Most people think that when it comes to building strength, it takes a lot of work. That’s partially true, but the whole truth is that the strength gains come from recovery periods, reduced stress, and focus on fundamental movements between the periods of heavy work.
In the summer of 2009, I hit a personal best deadlift of 445 pounds at a bodyweight of 250. I had been hitting personal bests again and again as crossfit tuned my ability to handle more volume than I had ever done before. However, as injuries from frequent and intense crossfit beatdowns mounted, I found myself needing to back off in order to recover.
In 2010, I backed off weightlifting quite a bit and began a running regimin. I had never been a runner before, so I set a goal of being able to qualify for a law enforcement physical agility test. I found that my local agency had a standard of 1.5 miles in 15 minutes and the nearby federal agency had a standard of 1.5 miles in 13 minutes, so I set my sights on 13 minutes. As I practiced my running course trying to build speed, I found myself suffering from exercise-induced asthma, and again, I had to back off to recover.
In 2011, I began to experiment with nutrition as a means to improve my health and performance. Cleaning up my diet yielded dramatic results: dropping weight, eliminating medication, and reversing disease. I continued to push my running harder and faster, achieving a 6:50 mile in August 2011. Unfortunately, almost immediately after that personal best, I stopped running for nearly 2 months to recover from plantar fasciitis.
In 2012, I reshaped my views on exercise to look more like the recommendations in The Primal Blueprint. I rest more, work out with less intensity – focusing more on the fundamentals of the movement, work on my mobility and flexibility, and occasionally lift heavy. The result is continued improvements in body composition, fewer nagging injuries, and strength gains relative to bodyweight. In 2009, I pulled 445 at a 250 pound bodyweight for a 1.78X bodyweight deadlift. Today [Three years later at age 44], I pulled 400 pounds at a 215 pound bodyweight for a 1.86X bodyweight deadlift. The last time I had even attempted heavy deadlifts was at least 6 weeks ago where I had maxed out at 385.
How did I get stronger relative to my bodyweight with less work? Each year I backed off on something after some sort of damage. So I focused on:
- Increased recovery time.
- Fundamental movement practice.
“Exercise is an excellent example of hormesis in action. An appropriate “dose” of physical stress provokes a positive adaptation in your body (you get fitter), but dosing progressively larger and larger amounts of exercise can be seriously detrimental to your health.”
The same is true of life in general. Running full throttle all the time simply isn’t good for your health. What are your constant stressors?
- Sleep? Are you getting enough or frequently in a sleep deficit?
- Work? When you’re off, are you actually off or just working in a different location?
- Exercise? Are you pushing yourself too hard through intense programming like p90x, Insanity, Crossfit?
- Nutrition? Are you eating well, choosing low-inflammatory, high nutrient density foods or are you frequently eating highly processed drive-thru food? It may not seem like it, but terrible nutrition is absolutely a chronic stressor.
- Relationships? Are you in healthy, life-giving, accountable relationships or are you sinking in someone else’s cesspool of suck?