Every now and then, I get the urge to see what kind of pain I can handle, or the amount of effort I can give when I seemingly have nothing left. When I get this urge to test my grit, I want to find out how far I can push my entire body, not how many curls I can do or what my one-rep-max bench is. When this primal feeling overtakes me, I always turn to one of four tried-and-true challenge workouts.
It's a little-known fact that the hardest and most effective workouts also tend to be brutally simple. So, these gritty challenges are short and straightforward, just the way I like them. Don't be fooled, though: These tough training sessions are so spicy they should come with a warning label!
Grit Check 1 The Litvinov
Named after Olympic gold medalist Sergey Litvinov, this pairing of a heavy lift with a sprint is just about the most difficult thing you can do. There aren't many other workouts that, when done right, will leave you dead on the floor in a matter of minutes. If you want to find out how gritty you are, Litvinov training should be your number one choice.
Although it's fun to play outside and use awkward objects for this workout, I know not everyone has the equipment or the space. You can do this workout in a regular gym using a barbell, some kettlebells or dumbbells, and a treadmill. Although the lift can vary, I suggest keeping it simple with squat variations and swings.
For an added challenge, I want you to pick up whatever it is you're lifting from the ground instead of using a rack. You'll have to wrestle the sandbag up the way strongmen do, or clean a barbell like a weightlifter.
If you choose to do any kind of squat variation, take it all the way down. After your last rep, drop the bag or your implement of choice and simply start sprinting. Sprint hills if you want to get really gritty. You'll be surprised by how much gas the squats take out of you.
Once you're done with the sprint, rest enough so that you fully recover between sets. Before you begin your next set, your breathing rate should be close to normal.
Grit Check 2 The Sisyphus
This workout is literally meant to be punishing. The mythical Greek king Sisyphus was sentenced to spend eternity trying to roll a boulder up a giant hill. Now, I know there may be a few boulders lying around for you to roll, but instead of following in Sisyphus' cursed footsteps, I suggest a more manageable load.
If you're new to fitness and know that just getting up a hill will be an enormous challenge, all you need is your own two feet. If you want to add some intensity, fill a rucksack with some sand bags, weights, or your neighbor's lawn gnomes and throw it on your back. March quickly, or even run. If you choose to try this sucker more than once, strive to do better each time. Find a bigger hill, go faster, or use a greater load.
I think it's best to bust this out with a partner. Bring a cell phone or radio, plenty of water, and a first-aid kit. If you're really remote, tell people where you will be. If you're carrying a ruck, I recommend you also bring a lightweight, plastic roll-up sled and some tow straps.
After reaching the top of your hill or mountain range, you may have nothing left in the tank. So, on the way back down, load your pack onto the sled and let gravity do most of the work.
Grit Check 3 The Kill
Implement "The Kill" when you need a leg day of death. It should only be done once per year, or maybe only once in your life. For each exercise, use a load that will put you in the 8-10 range—heavy enough that you're hitting failure at 10 reps. After the final set, you're going to immediately cut the weight by about 30 percent and try to hit 8-10 more reps. If you're on the leg press, have your partner strip the weight.
Then, you'll cut the weight again by 30 percent and proceed to try for another 8-10 reps. Once you've completed those reps, drop the weight one more time by 30 percent and finish the final set of 8-10 reps.
If your guess at 30 percent is wrong and you end up doing more or fewer reps than prescribed, that's fine. It doesn't matter how many reps you're doing as long as you're hitting failure. Remember, folks: Failure doesn't mean you have a few reps left in the tank. This workout is about testing your grit, not about seeing how much you can cheat. Do the workout right and you really won't need more exercises.
Grit Check 4 The Dreadlift
For this challenge, use about 70-80 percent of your deadlift one-rep max (1RM). Then, lift that weight as many times as you possibly can in half an hour. That's it.
An important point for success in this challenge is pacing. Because the weight is relatively light, you will be tempted to go hard at first. If you grip it and rip it for a quick 30 reps, however, you'll gas yourself quickly and find yourself standing around a lot for the remaining 28 minutes.
Instead, use a pause-rep technique by giving yourself a few seconds' rest between short sets. Don't take more than a minute of rest between sets, or you will eat up most of your time. Knock out a few reps, rest for a dozen seconds, and go again. Using this technique will keep you shy of failure so you can get as much work done as possible in the allotted time.
If you're not seeing your ancestors asking to work in by the end of 30 minutes, you didn't do it right.
When to Test Your True Grit
These workouts are meant to be special challenges, not daily training techniques or weekly tests. Use them in your regimen sparingly—when the stars align and your fortune cookie reads, "This week, find out what you're made of."
If you decide to try one of them, let me know how you did in the comments section below!