You can watch a full-length video documentary about my journey to the 24-hour chin-ups world record in the link below (and read about it in the report which follows)…
Event Report: 24 Hour Chin-Ups World Record (25th-26th September 2020)
It’s hard to know where to start, having just completed my assault on the 24-hour chin-ups world record a few hours before I started writing this report…
Some of you will remember that in 2019, a few months after setting the Double End-To-End world record for riding an ElliptiGO bike twice across Britain, I had announced my next endurance challenge would be an attempt at the 24 hour pull-ups world record. I had wanted to take on this challenge on 16th November 2019, which was my late brother Garai’s birthday, but setting myself that date only allowed me a little over 5 months to train for it.
I knew 5 months would be a very short time to prepare for something so epic, but I was drawn to the challenge as a fitting tribute to Garai (as well as a true test of my skills as a fitness coach). It was very important to me that I took on this world record on Garai’s birthday (despite the short preparation time I had) and that had led to me pushing myself quite hard in training – trying to get the fastest possible progress in my conditioning.
My elbows developed weaknesses due to the heavy training (and especially because of the lack of adequate recovery between training sessions) but I had quickly learned techniques to get around those recovery issues and had built my training up to 1,600 pull-ups per session by October of 2019 (a training load which I had felt would be sufficient to get me to the pullups world record of 7,600 reps).
In my final training session before taking on the pull-ups world record I had injured my shoulder, slightly. It wasn’t very sore, but something seemed to have happened. In the week of rest leading up to the world record attempt that issue had seemed to completely heal and I had gone into the world record attempt on 16th November feeling well prepared and optimistic.
The world record attempt was a pretty brutal experience and after 10 hours of pacing ahead of world record pace my shoulder had started to hurt in that same area that got injured during the training. Within two hours the shoulder injury situation was so bad that, coupled with fatigue, I was forced to pull out of the record attempt at 3,856 reps – after barely being able to execute any more reps from 12 hours onwards.
I already wrote a detailed update about my unsuccessful pull-ups world record attempt on my fundraising page so I won’t go into too much more detail about it in this report. For a month after my pull-ups world record attempt I wasn’t able to do pull-ups training, even if I’d wanted to. I had got back to my biking and my EMS training and general whole-body fitness conditioning sessions, but I avoided pull-ups because I still wasn’t recovered from the injury.
In the middle of December 2019 I had attempted to add pull-ups back into my routine training and noticed my shoulder still hurt if I tried them. But if I turned my hands around into the reversed chin-ups grip (nstead of using the forward-faced pull-ups grip) I realised that position brought my elbows forward and aligned my shoulders better, allowing my chest muscles to play a more stabilising part in the movement. And there wasn’t too much discomfort in the chin-ups version of the exercise.
So I had substituted chin-ups for pull-ups as part of my rehab, from the end of December 2019. I had also started doing more push-ups in my full body workouts, to help strengthen and rehabilitate the shoulders. By January 2020 I could do pull-ups again and wondered if I should try to rebuild myself for a second go at the world record. But whenever I tried to do any meaningful numbers of pull-ups my shoulder didn’t feel right.
So I just kept increasing my chin-ups reps and hoping that would sustain my fitness. By February 2020 it was clear that I could increase my chin-ups training much faster than my pull-ups training and because the exercises are almost the same I figured I could target the 24-hour chin-ups world record instead of the pull-ups version (knowing that my body could handle the chin-ups exercise quite well.
I had gradually built up to doing up to 700 pull-ups in one session, but it was clear that my right shoulder felt weakened whenever my sessions exceeded 600 pull-ups. However, in the same period of time (and by the end of March 2020 – when the lockdown had been imposed due to coronavirus) I’d built up to routinely doing 1,000 chin-ups in a single session. At that point, when the coronavirus lockdown period was declared, I had set up my bar in the garage and decided I would pursue the 24 hour chin-ups world record instead of the corresponding pull-ups world record.
Even though I could do double the total numbers of chin-ups in my weekly sessions (compared to my pull-ups numbers) I had noticed my chin-ups pace was nowhere near as quick as when I did pull-ups. But chin-ups world records are all lower rep numbers than the corresponding pull-ups world records and that gave me hope that the chin-ups 24-hour world record of 5,094 could be attainable, despite my lack of pace in that exercise.
I had plateaued at a maximum of around 1,200 chi-ups per session in my training between March & June, because I was developing new injury problems. But then I realised that mixing between the two exercises by alternating from chin-ups to pull-ups in each successive training session would protect my body (because the weak point for the chin-up is different to the weak point for the pull-up).
So, by doing each exercise just once a week, I was getting in two solid training sessions every week and still giving my body a whole week to repair the weak spots caused by each exercise. I also started taking an anti-inflammatory medical grade omega 3 oil supplement and from June onwards I had no injuries at all.
This gave me a clean run of about 3 months to build up to peak training, but I a needed more personal motivation for this challenge and decided to target my Mum’s 70th birthday for my chin-ups 24 hour world record attempt. I built up to 1,500 reps per session in my heaviest training month (August 2020) with one such chin-ups training session peaking at 1,825 reps.
But in my pull-ups training sessions I never went over 500 reps, in order to keep my shoulders and elbows strong. I would do 2 training sessions on the bar each week during my preparation for this challenge (one with high reps of chin-ups and the other always restricted to ‘just’ 500 reps of pull-ups). Then I had spent a whole month tapering down my training – reducing from a high of 1,825 reps to ‘just’ 500 reps per session (in the week before the world record attempt).
In the days leading into the challenge I became unusually tense and introverted. I couldn’t stand other people’s company for very long and my sleep was regularly disrupted by feelings of anxiousness – meaning that I was lucky to get 6 hours sleep each night and often waking for no reason at 3am in the morning. I felt like a caged tiger. On 25th September, my Mum’s 70th birthday and world record attempt day, I woke at 4am – having had about 6.5 hours of sleep. I tried to be as normal as possible that morning, taking my son to school before heading to the Bodystreet Milton Keynes Fitness Studio (where the world record attempt was to be staged).
My support team was split into daytime and night-time groups. The daytime group consisted of Katherine (a Bodystreet fitness client), Alistair & Phil (fitness coaches from Bodystreet Milton Keynes), Alan (who rode with me in the double End-to-End world record in 2018) and my buddy Tim (who is a very experienced and very accomplished ultra-endurance athlete). The night-time group consisted of Steve & Stu (two extremely experienced and accomplished ultra-endurance athletes) and Jack & Rupam (also Bodystreet fitness clients).
Because of his endurance cycling background (and the fact that I couldn’t imagine how one could keep churning out hundreds of chin-ups and reach a target of 5,094 without hitting full muscle failure first, based feedback from on my training sessions) I had held a couple of planning meetings with Steve from the support team, prior to my record attempt. And, based on his suggestions, I had gambled on a pacing strategy for the chin-ups world record attempt similar to how I’d normally tackle a very long and very difficult cycling challenge.
We’d started the world record attempt at exactly 10:30am on Friday 25th September 2020…
I was extremely focused and still very nervous, so I didn’t want to speak to anyone unless I absolutely had to. I had asked my helpers not to speak to me (unless I specifically asked them something) and I had played relaxing music to keep the atmosphere in the room calm. I had also played an interesting Audiobook about the 1953 Mt Everest Expeditions, which most of us in the room found really quite interesting (and also quite pertinent to the pioneering ‘feel’ needed for a world record attempt like the one I was engaged in).
The first 6 hours of the world record attempt had passed quite ‘fast’ and felt relaxed and calm. The next 6 hours involved a lot of media work, with a television crew from ITV. I also did some radio interviews with the local BBC radio station (BBC 3 Counties Radio, which has always supported my challenges in memory of Garai).
But going into the night had been mentally hard. I had started the challenge feeling sleepy because of the lack of sleep I had experienced all week, but that sleepiness had really intensified after the sun went down. All day I had eaten a diet of only sausage rolls, pies and pastries – for the first 14 hours of the challenge – and had nibbled on them almost constantly (in between gulps of water after every interval between my sets of chin-ups).
Around 1am (on 26th September) I had become extremely sleepy and the support team had suggested I start drinking coffee and eating sugary foods – both of which I had tried to resist up to that point. But things were now quite tough-going so I had requested a large latte and started eating biscuits with it.
From that point I stopped eating anything that resembled real food and only snacked on biscuits (every half hour, or so) and I systematically drank lattes every 5 hours after midnight. Doing so did pick me up (somewhat) and I had also changed from not wanting to speak to anyone to wanting to talk constantly, which was hurting my throat after a few hours! The laser focus I had needed to get through the day didn’t seem necessary at night and talking to people seemed more useful to me.
When the sun rose my spirits rose with it. That was one of the toughest nights of endurance I have ever experienced. When I do long bike rides I quite enjoy riding into the night and then into the morning. But being enclosed in a fitness studio on a chin-up bar is less enticing and is not enjoyable. There was no part of doing chin-ups that was enjoyable, except the realisation that I was getting closer and closer to my goal. My strategy was very simple and I had remained very disciplined through the whole challenge. But as we hit 4,000 reps the magnitude of the endeavour had really weighed on me.
The support team was very good at keeping me motivated and focused through the night, even though they were suffering as much as I was from sleep deprivation. They had somehow managed to help me conceptualise my success by focusing on bite-sized chunks of the task and not being overwhelmed by just how far away the world record still seemed to be, even after 19 hours of systematic pursuit. At 4,700 reps I had a scare when a new blister had suddenly appeared between the two last fingers on my left hand and then popped.
Until then we were just having blister problems on the right hand, which had got more and more uncomfortable, until we bound it in physiotherapy tape. But the left hand was intensely more painful when that first blister had developed and physiotherapy tape wasn’t enough to protect it. So we added duct tape as well as the physiotherapy tape – and bound the hand lightly to avoid creating any pressure and restricting my blood flow. I wasn’t able to hold fully onto the bar from that point and, although I was ‘just’ 400 reps form the target, I was worried that the blisters might be painful enough to prevent me from continuing. As is customary for me in such a situation, I had just prayed for my success and believed that I would make it.
By the time I was approaching the 5,000 chin-ups mark I knew I had it in me to break the world record and I knew I deserved to break it, because I had prepared correctly and I had chosen the best strategy. But success was delicately hanging in the balance due to the pain in my hands, which I later discovered were both covered in various shapes and sizes of predominantly painless blisters. But when I hit 5,000 reps (with the sun now shining, yet another coffee in me – and also another ITV reporter in the studio making a news report) I had suddenly shaken off the pain in my hands and felt exactly how I felt when I had just started. I wasn’t in any pain and I wasn’t tired any more.
We all knew from about 4,000 reps onwards that I could comfortably pass the world record, but we never took it for granted. I knew a muscle or tendon could still tear unexpectedly, or I could get ill, or the blisters could become so bad that they would be unbearable. So I leaned on my Faith, knowing I was in God’s hands and believing that if it was the Will of God I would break the world record which I had been training for since December 2019. It was just a waiting game to us in that room. We knew I was ahead of schedule and Steve’s strategy for the pace was working.
But I was impatient as I drew up to the 24-hour chin-ups world record of 5,094 reps, which had stood since it was last broken in 2016. After what had felt like being stuck in a ‘time-warp prison’ I had exactly matched the world record of 5,094 reps and paused at that number to ‘conjure up’ the spirit of the late Garai Makaya. There was no emotion for me until that point. Then something had compelled me to get my t-shirt (which had a message in memory of Garai) off the nearby hanger and I had put it on, so that I could break the record while wearing it.
After I completed my next set of chin-ups (and broke the world record) I had immediately taken to one knee to make the sign of the cross and acknowledge God for bringing me through this ordeal. Immediately after breaking the world record I’d felt a huge wave of emotion. I had thought about my brother Garai. I had contemplated the fact that I was only here, breaking the world record, because he was gone – and he’d never return…
I had momentarily reconnected with the hidden grief that must have been suppressed deep in my brain in order to allow me to lead a normal life after experiencing this type of loss. The grief had bubbled out as if it were new. Maybe it was just a combination of fatigue, caffeine, sugar – and relief… But I’d needed a good few minutes to re-compose myself in the back office of the fitness studio, before coming back out to finish the remainder of my task.
There was only about an hour of ‘workout time’ remaining after the media interview and talking with everyone else who was gathering outside the fitness studio. And, once again, my support team had really helped keep me focused on getting the most out of myself and doing a true 100% effort. We initially aimed to complete at least 5,300 reps, to give some meaningful space from the old record, but when I got to 5,300 we realised there was still a little more left in me, so I then went out at the fastest pace I could sustain and squeezed another 40 reps out of myself before the event was stopped at 5,340 reps in total.
A new world record!
I haven’t had time to take it all in or process it in its full depth and it seems like the effort of surviving those intense 24-hours of effort has sapped any excitement out of me that I would have expected to feel after I finally achieved my goal (after 10 months of sacrifice). But right now all I feel (apart from extremely sore muscles in my arms, chest, neck and back) is a huge sense of humility. There is a little bit of pride and some satisfaction. But mainly I feel humility. I realise I got here because of the people around me and also because of the people that have done this before me and led the way for me.
I probably had a bit of ‘impostor syndrome’ before attempting to break the 24-hour chin-ups world record, because I didn’t know if I truly belonged in such an ‘elite’ group of individuals. But afterwards I know it was simply about putting in the required work. I did enough in my preparation to deserve to break the world record. I’m not better than anyone else. And I don’t think I am the fittest person on the planet, just because I pulled this off. I just happen to be the latest person to work out this ‘puzzle’ and for that reason I got to play my part in advancing the 24-hour chin-ups world record.
To end off, I must thank all the people who have guided or supported me through all of this – my wife, my children, my wider family, my friends and my colleagues. I long ago realised that the people I surround myself with will play a pivotal role in my success. Under pressure, if you are surrounded by the wrong people, you won’t get the right outcomes.
I honestly wouldn’t have succeeded in breaking the chin-ups world record if I didn’t have all these ‘quality people’ around me, for all these years, giving me the right guidance whenever I was stuck. If I was asked what the biggest key to succeeding in something like this was I’d probably say it’s having the right friends and having the right family – having people who tell you what you need to hear, not what you’d like to hear. Only people who really care about you will tell it to you like it really is – and they always do so in a way that you know is genuine, to ensure that you actually listen and act on their advice.
And, lastly, I must acknowledge my late brother Garai for inspiring me (through his own example) to reach further into myself and to strive harder to become the most authentic version of myself. I have always pushed hard to be my best, but after we lost Garai I realised there was still a bit of room for me to push harder. I realised that I wasn’t using my full potential and setting all the goals I really wanted to set for myself.
I’d realised I was cruising nicely, but I actually had more in reserve. Garai always left nothing in reserve. He went 100% in everything. He was completely consumed by whatever he chose to do. Sometimes I thought his all-or-nothing approach was a bit too intense (and trust me that says something, coming from me)! But after he died I realised Garai’s approach was actually a beautiful thing. 98% is terrible if you have 100% in you.
Why settle for a lesser version of yourself? Holding back is a tragedy if it turns out that, like Garai, you only actually had 41-years within which to live out your full life. None of us really knows how long we’ll live, so that’s a good reason in itself to give your all in everything you do and squeeze the most value out of every day you have. That way you will never feel regret for not making the most of the time you spent on this planet.
There were so many challenges and adventures I had fantasized about over the years and that told me I was creating a barrier between what I thought was reality and what I thought was fantasy. I realised that many of the things I fantasized about were actually things I had wanted to do – like breaking certain fitness records. So I was inadvertently holding myself back and picking and choosing which dreams to pursue and which dreams to call fantasies. But after Garai died my dreams and my fantasies had merged…
I was no longer going to be afraid to step out of the plane and jump – knowing that God would land me wherever He wills me to land. Our dreams are God’s way of speaking to us. Guiding us to set the right goals. An assessment of Garai’s 41 years on this planet had shown me that he had used his time wisely. And I needed to make sure the ‘post-mortem’ of my own life would be the same. They should be able to say: “He gave it everything…”
I now realise my life must be lived fully, because it is a gift. Much like I experienced during the chin-ups world record attempt, the clock never stops once it’s been started. So everything has to be done within the time we have been given. And because we don’t know what will come next, we must not compromise on reaching our full potential in the here and now. Just focus on the ‘set of chin-ups’ you’re doing right now and the future will take care of itself…
May God bless you.