How fit do you really need to be to sit still and move pawns around?
Very fit, it turns out. The stress of a chess tournament can have pretty startling effects on the body: Grandmasters like Cristian Chirila can lose as much as 15 pounds during the course of a 10-day tournament—from forgetting to eat, but also just from intense concentration. In one tournament, as I explained in my new book The Workout Bucket List, it was found that a Russian Grandmaster had burned 560 calories in two hours of chess—more than most people burn running five miles.
“You have to keep focus for five hours at a time,” says Chirila, a Romanian-born Grandmaster who now lives in St. Louis. “If you lose that focus at any moment, you can blunder something and the game is over.”
To build that mental endurance, Chirila and his fellow competitors need lots of physical endurance—so they train for it. For about a year, he was doing a three-exercise circuit workout to start every day to build his work capacity. While acting as a chess and workout training partner of Fabiano Caruana, the world’s second-ranked player, during 2017 and 2018, Chirila says, “I was waking up, and doing this every morning … in the backyard, getting sun.” It prepared his body—and mind—for an intense day of concentration. Start a morning with the same routine, and see how well your concentration stamina improves.
The Grandmaster's Outdoor Bodyweight Circuit Workout
- Exercise 1: Pushups
- Exercise 2: Situps
- Exercise 3: Bodyweight Squats
How to do it:
Perform each exercise for 50 repetitions, then move to the next exercise. Repeat all three exercises four times, for a total of 200 repetitions of each. Rest as little as possible, trying to reduce the total time needed to complete the workout.
Chirila says that after a summer of performing this workout, he could finish all the reps in 20 minutes. Watch the video above to see how I fared, and read about more epic challenges and life-changing races in my new book, The Workout Bucket List.