Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Priority Continuum

Back in December I made this post titled The GZCL Method is Not a Program. It went into why, talked about how no matter the program or method it is always the efforts of the lifter which determine the progress. Also within that post I talked about what I call "The Priority Continuum."
The Priority Continuum

Consistency: Are you training often enough?  
Frequency: Are you training your T1 movements frequently and consistently?
Volume: Are you programming with adequate volume in all tiers, frequently and consistently?  
Intensity: Are you moving intensities with adequate volume in all tiers, frequently and consistently?
Diet: Are you adhering to a diet that guarantees your continued performance in the above four?
Drugs: Are all above matters in order?

But why in that order? Ultimately I decided to put them in that order because if you don't have the proceeding value in place then the following one is less effective. This I believe to be true for all training methods, programs, and whose-its and whats-its. 

This baby took steroids once and now
he can bench your squat.

Don't get me wrong, you could take steroids, never workout, and gain muscle. The gist of that study is that over the course of 10-weeks guys given weekly injections of 600mg testosterone enanthate and not working out gained seven pounds of muscle while the guys working out and not receiving testosterone injections gained around four pounds. The guys working out and on test? How does nearly 13.5 pounds of lean mass sound? 

From the study:

"Fat-free mass did not change significantly in the group assigned to placebo but no exercise. The men treated with testosterone but no exercise had an increase of 3.2 kg in fat-free mass, and those in the placebo-plus-exercise group had an increase of 1.9 kg. The increase in the testosterone-plus-exercise group was substantially greater (averaging 6.1 kg). The percentage of body fat did not change significantly in any group (data not shown)."

I want to be absolutely clear that this order in no way assumes that you cannot have one without the other or that the order needs to be perfect before moving onto the next step. It is merely how I prefer to prioritize my own training, and my general training philosophy. My argument is that without following them in that order the next step in simply less effective.


The easiest one. Without consistent attendance in the gym on a regular schedule then none of the following can be developed to their maximum potential. It takes regular attendance in the gym to see the desired results. When I talk about consistency I'm referring to making it to the gym to train weekly. Every strength athlete or bodybuilder trains on at least a weekly basis. In my search to find those who do not, I've not seen or heard, or read about, any that train less than 1x per week. 

Not saying it is impossible. Just remarkably unheard of.


The next step. How often are you training your main movements? The lowest lift frequency I have ever read about, by anyone notable, is from Stan Efferding. From this interview

"I trained twice a week when I hit my 2,303 pound raw total 
and set the all-time world record. 
I would bench on Mondays and squat OR deadlift on Saturdays. 
Wednesdays was stretching, balance and core work. That’s it!"
- Stan Efferding

So there you have it, if you are Stan Efferding, then you can train hard 2x per week. You can bench once a week for a month and deadlift or squat every other week. It would also be stupid to think that is how he has trained his entire life. And guess what, you're not Stan Efferding, and that's why I'm suggesting that at a minimum the main movements are trained weekly

Some examples of novice programs: 

Squat (3x per week) 
Bench (1-2x per week) 
Press (1-2x per week) 
Deadlift (1x per week, alternating) 
Power Clean (1x per week, alternating)

Squat (2x per week)
Bench or Press (3x per week)
Deadlift (1x per week)

Squat (3x per week)
Bench (1x per week) *Maybe 2x if you want to count incline.
Power Clean (3x per week)

Admittedly, the first two novice programs are essentially built upon Bill Starr's programs. But even the most illustrious Scooby has 3x per week lift frequency!  And his is the most popular and about as far away from "traditional" strength or bodybuilding programs I could find. 

Silly Hats: Three Sets, Eight Reps

There is a reason why novice programs have a high lift frequency. It all boils down to practice. You have to practice the movements to get better at them. If you lack experience in a movement then no amount of strength is going to make you great at it. Sure, you might be able to do it, but it could be done better with more frequent practice. Or, you might almost decapitate yourself.

There is a reason why children in elementary school practice their fundamental skills- math, reading, and writing on a daily basis. The more important the skill, the more frequent practice should be at the beginning of its mastery. And just like being in school, frequency in training can begin to lessen as progress occurs. 

Decreasing lift frequency however may not be a great way to train. If anything, training your main movements multiple times per week may be more beneficial, even for advanced athletes.

From my own training experience the only lift I have ever trained less than 1x per week and still saw improvement on was my deadlift. That I attribute to me squatting 3x per week and training my upper back another 2x per week. But as the 2012 IPL Worlds was about a month out I certainly increased my deadlift frequency to 1x per week. Admittedly it did go nearly two months without frequent training. 

Frequency means practice and practice means skill development. The more difficult the skill, the more frequent the practice.  It should be said that knowledge of performance, or feedback, of your practice could be potentially harmful. So that means get in the gym and practice your lifts and don't worry so much about the finer nuances at first as that may result in subpar performance. 

Moving ahead is where things begin to get... argumentative. 


I put this one before intensity for a few reasons.

1. Volume builds muscle. Muscle lifts weights. Bigger muscles have a greater capacity for moving more weight. 

2. Volume means bar lifts. Bar lifts means practice. The more a movement is performed the more the skill is increased. The greater the skill, the greater the transference of strength. 

3. Volume builds capacity. Capacity means the ability to handle an increased workload which translates into a greater ability to recover. And thus the greater ability to practice more often. 

When I say volume I'm not talking about German Volume Training specifically. So don't confuse the term "volume" with  meaning near endless reps of squats until either your heart explodes or  your legs require amputation. I'm simply talking about performing enough repetitions per training day to warrant the desired results. Obviously with GVT the desired results are hypertrophy. If the desired result is moving a heavy weight then the required volume is much less. 

No one ever became a great squatter by going into the gym and doing a single then leaving. That's taking the volume argument to the extreme but point still stands that volume means practice and coupled with frequency it results in greater skill development. 

But how much volume? 

This much:

Taken from my original GZCL Method.

If someone were to perform the greatest quantities suggested, within each range, then that would result in 75 bar lifts in a single training day of their main movement. To some that might sound like a lot. But what if I broke it down like this:

Squat (Training Max is 405 lb.)
Bar      x10 rep x 3 sets 
95 lb.   x5 rep x 2 sets 
135 lb. x3 rep x 2 sets 
225 lb. x1 rep x 1 set
315 lb. x 1 rep x 1 set

Warm Up complete (T3@<65% 47 reps, total 48) *315 is in T2 intensity range.

345 x3 rep x5 sets (T1@85%. 15 reps completed, total 63) 

265 x5 rep x4 sets (T2 @85%. 21 reps completed.)

Total squats performed: 83

(That's actually how I warm up for squats.)

That is barely more than the greatest quantities suggested at the minimum intensities of each range. Now for me, that would not constitute a complete workout. I would maybe do another T2 movement and also perform at a minimum one or two T3 accessory movements, like GHRs, good mornings, or leg curls and extensions. Each with their appropriate volumes and intensities. 

Some would argue that the warm up reps "don't count." But I am adamant that they do. Moving a weight regardless of the quantity should be done with focus, intent, and force. And producing force means effort, and whenever you put a great amount of effort into something, it certainly counts. 

"I think it's fairly obvious that in most sports endeavors 
you'd like your force output to be as high as possible."
- Fred "Dr. Squat" Hatfield

Nearly every type of programming variation, whether it be linear, block, conjugate, undulating, or wave can accommodate such volume in the main lifts. In some of those you may not be training in each of the 3 Tiers as I suggest, but at lower intensities they often require the lifter to perform more repetitions. 

Take for instance the classic, tried and true, block periodization model which has a lifter performing a greater number of repetitions, with perhaps multiple lift variations, during the accumulation phase with lower intensity (within the T2 range) then they move onto the transmutation phase with slightly less volume and slightly more intensity (T2, possibly some T1), then lastly they move into the realization phase where the intensity is high and the volume now low (T1 range). 

Even within conjugate, undulating, or wave training systems most lifters are performing around 75 bar lifts of their main movement, or a number of its variations, per workout. The only exception may be linear progression formats which are commonly catered towards novice trainees. Their recovery is lessened because of their novice status, and thus their volume should be low so as to prevent excess fatigue as a result of a lower work capacity. 

To wrap up the volume segment, volume means hypertrophy and skill practice.  Big muscles and practice means increased strength and skill development. Better skills and strength mean greater force application to the bar. And the more force you can put into the bar, the more weight you can move.

Just ease yourself into higher volume training if you don't have the capacity to recover from it. 

Otherwise this will be you.


Generally speaking intensity is all about how hard you push yourself. In weightlifting and powerlifting specifically it is about how much weight is on the bar. But lets consider a scenario outside of those two sports, but something I hope we all can still relate to- sprinting. 

What happens when a person who doesn't sprint much goes outside for a few rounds of 50m sprints? Well, what is likely to happen is an injury to the quadricep, or more often, hamstring. Why is this? Because their body is not accustomed to that type of intensity. Even with collegiate athletes their sprint training often follows a periodization of distance at lower intensities then ramping up to greater speed and acceleration training. (Warning .pdf) 

The same thing happens with intensity in powerlifting and weightlifting. Without adequate practice the bar path is inefficient which results in a lower intensity threshold. With less practice also comes a greater risk of injury at lower intensities. 

There is also a reason why both the block periodization and conjugate training styles have lifters gradually working up to a maximal effort. In the latter they are absolutely doing it more frequently, in greater variations, but none-the-less they are still working up to a max. And in that work, they are accumulating reps, or volume, in that lift. 

In the popular Westside template (Warning .pdf) they are performing a single day of max effort work (T1 range) supplemented by both dynamic and repetition work on another day. Even the guys who are training with a template notorious for maximal work use reps to build their intensities upon. 

However it is the Bulgarians who are most known for max effort work, and athletes working in this template always work into the T1 range, sometimes perform some back off sets then go home. A simple to understand write up can be read here. The key take away is that because of their high frequency the lift volume remains high, but spread across many days, and thus their ability to handle daily maximums is increased. A great quote taken from that article, 

"This means you are going to really need to 
pay attention to your warm-ups and cool-downs." 
- Jacob Tsypkin, JTS Strength

I suppose that quote goes back to what I said above. Warm up reps count. Give them the credence they deserve. Build your capacities for intensity upon your capacity for volume. 

Do not get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for training intensity and doing it frequently. If it were up to me I would have everyone hitting a handful of reps in that 85% or more range every single training session in one of their main movements. My biggest reasons for this:

1. Frequency of intensity training builds intensity capacity.

2. Always training a main movement with T1 intensities builds confidence under the bar. Which then translates into greater success in the gym and on the platform. 

That last one is especially important to understand. Taken from who I consider to be the smartest man in the game, Mike Tuchscherer:

"Peak force production is tied to the weight on the bar. Are you trying to maximize force? Add weight. In real life, you won’t be able to accelerate enough to produce force like you can in a max lift. No way around it. Sure, a set done with maximum acceleration will produce more force than one done with an even tempo.  But only if the weight on the bar is similar.  If you always accelerate maximally, you will produce more force if the weight on the bar is heavier, even though acceleration is less."

If you want to be strong you have to create force. If you want to create force you must lift with intensity. Acceleration and "speed work" is great and all, but you simply cannot move fast enough to match the same amount of force produced by moving a heavier load. And like Dr. Squat said in an article I posted above, lifters should always be trying to move the bar as fast as they can. Regardless of the weight, regardless of where they are in the range of motion. 

Great strength cannot be built without getting some reps in that T1 range. Ten is all I'm asking for, and that's not all that much.

One more piece why I put volume before intensity, injuries. They are caused by two actions: repetitive stress or catastrophic events. The first one can identified, prevented, and/or remedied. It is caused by volume. Thus the term repetitive. The second one however is instantaneous, has no forewarning, and has no resolution until after the fact. It is most often caused by intensity. 

Perfect example of a catastrophic injury.
But not all catastrophic injuries are avoidable. 


This is where people will lose their minds about intolerances, meal timing, nutrient break downs, natural, organic, gluten-free, and a litany of other beliefs about what goes in your mouth. Unless you have an allergy, guess what, if you're not training doing the above four your diet doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. The impact of whether or not you eat breakfast will be negligible if you are training every other full moon and squat less frequently than Nathan Poage benches. 

I have one saying that encompasses "dieting." 

Want to gain weight? Never be hungry. Want to lose weight. Sometimes be hungry. 

It is pretty damn simple really. It all boils down to calories in vs calories out. There are so many methods to gaining and losing weight that they rival the number of hotdogs consumed annually by Kobayashi. 

To think that following a gluten-free diet is going to make a night and day difference in your training when your programming consists of bench press and dumbbell curls superset with text messages and trips to the water fountain, would be asinine. Get everything preceding in order then worry about what goes in your pie hotdog hole. 

But diet is the key to taking your training to that next level. There is a reason why damn near every powerlifter in a weight class is insanely lean. They are maximizing the amount of muscle they carry, because although fat adds mass and thus can help leverage it is passive towards actually moving the weight. Whereas muscle can create force. 

A proper diet can help bring that muscle to fat ratio more in your favor than a person with a similar training protocol without a good diet. Additionally there may be some foods that you may not even know are causing a hindrance to your training. Being even gluten sensitive can cause increased inflammation, which then causes pain, which will put a stop to even the greatest program; should one ever exist.
Perfect program? For 18 easy payments of $99 
this guy can get it to you. Scientists hate him. 

But, without self experimentation a lifter wouldn't know that their daily $5 footlong is actually hurting their performance. That is why I'm an advocate of dietary exploration. You must find what works for you. And like all things experimental you should not just jump off the deep end and eliminate every potentially harmful food. Start with one thing, say dairy and evaluate how you feel in a four week span. Do you feel better? Or no different at all? If you feel better, keep it out and maybe try eliminating gluten. Keep following that process until you have identified what foods you can eat while still feeling good. 

This same can be said for macro nutrients. Some people can work great on a low carb or ketogenic diet for a long period of time. Namely, Jamie Lewis, who is a massive advocate of that type of dieting protocol. I personally follow it when I'm trying to cut weight for a meet, as it works great for me in short durations. There are others who cannot sustain this type of dieting. If a person suffers from gout then they should probably be eating a diet low in animal proteins, low in saturated fat, and low in fructose. They'll be getting most of their protein from plant sources and will be eating plenty of complex carbohydrates for energy. 
The Predator Diet by Jamie Lewis
*traps not included. Link NSFW.

Those are just two vastly different dietary protocols, and guess what, neither of them are wrong. 

The lesson is that diet is, and should be, tailored for the individual. Some will respond well to high carb diets, some to high fat ones. Regardless of how you diet, taking your diet seriously is the next step in becoming a greater strength athlete. Whether or not you want to gain or lose weight, recomposition, or simply feel better, knowing how much and what is going in your mouth is the next step in the process. 

And like I said before, it matters naught if your training is frivolous. 

This also encompasses dietary supplements. Do you know why they're called supplements? Because they are supposed to supplement an already decent diet. If you're eating Big Macs and drinking a liter of cola everyday for lunch then hardly picking at some broccoli and maybe having some spaghetti your mom made you for dinner no amount of protein shakes and NO Explode will pack on the muscle. 

Enough said. 


Now because I have no personal experience and limited second hand knowledge with steroids, pro-hormones, peptides, growth hormone, or insulin use, I will leave this portion short. 

It is my personal belief that if your training is inconsistent, lifts infrequent, and you barely lift while eating worse than a mid western scooter confined mother of fifteen- then performance enhancing drugs are probably not the best course of action for you. 

Don't confuse that with me saying they are wrong for everyone or that they are ineffective. It is a personal choice, much like drinking, smoking weed, etc. 

Is gamma radiation a steroid? 

But when discussing training, and how to train effectively to get to the greatest potential, then these are the icing on the cake. The cherry on top of the sundae. It will make everything just that much better. If however, your cake is made like shit, the icing isn't going to pretty it up too damn much. Likewise, what the hell is an ice cream sundae if it is just a cup with a single cherry in it? It's a let down and a damn waste of money. That's what it is. 

Another reason I put this at the end is that it comes down to discipline. If an athlete is disciplined enough to follow a consistent and well put together training plan, and then adhere to a diet, they are probably intelligent and diligent enough to do the necessary homework on how to safely and effectively use performance enhancing drugs. 

Dat dere CellTech. 
Yeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhh Budddddddddyyyyyy!!!!

Going back to what I said at the beginning of this tome in reference to the effectiveness of steroids- I'm not saying that training hard and dieting will yield greater results than taking steroids. The complete opposite is true, in fact. I know this. I've accepted it. But that same study showed that taking steroids and actually training yields the greatest results. 

If you're taking steroids you would probably want great results too.

My position is simple. If a person is disciplined enough to get all things before drugs regarding their training in order, then going to drug enhancement is the next logical step in the process if they want to become one of the truly elite strength athletes, or bodybuilders; the kind the history books are made of. 

And there you have it. 

The Priority Continuum: Consistency>Frequency>Volume>Intensity>Diet>Drugs

Why? Because explosions are badass.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Training Plan & Review: Last Month and Next Month

Over the last four weeks I have been training a little differently than I usually do. I decided to take a step away from the higher volume Tier 1 programming that I had been doing in the previous months and instead focus on building my capacities in the Tier 2 range. (This post last month has my four week training cycle; it is near the bottom of the page.) 

The manner in which I did this is fairly simple. I set my Goal Weight at 415 pounds, just five pounds less than my best squat- which I had hit a week or so prior. My first goal was to squat 415 for multiple reps. Secondary to that was to take 80% of my Goal Weight, or 330 pounds, and be able to get three sets of ten reps after I had attempted my 415 pound rep out. For my bench I programmed in the same way and wanted to get 295 pounds, my bench Goal Weight, for more than two reps which was the most I had done it for prior. Secondary to that was to take 80% of my Goal Weight, or 235 pounds, and like my squat get it for three sets of ten reps after my attempted rep out of 295 pounds. 

If you want more details from the last month you can see training footage on my YouTube channel and my workout logs on, but to get to the point, both my squat and bench goals were met... sort of. 
Here's a picture of a deliciously American steak for 
no other reason but to break up the length of this novella. 

On my bench test day I got 295x4, almost five reps. Immediately after that I got 235x10x2 and on my final set got 11 reps. Not bad. Both bench goals accomplished, if not destroyed. I had doubled my capacity at 295 pounds and then set an all-time 10 rep max with 235 pounds... which I did for sets. 

Now for my squat test day I had a mission to do for work so I was sent to another base. Not one to be bothered with something as trivial as location to determine whether or not I train as planned, I ended up squatting 415x3. Then in a stunning display of stupidity I failed to load the bar with 330 pounds. Instead I loaded it with 325... damn 2.5 pounders got me. It wasn't until after the second set of ten that I realized my error. Upset with myself over such a dumb mistake, I went for a 325 pound rep out and got it for 14 reps. 

My best squat ever was 420 pounds only about five weeks prior. Previously I had squatted 405 for five reps, but never anything for reps above 405. Only singles. Also, my best 10+ rep out is 335 pounds for 13 reps which was done with a belt and after two sets of five reps of the same weight. The fact that I got 325x14 without a belt, and after much more work both in terms of volume and intensity, I think is a testament that these last four weeks resulted in a massively successful rep test for both lifts. 

Modeling a kickass shirt a buddy sent me out here
in Afgainzistan.

Moving ahead I'm gong to to be a little more adventurous than I ever have been before. I've been training for powerlifting for almost three years and I've always had my days be focused on a single movement or laid out much like an upper/lower body split. 

The majority has been laid out like this: 

Monday- Squat (T1, T2, & T3)
Tuesday- Bench (T1, T2, & T3)
Wednesday- Deadlift or Squat (T1, T2, & T3)
Thursday- Bench or Strict Press (T1, T2, & T3)
Friday- Squat (T1, T2, & T3)
Saturday- Bench (Optional) (T1, T2, & T3)

The next four weeks is laid out like this: 

Monday- T1 Squat then T2 Bench
Tuesday- T1 SlingShot Bench then T2 Sumo Deadlift
Wednesday- T1 Front Squat then T2 Incline Bench
Thursday- T1 Bench then T2 Squat
Friday- T1 Sumo Deadlift off 4" blocks then T2 Bench using a percentage from my SlingShot weight
Saturday- T1 Incline Bench then T2 Front Squat

(All T3 work is un-written, but will be done to reflect the T1 movement of that day.)

It is completely unlike anything I have ever done before. An upper and lower movement everyday six days a week. 

How it looks: 

A screenshot of the 4-week training block.
Yes, I cannot Excel enough to round those numbers 
to the nearest 0 or 5, deal with it.

Now for the finer details:

The T1 movements (seen in red) start somewhere around 90% or so of my Goal Weight. All my Goal Weights are set at a weight I know I could hit for one rep, any day of the week. This is slightly heavier than what I typically program off of as I normally use my everyday two rep max. Over the course of the four weeks I will creep up to a rep out of my Goal Weight. 

Day to day I will first do a heavy triple or double for a single set. Triple on weeks 1 & 3, doubles on weeks 2 & 4. Then do some back off sets which start around 85% of that T1 weight (except week one which starts slightly less) then in 2.5% jumps increase up to 92.5% by week four. As the weeks progress the volume goes down as the intensity goes up, nothing crazy there, just tried and true. The only slight difference is the undulation of the T1 weight along with its reps per set. 

After that T1 work I will then move to the T2 movement for the day which are laid out in this fashion: 

Week 1: 65%
Week 2: 75%
Week 3: 70%
Week 4: 80%

Like my heaviest T1 sets my T2 work (seen in green) will undulate in intensity. The weights used are programmed using the most recent Tier 1 set for that movement. So for example using the image above, cell number O5 is 65% of C3, O14 is 75% of C12. However unlike my T1 sets my T2 volume will remain consistent, as well as in its undulation. 

The T2 work capacity I spent building these last four weeks is going to pay off well here. My speed at T2 weights is very fast these days, as well as my ability to handle a great amount of stress in those intensities. (Stress being defined as reps per set.) The stress level across the next four weeks, in both the T1 and T2 range is very low, which I hope will mean that my reps remain very fast. I'm doing no more than five reps at a time in my T2 or T1 intensity range and many of my reps will be either three or less. My first and second tier volume will be accomplished across many sets. 

And I will very much try to make those T2 sets done in an Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM) fashion in order to maintain a semblance of conditioning. If I could damn near do that with 330x3 for ten sets I'm pretty sure lighter weights will be significantly easier. 

But what about the work done in the Third Tier? Well, as I briefly mentioned above it will essentially be based around whatever movement is done for the T1 movement that day. The reps per set scheme will be somewhere around 8-12 for around 30 or so total reps. The first two weeks will probably have two T3 movements per day, the third week only one T3 movement, and the last week probably none at all. So, as the cycle progresses the T3 work will decline, as per the norm with traditional programming. 

Here's a picture of an explosion. Why?
Because explosions are cool.

On a given day my workout might look something like:

              Squat: 405x3x1 (T1)
                         345x5x3 (T1)
             Bench: 225x3x7 (T2)
         Leg Curl: 15x10x4 (T3, super set)
Leg Extension: 15x10x4 (T3, super set)

In fact, that is tomorrow for me. Sounds like a good time. 

What is the point of all this? One, I would like to get a 535 pound sumo deadlift for at least one rep, more than one would be excellent. This is going to happen on week four. That will match my best sumo pull ever locked out, but red lighted in competition. Secondary to that goal I would like to best my current one or two rep maxes on the other lifts. Primarily turn my 420x1 into a two or three rep max and turn my 300x2 bench into three or four rep max. Next to that would be besting what I believe to be my best incline and best clean front squat. (I think I've done 275 ugly as sin.) Lastly, besting my 340x2 slingshot set. 

All in all I'm excited for a step outside of my comfort zone and a personal experiment to test my abilities to train similar movements on consecutive days. Should I fail, which I am not in the slightest concerned about, no worries... I'll have tried something harder than expected and will last until I am laid to waste. 

If Bolt Thrower doesn't fill you with desire conquer everything around you
then you're probably a pacifist who benches less than their own bodyweight.

So there it is... probably more confusing than a sign language reading of Finnegans Wake by a dude with a wicked case of polydactly. 

The dude was most certainly high on 
while writing this.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Conditioning Barney Style: How to Stay Strong While Also Not Sucking Ass at Running. (Without Actually Running.)

Preface: If your idea of sucking ass at running is finishing a 3-mile PT run in anything more than 20 minutes then this isn’t for you. Chances are if you’re this guy or gal, and reading this post, you’re currently weak as a kitten but kick ass at running. But now you want to make an acceptable sacrifice in running endurance in order to lift heavy shit. This post assumes you currently suck at running, but not quite so much at lifting.

If those last two sentences sounds a lot like you then continue reading. If you’re like the person described in the first then I have no idea how you got here. You must be lost. 

This isn’t the blog you’re looking for.

Alright, people I’ve had some requests to make a post describing how to be a decent runner (my definition of decent: finishing a 3-mile in sub 24:00 and being in the middle of the pack for formation runs) while also being decently strong. Below is how we get your ass in running shape while also maintaining some respectable level of strength.

Before I go on I should provide some stats so that way you know I’m not just some guy talking out of my ass about things I have no experience doing (like running and lifting,) and thus should not be giving advice out like an idiot; which seems the popular thing to do these days.

- 8 years, 6 months Active Duty Marine

- Best 3-mile: 18:36 (Ran in March of 2007, before lifting.)

- Worst 3-mile: 23:42 (Pretty sure that’s it, but it has been a while. Summer 2008. Just doing regular Marine Corps PT and not caring about my health, strength, or anything really. Before lifting.)

- Current 3-mile: 22:47 (As listed on April 25, 2013. 1x per year requirement that I don’t train running for whatsoever.)

- Current Physical Fitness Test Score: 271 of 300

- Current Combat Fitness Test Score: 293 of 300

Let it be known that I don’t train specifically for either of those events. I haven’t done so for the PFT since 2008 when I started lifting and haven’t done so since 2012 for the CFT since I realized training for it is stupid and a waste of my time. When company or battalion runs come along I can hang with the middle to the front of the pack as well. So I ain’t all that bad.

There's no way in hell that formation is going even 5mph.

According to my copious YouTube training logs it shows that I deadlifted 475x2 on April 17th (Eight days before the PFT), squatted 405x3 in wraps on April 30th (Five days after the PFT). Now these aren’t record-breaking numbers, nor are they too impressive considering my current strength levels. But for a guy who was about to run 3-miles in less than 23 minutes, and for a guy who had just ran that 3-miles, it’s not too damn bad.

Especially since my non-running self graduated as the Honor Graduate of Sergeants Course. During which time I pulled my first 500-pound deadlift. Sergeants Course has its share of weekly formation and individual effort runs that go upwards of 5+ miles, sometimes three or four times per week. Believe me when I say that I wouldn’t have finished as the #1 student if I had sucked ass at the runs and came in the back half every damn time.

Now that that’s over, and will probably be the last time I brag about my running abilities, let’s carry on.
Running on the Devil's doorstep sucked.

Someone is forcing you to run. Whether for military or maybe you’ve succumbed to peer pressure to run a 5k for charity. What do?

Above I said that after I ran my best 3-miler (18:36) I almost died. Well, it certainly felt like it. I pushed myself as hard as I thought I could go because the stakes were high- it was for a meritorious promotion. I ended up getting it so that worked out nicely. But I learned a valuable lesson afterwards.

A day or so later I approached a guy at my command named David. This guy was probably 5’8” and 200+ pounds, lean as shit, and could bench 3-plates for reps. At the time he was one of the stronger and more jacked and tan dudes in the command.

He would also consistently post sub 18-minute times on the 3-mile PFT.

It astonished me that he could do this. Even more so after I ran the hardest I thought possible and still didn’t beat his time. (Keep in mind at the time I was a whopping 5’5” and something like 140 lb.) I should have been a badass runner. So I asked him how he did it.

David’s response, “I grind my teeth.”

That guy was fucking hard as nails.  I then realized I could have run faster. I held back a little bit and in doing so finished 3rd in that part of the competition. Lesson learned- when life gets hard you grind your damn teeth and deal with it.

My second lesson came via epiphany- running faster makes the pain go away sooner. Remember these two lessons as we move forward.

Bullshit. This guy never ran a day in his life.

How to not suck at running and not run at the same time?

First before we get into the nitty gritty just know that you can always accept the path of becoming a bench bro. Just bench, do other upper body stuff, and say that whatever running you do is your “leg days” and then call it good. If you want to take that way out, so be it. Just know that somewhere a teenage Russian girl is benching your squat.

But if not, here is what you came here for. First off lets have an airing of grievances.  You’re probably fat, your work capacity sucks, and you watch episodes of ‘America’s Next Top Model’ on your iPhone between sets.

That shit has to end.

And the show too, of course.

Running is a skill, but we don’t want to practice that skill. It isn’t a hard skill to learn so why waste your time perfecting it when you’ll be running a little 5k or some other waste of your time. That, or you’re probably running in a formation behind some other jokers so the skill wouldn’t apply anyways because the dumbasses in front and behind you keep chopping their steps and you’re packed so tightly in formation the term “nut to butt” is literal.

Your major limiting factor of running comes down to aerobic endurance. That is our concern here.

That’s what we’re going to train, although unconventionally, and not quite directly, but we’re going to focus on that and train it so you at least cross the finish line in front of the 80 year old grandfather, the 350 pound HAES activist, and the 20-year Gunnery Sergeant with two knee replacements and a whole unexploded RPG lodged in his ribs.

Endurance all comes down to work capacity. How much work can you do in a specific amount of time, and how well can you recover from it? That second part is pretty important so don’t forget it. (Thank you Greg Nuckols for that excellent post.)

If this guy can outrun you there's a problem.

We have to get your capacity up.

First of all, start timing your rest periods between sets. If you’re not lifting a weight that is greater than 85% of your training max (1st Tier) then you shouldn’t have to rest for more than two minutes max. If you’re currently the 5-minute rest guy sitting on the bench between warm up sets reading Seventeen Magazine then you seriously must quit that shit.

A great way to work on this and get in the habit of it is doing lifts Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM.) Take your favorite lift, say, the squat. Now get 50% of your training max, do it X amount of reps, every minute on the minute for one, three, five... 10... 20 minutes. If you’re new to this lean to the side of five or less reps at a time and five or less minutes. Gradually work your way up in both intensity and duration. I suggest adding two minutes or reps per week. When you’re done with those reps just rest until the next minute comes and then do your next set. It's that easy.

However, this can become brutally hard in so many ways. One time I was stupid enough to take 80% of my deadlift training max and do a 20-minute 1 Rep EMOM with it. Then like an idiot I decided to rep out the last set. Yep. 20 minutes later I had 23 reps of 405 and I felt like jumping in front of a bus would have been a better idea because that was workout #2 for that day.

Don’t be like I was. Don’t be a dumbass. To recap so far:

Step #1: Time your rests and do EMOMs.

(Get your rests as short as possible without causing an adverse effect on your work sets.)

The next thing we’re going to do is add in timed single exercise events. I’m talking things like bodyweight squats, push-ups, jump rope, or medicine ball throws, or hell damn near any low skill bodyweight movement you can do. Guess what, since your work capacity is on par with that of a three toed sloth you have to start small. We don’t want you to go insane for 20 minutes on bodyweight squats day-1 and not be able to squat the next day or the day after, or a month later.

I’m talking one minute at a time.  Gradually increase that minute by minute with linear progression. I recommend 3x per week. It could look something like this:

Monday: 1 Minute: Bodyweight Squats: Score Reps

Wednesday: 2 Minutes: Bodyweight Squats: Score Reps

Friday: 3 Minutes: Bodyweight Squats: Score Reps

So on and so forth until you get to 10 minutes of a single exercise. Now you can rest of course, but the idea is that the large majority of that time is spent working. When you rest you must remember point #1 above. When you get to where you’re doing 10 minutes of As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) with a single exercise we’re going to change it on you. Now when you get to that 10 minutes rather than sit around and rest like a pansy, you’re going to instead do another exercise.

It’ll look something like this:
10 Minutes: Squats and Push-ups, alternate as needed. (AMRAP of each): Score Total Reps

Now at this point in time I want you to simply focus on increasing your total number of reps on those 10 minutes. Don’t sweat going above 10 minutes. Two exercises, as many reps as possible, for 10 minutes. That stuff is lung collapsing. If you can do this you’re pretty much there for being able to handle a 24-minute 3-mile run. Do this 2-3x per week. If at this point in time you can go ballistic for 10-minutes the other 14 is spent grinding your teeth and finishing ahead of the guy on crutches.

But not this chick. Always finish behind her. Always.

To recap:

Step #2 Single exercise AMRAPS with linear time progression to 10 minutes. Then 10 minute two exercise AMRAPS. Count your reps.

Simple and effective. Just the way I like it. Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. KISS.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “C’mon, I don’t suck this bad.” Or, “That sounds boring as fuck.” Ok great. Well it’s about to get a lot harder and more interesting.

Now it is time for bar, dumb, and kettlebell complexes.

These are fun as hell, effective, and can keep you interested. Now, there are plenty of really good ones out there but I’m just going to list my three favorites. I’m not even sure that’s the word I should use to describe them…

Power Clean to Front Squat to Push Press to Back Squat to Push Press. 

Rinse. Repeat.

Complete eight rounds of: Eight double kettlebell front squats and 20m farmers walks.

Complete the front squats then drop the kettlebells to your side and walk. Thats one round. Clean then back into the front rack position and start squatting for round two. 

And my personal pride and joy,

Comerade Fran: 21-15-9 of Double Kettlebell Thrusters and Strict Pull-ups.

There are many more out there, but I’ll leave it up to you to find the complexes you find most interesting. The idea here is that you push yourself hard as hell for somewhere in the ballpark of 10 minutes.

Now that you’re on the level with complexes you should ease yourself into them. Because you’re moving an object instead of your body there is going to be slightly more risk- but not that much, so don’t let that keep you from crushing a few rounds of the Bear or beating my 7:26 time on Comerade Fran with two 53 lb. kettlebells.

That guy is probably overtrained. Someone should stop him.

To recap once more: 

Step #3 Bar, Dumb, and Kettlebell Complexes. 10 minutes. 1-2x per week along with at least one 10-minute two exercise AMRAP.

Now comes the worst part about all of this, you’re going to have to do more of this nightmarish conditioning work per week if you want to get better conditioning. The trouble is walking that fine line between too much and too little. I recommend undulating the durations of your conditioning workouts. Lets say you up them from two to three times per week. Maybe make the one in the middle a 5-Minute AMRAP. Then lets say you up it to 4x per week of this madness. Alternate that stuff.

“But that sounds a lot like CrossFit!!!” Yeah, exactly. Except all I'm saying is that if you follow those three steps you can maintain a respectable level of strength and do the bare minimum level of conditioning. That way you're not a shame to your family during a charity run. I'm not trying to forge the elite here, just making you less shitty at running. 

I guarantee the amount of effort you expend in these ten minutes is going to be significantly greater than whatever slog of a run you’re likely to go on. If you can last balls to the wall for 10 minutes with the bear complex any stupid run that comes around shouldn’t be a problem, you will likely run with the pack, and not die in a gelatinous heap of disgusting fat body Gomer Pyle powerlifter with a sadistic Corpsman shoving a thermometer up your keyster. 

I sincerely hope this isn't you.

And if it starts to get a little tiresome just remember what David said and grind your teeth.

(Yes, it can get a lot more complex than this and sure there are some other factors at play when it comes to programming this stuff into your current lifting schedule. However, those things are highly individualistic and I’m not going to waste my time spelling out every tiny step a lifter needs to do in order to not have garbage conditioning. Follow those three easy steps above and you’ll likely be able to still become stronger and faster than 90% of the people around you. "But what about sprints?!" That's running, shut up. "Prowler pushes?" You got money for that shit?)