Look. Up ahead. Stretch day is just around the corner and it’s going to be awesome! Stretch Day is not about reaching for your toes or bringing your foot over your head. And it’s probably not pulling some elastic bands, but it could be. This day is designed to stress you physically in order to stretch you mentally.
All too frequently, we limit our capabilities. By stunting beliefs or restricting possibilities, we’re a little too good at suppressing ourselves. That feeling of an invisible rope holding us back or sandbag weighing us down happens often, so we strive for an easier life. But our easier life is making us soft. And our softness makes us feel weighed down, and thus the loop continues. “This is just the way my body is built.” “Everybody does ‘X’ better than me.” “I’m too tired. I’ll do more…tomorrow.” Stretch day sets out to smash it all.
The goal of stretch day is to take the image of your capacity and expand it…10-fold. By acting, and not thinking, your way through it, you will achieve greatness. You’ll see what I mean here shortly. We are all striving for personal growth. Whether it’s growth of mind, health, financially, or spiritually, we want to develop. The best way I know to do this by breaking the mold. However, breaking the mold is not as simple as wanting change. You need something that flips that switch within you to initiate the change you want to see. Some changes happen naturally. The serious car crash that shifts your opinion about sticking with that loathsome job. The family death that makes you rethink your love for Reese’s. Or maybe you can’t pinpoint exactly what’s wrong. The feeling is just…off. Take matters into your own hands. Stretch day is a physical test that happens twice a month in order to jolt you towards consistent change and transformation.
Stretch Day Structure.
It’s best to choose something simple, but not easy. I know those two words sound like synonyms, but not in this context. The task should be concise enough to describe in one sentence. Run 10 miles. Complete 300 burpees. Climb ‘blah’ Mountain. That’s the simple part. But depending on your fitness level in these different categories, running 10 miles or climbing a mountain may be a huge effort. In other words, not easy.
A common issue that many run into with stretch day is planning too far in advance. A long lag time between planning and execution can cause worry and opportunity to back out. I’ve found that about 2-4 days lead time seems to be an optimal window. That length of time gets me primed and excited for the challenge ahead. It’s not so short that I’m scrambling, but it’s not so far out as to be an annoyance or concern on the to-do list.
Stretch day is not an excuse to alter your normal exercise routine. It’s built to give you the confidence to know you can tackle any barrier that may materialize. Those obstacles don’t magically provide days of rest beforehand, they just happen. So does Stretch Day. This is also why Stretch Day is highly encouraged to happen during the week. Completing this physical mission on your day off when you can get an extra good night’s rest or take a nap/Netflix binge afterward doesn’t promote the shift we’re targeting. Make Stretch Day happen on top of everything else. Load it up. You can handle it. Check the list below for some ideas as to what sample Stretch Day activities might look like.
List of Possible Stretch Day Activities.
- Run 2x-3x your normal longer run (if you cover a 2-mile loop a few days a week, but do 4 miles on Saturday morning, guess who’s tackling an 8-12 miler!)
- Bike 2x-3x your normal ride (if knocking out 25 miles after work or on a weekend is a normal ride, guess who’s shooting for the 50-75 mi range)
- Complete 250 burpees
- Complete 1,000 bodyweight squats
- Swim continuously for 45 min
- Deadlift 8,000 lbs in the largest increments possible (eg. 40 reps of 200 lbs beats 80 reps of 100 lbs)
The activity’s length should be in the range of 45 minutes to about 4 hours. This is a wide window on purpose. Depending on the category of the goal, 45 minutes may be a monstrous effort and on the other hand, 4 hours may be required to cause the positive stress we’re looking for. For instance, I’m a reasonably aerobically fit person, however, I am not an experienced swimmer. I know how to swim, but never was on a swim team nor have I had training in proper stroke form. So a few months back after swimming continuously for 45 minutes, I was drained. Conversely, I’m a seasoned cyclist and occasionally need the push up to the 4-hour mark to reach the required exertion level.
You’re three days out and you’ve figured out what your Stretch Day activity is. Sweet! It’s going test you, but expand you! To help ensure you follow through with the effort, make your safety net uncomfortable to use. I.e. if your goal is a long run, don’t do it on the treadmill where you can just shut it off. (Also, treadmills are terrible for body mechanics). Laps around a track? Nope! Also too easy to quit. Get outside, regardless of weather, and do one big loop or an out and back. My very first stretch day was running to and from the office, which was 7.5 miles away. To stop my ability to call my wife for a ride or from getting an Uber, I left my phone at home. Think about your goal and whatever your easy-out might be, then remove it.
This requires some candid self-assessment. But don’t worry it’s just you so be honest. You need to assess how you typically behave in this type of setting. Place yourself on the scale of 1-10. The scale starts at (in the most pathetic tone possible) “I don’t like to push when it hurts, so humph.” We’ll call this a 1. Or there’s the (full volume screaming) “I always push myself so far over the limit that INJURY IS LIFE.” We’ll call this a 10. In all honesty, you’re probably not a one or a ten. You’re likely somewhere in the middle. However, for this day’s effort, you’re going to need to put yourself into the mindset of a 7 or 8. That means pushing as hard as possible, but being cognizant enough to listen to your body for potential injury.
Back to the self-assessment. If you don’t normally put yourself into a 7 or 8 for this type of effort or you haven’t put yourself up against this level of an undertaking, then you’ll need to act, and not think, your way through it. In essence, put yourself in the mindset of a 7 or 8 on the scale. Even if you evaluated yourself as a 4, impersonate the higher level during the effort. You’re not trying to will yourself to be an 8, you’re taking action as an 8 would take action. Another way to tackle this is to think of someone who you’d classify as a 7 or 8. Attempt to mimic how they would complete the task. Don’t think, ACT!
What happens if you couldn’t quite achieve your goal last Stretch Day? Say you went out and tried to complete 250 burpees, but after 93 minutes and 187 repetitions, your asthma kicked in and wouldn’t let you finish. First off, this is not a failure! You just completed 187 fucking burpees! Be proud. But at the same time, I get it. The goal was 250 and it just didn’t happen. Failures do happen and are even slightly encouraged. If you never fail during Stretch Day, YOU’RE NOT STRETCHING FAR ENOUGH. As far as a do-over is concerned, I find that 2 back-to-back attempts at the same goal are permissible, but trying for a third is detrimental. If you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly say you gave it your all and it didn’t happen, you’ve done your best…forget the rest. So dust yourself off and think about trying it again next time around. Unless this is your second go of it, then throw in the towel and maybe revisit the idea in 6 months.
I’ve tried to lay out my best-practice parameters for Stretch Day, but experiment for yourself. Self-experimentation is awesome! Let this be a guide, but make it your own. And if you’re not sure where to start, pick something and hope for the best. If it doesn’t turn out, you’ll have a better understanding of how to structure the next one. Stretching yourself physically 2 days a month acts as a prelude to profound change. You can bring the accomplishments of Stretch Day for when you’re struggling anywhere else. Maybe you’ve been killing it at work all week and are still there at 8 pm on Friday night, and the ‘ugh god I don’t know if I can make it!’ thought runs through your mind. So you think back to Tuesday when you did 1,000 body squats. Your legs are still stiff as boards, but you grin. You accomplished that at 5 am on a fucking Tuesday, you can push through a little longer on a Friday evening. Smile. Stress and limits are all mental. And you my friend, are a mental badass.