The perfect cardio compliment to hardcore weight training

Steve Justa is the sustained strength Grand Maestro and a Man amongst men. He lives on a farm in Nebraska and is a muscled-up 280-pounds. His feats of strength-endurance are legend. Steve has shouldered a 540-pound 15-foot steel railroad tie and then walked with it for 30 feet. He has power cleaned a 315-pound 25-gallon barrel and then walked with it for 1/8thof a mile. Justa carried a 220-pound rock for a mile in less than an hour. He walked 20 feet carrying a 700-pound barbell on his back, squat style and repeated the “stroll” 49 more times in a row. He (purposefully) walked 25 steps through ankle-deep mud with 800-pounds on his back. By any definition he is a strength eccentric, a savant genius, a man who saw a need before others did.

In his quest for maximum sustained strength, Justa made a 100-pound chain-mail vest and for thirty straight days he wore it to work and kept it on, all day long, usually working ten-hour shifts in a grain silo; his job was shoveling heavy scoops of grain in 110-degree heat with zero circulation. All this while wearing the 100-pound chain-mail vest. How can you not love this degree of fanaticism and innovation?  Justa started his sustained-strength journey as a classical, all-American powerlifter. He went to a powerlifting seminar put on by a multi-time world powerlifting champion and watched the monster man bench press 550-pounds for 5 reps, without a bench shirt. Steve’s satori happened in the aftermath.

“This guy benches 550 for 5 – and then it takes him 20-minutes to get his breathing back to normal so that he is able to talk! I thought, this is notthe type of strength I want.” Thus, began Justa’s one man march into sustained strength immortality. His book, Rock, Iron, Steel, The Book of Strength, was, and is, incredible. Those that know me know that I am stingy with compliments and stingy with superlatives, yet I unreservedly lavish praise on Steve’s book and his fabulous flat writing style that expresses perfectly his well-thought out strategies and ideas.

All hardcore lifters need to attain cardiovascular fitness. As surely as the external muscles need be stressed and worked via progressive resistance, so too the internal organs need be stressed and worked via aerobic training. The interior plumbing needs to be exercised and stressed and cardio is the mode – but what type and kind? The question then becomes, how can the hardcore weight trainer, needing cardio exercise, replicate the Justa approach towards cardio - yet moderated due to our lack of access to railroad ties and giant rocks? How best can we replicate the sustained strength/strength endurance principles that Justa champions?

What are the hallmarks and characteristics of Justa’s unique and prophetic approach? His central theme is to inject extreme exertion into a cardio format. We can replicate this in any number of ways, to wit…an MMA fighter might replicate Justa Principles by shouldering a 100-pound heavy bag and running up a hill; the boxer might shadow box while holding hand weights; the football player repeatedly pushes a weighted training sled in summer practice, the CrossFit runner runs for miles wearing a weighted vest; the rugby player pushes his guts out on repeated scrums; the wrestler grapples a non-stop series of fresh opponents. There are numerous ways to exert maximally, under great stress, for protracted periods.

Perhaps the simplest way in which to inject a 100% muscular effort into a cardio format is to use your legs and sprint. Running hard, sprinting,is the simplest form of sustained-strength/strength-endurance.  Run as fast as you can, go for as far as you can, go as hard as you can, go until you tie up and involuntarily slow down. Now recover and repeat. All out, nothing held back, learn how to run really hard - but without breaking the body. Injury hovers around every sprinting session.

Most all of us have long since forgotten how to sprint – if we ever knew how to begin with. Sprinting is a part of our primordial heritage. For hundred of thousands of years, primal man’s life depended on the ability to sprint towards, or away from, danger. Sprint to attack game, sprint to fight enemies, sprint to escape danger, sprinting is part of our genetic DNA.

Sprinting is an ideal cardio compliment for a hardcore weight trainer. The hardcore weight trainer understands the sprint mentality. The lifter wrestles with the heaviest possible poundage for low-rep, short duration sets.  Hardcore lifting is a series of all out efforts done for short bursts. The sprinter generates all-out efforts for short bursts. Sprinting and hardcore resistance training use the same approach and go together like bacon and eggs.

The quickest way to trigger the mythical ‘runner’s high’ is to perform a series, a sequence of 100%, all-out sprint efforts, interspersed with minimal rest periods. A series of 100% sprint exertions will trigger the same type and kind of hormonal floodtide triggered by hardcore lifting. Repeated sprinting causes dopamine, norepinephrine, endorphins, anandamide, serotonin and adrenaline to flood into the bloodstream.

The hormonal tidal wave is immensely beneficial and only triggered in response to herculean physical effort, nothing less will suffice. Most normal fitness types never train hard enough to experience this hormonal floodtide. Hormones create a post-workout afterglow; narcotic-like endorphins create an after-training bliss state that the elite athlete comes to crave.

How do we run all out without flying apart? Very carefully. The “three-speed” sprint technique will keep you safe. To sprint without injury requires care and attention. There are certain strategies used when sprinting that minimize the chances of injury…

  • Three-speeds: every sprint, regardless the distance, is broken into thirds…
  • Avoid jack-rabbit starts, most sprint injuries occur going too fast too soon
  • For the first 1/3rdof the sprint accelerate from nothing to 50%
  • For the middle 1/3rd of the sprint accelerate from 50% to 80%
  • For the final 1/3rdof the sprint accelerate from 80% to 100% of capacity
  • Hold 100% until oxygen debt shuts down the effort
  • Recover and repeat

You are not running against an opponent so avoid full-tilt take-offs. This is when tears and pulls usually occur. The “three-gear” sprint strategy allows the non-runner to ramp up gradually yet still work all out without compromise. The idea is to ease our way into all out. If any pain or discomfort appears, immediately abort the sprint. Do NOT run through pain. Running through pain is when the serious injuries occur. Live to sprint another day.

The sprint protocol is simple: select a duration, select a locale, use the three-speed sprint technique for whatever sprint distance you choose. Sprint, work to 100%, hold as long as possible, decelerate, recover, sprint again, repeat for the duration of the session. This is tough, exhilarating work and the sprint protocol is in the best tradition of Justa’s intensity credo.

The indisputable aerobic results, the improved stamina and endurance, the improved organ function and spiked metabolism…now add to that resurrecting the lost primal ability to run hard, to sprint all out and not blow apart - it all combines to create a powerful argument as to why revisiting hard running for short distances is one hell-of-a-good idea.

About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He’s coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat and Ed Coan when he posted his earth shattering 2,464 total. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth” and numerous others.