Nine ways to physically challenge yourself

Like a champion, last weekend I stepped up to a birthday weekend that was quite the eating and drinking celebra ... er, challenge. Between a beer to kick off proceedings and a jug of sangria to end them, there was six courses of incredible Italian food, a shared bottle of Prosecco, a few wines, and some unknown Italian liqueur. I stepped up to that challenge, but come Monday morning I was still feeling exactly that - challenged.

We all deserve a birthday blowout, but we also owe it to ourselves to stay physically challenged, whether we've turned 25, 35 or 55 years old. Here are some physical challenges for you to increase tone, health, and wellness (but please, work within any physical limitations you have and don't overdo things if you're not up to it).

Turtle test

It may sound funny, and it may sound made up (it is, by me), but I'm serious. Lay down on your back and without using your hands, stand up. Can you do it? This requires core strength, flexibility and leg strength. If you're stuck there like an upside-down turtle because you want to roll over, you've got some weight loss and conditioning to do.

Flexibility test

There's a formal sit-and-reach test using a box, etc ... but who has the time and materials for that? Instead, get your bum on the ground, and reach for your toes, then hold. Lower back and hamstring flexibility is important for this challenge and for your long-term health.

500-stair challenge

I've often written of my love-hate relationship with stairs, but running them sure gets you lean and cardio fit. Find a big set of stairs in your city. Can you get up - and down - 500 of them in five minutes? That's a serious challenge.

500m rowing challenge

Rowing is serious aerobic and anaerobic exercise, testing fitness from head to toe. Using a stationary rowing machine at your gym, see if you can row 500 metres at a 1min45sec to 2min pace.

Pull-up challenge

Using only bodyweight and a bar, pull-ups require serious arm and back strength in one of the gym's most efficient, yet underutilised movements. Guys? Aim for a set of 10. Ladies? Two or three will do, or your lats will build up too much and you'll take on that 'V' shape.

The Obama push-up test

From quads to core, from chest to triceps, push-ups are a basic yet dynamic exercise. Men and women should both have chest strength, and Michelle Obama set the bar when she performed 25 push-ups (on toes) on the Ellen DeGeneres show. If she can do it, so should you.

Beep test

Two cones are 20m apart, and you run back and forth where the starting speed requires an 8.5km/h pace.  BEEP!  Run back and forth where the pace required increases by 0.5km/h each minute.  Australian firefighters are required to obtain a 9.6, which equates to 78 shuttles (1560m) in 9 minutes.  Can you compete?

Plank hold

This abdominal challenge exposes your core strength (or weakness). George Hood has the Guinness world record at just over three hours; that's not impressive or crazy, it's both. Get on your knees and elbows, and turn your body into a table. Can you hold a two-minute plank? Great work.

City2Surf race

Mild winters around Australia make it perfect for fun-running season. From half- and full marathons to quality courses like Sydney's City2Surf, there are cardio challenges country-wide. Choose a suitable distance, and see if you can average better than 11km/h pace.

So, how'd you go? There are so many more challenges to list. No television show will feature my circuit, and CrossFitters and the mega-fit will pass with ease. Yet many Boot Camp readers aren't after magazine cover perfection - just better health and fitness. For many of you, tese challenges might reveal weaknesses. Those weaknesses are signs for change.

Challenge yourself this year. It's my birthday resolution, but I hope you'll join in on the fun. Those 20-hour-cooked Italian beef cheeks have hit my butt cheeks, so off I go for 500 stairs and more.

As winter descends, how are you staying active?


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