|the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure.
I’m not a doctor. Though I reference some who are, I trust that you will remain responsible for your own actions, and that you will do your own research before diving into any of the practices shared. This is my story and these are the resources that work for me and my lifestyle. Please take everything with a grain of salt, but also don’t downplay the flavor one grain of salt can add to your life. Keep it simple - find health - remain satisfied.
Welcome back, last week I shared the first of my four Pillars of Health (PoH) - Form. This week I’ll dive into an equally important pillar - Strength. Whether mental or physical, the acquisition of strength has likely been one of the most sought after qualities in history. I’ll be the first to say that there is no shortage of books, articles and research dedicated solely on the subject of strength. My intention with this blog post is not to give you the comprehensive answer to acquiring strength - honestly, I’m not sure there even is one. What I do plan to do is share the story of how I began developing physical strength in my own life. I’ll close this article like last weeks, with a host of resources that define my current approach to strength development. Thank you for taking the time to read - now let’s get strong.
Strength has always been a focus in my life, but not in the way you may think. I didn’t start developing my physical and mental self until my late teens and early twenties. As you learned in last week’s blog post, my focus was originally on skateboarding. What I didn’t tell you was that I also poured a ton of energy and time into video games. Who’d of thought!? It wasn’t until I was hit by a Ford F250 while driving through a green light that my relationship with strength began to shift.
Before the accident, a couple hours a day went into my adventure video games - also known as RPG’s (Role Playing Games). Then after the accident, it dawned on me - what if life is just one big video game? Why spend hour after hour, of my life, developing imaginary characters in a video game? Why should I keep chasing imaginary quests? It’s laughable now, but I took the discovery seriously. From then on, I began pouring time and energy into developing my character, but it was no longer in a video game. I began developing my real character - I began training for a real quest - a source to sea journey down the Mississippi River.
I bought a copy of P90X - a popular video workout series at the time. Every day, I showed up to my living room floor with a set of 25# dumbbells, a pull-up bar and a yoga mat. I followed the protocol to a painstaking T. After a couple weeks, I started to love the routine and new found strength - I was leveling up! Good, I thought. I was going to need the strength for the 2,500 mile kayaking trip down the Mississippi River.
During the summer of 2010, Joe and myself completed that first quest - successfully kayaked the entire length of the Mississippi River in 45 days, 39 paddling days. I felt strong; I was strong.
After our Huck Finn adventure, I was hooked on human powered endeavors. I wanted to try them all, and I knew each new endeavor would demand, not only strength, but endurance. I started cycling and running; I began another three-month round of P90x. This time around I changed my nutrition; we’ll dive more into that in a couple weeks. Day to day life became easier. Then, I started running ultramarathons to explore the mountains and stay prepared for whatever life threw at me.
In 2015 and 2016, I put myself through two of the most challenging quests to date - thru hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail - while picking up the trash we found along the way. Surviving the AT, I recalibrated my routine for 2016 and thrived along the 2,650 mile PCT. Just before the Pacific Crest Trail, I tested myself with a quick strength litmus test - I performed 28 strict pull-ups and 75 quality push-ups. Two weeks prior to this test, I had run 18 miles (fasted) through the mountains in two hours. I had established a proper Pillar of Strength.
Many of the skills and practices I established before my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail are still with me today. Last year, I focused most of my energy on training for ultra-distance running events. As a result, I refined my specific strength practices for running. Just before two long races in the fall (100k and 100 mile), I adopted a new strength routine for general (non-specific) strength and endurance; but most of all, I adopted a general strength routine for the proven injury reducing benefits (Dr. Rich Willy’s research) that come from placing the muscles and tendons under load.
Living on Mount LeConte during the winter, my routine is simplified slightly, but by no means is it less effective. My training on the mountain can be broken down into a four groups: Grease the Groove, Simple & Sinister, Mountain Running, and SAM. Let’s look at each one.
Grease the Groove | Easy Strength
Greasing the groove (GTG) is a type of programming that builds the neurological pathway of lifting heavy weight. It does not rely on breaking down muscle tissue for more growth, rather it uses your existing muscle structure by building new neural pathways. (From Strong First, below)
Using the Grease the Groove method has been part of my routine for years. It’s simple and creates incredible results - the litmus test I performed before the PCT was accomplished exclusively from using the GtG method. The goal is to create an environment that allows you to train the GtG method without creating inconvenience; such as a pull-up bar in a main doorway of your home or a clear spot by your desk for pistol squats and pushups. I would recommend exploring the links below to get a more comprehensive understanding of the principle.
Video | Pavel explains GtG
Article | GTG Explained
Podcast | Pavel and Tim Ferris
Article | Sherrington’s Law of Irradiation
Simple and Sinister | Kettlebell Training
Last week I mentioned one of my goals for last year. I have the same goal this year - remain injury free. Pavel’s Simple and Sinister protocol is my guide. Pavel has the ability to explain the principles of strength development in the simplest of terms. Simple and Sinister is Pavel’s most recent book where, like The Naked Warrior, the focus is to get the most effective strength benefits from the fewest number of exercises - two to be exact. A daily dose of the Kettlebell Swing and Turkish Get-Up define the program. By pairing the ballistic movement of the swing with, what looks like weighted yoga, I’m able to achieve a well rounded dose of training with this simple and quick routine.
P.s - I carried my 16kg (35lb) up to the top of Mt. LeConte just for this routine. Worth it!
Book | Simple and Sinister
Book | The Naked Warrior
Tools | Kettlebell
Mountain | Running
Running in itself is a form of strength and endurance training, but just plodding along day in and day out will not result in the best long term or race specific results. As a mountain runner, writing this section could easily turn into a rabbit hole of links and suggestions. Instead of trying to be comprehensive, I’ll let the some of the best explain their rationale on different popular topics related to ultra-distance training in the mountains. Each podcast below is a roundtable discussion with four coaches who have each achieved stellar results in the sport of mountain running.
While on LeConte, I generally do quicker tempo runs and long runs for my specific workouts. Occasionally, I’ll do hill repeats to mix things up. My winter training is more focused on strength and durability vs. speed work. Once I’m off the mountain, my training will focus more on running economy (speed).
Articles | Coach David Roche
Science of Ultra Podcast
Volume or Intensity | https://www.scienceofultra.com/podcasts/75
Performance Metrics | https://www.scienceofultra.com/podcasts/77
Speed Training | https://www.scienceofultra.com/podcasts/85
Cross Training | https://www.scienceofultra.com/podcasts/82
Injuries Preventable | https://www.scienceofultra.com/podcasts/80
SAM | Strength and Mobility
This kind of sounds like a combination of first two Pillars of Health - well, it is. What is strength without the ability to utilize it through a variety of different shapes and movements. By developing SAM, our risks of injury go way down. This means I can keep putting bricks in the wall - not tearing down my progress every time I get injured. Below, I’ve shared the post run SAM routine that I shared last week from Coach Jay Johnson. Included below those routines are a couple incredible podcast that really explain the importance of developing strength by placing the body under load, through range of motion and under tension. I hope you enjoy these podcasts as much as I still do.
Video | Coach Jay Johnson’s SAM Routine
Podcast | Dr. Stu McGill | Strength for Back
Podcast | Kelly Starrett on Strong First
While living on Mt. LeConte can be challenging enough, I’m a strong believer in daily strength practice to help prevent injury and to help make everyday living in the mountains a more enjoyable task. Applying these strength principles and resources, that I’ve linked above, have given me the confidence to dream and follow through with endeavors I’d, otherwise, deem impossible.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day. Next week, we’ll cover the third Pillar of Health - Consistency. You already know it’s an important one. Until next time…