The 30-100 Challenge

At the end of 2020, I was feeling decent and regaining some ground after some significant setbacks last fall. I wanted some type of challenge or short project to keep me busy indoors through part of the winter.

I had considered Dan John’s 10,000 swing challenge (500 kettlebell swings per day for 20 days), but decided against it. First, I think swings are good as part of a fitness plan. But I’m just not THAT into them, like, 10,000 into them. Second, swings are more for the purpose of developing some lower body power and total body conditioning. But I wanted more total body work, and hoped to put some muscle back on.

A few other known challenge type protocols were considered, but most of them were for absolute beginners and focused on weight loss, or they were drastic overkill in sets and reps meant for twentysomething cyborgs.

So I created my own challenge. Who’s the real Slim Shady on this stuff, anyway ; )? I wanted it to be a challenge but possible based mostly on effort. It needed to be safe (low injury potential), simple, and require very little equipment. What I came up with sounded good, but with the council of none there is folly. Er, something like that. So I group texted the idea to five of my more egg-headed training friends, asking them for any feedback, suggested adjustments, warnings, etc. There was little feedback, but a fairly unanimous “Count me in!”

I had planned on rolling this challenge into my own exercise programming repertoire to prescribe for others. But it would be the 2.0 version, with revisions past the experimental stage. I hadn’t planned on telling or encouraging anyone to do this until after the Beta test. I realized this is not rocket surgery, but I just didn’t want to advise or encourage something I’m not informed on. Thirty days nearly in a row -of just about any physical activity- is unknown territory for me and most of us. But before I knew it, there were friends of friends, wives, even some girlfriends, parents, and cousins joining in.

What is the 30-100 Challenge?


The Movements:

10 Backward lunges (each leg),

20 pull-ups,

30 deep squats,

and 40 push ups.

The lunges and squats are completed while holding a moderate resistance, suggested between 20 and 35 lbs for women and 30-75 pounds for men. I used a 55-pound kettlebell. The resistance (or object) does not change for the duration of the challenge. Yes, by the end you will have completed 1200 push ups, 900 squats, 600 pull-ups, and 600 backward lunges (300 on each leg).


The exercises may be broken down into any set/rep scheme and order that you want, with as much rest as you need, so long as you get the 100 reps in. Again, the movements do not have to be done consecutive or “unbroken.” Each training day -should- demand around 15 minutes of your time, give or take, depending on your level of fitness.

Recovery Days:

You are to take off one day per week, finishing the 30 training days in approximately 5 weeks. But if you really need more recovery days, you are encouraged to take them without missing two consecutive days.

Additional Work:

Weight Gain- The serious strength athletes (even the recreational ones) should consider doing some heavy resistance training two days per week, with their program being abbreviated both in total exercises and sets, and finishing with the 30-100 protocol. For example, if I could, on Tuesdays I would throw in some low rep sets of bench press and farmer walks. On Saturdays I would include landmine shoulder presses and relatively heavy low rep split squats before doing the 30-100 protocol. Oh, and eat a lot of mostly healthy calories!

Weight Loss- On three to four days per week, before doing the protocol, do some light floor based work like “Pointer Dogs,” and crawling, and after doing the protocol, take a brisk 15-30 minute walk. Sometimes, shorten the walk to 10 minutes and carry the resistance with you, alternating hands. Oh, and eat mostly healthy foods in amounts just slightly below your baseline caloric needs.

Scaling Back:

For the squat, go a little shallower than a full squat if you must. *Sit back to lightly tap your rear to a step stool or ottoman etc in order to make sure you are using your hips and thighs, not just your knees. For the pull-up, band assistance is allowed. *One of the best ways to get really good at unassisted pull-ups is to jump up to the bar/tree limb/rafter/etc, and lower yourself down slowly. For the push-ups, knee push ups (formerly known as “girl push ups” are not allowed. If you must, scale back the pushup by going only half way down to the floor (partial ROM). Remember, you can break a set of 20 into 4 sets of 5 reps if you must! *And in all push-ups, be sure to keep the abs tight in order to keep your lower back from arching.

What was it like?

Day 4 felt about like day 24. The squats were the most difficult part for me and others that I heard from. Every time I reached five consecutive days, it felt as if I were rolling around on two flat tires. Each training day took me between 12 and 20 minutes, depending on how much I pushed the envelope. This endurance component was the most challenging aspect for me, as I’m anemic and have very poor “wind” no matter the activity.

I tried on various orders and set/rep schemes of the exercises. But the resorted to most looked like: 10 pullups immediately followed by 5 lunges each leg, short rest, and repeat. Then 10 deep squats followed by 20 push ups, repeat, and finish with a third set of 10 squats.

This seemed most efficient. But any way that I shook it, at completion I had to sit down or even lay on the floor for a bit and listen to music or a podcast. I’m certain this aspect of the difficulty had far more to do with being an anemic 45 year old fighting stage 4 cancer than it had to do with the actual workout. My slightly younger and in-their-prime friends would regularly finish between 4 and 10 minutes, depending on how much they pushed it!

In case anyone is wondering, the current best time stands at 3:41, by Cort Hutchinson.


The program took me close to 6 weeks (rather than the planned 5) to complete. In the last few weeks, I needed a few extra recovery days. By the end of 30 sessions, I was more than ready to be finished. The mental grind of seeing all 30 days through was consistently reported by my friends as well. But hey, that’s why “they” call it a CHALLENGE and not a long-term sustainable training program!

So nobody is allowed to say “Well that’s easy” until they see all 30 days through ; )

At one point, probably toward the end of week three, I had noticeably gained some weight where I wanted through my back, shoulders, and legs. I had been eating with that intent, although some others doing the program (and probably eating less horse-like) reported that they lost some weight (body mass). I -think- it’s safe to assume that in both instances, our body compositions changed for the better. That’s a big piece of the “Why?” to doing it in the first place.

When I came up with the idea, I was feeling good, slowly ramping up my work (physical therapy and training) hours and total activity level. The bad news is that toward the end of, and especially after completing the program, I started feeling significantly more ill. I’ve been at this now for over a year, and know how quickly your body can turn on you.

My appetite tanked due to feeling a mild but constant nausea, lightheadedness, and even some dizziness. My hands and face literally broke out in blisters and I had very inconsistent, brief but severe stomach pain that I called “Roundhouse to the Gut.” I quickly lost the weight that I had gained. But in my current state of health, a net of zero rather than taking a loss can be rather good news.

The oncologist is almost certain that these symptoms are the side effects of one of my medications rather than due to the primary disease. It’s time to cut back some, and hopefully settle on a less toxic dose of that drug – that is still effective in treatment – . This journey is like being on a see-saw with a bully. Up, up, up, slam.

Since altering the regimen only a few days ago, I do feel some subjective improvement.


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