Health and fitness aren't a luxury. Health and fitness play a major role in success. While the physical benefits clearly matter, the mental benefits -- perseverance, resilience, determination, and mental toughness -- are just as important.
This is the fourth in a series of my following an incredibly successful person's workout plan for one week. (The first three were seven-time Nascar champion Jimmie Johnson's, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen's, and retired Navy SEAL Jeff Boss's.)
This time, it's the regimen of Dick Costolo, former Twitter CEO and (fittingly) the co-founder of Chorus, a group (think social) fitness startup. Widely known as a serial entrepreneur and CEO, among certain circles he's just as well known for his devotion to fitness, which makes him perfect for this series.
You could argue that fitness is essential for people like Jimmie and Phil. Dick, on the other hand, is just like you and me.
Then again, maybe he's not.
Let's look at nutrition first.
Six days a week, Dick's sticks to an intermittent fasting plan, eating only during the eight-hour window from noon to 8 p.m. (Zero-calorie items like water and coffee are, of course, fine during the other sixteen hours.) On Sundays, he eats whenever he wants. Think of it as a cheat day of sorts.
But even then, he doesn't always eat dessert. He doesn't drink soda. Only on Sundays might he eat bread or pasta. "But that doesn't mean I absolutely have bread, pasta, and dessert on Sundays," Dick says, "It just means i don't stick to a strict regimen."
That's about it as far as good news is concerned, especially when you start doing Dick's actual workout plan.
Boxing: One hour
The entire hour is based on three minutes of boxing followed by 30-second rest periods. A clock signals 30 seconds left in the round, the end of the round, and the beginning of the round.
After a few rounds, the buzzer that signals 30 seconds remaining seemed like it would never sound, while the buzzer signaling that the rest period was over seemed to come immediately after the end of the round.
Einstein was right. Time is relative.
The structure goes like this:
- Three rounds of warm-up, without gloves, hands wrapped. Jumping jacks only round one, shadow boxing the next two rounds (work on footwork and punching form in front of a mirror).
- Put gloves on. These are 16-ounce gloves (which over time feel like five-pound gloves).
- Six or seven rounds of 1-on-1 work hitting pads, with the instructor moving around the ring and calling out combinations.
- Two rounds working on defense with the instructor wearing gloves. (The instructor doesn't have to be throwing hard or fast; this is mostly about defensive form, blocking punches, keeping the hands up, etc. But still: You are working hard on defending punches and countering properly.)
Then, the last 10-plus minutes of the workout involve core exercises. I did a cycle of:
- Situps: one minute;
- Plank: one minute;
- Bicycle: one minute;
- Rest: one minute, then repeat the cycle twice.
Phil's workout routine includes kickboxing, so I'm familiar with how much your core gets used when boxing, but add in all the bobbing and weaving and throwing different combinations and working on footwork, and it's amazing how tired your core will get--not to mention your shoulders and your legs (especially if you stay in a good stance).
Toss in the core cycles at the end, and the result is a killer.
I also worked hard to throw punches with some degree of oomph. It's relatively easy to tap a bag or tap hand pads; throwing punches with, as Bruce Lee would say, meaning is a lot harder. Try it. Go to a gym and ask a trainer to work you out. You'll walk away with a much greater appreciation for just how fit boxers are.
I felt sure I would be really sore the next day, and I was right. Fortunately ...
I love a rest day.
Except on this day I spent most of my time trying not to laugh or cough, because whenever I did my abs expressed their displeasure.
Four rounds of:
- Tempo front squats: six reps. Four-second eccentric on every rep (in other words, going from upright to the bottom of the front squat should take four seconds on each rep). Use a barbell of a weight that makes the fifth and sixth reps in each set difficult to quickly come out of the bottom. (Finding a weight that was difficult for the last couple of reps was not a problem for me.)
- Straight leg Romanian dead lifts: eight reps, four-second eccentric. Hold the last rep at the bottom position for 10 seconds (pushing your butt/legs backward as you descend). Use a weight that's challenging but allows you to do the eightth rep without struggling each set.
- Rest two minutes, then repeat three more times. (Love a rest period.)
Three rounds of:
- Deficit dumbbell Bulgarian split squats: 35-pound dumbbells, eight reps each leg. With your front foot raised three inches off the ground, put a couple of big weight plates on the ground and put your foot on them, with your back foot up on a bench, three-second eccentric, tap back knee on the ground gently, come up: that's one rep. If you can't do eight reps, use smaller dumbbells.
- 20 second L-sit: Using anything for your hands (parallets, kettlebells, anything you can grip a few inches off the ground).
- Body weight good morning hold: Spread your legs as far apart as you can side to side, standing as upright as possible. Then, hinging at the hips, do a good morning and hold at the bottom for one minute. Tighten your glutes and try to keep your chest up to protect your lower back.
- Rest 1 minute, then repeat two more times. (Love, love a rest period.)
Read through this quickly and it doesn't sound like a lot.
Do it and you'll know: It's a lot.
Death Day (my words, not Dick's)
Every minute, on the minute, for 10 minutes:
- 5 thrusters at 95 pounds
- 5 burpees
Start first thruster at the top of the minute. When you are done with the last burpee, rest until the next minute starts.
"I personally try to get through all 10 reps as fast as possible," Dick says, "and have max rest until the next minute starts, but some people like to take it slower on the burpees and maybe have 10 seconds less rest."
Early on you might feel like doing more than five thrusters and five burpees per one-minute period. Don't give in to the temptation (or the feeling of cockiness); it will definitely come back to haunt you around minute seven.
If you feel like giving this a try, consider the following.
"For this workout," Dick says, "I would try the following. If you can do three rounds of this and feel like, 'That was hard, but if I really grind and hold on, I can get through 10 minutes,' then great: Do the 5/5 with the thrusters at 95 pounds. If after three rounds, you are like, 'Oh crap, this isn't happening,' then go 4/4 per minute or drop the weight on the thrusters to 75 pounds. Or both. After four rounds you want to be breathing really hard and thinking, 'I'm really going to have to grind to get through 10 rounds of this.'"
"I started doing this at 4/4 for seven minutes and built up to 5/5 for 10 minutes," Dick says. "I think you should aim to find a weight and number of reps where 10 feels like a stretch but isn't impossible. I use this workout as my benchmark to see how i'm doing overall. I increase the reps when i feel like, 'OK, I've done that four times now,' and I add another burpee or another thruster. Next, I will probably add weight to the thruster."
What did I do? I started with 95s, got to the third set and realized 10 sets was impossible, dropped to 75 pounds for thrusters, and used 65s for the last three sets. It's really, really, really hard.
Full Body Strength/Mobility
(Or, as I like to call it, hot death day.)
Four rounds of:
- five handstand pushups (no kipping) against a wall. ("I don't do these unbroken," Dick says. "Break them up however you want. I also wrote 'no kipping' but that's more a goal and is not what's actually happening!")
- "One arm" ring chin ups: five reps each hand, three-second eccentric. ("This is not truly 'one arm,' as the other hand is on strap. The higher the other hand is on the strap, the easier the chin up. Try to move your off-hand as far down the strap as possible to make this hard. Use a bar if you don't have rings, and put one hand in chin-up position on the bar and the other hand on a strap hanging from the bar.")
- Rest two minutes, then repeat three times.
Three rounds of:
- 10 reps of the following with two 25-pound dumbbells: Seated on the ground with your legs together out in front of you (can be straight or bent), press the dumbbells overhead, then while leaving them pressed overhead, do a sit-up. (Always try to press the dumbbells directly at the ceiling through the entire sit-up; in other words, don't pull the dumbbells back over your head toward the ground as you go to the bottom of the sit-up, and don't let them get too far out in front of you on the way up. Always press them toward the ceiling). When you are seated upright again, lower the dumbbells from the overhead position. That's one rep.
- 10 chaturanga push-ups: Hold for two seconds at the bottom (a couple inches off the floor). Start with your hands at your sides below your chest in plank, and then try to lower your body forward into the bottom chaturanga position instead of sliding backward on the way down. (In other words, at the bottom position your hands should not be up at your armpits. They should still be down below your chest.)
- 10 ring rows with feet elevated on bench.
- two minutes rest, then repeat two times.
Three rounds of:
- one-minute handstand hold (spotted or against a wall).
- 90-second rest, then repeat two times.
The handstand push-ups and ring chin-ups weren't too hard. I have skinny legs so it's not hard for me to do body-weight exercises like pull-ups, dips, etc. The weighted sit-ups were hard, and so were the chaturanga push-ups. (I like them, but they're hard.)
As Dick said, "The exercise where you start out seated with the dumbells, press them overhead, lie down keeping them pointed toward the ceiling, and then sit up -- that is so much harder than it sounds. The other stuff is hard too, but it sounds hard. The sit-ups sound easy but are stupidly hard."
And yes, "stupidly hard" just became a go-to phrase for me.
Overall this day is also a much harder cardio workout than it may seem on paper.
And speaking of cardio ...
Two-hour mountain bike ride.
(Thank heavens for cycling days.)
Dick rides different routes, but tries to average around between 2,000 and 2,500 feet of total climbing. "I don't know the total mileage," he says, "but I'm just cruising on the flats, not trying to keep a certain speed. I ride a relatively leisurely pace when not climbing. And there aren't extreme grades on the climb, just a consistent grind. This is not meant to be a brutal workout, just a couple solid hours of mountain biking."
I rode in an unfamiliar area and followed a single-track that I was sure would soon crest a mountain, but I was wrong: It went on forever.
By the time my ride was over, Strava said I'd done 3,400 feet of climbing. Oh, well. Better to overperform than underperform.
Sunday's workout had three parts:
Five rounds of:
- 400 meter run.
- 15 burpees.
"I did all the burpees unbroken," Dick said, "but didn't push the run and had a short walk from the start of the run to where I did the burpees. So you get a little transition time."
Superset using a pair of 30-pound dumbbells
- 24-inch-box step-ups: 10 each leg.
- Man makers: 7
- Rest, and repeat two more times.
"I did not do these for time," Dick said. "I was just grinding through it."
3) Russian twists: three x 20 with 20-pound dumbbells. "I would prefer to use a ball," Dick said, "but I didn't have one."
This was the Sunday workout Dick gave me -- but not the first Sunday workout he gave me.
"I made up my own Sunday workout yesterday," Dick said, "and it was stupidly long and hard. Let me get a good Crossfit workout from my co-founder, Bryan, for this coming Sunday, and that can be the Sunday workout."
So that's what you see above.
What was the "stupidly long and hard workout"?
Dick did five rounds of a one-mile run and then 50 burpees. That means he ran a mile, did 50 burpees, ran another mile, did 50 more burpees ...
So I thought about it and did that on the Monday. (I'm a sucker for stupid.)
"250 burpees is just dumb," Dick had told me, "so don't do that."
"Dumb" is not the word I would use for 250 burpees. I had plenty of others, all of the four-letter variety.
What I learned.
"The boxing is fun," Dick told me. "I think you'll enjoy it. It's both mental and physical and a totally different kind of workout."
He's right. I typically lift and cycle, and boxing was a great change of pace. (Incredibly fatiguing, but a great change of pace.) So was doing something different every day. Each workout has a different focus and different purpose, but together they form a great overall workout plan. Cardio, strength, mobility, flexibility, agility, the ability to keep grinding--it's all there.
Yet, as Dick says, he doesn't follow an organizing thesis. "I get bored easily," he said, "which is one thing that originally drew me to Crossfit years ago. I like the constantly varied workouts and the broad range of functional movements. The boxing is mentally taxing as well as physically taxing and is a completely different workout. The gymnastics work stresses mobility and flexibility, which is more important to me as I get older, and the mountain biking is just a great long stretch of hours outdoors."
I really like that approach. Dick isn't a slave to routine; he is dedicated to working really hard, but he enjoys the variety -- and the variety of benefits -- that comes from doing a lot of different types of workouts. I can learn a lot from that approach.
And, oh, yeah: I also learned that Dick is a beast. I like to think I'm fairly fit, but the week was hard. I sometimes took longer rest breaks than specified, and cut some sets in half (doing five reps, for example, resting for five seconds, then pushing through the next five). It would take me a long time to get to Dick's level of fitness where his routine is concerned.
And that's why he's such a successful entrepreneur. The difference between success and failure is often based simply on the ability to grind: To stay the course, to force past obstacles, to push yourself further than you think you can go. If you're trying to increase your mental toughness and ability to persevere, try Dick's workout.
You'll come out the other side extremely tired and sore, but you'll also realize that you're capable of a lot more than you imagined.
And along the way, you'll learn a lot about yourself -- which, if you think about it, is the point.
Others in this series: