N.O.V. Challenge - The Widowmaker – Jim Wendler

N.O.V. Challenge - The Widowmaker


This challenge was originally named after the sophomore effort from the band, Dragged into Sunlight. It is also a horrible heart attack that is complete closure of the left anterior descending coronary artery. Since I know only how to break hearts, not stop them, I have no idea what that is. But it sucks. Finally, I realized that the last sets of squats in Dante Trudell’s DogCrapp program is called The Widowmaker. Each one is appropriate for this challenge.

  • Push-ups with 50% of your bodyweight added. Max reps done in 10 minutes.
  • 1.5 times bodyweight, farmers walk, ¼ mile
  • Squat – bodyweight on bar, max reps

Master

Push-ups - 50

Farmer's Walk - 20 minutes

Squat - 40 total reps

 

Apprentice

Push-ups - 35

Farmer's Walk -25 minutes

Squat - 30 total reps

 

Journeyman

Push-ups - 25

Farmer's Walk - 30 minutes

Squat - 20 total reps

Note:  All of these challenges must be done in seven days. I recommend spacing them out with a day rest between each. If possible, perform them in this order: farmer’s walk, push-ups and then the squat.

Feel free to adjust the weights if they are too heavy/challenging for your current level. Don’t let this prevent you from trying one of these challenges.

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Widowmaker Challenge, Push-ups

We generally use push-up handles when doing push-ups to take some strain off the wrists. This is certainly not a requirement though. To add 50% of your bodyweight use a weight vest and have a partner place a weight plate on your back. Make sure he balances it properly and takes it off when you complete the reps after each set. This is kind of shitty job for your partner but it’s much better than spotting some guy in the weight room on the bench press and doing all the work, on each rep. Seriously people, don’t do forced reps. No one likes you.

For example, when I did the test, I used a 70 pound vest and had a 45 pound plate on my back. I simply took 50% of my bodyweight, subtracted 45 pounds and found the proper weight for the vest.

Keep a running clock that you can check periodically; I simply kept a watch on the ground to make sure I was keeping with a good pace. I rested between each set while on my knees (make sexual joke here) and made sure to relax my arms; I shook them out slowly between each set.

Make sure you don’t go to failure on each set, especially in the beginning. Always leave a lot of reps on the table. I have tried two different strategies when doing the test. First, I did x amount of reps per 15-30 seconds. Second, I expanded the vision and attempted to do x amount of reps per minute. Both seemed to work but the latter I liked better. Whatever way choose, I always front load the first five minutes. Meaning if I was going for 50 total reps in 10 minutes, I would attempt to get 30 reps in the first 5 minutes. The last half, mentally, would be easier as I only had to do 20 total reps. The key to doing this is not front loading so much that you can’t finish the goal.

For those that cannot handle the 50% added weight, we use three different variations:

  • Bodyweight (no weight added)
  • 10% of bodyweight added
  • 25% of bodyweight added

Widowmaker Challenge, Farmer’s Walk

This part of the challenge sucks. There is no way to deny this. The way we set this up is to mark off 40 yards in the street. Then we do 11, 40 yard walks with a running clock. I’m sure you could mark off ¼ mile in your neighborhood or do this on a track. However, the 40 yard marks give a simple and easy goal to shoot for. Choose whichever way works best for your mind and body.

Now the hardest thing about doing this part of the challenge is all the things that suck when doing it: grip, upper back, ankles/knees and mid section. This, of course, doesn’t mention the “cardio” it requires but if you are training for the challenge, the conditioning (for lack of a better term) should be the least of your worries.

There are three things that I always keep in mind when doing farmer’s walk:

 Walk as fast as I can without losing balance. This is kind of a no-brainer but you can’t walk so fast that you don’t have control of the weight; this leads to the weight getting out in front of you. You start to swing and fall forward. This is an ugly predicament to get yourself into, especially when you are tired. You tend to go down with the boat, so to speak. In other words, you fall but your grip remains intact. This is how dentists make their monthly nut.

 Walk as relaxed as possible. This nugget of wisdom seems a bit contradictory but stay with me and let me explain. Yes, you want to stay tight to avoid injury. And yes, you want to grip hard and maintain balance. But I try to do no more than is needed – which is a fine line to walk. But this helps conserve energy, especially in your upper back and grip.

 Start before you walk. This is common mistake for people who are not familiar with doing the farmer’s walk. The key is to pick up the weight, let it settle and then begin walking. Too many times, people get ahead of themselves and begin walking right when they pick up the weight. This is fine when the weight is light. This is a horrible idea when it’s heavy. So even when training for the challenge with lighter weight, be sure you instill the habit of picking the weight up, getting set and then begin walking.

Note: if you are beginner, have horrible deadlift form and/or have published a "form check" video in the past year, don't do this part of the challenge.  If you can't stand up with a barbell with good form, you shouldn't be walking with it.

 Widowmaker Challenge, Squat

 While the farmer’s walk is probably the worst part of this challenge, the squat part is a close second. While the farmer’s walk trashes the entire body, the good thing is that the lashings are distributed. With the squat challenge, it’s a whole lot of hate directed at your legs and lungs.

Squatting is the best and worst common lifting exercise in the gym. Now many people, and these are always beginners, will point to the deadlift as the toughest exercise. They talk about pulling from a dead stop or it being total body exercise or whatever is populating the message boards and tough-guy articles written by nice boys. The squat crushes you. It makes men spittle and lungs burn. Your legs, ass, calves, lungs, arms, back and stomach all hate every second of a hard set of squats – whether it be a five rep max or a high rep set. You can always drop a deadlift and be safe. Dropping a squat, whether it falls into a rack or off your back, is not fun. You have to fight when you squat.

 

The biggest key to squatting for a rep PR is to set the goal in your head and break the set down in your head. For example, if I’m shooting for a ten rep max, I will shoot to hit the first five reps. Once I finish rep number five, I reset my brain and aim for the next goal: a triple. After getting to rep number eight, I now have two singles to do. I know I can always do a single, especially with a weight I have done 8 reps for. So that allows me to break the set down into 4 different mindsets: Five reps, three reps, single, single.

 

This breakdown is how I coach every athlete when they are going for a rep max. It makes it feasible and a lot easier to stomach. A set of twenty reps on the squat seems daunting at the outset. A set of ten reps followed by five reps, three reps and two singles is doable.

 

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