How To Build World Class Strength & Endurance Together
First I would like to thank Pavel and John Du Cane and the folks here at Dragon Door for asking me to write some articles for them. Iíve enjoyed their products and contributions in bringing some sanity and reality back to strength training and muscle building with intelligence and realistic hardcore goals.
I spoke recently with Pavel and he said something that I really picked up on, which is that many people try to train strength and endurance together, but they rarely get much of either. Sometimes in training for a sport they get enough of the all around capacity which is best for their sports and turn in good sports performance, but they donít really ever end up with an extreme amount of strength or power or excessive endurance all together. Generally the other people who are training in these ideas are specialists unto themselves, such as your heavyweight lifters. Generally they have monster strength but little endurance. Granted this is changing some now, but for the most part has been true for some time. On the other hand endurance athletes are the exact opposite. They have tremendous levels of endurance, but pitiful levels of strength.
Because of my background and things I have been exposed to in my training, I have tried to come to what is the best combination of how to put together high-level power, world-class strength as well as high-level, world-class endurance. One of the first things I think is necessary in how to successfully put these together is that you must accept and believe that it is possible. Now some people and pseudo-scientists will tell you, ďOh you have to be one or the other. If youíre going to lift heavy, you have to lift heavy, you canít do endurance work,Ē or ďIf youíre going to do endurance work you canít lift heavy, it will slow you down. Itíll take away from your endurance and you canít do both.Ē
This is frequent in both sides of the lifting world and endurance world. It is extremely overblown in the martial arts world. Many people are always told, ďWell if you lift heavy you wonít have the stamina to do your martial arts.Ē All of which is hogwash.
Now there are a few scientists who have been smart, studying things accurately and have said that specializing on certain components at certain times is the way to ultimate performance in that particular idea. However I do not think that most of this is meant to say that you should not have a solidly developed, all around athletic base. In realism, in terms of functional ability in the real world and in health in my opinion, creating the greatest level of strength and endurance together is the way to go. Now obviously if youíre just going to get into better shape to live an easier life, thatís great and itís important long term to have that conditioning for obviously cardiovascular and health benefits, which is something that weightlifters have neglected occasionally in the past. The endurance people have been in great shape and have lived lives that while they can run and do their specific activity forever, their crossover activities into anything that requires much muscular effort and when combining that muscular effort with endurance has been really basically nil.
So I think that if youíre going to try to get the best of both worlds and if youíre going to try to get some of everything then you might as well try to get the BEST of everything. Realistically there are examples of this all throughout the world. Now some of those people are just genetic freaks, but there are people who have trained it and have built both capacities together, theyíre just not given much mainstream attention.
For instance many football players are in tremendous shape as well as exhibiting high levels of power. Rugby players who are some of the best athletes in the world, not so much in regard to pure performance of speed, but in regard to athleticism of speed as well as power, endurance and pure strength are another good example. Some of them have some phenomenal combination thereof. Martial artists should be included as well especially no-holds barred fighters. Because of the evolution of the sport itself in the past few years and the evolution of training there is an adaptation of what you can see to some high level strength people as well as their endurance. However most of the people are pure fighters to begin with, while they could if they had a little bit better training in my opinion, develop more power and that power could be reflected in the ring. Most of them donít take the time to do that and most of them arenít exposed to hardcore weightlifting conditioning.
I also think that if you look to the athletes of the past such as the ancient martial artists and ancient warriors you will see they are doing things to not only improve their training, but their pure strength and pure conditioning as well. This is sometimes sold as the ancient tradition, which is a bunch of bull. They never let whatever ďscienceĒ said or anything else stand in their way. They built the ability to lift truly heavy things and perform truly powerful activities as well as perform them with long-term endurance as well as the skills of their particular martial arts. You have to believe you can do this.
The next step is to build a base of each level of activity. I generally use, what I have coined as ďThe Three Levels of Conditioning.Ē The first being maximal strength, the second being intermediate, sprint level strength and the third being a long-term endurance strength. Each area needs some specific training and you need to spend some time building up a basic level of strength to work with each one before pushing into a foray of extreme strength or extreme endurance or especially trying to push them both together at the same time. I think one of the big reasons why people fail is that they rush too much in trying to apply these concepts all together.
You are really asking a great deal of your body. There is nothing wrong with that, because we should be asking a lot of it. However we are asking a lot of it in its adaptive ability and you are asking it to adapt to opposite ends of the spectrum all at the same time, which requires a tremendous amount of energy. You need to give your body a break and donít force yourself or donít think you can immediately become super strong and have super endurance all at the same time. Now Iím not talking about a four year, 100,000 hour training time, but obviously you must take some time to work into these things. Especially if you wish to maintain your level of power and endurance and increase them exponentially together you must take time to build the bases of each other. When you begin to add them all together, over training becomes much easier than if you are just doing one or the other. You have far more room to play with if you are just doing endurance training or strength training, but when you add them both together youíre asking so much of your body you must be significantly careful about it. Itíll sneak up on you before you realize it when youíre adding them together so you must be careful and go slow in building your bases.
I believe that if you use related exercises to build strength and endurance (the opposite sides of the same coin) you get a much better benefit than if you use totally disparate exercises. For instance if you perform heavy powerlifting workouts and then perform nothing but long, slow distance running type workouts for your endurance, you first leave many gaps in your training for the other levels of strength and conditioning. Secondly you are asking such absolute opposites of each other that you in some ways limit your progress. So what I have found is that the heavy barbell work, strongman work, moderate body or kettlebell, high repetition, endurance work, blends together better than a pure endurance activity.
Now thatís not to say that you canít add a pure endurance activity, i.e. long, slow distance running, but I believe you get a better benefit by using an endurance activity that has a muscular component that not too closely duplicates your power components, but a muscular component as well as an aerobic component together.
Because you train two types of endurance together and make better progress. You also build a superior base in which your power can be displayed in your high-level strength movement. For example if you built the ability to do several hundred reps of kettlebells, several hundred reps of bodyweight exercises, etc., then your squatting and pressing or pulling with heavier barbells when you do it for relatively low reps is not as taxing to your energetic systems than they were before, because your conditioning is so superior. Therefore you can recover fast and make better strength gains. The same is true in both opposite ends of the spectrum when you build high levels of power when you begin to add in repetitions with light weight. Not enough to destroy the muscles as in a bodybuilding style, but enough to create muscular endurance as well as aerobic endurance. You have a better strength base to work from therefore youíre not quite as taxed from the individual bodyweight workouts and you can build to higher levels more quickly. In building a basis and working with the opposite sides of the same coin as long as you are using related activities you get a superior effect with less training problem.
Now that effect especially if you wish to apply it to another endurance sport for instance if running and swimming etc., obviously you can work them in and train them together. In general when you train for the muscular endurance and strength as well as aerobic capacity together you can easily apply them to the other pure endurance sports with minimal training to them so long as your technical abilities are strong and have some general adaptation to them. But you can apply them much more easily than you can by moving to a pure endurance sport and then hoping to build strength on top of it so if you build related levels of activity together you get a better effect.
Generally by using the high rep ballistics of kettlebells or the body weight type exercises or anything in what I am now beginning to call ďAlternative Level Conditioning,Ē which would be kettlebells, clubbells, body weight exercises, sledgehammer work, light sled work, light road work with the stones, sandbags, etc. What you generally are doing is a modified form of interval training even if youíre working high reps of one particular thing. You can get tremendous aerobic benefits as well as solid muscular endurance benefits by getting this type of animal work with less demand on your power and less problematic in pulling from your power abilities by doing this type of work. What you must simply do if you want to move to Super Endurance is make sure your strength basis is solid and then increase your interval abilities moving back and forth in repetitions of different types of exercises in a more nonstop way. Therefore your cardio work will be sky high and to build massive endurance and you build significant levels of muscular endurance but it is done in a way that has less negative effect on your power than for instance a true steady state activity. I believe thatís where most people fail. I feel that when most people go to build endurance they move towards a pure endurance activity and lack the muscular components of most of the alternative conditioning exercises and then their endurance is not complete and it does not have the carry over to their strength.
I believe the low repetition barbell work is probably the best training for pure strength and adding in partial repetitions. I believe that partial repetitions have helped me maintain and grow to a higher level of pure strength even if I did not do the endurance work. Partials open up the ability to move to heavier weights. They strengthen your joints, ligaments, and your basic ability to gain strength and itís much easier to consider yourself able to lift 800 or 1,000 pounds when you know you can partial lift 1,500 to 1,700 pounds or whatever your goal may be. You conquered your bodyís mental fear and also your bodyís physical reluctance to move those weights by opening of your synapses in your bodyís ability to really begin to move those weights. You teach your body to get stronger faster by the use of partials. Add those into the mix as well as strongman movements, which I believe, are the best way of training the moderate strength endurance activities. An example would be the all-out activities that might last up to two minutes or so with heavier weight then you can use for kettlebell or bodyweight exercises, but obviously less weight than you would use for one rep maximum in your lifting exercises. Thereís obviously a clear gap between there that I think should be trained and I believe the strongman exercises are the best to do that. Iíll tell you why.
Number one, you get a great deal of benefit out of doing them as far as body stability, the ability to move and operate heavy odd objects, and the ability to apply your strength to the real world as well as a tremendous amount of system is fatigue but less local fatigue. Therefore your squats are not as wrecked when you do sled training or rock lifting or tire flip and than if you were to do high rep sets of leg presses, etc. Because you use more whole body movements the pressure and the load is more spread across the entire body. Therefore you get whole body strength, whole body athletic ability and you get that same type of conditioning effect without overloading a particular area and causing its susceptibility to overtraining.
The other point that is necessary here is not to over work. Now I mean that in two different emphases. The first being donít try to do too many different exercises. It is easy to do and Iím certainly one to fall prey to it. I love to train. I love the different kinds of lifting and I want to try anything I hear about. As a matter of fact I have kind of a weird chip on my shoulder about it that if somebody else can do something I have to at least try and throw my hat in the ring and see how well I do at it. I have found a way through different types of training especially in the progress of my training to add a great deal of variety of strength and endurance work and not have them conflict. In the beginning donít try to do too much. Donít try to do 1,000 different modalities. Pick a couple of things. Get some basic barbell work, a couple of basic strongman exercises, a couple of bodyweight conditioning exercises. I recommend about four. A basic press, a basic bent arm pull, a basic straight arm pull such as a dead lifting type movement and a basic squat. Use a few sets with low repetition. Make sure your form is solid. In strongman pick three or four depending on how you do them or how you set your training, but thatís an entire different series of articles and the whole reason I wrote the book, Twisted Conditioning (http://strongerman.com/twisted.html
) and videos, which is how to set those trainings together. There are multiple, multiple ways to do it depending on your particular goals and in general pick a couple of them. Things, which give solid whole body emphasis and just get a few sets of them, donít over work. The same goes for high repetition endurance building exercises. Pick a couple of kettlebell exercises or maybe a circuit-type kettlebell series, as well as a circuit of bodyweight type series. Work to building high reps but go at it slowly. If you get too many things youíre over taxing your system in other ways and you canít adapt to it. But once you build a solid base you can add things, subtract things, and still maintain those highs of endurance and strength without a conflict or losing parts or them.
The second part in the Donít-over-work idea is managing your energy. Pavel has called this, ďDo as much as you can while staying as fresh as you can.Ē Which is similar to the idea that I have. You must learn to be able to tell your own signs of overtraining and be able to know how youíre doing. Just because you have a plan that is written down on paper doesnít mean that it is written in stone and you have to do it. You have to be smart about how much energy you use. In this Iíve also talked about using the marathon training technique which is a technique that some marathoners began to use. In original runnersí training they started to run every day and increase the distance and used a straight progressive method. Thatís not necessarily the smartest thing to do. Moderate your enthusiasm and intensity doing a little bit of everything each day and once or twice a week push harder into each level. For instance do some strength work, do some strongman work, do some bodyweight and endurance exercises every day, but moderate how far you go with each one and rotate up and down. Especially in the endurance area so that you donít over tax your energy. Moderate how much to do. Get some solid endurance work every day just in minimum basic level especially during your first basic building period, and then adding to it and go from there. After that you donít have to stay at and try to stay and force yourself to do a high-level endurance earth workouts and suffer every time. In fact you shouldnít be working to the absolute suffering only once to twice a week should you work to do that. Get some basic heavy lifting, some basic strongman type lifting and then once a week jump up and hit something a little heavier with youíre lifting. Throw in some partials then throw in a day when you do a little heavier or intense strongman and that another day or even two go to a moderately high level of endurance and then one day go to really high level of endurance a week. If you want specifics of exercises and schedules then check my books, videos and website.
This is part of the idea and you must learn to literally try to stay fresh and keep your energy in check. If youíre in the base building period and you do what is a high level temptation to do and Iíve done in the past and you must sometimes also do on occasion which is to train to failure as hard as you can for absolute intensity in order to teach yourself how to work hard to test yourself to see where your body is. However you must do it infrequently, because if you let your enthusiasm get past you then over tax your recovery. Once you step into the true intensity and failure zones it takes still to longer to recover; to get into the basic level of recovery much less, complete recover. Therefore you spend been so much time damaging your bases by not being able to work then needing that downtime that you exhaust your bodyís energy supply so much that it cannot adapt to the multiple different demands that you are asking of it. If you consider this, you can work moderately hard on everything every day and still be relatively fresh and get solid strength benefits as well as solid endurance benefits. But if you really push to the point of exhaustion its going to take several days to get back to where you can really get it together. So build those bases slowly so that you donít suffer so much and donít tax your bodyís energy.
For instance; say I have not trained conditioning exercises and I was doing some heavy barbell work and decided that I wanted to get my endurance up and immediately went out and did 500 Hindu squats or 200 kettlebell snatched. If I had not done that before and had no real base built, I could do it, but it would take days and days to recover. It would be such a demand on my energy that I would be sending my body the wrong message. I would be sending my body the message that I must have endurance at all costs and to forget about the strength work. Because the strength work is already there and by overtaxing your demand you get that flight or fight syndrome that shuts down your messages for building the opposite ability together. So if you do them too hard you kill them. If you do too much endurance all at one time, not that you canít build it all together and build high levels together, but if you do it all at one time you kill your bodyís ability to adapt and grow strength at the same time. The same with endurance, but it really doesnít work the same way although it does in others. Most people when they decide theyíre going to get into a strength workout well theyíd go and they rip themselves apart by training too hard, and too heavy, too fast to failure and they are too sore to keep their endurance workout and they begin to lose some ability there. Plus they havenít built as solid of a base as they think, because they donít generally use muscular and aerobic endurance exercises together in a consistent base building way for a long enough time. Then they over trigger their nervous responses. When you trigger them lightly, you can build all of the qualities of strength and strength endurance together. When you over trigger them you shut down the other abilities and you can only adapt so much at one time by training them too hard. So build those bases slowly.
Now if I started out with just a few reps of kettlebells or bodyweight squats and built up to them slowly and didnít get overly sore, or tired I would still build the ability over time to have the level of endurance to do the snatches or squats without it effecting my strength so much. Perhaps my strength would even increase, because my aerobic recovery and endurance would be better, therefore my strength training would be easier, my recovery would be better and I would then get stronger. By attacking it too fast, you kill your chances of success. You should train with SOME urgency and some sense of intensity which is absolutely necessary, but you must be smart and mature in the way you attack things and moderate them. You must learn that long term the guy who is smarter wins not necessarily the guy who works harder. The guy who works smarter and harder together is going to be the winner.
By combining the above principle, these are some of the ways that I have successfully combined strength and endurance training to push toward having world-class levels of both simultaneously.