The lazy runner’s way to strength train

Arthur Saxon performing a bent press.

Image via Wikipedia

Strength training is something that I still haven’t worked into my routine the way I’d like.  I had a good thing going early last year with squats, deadlifts, and a few full-body exercises that I did twice a week, but then I injured my IT band and had to quit running for two months.  It’s hard to pinpoint the cause, but the fact that I was lifting at the time has made me wary of it ever since.

A few weeks ago I reviewed Thrive Fitness, where a solid weight-training program for endurance athletes is presented.  The problem: I haven’t had the time (or perhaps, the drive) to start lifting three days a week.  Running is just so much more enjoyable to me, and if I only have an hour to exercise on a given day, I’d rather hit the roads or the trails than the gym.

But I’ve found a workable solution.  A friend of mine who is big into lifting is always talking about this website called Mountain Athlete.  I haven’t spent much time on looking around the site, but I gather that it’s a gym that trains mountaineers, climbers, and other mountain endurance athletes.  And it’s part of a growing movement of strength training based on practical, full-body movements, a little like CrossFit.

You see, the whole “isolate the muscle group” idea is pretty much dead, or at least dying a slow death.  It rose to popularity because people learned by watching bodybuilders.  But to call bodybuilders athletes is a stretch.  As far as I can tell, bodybuilding isn’t about strength; it’s about sculpting the largest, most-symmetrical muscles possible, with big, disgusting veins in them if you can.  If your only goal is to become Mr. Universe, how well you can use those muscles doesn’t matter.

The new lifting is all about full-body movements, movements like those you actually do when you jump, run up a hill, pick something heavy up off the ground, or the like.  Who cares what your quadriceps muscle can do when it’s isolated?  If, during a race, I ever come come upon a hill with a sign that says Hamstrings only — use of all other muscles prohibited, I’ll take all this back.  Until then, no isolation exercises for me.

The answer

So while I can’t yet call myself a mountain athlete, I have found one workout that I love and that I’ve been doing just once per week, noticing major improvements each time.  It’s simple and effective, and it works your muscles and your cardiovascular system.

The workout is one of Mountain Athlete’s “power-endurance” workouts, and the premise is simple: Put 55% of your bodyweight on a barball and do a set of four movements 100 times.  That’s right, 100.

The particular one I’ve been doing is called “Curtis P’s,” named, I assume, for some dude called Curtis P.  The set of movements?  A hang-squat clean, a right lunge, a left lunge, and a push press.  Repeat 100 times, resting as needed.  Once you can complete the workout (no small feat), you try to do it faster, and with less rest.

The video above is of one of the Mountain Athletes finishing up a set of 100 Curtis P’s.  After about four workouts, I’m up to 90 of them before total exhaustion sets in, up from only 30 my first day.  And it’s not even at 55% of my body weight, more like 45%.  It takes me about a half an hour, and I am damn sore for a day or two afterward.  But it’s a great workout; it feels a lot like an intense tempo run.  Moderately uncomfortable the entire time, murderous at the end.  And it makes me feel hardcore, which I am not.  What more can you ask for?

At the least, it’s gotten me back in the gym.  And it’s actually fun (yet strangely miserable).  Should I be doing more?  Varying the exercises?  Pounding out squats and deadlifts, grunting all the while?  Probably.  But for now, it’s all this lazy runner can muster.



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  1. That mountain athlete website sounds interesting. I’m always looking for new strength training routines… I think for me variety is important, at least it helps me not get bored with my strength training routine. I’d much rather run too.

  2. I’ve lifted weights consistently for the past 6 years but have never really enjoyed the typical gym experience. Like you said about hamstrings, I never saw the point in doing 100 bicep curls while isolating each arm. Recently I discovered an MMA gym in my town that is fantastic. I don’t do the fighting (yet) but take part in their conditioning program where the focus is on what they call “functional” movements. We swing sledgehammers, jump on boxes, flip tires – it’s great. There is some CrossFit mixed in also which is very tough but effective.

    I think the movement toward these functional, real-life exercises is going to increase as people look to become better all around athletes and not bodybuilders. Good luck with your workouts.

    • Hey Billy, thanks for your comment. MMA training sounds like a lot of fun, even if you were to never to get to the fighting. I can imagine you feel pretty awesome after one of their workouts!

  3. Laura says:

    interesting site. i’ve been trying to avoid focusing on muscle groups, but without a gym membership i’ve been floundering. thanks for the link.

  4. Ahh Matt… Have you told you yet this week how much I love your blog? OK if not, I’ll be sure to say more often. 😉 Although I do have to say as a former NPC Figure Competitor, I was a little stung with ‘bodybuilder as athlete is a stretch’ – I’ve never had to work so hard in my life as I did when I was competing. But your hamstring comment totally made me laugh so I forgive you! I’m intrigued and will definitely check out Mountain Athlete! Sounds fun! I’ve been in a Tabata rut these days so maybe I can combine the two!

    Oh oh before I forget! I got VFFs for my bday and I’m loving them… What’s the longest run you’ve done in yours so far? I’m only at 2.5 on the treadmill. I have a marathon in May – wonder if I can work up to being able to wear them that distance by then.
    .-= Shari B.´s last blog ..Chatty Legs =-.

    • Shari, you are too nice. But I appreciate it. 🙂

      Hmm, bodybuilders as athletes… first, when I wrote that, I figured “no way any bodybuilders are reading this blog!” Oops. But I would like to know more about that question. I mean, clearly, you have to be in highly specialized shape to compete in bodybuilding, because you can’t build the muscles that will win without having a lot of strength. But the actual competitions have nothing to do with strength; it’s entirely about looks, right? Interesting question and one I had never thought about before yesterday. “Fit,” yes; “athlete,” I don’t know.

      I will readily admit that a bodybuilder could pound me into the ground. Perhaps I could run away faster though?

      I got up to 8 miles in my Vibrams. I spent a few months doing about 2 4-mile runs per week in them because I was really scared of getting hurt. Then I did some 6,7, 8-milers. Then the snow came. You might be able to get up to marathon distance by May. I’d say just keep a very close watch for any pain; stress fractures seem to be a common one for new near-barefooters. And don’t run on roads much in them at first. For me, that brought on some pain afterward.

  5. Wow…that workout looks intense! I have had a hard time working in weight lifting as well, but I came up with a great plan that works for me. On the days that I get up early to do my swims, I do my workout then lift. I don’t focus on single muscles either. I use the smith machine to do squats and lunges then do pull-downs and rows. That’s the extent to my lifting. Maybe I should be doing more, but with my tri training that’s about all I can manage at this time.

    Good luck with your Curtis P’s… 100 of those would kill me!
    .-= Aimee (I Tri To Be Me)´s last blog ..Humpastry Day – Pita Chips =-.

    • Aimee, it takes a lot to lift after a workout! I used to plan in my head that I would do a quick speed workout or tempo run and then lift, but I soon realized that I was way too drained after the running. I suppose this would be the way to fit more in and really take my fitness to the next level, but if so, I have some work to do.

      Are your swim workouts “hard,” or are they usually of the same intensity as easy/recovery runs. (Any swimming sounds hard to me, of course!)

  6. I have the same problem! I know I love running because it is the only thing that ever gets done! I know I need to incorporate some cross training into it, but all I ever want to do is run!

  7. Hi! Love your blog! Just discovered it when I was researching giving up meat. I was worried that the lack of meat in my diet would render me useless for workouts, but apparently not. I am inspired!

  8. I know how you feel, I’d much rather run than lift most days. I did finally get into the habit of doing some lifting every other day and running a bit less on those days and it seems to relieve some of the monotony of workouts.
    .-= Daniel´s last blog ..T-t-t-tuna! =-.

  9. This was really great information. Although I’m not a real runner, I think this can help me with my martial arts training. The power endurance workout is very interesting as well.

    Rahim Samuel

    • Hi Rahim. For a while I said I wasn’t a real runner too, because I looked at it as a means to stay in shape rather than a hobby and something I enjoyed. No shame in not being a real runner, but realize that all it takes is a mindset shift, not any kind of achievement or ability level.

      It sounds like a lot of the MMA training uses the same principles of practical, functional lifts. I realize that studying a pure single martial art might be different from MMA, of course.

  10. Dude I am awful with strength training too! I’d rather run really long with my time and not spend it with weights and wahthaveyou. BUT I’m with you–it’s so beneficial it’s important to find a way to incorporate it. Funny timing, because I’m on this mission myself at the moment too.
    .-= Mel @ She Runs Brooklyn´s last blog ..She Plays Guitar Take 2 =-.

  11. So, add 55% of your weight to the 45 or so lbs of a barbell, correct?
    .-= ultrarunnergirl´s last blog ..Inside the Mind of an Ultra Runner =-.

    • Ultrarunnergirl, no, that would be too much! Include the 45 in your 55% calculation. And if you haven’t done them before, you might try even less at first. When I am getting back into it, I do as low as 30%.

  12. Fishback Boy says:

    I’ve been looking for interesting ways to add some cross training to my week for my first Ultra this summer and I think this is kick ass. After years of trying traditional gym work that quickly becomes boring I think this may be the spark I need. And the bonus is that it’s kinda “weird” some I’m in. My neighbors will see me out in the field flipping an old tractor tire or running with a hay bale on my back and shake their collective heads. Thanks for sharing Matt.

  13. So I haven’t done any strength training in a VERY long time. Should I start off at the 30% that you do when you start getting back into it? For me that would roughly be 40lbs but I’m worried about injuring myself, specifically with the push press.

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