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Saturday, June 30, 2012

My freaky strength experiment

Strong for sure...but can you wipe your ass without assistance?

Why hello citizens...

It's been a while. What have you been up to?

That's cool.  That's cool...

Oh me? You know. The usual. Becoming an overnight success in everything I do. This time in the legal world with my kick-ass instant success of a law firm.

Oh yeah...and not running. Not a lick.

I haven't run more than a handful of times since October of last year when I wrote about the benefits of incorporating high-weight, low-rep training into your endurance training. My theory was that since most endurance athletes are about as powerful as a Toyota Prius, that incorporating that sort of exercise into your training would kick your performance into high gear.

I decided this winter to see if my theory would hold water. That, and I ran out of new shoes to test. If I can't wear a different minimal shoe every run I kind of lose interest. Anyway, here's how it went down.

The plan

Starting in October my training looked like this. For weight training, I essentially followed the prescription of the Starting Strength program developed my Mark Rippetoe. I squatted twice a week, deadlifted once a week, and alternated between shoulder presses and bench presses twice a week. For each exercise I completed 1-3 sets of 5 reps with very high poundages. And each week I would increase those poundages by 10lbs (5lbs for my presses). After each ultra manly lifting session, I followed those lifts with a short Crossfit-style workout emphasizing power and speed.

Okay, what I really ended up doing was following Crossfit Football the whole time. But it fit with what I was trying to do and I got tired of making up workouts.

Anyway, here's a sample week:

Monday: 3x5 back squats, 3x5 overhead presses, then 5 rounds of 1 minute dumbbell push press, 1 minute isometric GHD hold

Tuesday: 1x5 Deadlift, then 8 rounds of 2 power cleans and 3 broad jumps

Wednesday: rest

Thursday: 3x5 back squats, 3x5 bench press, then 50 reps body weight bench press and 100 reps evil wheels

Friday: 3x3 power cleans, then 3 sets max rep pullups

You'll notice the complete lack of running in that program. The most I ever did was a few 200m sprints when the workouts called for it.

The results

I got strength up the yang this winter citizens. I'm talking ridiculous, no neck, jean shorts, protein shake drinking, grunt while exercising, knuckle-dragging strength. Let's have a look shall we?!

My 1 rep max numbers in October 2011 (don't laugh...tall people can't put up big numbers...or at least that's the excuse I'm going with):

Squat: 185lb
Bench: 185lb
Deadlift: 300lb
Overhead press: 155lb

My 1 rep max numbers in June 2012 (8 months later for you non-counters):

Squat: 265lb
Bench: 235lb
Deadlift: 425lb
Overhead press: 170lb

That's right citizens. I can now deadlift a small recreational vehicle (like a Vespa or something). I am incredibly happy with the results from the program. I am stronger than I've ever been (ie moderately strong). And I look even more fantastic with my shirt off.

But MGBG?! What about running? If I don't run everyday won't I instantly become a windless, foot dragging sloth?! Relax all you endurance addicts. Weightlifting will provide you with just as much cardiovascular benefit as running.

Did I just blow your fricking face off with that one? I wouldn't have done all of this if it meant giving up my hard earned endurance. But I know that high intensity weight lifting provides just as much cardiovascular benefit, if not more, than running does.

Don't believe me? Well let me drop some science on your ass. Read this article and call me in the morning. I'd explain it all to you, but I'm busy being über successful.  It's also a whole separate blog post.  Short answer, you'll be fine.

Just to show that I hadn't lost a step without doing any running, the day I decided to end my little experiment I ran the Med City Half Marathon with fellow barefoot freakies Andy Kline, Bob Nicol, and Katie Button-Swenson (who ran the half while very pregnant like a badass).

With my shirt off of course...for the ladies. 

Farmer's tans are rad.

The aftermath

The biggest thing I've noticed is that the parts of my running that I used to find challenging are now nearly effortless. Namely, I maintain higher speeds and run hills with considerably less effort.

The downside for you running junkies? No running. Big weights and running don't seem to play well with each other. At least not at the same time. At the beginning of the experiment I tried to run a few times (old habits die hard). But the heavy weights did a number on my legs and fatigued them to the point where I struggled with even short distances. That, and running long distances while lifting really heavy tends to burn the candle at both ends. You can really only make gains in one. So I felt like I was treading water for a while.  As soon as I stopped running altogether my strength gains really took off.

In fact, running while using heavy weights was so annoying that after running my half marathon I tweaked my program so that I could actually do some cardio this summer. Namely, I toned down the heavy weights in favor of more traditional Crossfit workouts to focus on metabolic conditioning. When I do any heavy lifting, I focus on Olympic lifts like the clean and the snatch (mmmm....snatch). Those lifts still allow development of strength (through dynamic effort) without taxing your muscles or central nervous system as much. Running is considerably easier nowadays. Not that I do it much, because it just isn't necessary.

Here's a sample of my workouts lately:

8 sets of 2 reps Olympic clean and jerk
Then 12 minutes of 12 reps push press, 12 pullups, 12 air squats

12 sets of 2 reps dynamic bench press
Then 21-15-9 of Deadlifts and thrusters

Again, what I noticed is that movements that I had trouble doing last year came relatively easy. Weights that were heavy last year I was throwing around like a kid's toy.

But was I faster? Not really. At least not right away. I came out of my freaky strength experiment not having lost any speed. But I didn't gain any either. Rather, what I noticed is a newfound ease of movement. I felt stronger (because I was...der!) and that quickly carried over to other aspects of my training. So I gained new levels of speed and endurance within a couple of weeks after resuming my normal workout schedule.

Other added benefits? My body seems to recover faster from my running, and has less aches and pains than usual. I also feel more resilient in temperature extremes as well as while going fast (ie I can put up with more shit).

All of this was somewhat expected. Not just because I'm awesome and brilliant. But I'm not the only person who believes that of the ten aspects of fitness, absolute strength has the most carryover to other aspects.

Full disclosure: I did gain weight during my freaky strength experiment. About 15 pounds to be exact. And not all of it was muscle. Making consistent strength gains requires you to eat a small horse worth of food every day. Although most of your strength will come from adaptations in your CND, you will gain some muscle mass...and some weight around your midsection. But hey, most people become lard asses around the holidays anyway. Now you can blame it on your workout regime.

Try this at home?

So why would you want to do something like this? Well besides the fact that you're a weakling, I've always recommended that you shouldn't maintain a high mileage running schedule all year round. Your body needs a break from the pounding it takes during the spring and summer. And for most people, running during the winter is a bitch anyway. So why not do something like this and actually come back stronger the next running season?

Cheers to lifting the big weights citizens!


  1. You're back! :D

  2. Ha, you've done basically the same thing I'm doing now. I've been in the gym since February and am just about to pick )back) up my half marathon training. Haven't run a single foot in months.

  3. Remember, no matter how hard you train, you will remain weaker than, say, an average chimpanzee. When it comes to (very) long distance running , however, you have all the potential to beat virtually every mammal living in this world (-:

    More seriously, I think you have just made a very interesting and unprejudiced experiment with yourself - that's the way you should do it; if you love weight lifting, you should lift weights; if you love running, you should run.

    I think your experiment demonstrates nicely that you can't have both: if you want to be strong and muscular, you have to make compromises with your running (and the body of every elite long distance runner demonstrates the opposite: if you want to be a persistent runner, you can't have strength and muscles of a gorilla).

  4. No doubt we can't burn the candle at both ends. I'm just demonstrating that we don't need to run all the time in order to be the planet's best distance runners.

  5. I would have thought that you can't do things like running 50 kilometers if you train like that, but it looks like I was wrong... Impressive

  6. Well experiment always lead to new invention. If people need things to explore and get the benefits through different way, then they might find it difficult, but circumstance lead them to use the technology in a far better way. For ex- the invention of invention of safety technologies in automotive sector- it also come from an accident but now its used in saving the life on road.

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