Top 6 Challenge Workouts

by Dan John

It's time to see what you're really made of. These deceptively simple workouts build muscle, burn fat, and increase overall fitness... fast.

Here’s what you need to know…

  1. The “Demon Deacon” workout consists of doing one rep on the minute, every minute, for the allotted time.
  2. The “Bengal” requires that you pick a big lift and do 100 reps with it. The workout might last over an hour.
  3. The “Eagle” pairs the farmer’s walk with the double-kettlebell front squat. Repeat for 8 circuits and then hurl in a bush.
  4. With the “Spartan,” one partner deadlifts for 5 reps while partner two does bear crawls. They then switch positions and repeat 5 times. If you die, you lose.
  5. The “Coyote” is an all-round workout that involves 15 kettlebell swings, 5 goblet squats, and 3 push-ups for rounds. Twenty rounds equals 300 swings, 100 squats, and 60 push-ups.
  6. For the “Road Warrior,” you do waiter’s walks, suitcase carries, suitcase deadlifts, one-hand overhead presses, one-hand bench presses, and side bends on one side only. The next day, you repeat all the movements using the opposite hand.

Editor’s Note: Dan John’s been making athletes puke in bushes for longer than a lot of T Nation readers have been alive. Hell, very few people have such an arsenal of brutal workout techniques and programs catalogued in their brain and we’d be crazy not to access that catalog as often as we can. In this case, we asked Dan to come up with his 6 best random, challenge-style workouts, ones that build muscle and fitness but don’t produce high levels of muscle and tendon inflammation and don’t overload the spine beyond the borders of sanity.

1. The Demon Deacon

Many of us were amazed years ago when Ethan Reeves, the outstanding strength coach at Wake Forest, would post workouts on popular forums. He would simply post the workouts and one or two examples of the actual weights/reps recorded. The numbers were stunning and it reminded many of us that we just weren’t born to be elite football players. One workout became a staple of all my programs. It’s simply this:

One rep on the minute, every minute, for the allotted time.

The time can vary from twenty minutes to one hour, but the key is the proper selection of load. It works best with the “big lifts” like the clean, power clean, front squat, and deadlift. (The back squat doesn’t seem to work well as it seems one can always do another back squat.) For loading, I’d suggest a lift that allows for a solid plate selection. For instance, two 45-pound plates on the ends of a bar (225 pounds) are going to work better than a whole bunch of assorted clanking plates.

The Demon Deacon works well if you do it with a partner. Some suggestions:

  • Front Squat with 205
  • Deadlift with 315
  • Clean (or Power Clean) with 205

If you want an interesting variation, try it with military presses. Use a “natural” number like 95, 115, or 135. Remember, it’s a single rep on the minute, every minute, for the total time planned. Certainly, you could plan on continuing to failure, but I’d suggest simply trying your hand at 20 or 30 minutes first and then extending to a full 60-minute game.

The great benefit of this workout is that you’re focusing on a single movement and gathering your resources to make the lift over and over again. Obviously, I love this kind of thing.

2. The Bengal

When I first ventured into the internet, you could read discussions on open forums with NFL strength coaches and legends of lifting. Unfortunately, the trolls literally drove them off and it still saddens me. Zit-faced 14-year-olds from the Midwest would say all kinds of terrible things while protected by the anonymity of the computer screen. Before that happened, though, I remember Kim Woods, the strength coach of the Cincinnati Bengals during the Super Bowl years, discussing the 100-rep challenge. I loved it and it remains a staple of my challenges to this day.

It’s very simple: Pick a lift, load it up appropriately, and do 100 reps with it. I’ve done it using the following:

  • 165 in the Squat Snatch
  • 205 in the Power Clean
  • 185 in the Clean and Jerk
  • 255 in the Front Squat

For the sake of clarity, it’s not 10 sets of 10 or whatever; it’s 100 singles. The idea is to pick a load that’s challenging and continue doing it over and over. The workout can last over an hour and you might find that you have minutes filled with multiple reps, interspersed with five-minute periods of pure rest.

Each time I do this workout, I come away with a better appreciation of the set up involved for each and every lift. It’s actually a teaching session for experienced lifters. One added benefit: You’ll become an expert at math as you begin to think at, for example, twenty reps, that you’re one-fifth there. Which is twenty percent. And that means you have 80 to go. Which is 4/5ths. It’s fun andeducational!

3. The Eagle

I discovered the combination I call The Eagle a few years ago. The school mascot where I was teaching at the time was the Soaring Eagle, so the name was a natural. It combined the simplest of the loaded carries – the farmer’s walk – with the double-kettlebell front squat.

The athlete simply does 8 double-kettlebell front squats and then drops the weight to his sides and does a farmer’s walk for 20 meters. He then does another 8 squats. Repeat until completing eight circuits and then hurl in a bush because the workload is incredible. The suggested load for a high school male is two 24-kilo bells while females should start with 12-kilo bells. (While the suggested load may seem light, oftentimes the goal wasn’t met.)

There are some hidden benefits to this combo. The athlete needs two kettlebells and never puts them down. The metabolic hit is accelerated by the grip work, the wrestling with the kettlebells, and the sheer volume of carrying the load. There’s nothing magical in the choice of exercises; it’s just the patterning movement of loaded carries mixed with the grinding movement of squats.

4. The Spartan

I live in Murray, Utah and our local high school mascot is the Spartan, hence the name of this random workout (Mark Twight lives close, too, and he became ridiculously famous when the move 300 came out a few years ago.) This is a simple workout for two people and it’s based on the classic “I go/you go” template. I’ll give you two variations but the basic theme is the same: A lot of movement with very simple tools.


Equipment needed:

  • I strongly recommend gloves for both partners.
  • A duffle bag filled with up to three water-softener salt bags. Generally, each one weighs 40 pounds, so try to get two or three bags in the carrying sack. Duct tape it well.

Partner one does bear crawls while partner two carries the bag “bear hug” style. Stay in communication and switch well before fatigue sets in. Continue until… finished.


Agree on a deadlift load, ideally using big plates like 225 or 315. Partner one deadlifts for 5 reps while partner two does bear crawls. Switch. Try this for five rounds the first time around. On the last set, do bear crawls to “failure.”

5. The Coyote

This workout is a staple of the Coyote Point Kettlebell Club. It takes only one kettlebell per person and can be adjusted with reps, sets, and load to fit anyone. Don’t let the simplicity fool you:

  • 15 Swings
  • 5 Goblet Squats
  • 3 Push-Ups (or variations)

This little workout covers all the basic human movements and has the odd ability to always allow “one more round.” Simply try this for five rounds the first time and you’ll find that you have, by itself, an appropriate, repeatable, all-round workout. If you can handle the volume, 20 rounds equals 300 swings, 100 squats, and 60 push-ups and is a respectable workout. To make it harder, first increase the number of push-ups. Then, add a bigger bell. This is a great workout anywhere, any time, and for any reason.

6. The Road Warrior

This is a workout I designed for members of one of our federal agencies who travel all the time and never know what equipment will be available. It’s simple on paper but keeps your conditioning “in the ballpark” until you come home again.


With dumbbell in one hand ONLY (let’s say the left hand):

  • Waiter Walk (short walk with weight overhead like a waiter)
  • Suitcase Carry (short walk with weight like a suitcase)
  • Suitcase Deadlifts
  • One-Hand Overhead Presses
  • One-Hand Bench Presses (keep other hand “free”)
  • Side Bends

Reps and sets depend on weight available (and energy available). Get it going and feel good.


Do the same workout as day one but with the right hand!


Combine Push-Ups and Swings (or any variation)

  • 5 Push-Ups
  • 20 Swings
  • 4 Push-Ups
  • 20 Swings
  • 3 Push-Ups
  • 20 Swings
  • 2 Push-Ups
  • 20 Swings
  • 1 Push-Up
  • 20 Swings

Repeat or adjust as appropriate.