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How To Be Combat Fit, Interview with Brian Stramel

Brian Stamel After Get Strong Challenge

Dragon Door: Before we talk about your experience with the Get Strong Transformation Challenge, what's your background with exercise, fitness, or sports?

Brian Stramel: In Jr. High, my dad made me join football. I don't know why, I was pretty wimpy back then and I remember crying about it. When I quit, he made me join again and finish. In high school, my best friend wanted to join cross country running, so I went along with it and did cross country skiing and track all through high school. At some point while competing in those individual sports, I just decided to be tougher. While I was still in high school, I enlisted in the Army with an Airborne Ranger contract. So, it was infantry then Ranger training. I was really fit from high school varsity athletics and then from serving in a difficult part of the military.

I've always kept up with my fitness level at least, and I'm still serving in the National Guard, as an infantry officer. While passing the Army PT test is easy, I also want to be in shape for combat, and set a good example for my solders and NCOs.

Dragon Door: That makes a lot of sense! What inspired you to participate in the Get Strong Transformation Challenge?

Brian Stramel: My weight had slowly crept up over the last six months, even though I was still pretty fit. I bought the Get Strong book right when it came out and read it. At the time, I was doing something else, but decided that it would be my next fitness program. My weight had crept up to nearly 200lbs, and when I get to the high 190s, that’s when I know I need to fix it. Making the mental commitment to do something about it happened to coincide with the Get Strong challenge. I managed to squeak in my entry on the final day and knew that this external motivation would help keep me on track.

Dragon Door: After you decided to take the challenge, what was your next step?

Brian Stramel: I decided while I was away from home doing a week of National Guard training. But, once I decided to do it, I started with the phase one test at the gym on the military base. I passed the phase one test and could have probably almost passed the phase two test except for the handstands. Those are tough. I started dialing in my nutrition once I got home—and after the Fourth of July. I wasn't going to start a diet on a holiday!
Brian Stramel Before And After The Get Strong Transformation Challenge

Dragon Door: Smart! What kind of nutritional changes did you make?

Brian Stramel: My wife and I switched to the Paleo diet about a year and a half ago, so my nutrition wasn’t that bad. It was really just alcohol—I love beer, which is the worst for fat loss. But, I love brewing beer and I'm really into it. Going forward, I've got to figure out a maintenance plan where I can still enjoy it on occasion. I can trace all my weight gain just to alcohol calories. While my eating was fine, microbrews are usually between 200-300 calories, so just two of them can equal 600 empty calories!

Dragon Door: That is a lot! Along with the handstands, were there any particular moments where you found a sticking point that provided a learning experience?

Brian Stramel: Phase two surprised me when I didn't just pass it in four weeks. Because I knew that except for the 60 second handstand hold, I had already been really close to passing when I started. I’d figured at the end of four weeks of practicing handstands—and I was practicing the holds for longer than what was written in the book—that I could pass the test. But, I had to repeat weeks three and four twice, and just barely passed in the end. I tried different things like wearing body armor while practicing the handstand holds and other strategies to make it heavier. Now I'm in week one of phase four and have a sticking point with the archer pull-ups. I can't really do one yet, so I'm trying to figure that out.

Right now, I'm taking a two week break from Get Strong to do a small Power to the People style program. It’s just two sets of five reps of handstand pushups and 70lb kettlebell presses. For the pull-ups I'm using uneven pull-ups—step seven in Convict Conditioning—for the first set, and because I can't do two sets of five of those, I'm doing regular pull-ups with a twenty pounds of body armor for the second set. So, while it’s much less volume than Get Strong, I'm hoping to build some raw strength before trying the archer pull-ups again.

Dragon Door: We will want to hear more about how that goes! So, you’re ultimately planning to continue with Get Strong?

Brian Stramel: I'm going to stay with Get Strong until I pass phase four.

Dragon Door: What are some of the biggest things you've gotten from your experience with the Get Strong Transformation Challenge?

Brian Stramel: The consistency of sticking with a single program—I haven’t stayed with one program this long. It was a good balance of challenges and instruction. While I had the progression standards in Convict Conditioning, I really stalled on some of the early steps, and progress was slow and frustrating. Get Strong was a little bit easier, it was still frustrating to get stuck on handstands and now archer pull-ups, but the progression feels better than trying to get three sets of thirty Australian pull-ups!

Dragon Door: Did you gain any new skills during the challenge?

Brian Stramel: Yes, I feel like I have a lot more body control, especially with the archer squats and push-ups. Spending this much time on calisthenics really gave me a good foundation with all my stabilizer muscles. My pistols are really controlled. While I've always been great at regular push-ups since I’ve spent my life in the military, now I have the single arm movements down a lot better. It's really helped.

Dragon Door: As the Grand Prize winner of the Get Strong Transformation Challenge, is there anything you would like to share for others who are considering trying the Get Strong program?

Brian Stramel: I think they're going to have another contest, so I would encourage everyone to enter that! It was so motivating to be part of the Get Strong Facebook group and have something external to keep me motivated to reach the goals. It wasn't about winning a contest, it was about being part of it—and doing the program for me.

Dragon Door: Any advice you have for people just starting out with Get Strong?

Brian Stramel: My advice would be for them to realize that their journey is their own. And, it’s not supposed to literally be a sixteen week program from phase one to phase four. Someone could spend sixteen weeks in phase one, and that would be fine. They’ll still wind up getting way stronger than when they started.

Dragon Door: Any other experiences or insights from the challenge you'd like to share with us?

Brian Stramel: I know how to lose weight, but I think a lot of people don't realize how mental it is. Biologically and physiologically if you do certain things, you'll lose fat. So, I knew that I could lose the fat. I've lost weight in three radically different ways before. Any diet can work, but long-term weight loss depends on a person’s mental space more than the particular nutritional program they follow. So, I would encourage people to figure out the mental aspect of weight loss as opposed to just focusing on what to eat.

Now that I've reached a new body fat low for my adult life, I want to make sure I don’t ever get back up to 198lbs again. My new set point is maybe at 185 at 12% body fat. That’s how I will know it’s time to get back on track as opposed to ever letting my weight get back up to where it was before I started the Get Strong challenge.

Brian Stramel is the Grand Prize Winner of the Get Strong Transformation Challenge. Click here to read his post on the PCC Blog.