My Navy SEAL workout started with a three-minute plank. And if that doesn't sound like a long time to you, get on the floor right now, set your timer, and see how it feels to hold your body up in perfect plank form for that long. It burns like hell. The next 90 minutes was a whirlwind of sprinting, squatting, swimming, and partner exercises that totally kicked my ass.
But I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like I had accomplished something pretty remarkable after it was all said and done. Especially considering the fact that the workout was so intense that one girl got a bloody nose, one left crying, and another had to excuse herself so she could puke. Are you getting the picture now?
The two Navy SEALs who led our workout, which was hosted by Luminox, were some of the biggest, fittest dudes I've ever seen in my life. More importantly, though, they had such a strong presence that we couldn't help but feel intimidated; we could tell that we weren't about to get away with anything. After we survived the longest plank hold in the history of fitness, the SEALs had us lie down on the ground for some sit-ups. "Not so bad," we thought to ourselves. We were very wrong, indeed.
Each time we sat up, the entire group was required to shout — not say, shout — the number we were on. If we didn't shout the number loud enough to the SEALs' liking, we had to start back at their "favorite number." Zero. Their "favorite number" is zero. It took us several tries to count in unison together, which meant we were on the grass for quite some time and our abs were starting to hurt.
After that came several laps of running in pairs, and if we didn't stay shoulder-to-shoulder with our partner (while also holding onto our water bottles in our right hands), we had to go back to the start and try again. Then came sprints, burpees, thrusters with a 20-pound wooden log (which gave my workout partner a nasty splinter), pull-ups, and many, many push-ups. For good measure, we also did a squat challenge where your partner timed you for three minutes while you did as many squats as you possibly could without fainting. Then you would switch. The team with the most squats was granted with a three-minute rest. My badass partner and I won! (We spent the entirety of our rest period doubled over.)
To finish off the sweaty (read: miserable) workout session, we all jumped into the pool — fully clothed — and did these exercises where we would hold our breath, dive to the bottom, and push our waterproof Luminox watches across the pool floor for 10 seconds. Partners alternated until they reached the other end of the pool. This was about the time that the girl ran off to throw up her lunch. Then we did some final laps before we were allowed to hop in the hot tub and collapse out of exhaustion and beg for wine. Phew.
From the very beginning, the SEALs kept telling us that a group is only as fast as its slowest person. In many of the exercises, we had to start over again and again, because we simply weren't keeping an eye on our teammates or participating enough. Sure, it was frustrating in the moment, and it was something we initially scoffed at. But as the workout went on and we started to lose our gumption (and our patience), it was clear we all desperately needed each other's support.
As someone who loves all types of fitness — from solo weightlifting to choreographed hip-hop dance — this was a much-needed reminder that fitness is much more fun and effective when you're suffering alongside an encouraging group of people. And sometimes the only way to reach the finish line is by eliciting the help of the folks around you, as well as offering it when your comrades need it the most.
Another thing the SEALs kept telling us was that you should always aim for higher than what you're going for. For example, if you're trying to do a set of 10 push-ups, in your mind tell yourself you're going for 12. This little mental trick will make it seem that much easier when you accomplish 10; plus, you might surprise yourself and make it all the way to 12. This tip stayed with me for days after the workout ended, and when I incorporated it into my weightlifting sessions, I was surprised to see that I could do much more than I previously expected from myself. Sometimes you don't really know how much you're capable of doing until you actually push yourself to do it.
Finally, I learned that you can do a whole lot with just your bodyweight. I rarely do strength-training workouts that just use bodyweight anymore, since my interests lie in weightlifting, but I, surprisingly, woke up painfully sore the next morning. And save for one movement, the entire workout was done with just our bodyweight, which told me that you can still get pretty far in your fitness goals if you don't have access to weights or other similar equipment. Besides, if you're ever in need of a heavy weight or a kettlebell substitute, just pick up a really heavy log.
Travel expenses for the author were provided by Cercone Brown Company for the purpose of writing this story.