Here's what you need to know...

  1. You need challenges to find out what you're made of. Especially you, keyboard warrior.
  2. You should at least be as strong as a high school football player and be able to bench, front squat, and power clean 205.
  3. Once you load up a bar with your body weight and do 50 squats, you'll never again complain that your regular squat workout is too tough.
  4. Other challenges, like the snatch challenge and the farmer's walk challenge, will help you discover your training gaps.

Part of the problem with the modern internet warrior who claims a 750 deadlift and a body fat percentage of four percent is that he's never truly challenged. Many who want to train like a Spec Ops ninja might not even be able to survive basic boot camp training. Folks, we need challenges. Let's start with the basics and then slide up a bit.

First, let's at least be as strong as a high school football player. Can you bench, front squat, and power clean 205? That's become the standard for most schools in the past few years. If you're not yet there, strive to at least meet these metrics:

  • A body weight bench press
  • A body weight power clean
  • Somewhere in the realm of a double body weight deadlift

But let's take it up a notch. I have a number of challenges that I've offered my athletes through the years. Some suck and some have no value, but some can change your life. I have no idea what specific benefits you'll reap from meeting any of these challenges, but I do know this: Each of these will make you better at whatever else you do.

Load a bar up with your body weight. Put it on your shoulders, step back from the rack, and do 50 reps. I did this for the first time in 1976. I was looking for a way to increase my body weight and ran it by a friend who said, "Why not?" Within a few minutes, I would have dozens of answers for "why not?" and none of them good.


Before we go into detail, though, we'll probably see lots of YouTube videos with guys half-squatting or doing them on a Smith machine and then boasting that they've met the challenge. No, they haven't. I'm talking about 50 ATG (ass to grass) back squats with approximately your bodyweight propped up on your shoulders. Use a barbell, step back from the rack, and have spotters really, really close and enjoy.

If you weigh 135 pounds or less, use 135 pounds. From 135 to 185 pounds, use 185 pounds. If you're in the range of 186-205, use 205. Everyone over 205 should just use 225 pounds. This method will allow you to use a limited number of plates (one or two) and you don't have to experience a lot of clanging and sliding.

The next time you try it, feel free to use whatever load you want, but the experience of doing all fifty is mind blowing.

Not only will you KNOW you had a GH response (they used to tell us that feeling nauseated was a sign that GH was released), but you'll probably never again think that doing just a few sets of squats in a conventional workout is difficult.

My brother, Gary, established an interesting challenge that you could try about once a year, and just as you should with the body weight squat for fifty, plan on taking some days off after you attempt this challenge.

It's very simple: How many deadlifts can you do with 315 pounds in half an hour? Time for some caveats – we're assuming your deadlift is well above 315 pounds and we're hoping you have the wisdom to rest, stop, adjust, and possibly quit as appropriate. By the way, Gary did 61 reps in the deadlift with 315 in half an hour at age 61.

If you have the courage, I'd like to challenge every reader to snatch your bodyweight. The Olympic snatch is often called the "fastest movement in sport" (and I don't want to hear the nerd argument about whether or not it's the fastest). It's also very technical and, of course, there's that one other thing – you have to be very strong.

When I was in college, the powerlifters at the university always tried make excuses for my lifts. They noted that although I lifted a lot, "it was just good technique." Well, it's also being really strong, too. Taking your body weight from the ground to overhead in one motion is universally recognized as the entry level to the road to being damn strong.

I've felt for years that doing a farmer's walk with double bodyweight is a feat worthy of posting on social media. It only has to be a carry for maybe twenty steps or so, but even that's impressive. The problem for a long time was finding the implements. If you weigh 150 pounds or less, you'll probably find dumbbells to do this. The rest of us, though, might have a harder time.

Enter the trap bar or Dead-Squat™ Bar. You'll get all the same effects (working the grip and posterior chain, along with eye-bulging discomfort) that you would from doing it with dumbbells or other implements. Just load it up to twice your bodyweight and stroll away.

This one is a dietary challenge. It's simple, once in a while, just don't eat for 24 hours. (Don't do this on a workout day.) Eat dinner, then don't eat anything until dinner the next day. Now I'm not advocating intermittent fasting, but many of us in the world of bulk and power need to practice being hungry again. If you're looking for a way to increase your mental focus, this is the "fastest" way I know.

There's one final non-lifting challenge I'd like you to consider, and that's to take an occasional one-hour timeout from everything. Simply find a place you won't be disturbed and turn off everything. No interaction of any kind, no reading, no pacing, nothing. Simply sit alone for one hour.

If you must, put a kitchen timer set to buzz in one hour. It might feel like forever, but listen to your "mental traffic." The Age of Exploration was half a millennium ago, but today we live in the Age of Distraction. Try living without distraction for an hour.

In closing, anything can be a challenge. The ones I presented are all time-tested and will give you a chance to discover your gaps.

Dan John is an elite-level strength and weightlifting coach. He is also an All-American discus thrower, holds the American record in the Weight Pentathlon, and has competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting and Highland Games. Follow Dan John on Facebook