to completion.

But that didn’t worry me. I knew if a guy didn’t do the workouts at least 90% of the time he would have major trouble completing the challenge, especially with a respectable time. That’s why I wasn’t surprised at the end of the challenge when only six people submitted a video for my review. (My initial guess was 10 so I wasn’t far off.)

The winner was Damon from Los Angeles. He finished the Waterbury Challenge in just under 22 minutes. That’s an outstanding time and really tough to beat. The nearest competitor took an additional 12 minutes.

Since Damon did a remarkable job, I asked him for a short interview. I thought his input might help you, if you decide to do this type of challenge on your own. Here’s what he had to say.

CW: Excellent job, Damon. What inspired you to do the Waterbury Challenge?

Damon: To be honest, I really wanted to take the challenge to test myself physically and mentally. I was the chubby weak kid that couldn’t even do a “girl pull-up”, and while I have come a long way since school, the thought of doing 182 pull-ups in a single session called out to me. I needed to take part in the challenge, and doing it publicly held me accountable.

CW: So what was your biggest obstacle throughout the challenge?

Damon: For the most part, I had no problems doing the workout each day. I love exercise, so it wasn’t a chore. Although there were some days where I was tired, or feeling weak, I really enjoyed the sessions. However, at the end of March, I sprained a ligament in my left knee, which I am still dealing with even now. There was a week where I could not lunge with the left leg, so I hobbled around doing the chins and push-ups in between resting and icing my knee. That kind of stole my rhythm, so to speak.

CW: There’s an important lesson in that answer. When we get an injury it’s easy to just throw our hands in the air and not do anything. But you powered through like a warrior. Tell me about your recovery. How far into the challenge was soreness a factor? What muscles seemed to get the most sore, and did you get to the point when soreness was completely gone?

Damon: I recovered well and never really hit a wall. I made an effort to mix my grips often to avoid elbow issues. There were moments scattered throughout the months where my back and arms would be sore the following day, but nothing too crazy. The sorest I got was when I started incorporating sets to failure, which I did off and on through April and May.

CW: What about your performance, or your ability to get more reps in each set over time? What did you experience?

Damon: I saw an improvement in my strength, eventually getting to 34 chin-ups in one set. I found that I could do continuous sets of 10 to 12 pull-ups with minimal rest between sets, for 7 to 8 rounds. However, in the end, I began to burn-out, so I lowered the reps to mini sets of 9, which is what I did on the final day.

CW: Did you do any other type of training during the challenge? If so, what did you do, and how did all those pull-ups, push-ups, and lunges affect your outside training?

Damon: I did. I followed a basic 2 days a week plan. Workout A consisted of a push press, pull-up and deadlift. Workout B consisted of incline dumbbell bench press, dumbbell bench assisted row, and split squat. I kept all reps between 5-10 for my gym days. The other days were the challenge only. I feel that this allowed me to recover, and the schedule was easier to keep.

Early in the challenge, I did all pull-ups and lunges with added weight and push-ups with feet elevated. As the numbers went up, I dropped the added weight and increased the reps per set. I feel like the push-ups really helped my pushing strength; I noticed that my vertical pressing went up too. Of course, my physical endurance and mental strength improved as well. After all this time doing such high reps of the pull-up, I can do 7 reps with 45 pounds added, which is amazing for me!

CW: That’s impressive, for sure. How did your body change, if at all, throughout the challenge?

Damon: I weigh slightly more now, with more muscle, than when I first began the challenge. I have been trying to put on a little size, while staying as lean as possible. Doing the challenging body weight circuit, especially in the later stages, in conjunction with the heavy resistance days worked well for me.

With regard to size, my back and arms grew considerably over the months. I have much more of a v-taper to my back, which has always been one of my top priorities. Obviously, high volume pull-ups do the trick!

CW: It’s my position that frequent body weight exercises for the upper body is one of the best ways to boost arm development. Judging by your forearms and biceps, I think it’s safe to say that holds true! Any last pieces of advice for those who might be interested in this type of challenge?

Damon: Through this experience, I have learned that our bodies are capable of much more than we think. Sometimes, being pushed beyond our limit is a good thing!

CW: Well put, Damon. Congrats!

Damon is a good representation of what a frequent, dedicated training plan will do for your physique, and he has the right mindset. That’s why I was happy to award him the $500 and declare him the winner of the Waterbury Challenge 2011. People can always find reasons to skip trips to the gym, so the challenge was based on exercises you can do at home without equipment. The challenge is a lot of work, but it doesn’t take a lot of time. As Damon said, our body is capable of much more than we think – especially when we avoid doing too much too soon.

You can watch Damon complete the challenge below. Even though he shortened up his range of motion for the pull-up I bit more than I like, his overall performance was so far ahead of the competition that it was easy to name him the winner. Plus, I really dig the rawness of the video that was shot in such a cramped space…

Stay Focused,
CW

13 thoughts on “Lessons From the Waterbury Challenge 2011

  1. The problem with these challenges is obvious from the video. People tend to get caught up with the numbers and do 1/2 reps to complete the challenge any means necessary. Although impressive do so many 1/2 reps and do this challenge every single day, I would personally care less how much half reps I could do. Every time you hear about an impressive number of reps on pullups/pushups, they always turn out to be 1/2 or even 1/4 reps.

    CW: Even 1/2 reps can be beneficial. Just because it’s a partial rep doesn’t mean it has to be poor form, and it doesn’t mean it’s useless. Partial reps can groove a motor pattern that’s similar to full range of motion reps – not exactly the same, but close. In other words, if your goal is to do 30 full pull-ups, performing 30 fast partial reps will help you get there faster – this is in addition to other workouts that focus on the full range of motion.

  2. Chad –
    With the PLP format do you have any concerns about internal shoulder rotation, what with the preponderance of pushing and vertical pulling ? Will the inclusion of neutral grip pullups (which presumably hit the lower traps) and really extending at the top of the pushups (to activate the serratus) be sufficient to maintain shoulder health ? I can incorporate inverted rows, but I don’t imagine I’ll be doing enough of those to equal the number of pullups I eventually amass. I’ll also do a little deadlifting.

    Thanks!

    CW: Yes, I favor the neutral grip pull-up over any regular versions. Best of all, do the pull-ups from the rings. Or, like you mentioned, focus on the inverted row as your upper body pulling exercise.

  3. Quick follow-up: as I’m currently working to refine my HSPU and pistol, would it be feasible to substitute those for pushup and lunge, respectively, regressing to pushups and lunges as necessary as volume increases ? If so, that would serve to enable me to consolidate my training as I head into a busy period.

    CW: That’s a good plan.

  4. Chad,

    I’m a Marine Lt and I follow the HIAH format for my weight room work. I wanted to ask you about volume & frequency and load guidelines you mentioned with regards to bodyweight exercises. What would you suggest I add in order to bring up lagging arms?

    CW: 50 pull-ups every day, preferably from rings. Do this in addition to your other upper back work (except pull-ups) in the HIAH workouts. Thanks for your service!

  5. Congrats to Damon on a job well done.

    What is Damon’s body weight and arm length? Just curious. The less weight and shorter the arms the less difficult the exercise.

    I am 6 ft 6 in, 220 lbs and wear a 37 in sleeve, plus I have to bend my legs to not touch the ground in the hang position for most pull up bars. My max on a good day, with a neutral close grip, is 12. I try to very the grip as much as possible.

    I found that doing the PLP for first 60 days was moderate in the way of difficulty, but became extremely challenging especially after day 75.

    My shoulders greatly appreciates the neutral grip. If I use a different grip I usually use a less than shoulder width grip.

    CW: I didn’t ask him his weight or arm length. Yes, neutral grip is the way to go, but rings are even better.

  6. Hey Chad, great article, I didn’t participate but after reading this I’m seriously considering daily BW training to improve my upper back and my pressing strength. My question is to you, what did you learn from your own Challenge? Or am I stealing your thunder and that is going to be the subject of an upcoming article? Thanks!

    CW: I experienced many of the same things Damon did. But I will talk more in depth in the near future.

  7. Chad, this is very interesting, andi have 2 questions. Is it possible for you to answer both? Thanks.

    ok my first question is this.
    1) Does different grips of pullups hit different muscles or do they hit the same muscle but at different ratios. For example i know chinups hit more of the biceps than the lats, but still mainly lats, although pullups hit more of the lats, and bit of the forearms but still lats overall. (BTW i know that chinups and pullups and neutral grip are all the same for the lats, as although lat workout per rep is less, the total reps covered in different grips make up for the lat workout overall, e.g. for chinups, if lat workout per rep is around 80%, and in pullups its 90%, i can do 10 chinups while i can do about 8 pullups. so overall lats are worked out the same)

    But some say it hits different areas of the back. Im not conviced by this…

    2) You say do pullups on the rings. I cant afford rings, BUT i do have a long towel. Will wrapping a long towel around the bar, and using that as a pullup rings starting from progenated grip and then twisting to a supinated grip help?

    Is this the reason why you also say that rings are better, because you can have all 3 grips? I find towel pullups better because they train the grip very hard! (forearms hurt!)

    CW: A pull-up, regardless of grip position, hits the same muscle groups, but just in different ratios as you mentioned. Some research shows that an overhand shoulder width pull-up activates the lats most.

    The reasons rings are best is because they allow your wrists to naturally rotate. This is key with HFT pull-ups because of the very high volume and frequency. If you can’t get rings, do them with a hammer grip. The towel can be tough on your elbows and shoulders too, but use it if you want.

  8. Yo!
    Two part question coming right up (maybe even a 3 part Q)
    Number 1. I have this little buddy aged 14 and he wants to start working out to get bigger and stronger ( for tennis) , but I’ve heard that gym training wouldn’t be the way to go for young kids (?). Then I remembered the Waterbury Challenge, would that work for the kid if he wanted to improve his skills, well in this case, in tennis? If not, what would you recommend?
    Number 2. I bought the BOF book, VERY useful book btw. I would like to know if doing HRI training at the same time with the BOF program is in someway harmful for your body?
    AND
    I LOVE training with very short resting periods (no rest) and just go wild in the gym with the BOF program, but I’m pretty fat free allready and would like to build bigger muscles, could I just eat more carbs then what you recommend in the book and BOF would do the job or would you just put me on the HIAH program?
    Thank you for YOUR time (very much appreciated),
    Blink

    CW: For your little buddy, focus on challenging body weight exercises such as push-up variations, the handstand push-up, and pull-ups. Do hanging leg raise and side plank for the core. For the legs do lots of jumping exercises (box jump, hops, etc) along with forward, side, reverse lunges. Train every other day.

    Tell me more about what you’re doing for HRI training.

    Yes, adding more carbs post workout is a good way to build more muscle. If that doesn’t work with BOF, use the Get Even Bigger program in HIAH.

  9. Regarding high volume, and max aceleration, whats your opinion on super high rep squats, I mean something like doing 150 squats with your 50%RM in 20 minutes. I think that altough the weight is low, given you are supposed to complete the 150 reps in no more than 20mins you must lift fast, and avoid failure until the last set (otherwise it would be impossible to finish all the reps). Do you find this logical for gaining leg mass?

    CW: Yes, the quadriceps respond very well to high reps. Cyclists and speed skaters have big thighs for this reason.

  10. I am 61 years old, been training for over 40 years. 5ft 10 in, 184#s, chest 46, waist 34, arms 17. I have been doing your HFT for 6months, am and pm workouts,3 days a week. I also been doing max pull-ups and push-ups, 2 sets of each. Latly I have been noticing some signs of overtraining; tired before training and not sleeping well. I have been thinking of changing my max pull-ups and push-ups to only my no-training days. I like my results, so any changes are questable. Am I doing too much or not? I am retired so any workout schedule you suggest is Ok. Thank You, Al

    CW: Take minerals before bed and it should alleviate overtraining. I recommend Biotest’s Mineral Support formula.

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