Why to include Spartan days – overcoming adversity

“Adversity is the road to success.” JOE DE SENA, the CEO of Spartan Race

Joe De Sena

John De Sena, the CEO of Spartan Race left his job as a Wall Street broker to fully commit himself to the obstacle races. Himself completed hundreds of Ironmans and survival races, where even the advanced Spartans would cry.

On any given morning, De Sena wakes up around 4:45 am, throws his legs off the bed and into his workout gear, heads to the bathroom, takes a leak, brushes his teeth, doesn’t really care if he makes noise that’ll disturb Courtney (“I’m a big wake-up snob; everybody should be up early”), marches into the kitchen by 5 am, squeezes lemon juice into a cup of warm water, slurps that, hastily fires off a dozen emails, enters the mudroom, ties on his Reeboks (“No shoes inside!”), and opens the door on the outside world. It’s 5:05-ish. He starts running through the brambles behind the house.

Ten 100-yard dashes later and hardly winded, he’s on the second floor of a massive barn that’s been converted into the most Spartan-like gym you can imagine. It basically consists of a rope dangling from the rafters and two chin-up bars attached to a crossbeam, which also anchors some TRX straps. That’s about it. He’s not an iron guy; he’s a body-weight guy: 75 burpees, 30 pistol squats, 30 revolutions of the jump rope, five times up the climbing rope, and 30 pull-ups. Then he does them all again, four times. He’s been awake for 90 minutes. An Asian man enters the room. He’s a Sifu-level Kung-fu master and teacher. De Sena disappears for 10 minutes, returns with his two boys, who are still in their jammies and rubbing sleepy-winkers from their eyes. Thirty seconds later, the boys are running from one end of the barn to the other, warming up for their Kung-fu lesson.

De Sena keeps an eye on them, to make sure they tag the walls before turning around. “With kids, it’s all about discipline,” he says. “Extreme discipline.” He pauses for a moment, then adds, “And allowing them to be creative.”

ErikSplhaJoe is more fit than most of the people in the world, runs successful business, helps people get fit & healthy and has a nice family. He built his relationship on trust because their first date was reportedly a several hour kayak trip. You learn the people in critical situations and the trip created such, when emotions and adrenaline are high. To control them you must get used to adversity.

De Sena makes his children wake up early and practice kung fun. They are allowed to watch TV only in Chinese, to practice the language and encourage their creativity. It might seem a Spartan regime and as a former teacher I agree with the importance of discipline, although this is little bit extreme. However I know myself that to see result, you must be on the thing strictly.

Boys in Sparta were trained by the state from the age of seven. In camps they learned to fight and survive on minimum food. They could start their own family only at the age of thirty, by time they lived in the army barracks. Whole army was built on discipline and toughness, which De Sena tries to develop at his children and clients. Many people really have problems to persist in training and are discouraged by the first signs of discomfort.

ErikPrekonavanieNepohodyNow I work as a journalist and still have a long way to go to become a good journalist. I am quite fit and speak a few languages, including Spanish. Few years ago, I was living in London, working in a sports shop. Despite the long, sometimes over 12 hour shifts on the shop floor, I exercised regularly. It wasn´t like I finished my job on time so I have time to train. Instead, I would wake up early and train before the shift.

Five rounds of 30 push ups, 40 sit-ups and 50 squats make miracles, mainly if they are followed by several hours of running around the shop and carrying clothes.

In my free time, I was reading news from around the world and writing articles. I tried to write down the most important information in order to stay informed and practice effective reporting – and advice from The Guardian Master class. I published on various blogs about 300 pieces a year.

Some days I wake up at 5 am, drink protein, quickly revive the salsa steps from the last lesson, check emails and go for the bus. While travelling I read news in Spanish to get informed and to keep in touch with the language. I open the gym often in the dark, turn on the lights, have a quick warm-up with rope and read news while waiting for the clients. If no client arrives, I load the barbell and practice weightlifting drills. I work part time in that small gym, just in order to keep in touch with personal training & working with people – often they come with completely different problem than exercise.

It resembles the life o De Sena and I see why he does it. It is good mental toughness training and a kind of overcoming adversity. I finish the shift around 10 am and go to my other job – newspaper office. In the evening I have salsa lessons, or I attend political discussions or train my friends and clients. I have to be fresh till late because at each of these events I represent myself and I want to do it the best I can.

Travis Mills

Managing to do so via adversity, with adrenaline high and emotions working. The key is not to give in to them and head home for a pizza – which I often think about – or tell the client to take it easy and overlook his wrong squatting technique. You must be aware of these issues and keep on; focus on what requires the most attention. One day on such a morning shift I saw an article about Travis Mills, former US soldier who lost all four limbs in Iraq. It reminds me that “Erik you are capable of more than you think.”

I had a good feeling after each workout in London´s parks, after each article published on the web, after each night out in Camden. Now I see how many mistakes I made and what can be improved. I admire guys like Joe (although I do not approve such a harsh regime) or the guys in my gym, who show me that there is always a way how to do it better but we are too lazy to put ourselves into adversity.

No one sees that hard work and effort you put in. Most of the people might praise your achievements but guys like De Sena spot your mistakes, instead. That’s why I am inspired by his example and sometimes include a demanding Spartan day into my schedule. It can be anything, providing that you do something which you had never done before and it requires effort and focus.


Used to run 5 miles three times a week? Run 7 or 10. Used to attend Spanish lessons twice a week? Enter a language meet up with Spanish speaking foreigners on the remaining days. No time to read books? Wake up one hour earlier and spend it on a good book.

No time to do it because it would ruin your routine – this is the overcoming of adversity.

sources: men´sfitness.com, Spartan-Up! Take no prisoner guide by Joe De Sena.
photo: Erik Rédli, http://grantbaldwin.com/joe-de-sena/
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