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The Key to Faster Running Revisited

November 10, 2009 07:42 AM

Several years ago, my colleague Ken Jakalski and I decided that Dutch trainer Henk Kraayenhof's mantra: "Do as little as needed, not as much as possible" was a perfect fit for our minimalist workout philosophy. However, many of our colleagues in the strength and speed training world have responded to our minimalism with disdain. They cite the need for more explosive lifts, increased core work and an endless variety of "SAID" (Specific Adaptation to Implied Demand) exercises for raising event performance. In the midst of the battle, it's nice to receive some positive feedback from the "home front," so I was very pleased a couple of years ago when I received the following letter from Dave Pike, a student the Air Force Academy (he was already a pilot), who decided to an independent research study on deadlifting and distance running for his statistics class:


The data-gathering phase of the research project I told you about has concluded. After the 4-week study I am now ready to organize and process the data and begin some statistical tests. Some very interesting results to report. I hypothesized I would see dramatic strength gains in my experimental group and was not disappointed.

I wasn't sure of the effect on 3 mile run times however.

One individual increased his deadlift 1 RM from 245 to 335 in the 4 week trial period. Lifting was conducted only 3 times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday following your protocol. (Now the study is complete we plan on lifting 4-5 times a week to see the difference) The same individual also improved his 3 mile run time by 3 minutes and 40 seconds with only doing biking for cardio training on the off lifting days--Tuesday and Thursday.

Another individual decreased his run time by 2 minutes and 53 seconds with no cardio training at all during the 4 week period. He only did the weight workouts. He increased his 1RM in the deadlift from 275 to 335 during the same time frame.

I included myself in the project and likewise saw similar results. Of note for me was an increase from 350 lbs 1RM in the dead lift to 405lbs over the 4 week period (I had already been following your program since May with my initial 1 RM of 275lbs.) I likewise did not do any distance training but biked 2-3 times a week for cardio. My biking improvements are another story...I'm also convinced the DL has dramatically improved my biking performance! The last distance running I did for time was a 1.5 mile Air force fit test in which I ran 9:47 back in early May. Since then I have only biked for cardio. I decided to really push the limit and see how my improved strength would help me in distance running. 2 days ago I completed a half marathon with a time of 1 hour 46 minutes 52 seconds. Not bad for no running training whatsoever. I am very sore in the quads and hips but still was able to do 2 reps at 365 lbs today...probably could have gotten 3 but decided not to risk it.

None of us in the experimental group have gained any muscle mass. In fact we have all lost weight ranging from a couple pounds to 7 pounds in my case.

What I found interesting is that the control group's data for improving 3 mile times showed a similar improvement in 3 mile run times as expected from just conducting running training, however, it appears that the experimental group was able to achieve the same result without any distance training!

One of the runners in the control group is currently training for a marathon in September and now that the study is over he is convinced by the results of our experimental group and is changing his whole training program to work with those of us wanting to continue with your program. It will be interesting to see how the increased strength will help him. Regardless of how my data comes out statistically and all the limitations I have due to small sample size, researcher bias etc. I think I have replicated the results you have seen for several years now with your elite athletes with a group of Air Force officers in their mid-thirties.

The excitement for those who took part in my little experiment group is fun to see. All want to continue to push the strength gains and are looking forward to running faster with less impact stress on the body! Our focus is now going to center on improving our fit test scores for the 1.5 mile distance so we will be looking at shorter-distance speed improvement using your methods. This whole study has been a lot of fun. I am most happy to report no injuries sustained whatsoever! I have to admit that was a major concern for me considering the age of the group, the fact several had never dead lifted before and the amount of weight we would be lifting.


Dave Pike

Certainly Dave's research was not far reaching in establishing the efficacy of our training protocol and he is quick to point out the sample size is not very large. However, it does show that heavy lifting can improve distance running without running at all! Dave decided to continue on with the protocol by using it to prepare for a more recent round of fitness testing.
Here Dave reveals the results of his continuing use of the bearpowered training protocol combined with Pavel's Naked Warrior:

Just wanted to pass on to you some interesting results…as you know I've been following your program and doing the ASR speed training for a while now. Today I took the cadet Physical Fitness test here at the Academy. The test consists of pull-ups, standing long jump, sit-ups, push-ups and a 600yd run in that order. In each section you are allotted 2 minutes to do as many as possible then you move directly to the next section. To score a "max" on the test you have to do 21 pull-ups followed by 2 tries at a standing long jump over 8'8" then do 95 sit-ups, 72 push-ups then a 600yd run under 1:35. I had made a deal with the cadets in my squadron that if anyone met or beat my score or improved by over 100 points from their previous best score that I would have them over for a big party at the house. I had not done any training outside your lifting and ASR protocols specifically designed for this test...So I didn't know what to expect other than I am stronger than ever in my life with a virtual max in the dead lift now over 460lbs-I weigh 173 at 7.3% body fat. All I can say is that I am amazed at my results on the PFT today:

Pull-ups: to (reach the test-BR) max = 21. I stopped at 25-could have probably gotten 30-I initially was doing weighted pull-ups using your methods but quit about 3 months prior.
Standing Long Jump: To (reach the test-BR) max is 8'8"-with no previous practice my first jump was 9'2"
Sit-ups: max = 95…I stopped at 96 and was still cranking…The only ab work I do is Abs 45, Obliques 45 and what I call combos or alternating between the two.
Push-ups: max = 72…I stopped at 73 and was still going-think I could have hit 100…once again the only thing I do is the bench press and have gotten to where I can do 5, 1-arm, 1-leg push-ups each arm from Pavel's Naked Warrior-I also do weighted Pistols with 30lbs on top of the dead lifts several times a week
600yd run-here's where I amazed myself and everyone else. I ran a 1:25 which is so far the fastest of anyone who has taken the test…including the cadets many of whom are in great shape.

I could not believe how strong and powerful I felt as "the bear" never really jumped on. I did have to back down a bit as I strained my right hamstring during a flying sprint last Friday (I was 1/100th off my target time so decided to do another…bad move)…anyway, despite a cranky hamstring I still was able to bring it…I'm thinking I could have hit 1:20 had I been completely healthy.

The whole athletic department staff are the ones who administer the test to the cadets: All the head coaches, assistants and PE instructors…they couldn't believe my performance. I told them it was all from dead lifts. I think my performance maybe turned enough heads to at least get some of them to read your book. I bought 2 more copies of your book and e-book "Underground Secrets to Faster Running" for my squadron as I've been training some cadets who have also seen some great improvements and I lent one to the strength coach for track and field to read. He said he'd give it a read so I'm encouraged. Even if I can't convince him or the jumps coach to train the vaulters I work with more in line with your protocol, at least I'll be able to really help my normal, average cadets who need it the most.

Anyway…just wanted to tell you I've continued to be amazed at the results…I trained one of our female pole vaulters this summer using your methods and she ended up taking .13 off her first flying 10 and over 4 seconds off her 300m trial times. She is now working out with the team and is miserable with the "old school" traditional training methods they have her doing…In her case it is now a "curse" having the knowledge she does and not being able to train how she wants…I feel really bad for her.

God Bless,
Dave Pike

Dave mentioned that his Deadlift "virtual max" exceeded over 460 lbs.
In my book, "Underground Secrets to Faster Running" I describe how our strength training protocol utilizes the concept of "virtual max" to build each workout. The term "virtual" is derived from using the old and simple "reps" chart that almost all lifters are familiar with:

1 rep=100% of max (1RM)
2 reps=95% of 1RM
3-4 reps= 90% of 1RM
5-7 reps=85% of 1RM (We never exceed 5 reps at the 85%)
Using this system allows us to guarantee that the athlete will be able lift a new max!

Here's how it works for a lifter with a current 1rm of 300lbs: 90% of the 1 rep max (from above) is 270lb (300 x .90). The lifter should be able to complete 3-4 reps at this amount. However, we can test "virtual" max by having them do a set of 5 reps at 270lbs. If they succeed in making all 5 reps, then 270 lbs represents 85% (rather than 90%) of 1RM. Simple math tells us that our athlete now has a "virtual" max of 317 lbs (270/.85). The virtual max would be rounded to 320 lbs.

We use the term "virtual" because the athlete has not actually lifted the amount yet. Can the athlete actually lift this amount? We can't be 100% sure but we can test again—here's how: 95% of 300 lbs=285 lbs. The lifter completes 3 reps (90% level) at 285 lbs. The math gives us 285/.90=316 which we round up again to 320 lbs and acts as a validation of a potential new max.

We now have 3 ways to go:
  • Have the athlete virtually test the next level (2 reps at 300 lbs)
  • Have the athlete lift 320 lbs
  • Have the athlete virtually test the 320 lbs at the 85% level
Generally, we retest at 85% level of the current virtual max of 320 lbs and proceed as above. We do this so that if we try for an actual new max it will be somewhere near the 320 lb level so we can be confident that the lift will be successful. This method has worked so well for us that we rarely attempt a new actual max!

At this point you might be asking what does this have to do with minimalism in training. What should be noted is that Dave's workout is based on the deadlift, bench, pistols and 2 core exercises: AB 45 and OB 45. We've now rolled up the 2 core exercises into one simple exercise called (and quite rightly so!) Torture Twists (you can see them in the "Resources" section on my website, bringing the number of exercises to 3. In fact the maximum number of weight room exercises we use for every sport is 3: Deadlift, bench or pushups, and plyometrics. For speed work we use our ASRspeed program exclusively. ASRspeed is based on a patented algorithm that uses only 2 parameters to predict a final time (or distance covered over a specific time) for any runner and with >97% accuracy. You can learn more about ASRspeed at


You bet, but more importantly, it allows us to "do as little as needed, not as much as possible"

Our training protocol has changed dramatically since posting my article, "The Holy Grail in Speed Training" on Dragon Door. We have dropped more exercises without sacrificing performance, but the basis of the that article has not changed: mass-specific force is still the Holy Grail of faster running!

Barry Ross has been coaching for more than 25 years, initially a track and field throwing events and general strength training coach. His focus in the last 10 years is on increasing the strength and speed (power!) of athletes in a variety of sports including football, baseball, volleyball, basketball, tennis, rugby, cross country and track. Coach Ross has had a solid percentage of his athletes receive NCAA Division 1 and 2 scholarships in a variety of sports (including volleyball, football, soccer, and track) at UCLA, San Jose State, U.C. Berkley, University of Southern California, UNLV, Washington, and the Naval Academy. Among his most well known athletes are Jessica Cosby, winner of Pac 10 titles in the shot put and hammer, as well as a NCAA Division 1 title in the shot put and Allyson Felix who, as a 17 year old high school student in 2003, broke all of Marion Jones high school records in the 200 meters and went on to run the fastest 200 meters in the world that year. Ms. Felix also became the first track and field athlete to go directly from high school into professional track. His strength training methods are used by high schools and college athletes as well as professional baseball, tennis and rugby players. Barry has written a book, Underground Secrets To Faster Running, describing his training methods as well as the science behind them. He can be reached at