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Burn the Ships: May Edition

A workout featuring the two skills you need to live and perform well now—and survive if disaster ever strikes.

Burn the Ships: May Edition


  • Full access to this post is for Members of 2%. Become a Member below so you can Burn the Ship, have fun, and not die.
  • A note on the podcast: Getting a private Member RSS feed to work with Spotify has been something of a headache. We've had a lot of meetings and figuring out the best solution. In the meantime, the Member version of the podcast will continue to be at every post's bottom.
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Podcast preview (full version below)

The post

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

This month, we’re doing a workout that’ll help you not die.

Last weekend, Mike Moreno and I held the first ever Don't Die Retreat far out in the Mojave Desert. A group of fun, incredible, and intelligent people attended. (If you want in on the next Don't Die event in October, put your name on the a waiting list).

Mike is a former CIA Case Officer who served in Iraq and the Middle East. I'm an investigative journalist who has traveled to conflict zones like Iraq and other countries on the brink.

We covered critical skills you need to survive a crisis at home or abroad. The type of skills you may never need—until you do. And then they'll save your life.

For example, how to get out of handcuffs, escape a dangerous scenario, get information from people, stay safe while traveling, and much more.

Part of that event covered we should think about fitness for surviving any scenario. The details are reserved for the retreat, but a couple of brief points:

  • The two most important physical skills humans need when the going goes bad are:
    • Being able to cover ground on foot.
    • Being able to carry weight along the way.

The problem is most people aren't physically prepared like that. On one hand, we have runners who are great at covering ground but crumple under the weight. On the other hand, we have lifter types who can carry just fine but gas out after a mile or two.

This month's Burn the Ships builds the two skills you need to live and perform well in your everyday life—and in a shit-is-hitting-the-fan scenario.

Even if you never find yourself in danger, this training will improve your healthspan and lifespan—it hits the two skills you need to live long and well.

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.

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

I started doing one tough 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 to 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 (more info on that 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 weekend. (Don’t sweat if you can’t do the workout during the weekend—just try to do it once 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: Don't Die

Why the name?

  • Simple: It'll help you build the physical skills you need if you ever encounter a crisis—escaping, traveling on foot, carrying critical gear and supplies, helping others, etc.
  • It'll also give you functional strength and endurance that'll help you live longer and better.
  • For example, carrying weight long distances is uniquely good for:
    • Bone density. That can help you avoid breaking a bone if you fall. (A third of people who break a hip after age
    • Core strength. That can help you avoid back pain, which is one of the main reasons people stop moving as much.
    • Building the capacity to just keep going.
    • Teaching you to breathe while loaded down.
    • Fat loss. Studies suggest that carrying weight over distance is uniquely effective for fat loss.
  • Note that specific carries have specific benefits, working different areas differently.

Where to do this workout

  • Outside.
  • I'll be using my garage as a "home base." (You'll see what I mean when you see the workout.)

Equipment needed

  • A sandbag or sand medicine ball or two. Ideally one lighter and one heavier.
  • Note: Sandbags or sand medicine balls are my top picks for a home gym. I like GORUCK's Simple Sandbags, but you can find a lot of other options online.

Time commitment

  • Roughly 40 to 60 minutes.

What I'm listening to while doing this workout

  • The Grateful Dead.
  • Because if you do die, at least be grateful—and because I'll be going to way too many of their Las Vegas Sphere residency, which begins this month.
  • Here's a playlist of some of my favorite live tracks.
  • Also, for the Deadheads of 2%, Holler if you find yourself at one of the upcoming Sphere shows ...

How to do it

Here's the standard version of Don't Die.

Below, you'll find the warmup, the workout, the cooldown, and video instructions for each exercise.

Go outside or use your garage as a home base (door wide open) and do the following:

1) The Warmup

The 2% Warmup is perfect to prep for this one.