Save 17% with an Annual Subscription

Burn the Ships: January

Burn the Ships: January

January’s Burn the Ships is designed to get you moving faster and better, increase your strength-to-weight ratio—and smoke some calories in the process.

Why it matters: Doing one challenging workout a week has physical and mental upsides. And doing it on Friday (or over the weekend) is a great way to wipe the work week off the books.


  • Full access to Burn The Ships is for Members only. If you want access to this workout, become a Member. Us 2-Percenters get fit, have fun, and don’t die.
  • The audio version of this post is below my sign off. Speaking of …
  • We will be switching to podcast versions of all audio versions of all posts. I need to speak with Substack to get the tech right, then we’ll migrate. More to come.

This time of year, my wife and I like to walk around the house randomly shouting “NEW YEAR, NEW YOU” to each other.

It’s a joke. Mostly. It’s 90 percent joke. But that other 10 percent holds a good reminder.

There is something about a New Year that opens up possibilities. Here’s one possibility to consider: Getting really fit.

Enter Burn the Ships.

It’s the first Friday of the month. Which means it’s time to Burn the Ships.

This month’s Burn the Ships is inspired by Casey Bard, a friend of 2%. He recently posted a killer message about training in the cold—keeping yourself warm through hard effort. More on this idea below.

His message inspired me. Casey is currently in the process of murdering cancer by doing what his doctors recommend and dialing in his diet and exercise routine. Recent CT scans show that his sites continue to shrink and no new sites are forming. He wrote:

My team and I believe that a reason I’ve been able to tolerate and rebound quickly between these bi-weekly treatments is my relationship with exercise, nutrition, and struggle. I’m very thankful for a life that has contained struggle, as it has prepared me for challenging things. I am very thankful for being able to continue exercising (with few exceptions) throughout treatment thus far.

Casey also owns Tacticalories. They make the most excellent seasonings and sauces I’ve encountered. You might remember Tacticalories from the Gear Not Stuff Gift Guide (it was the best gift for people who like to eat—i.e., everyone).

If you’re a regular participant in Burn the Ships and know why we do this workout, scroll down to “This Month’s Workout” to get the details. The what, why, and how.

If you’re new (or want a refresher), start here so you understand the origins of Burn the Ships and the case for doing one tough workout a week.

The Case for One Tough Weekly Workout

In short

Doing one tough workout a week is a sweet spot for fitness and physical and mental health.

The details

I started doing one challenging workout every Friday after my time reporting inside Gym Jones roughly 12 years ago. I’ve maintained the practice.

There’s magic in pushing it once a week. Specifically, the practice makes me less insane.

Scientists at King’s College in London analyzed 53 studies on how intense exercise impacts mental health. They found that it led to “improvements in mental wellbeing, depression severity, and perceived stress compared to non-active controls, and small improvements in mental wellbeing compared to active controls.”

In other words, intense exercise has a mental edge compared not only to not exercising (duh), but also regular-paced exercise.

Intense exercise also—obviously!—comes with physical upsides.

It has a slight edge over less intense exercise for increasing VO2 max, which is associated with all sorts of good physical outcomes. A rule of thumb: the higher your VO2 max, the farther you are from death and disease.

TL;DR: All exercise helps. But it makes sense to go hard sometimes.

What’s “sometimes?”

The smartest trainers I regularly speak with suggest that one tough workout a week is the sweet spot for health and performance (learn more about the ideal amoung of tough workouts here).*

More than that, and we tend to get burned out and beat down. Less than that, and we miss out on some health and performance upsides.

Enter Burn the Ships.

Burn the Ships: How it works

On the first Friday of every month, we publish a new workout for Members only.

We do the workout every Friday of the month. (Don’t sweat if you can’t do the workout Friday—just try to do it some time each week.)

These workouts are safe and effective. They improve your strength, cardio, movement quality, and—in turn—your life.

We’ve provided scaled versions and exercise swaps, so anyone and everyone can do them.

  • In other words, we’re pushing edges and improving safely. It’s easy to be hard but hard to be smart.

This Month’s Workout: Make Your Own Heat

Why the name?

  • Casey recently posted from his frigid garage gym in upstate New York. It’s below freezing in there in winter. The garage has electric and propane heaters—but Casey wasn’t using those external heat sources.
  • Instead, Casey said, he’s choosing to generate his own heat through hard work.
  • And that’s an interesting metaphor for life and living it. If we only do things that are good for us when the conditions are perfect—right temperatures, right gear, right (insert anything)—we become more fragile.
  • Learning to make your own heat—literally and metaphorically—allows you to do more. Especially in the fact of challenge. We often have everything we need within us. We just need to do what it takes to find it.
  • And so that’s what this Burn the Ships is all about: Making your own heat through movement and effort.
  • It’ll improve your endurance, movement quality, and strength-to-weight ratio (which is critical for outdoor sports and longevity).
  • Heat also burns stuff. Like calories. After the holidays, the average person is anywhere from one to five pounds heavier. This workout will make the heat needed to burn that extra weight. It’s a calorie furnace.

Where to do it

  • Casey’s post came on the heels of a reader in Alaska asking about Burn the Ships workouts that aren’t outside. Because, well, Alaska in January.
  • So this workout can be completed outdoors or in a garage gym. Ideally you do the bodyweight exercises in your cold garage and the running or rucking portion outside. If you can’t run or ruck outside, run in place or do ruck stepups (more details on adapting the workout below). Can’t do it outside or in the garage? No problem. Go to a gym and use a treadmill.

Equipment needed

  • A ruck (optional).
  • Something that weighs between 5 and 20 pounds. (E.g. dumbbell, ruck plate, kettlebell, medicine ball, etc).
  • A way to track distance, like a GPS watch, Strava app, etc.

Time commitment

  • This should take you roughly 35 to 80 minutes. (Running will be faster than rucking).

Playlist I’m listening to while doing this workout

  • Casey and I seem to have been raised by some of the same relatives. They listened to classic 80s and 90s country music. All the time. Today, we regularly send classic country memes back and forth to each other.
  • So here’s a playlist of 80s and 90s country. Sorry I’m not sorry. #IYKYK

How to do it

Note 1: we have substitutions below if you have trouble with any gear or exercises.

Note 2: This workout uses what’s called a “descending rep ladder.” This means that you do fewer reps each round. I’ll over-explain this in more detail below.

Here’s the standard version of Make Your Own Heat.