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“Since [Ryan Hall] announced his retirement from professional running this winter, the fastest American-born marathoner has packed on almost 40 pounds. ‘People were commenting that they couldn’t even recognize me,’ he told Runner’s World. ‘I needed to show people that yes, I look different, but it’s not like I just got fat. I didn’t just start eating the house and stop working out,’ he added. …Six days per week he takes to his makeshift gym in the garage to build a body he spent the past 20 years trying to whittle down to be as light and lean as possible. As a result, he’s gone from 127 pounds last summer to 165 pounds today. And he couldn’t be happier about it.” Runnersworld.com (May 3, 2016)

Top Marathoner Turns to Bodybuilding

It’s news when a world-class marathoner switches to bodybuilding. Going from one extreme to another. From a slow-twitch emphasis to fast twitch. Unprecedented for an elite marathoner to put on 40 pounds of mostly muscle practically overnight. Like mixing oil and water and coming up with roses.

What motivated Ryan Hall to make the change? How did he go about it? What's to be learned from the change?

Two things brought about the change, one psychological and the other physical.

Ryan hit a brick-wall. Running 12 miles a day—for 4 years—had produced no progress. “After four years of chasing improvement in running and not seeing results, the rapid advances in weightlifting have been a morale-booster,” he told Runner’s World. “Chronically low testosterone and extreme fatigue would no longer allow him to train at the level necessary to compete,” the magazine added.

Ryan Hall on the way to placing 3rd in the 2009 Boston Marathon.
Photo by George Roberts - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6587966

Progress drives motivation. Without progress, motivation soon evaporates. See “The Key to Success” http://www.cbass.com/Sisyphus.htm and our book Lean For Life: Stay Motivated—and Lean—Forever http://www.cbass.com/PROD03.HTM  

That Ryan continued to train at that level for four years without seeing progress is a tribute to his commitment. Chronically low testosterone and extreme fatigue move beyond psychology into physiology. The two together would’ve caught up with a lesser man much sooner.

That Ryan Hall transferred his zeal for training from marathoning to bodybuilding is remarkable. Unfortunately, it may bring more frustration.

The Overtraining Syndrome

Continuous exercise without adequate rest has both mental and physical consequences. Motivation dries up when you’re tired all the time. One reason is suppression of testosterone, which can lead to chronic fatigue. It’s called exercise-hypogonadal male condition. While not fully understood, it’s sometimes seen in long time marathoners.

The Livestrong website says that the effect of distance running on testosterone is positive—within limits:

How long you run in a session affects testosterone levels. A study by the University of Melbourne in Australia, published in the September 1996 issue of the “British Journal of Sports Medicine,” found that running at short durations of less than two hours increased testosterone levels. After two hours, circulation of testosterone was suppressed. A 2000 study by the University of British Columbia, published in the August 2000 issue of the “British Journal of Sports Medicine,” supports these findings, noting a decrease when mileage exceeds 40 miles a week.

Ryan Hall went well over the line for years on end—and paid the price. Unfortunately, he may be repeating the overreach.

Marathoner’s Mindset in the Weight Room

“Most days he spends up to two hours working out,” Runner’s World tells readers. “He focuses two days each on arms, legs, and back and chest.”

On Monday and Thursday he trains back and chest. Tuesday and Friday it's arms. Wednesday and Saturday legs. Sounds familiar, but the rest may be crossing the line once again. Marathon think?

Ryan does 36 sets for chest and back, 53 sets for legs—and 92 sets for arms. "Rather than stopping when I get to a given number of reps, I just go to failure on every exercise, every set," Ryan told Runner’s World

He also does 10 or 15 minutes of various ab exercises and runs 12 miles a week.

Volume training works for many bodybuilder; Bill Pearl and Arnold Schwarzenegger, recognized by most as the best of their time, are examples. But Ryan’s workouts turn volume training into endurance lifting.

If he keeps this up, he’s likely to slip back into catabolic mode.

Ryan Hall is using his world class endurance to prolong his weight workouts, when he would very likely be better served by training less.

Marathon lifting exhausts recovery capacity just getting back to the starting line. Far better to overload muscle fibers—and rest. Allow time and energy for growth. In the words of legendary track & field coach Bill Bowerman: Stress. Recover. Improve. Or in the immortal words of Arthur Jones—when the nail is home stop hammering.

Things to Consider

Ryan (and his followers) might find the following articles (and book) helpful.

One Set or Many Sets? http://www.cbass.com/ONESET.HTM

Forget Heavy, Think Effort http://www.cbass.com/Carpinelli.htm

Training Frequency: Twice a Week, Four, Six? http://www.cbass.com/TrainingFrequency.htm

The No-Nonsense Way to Build Strength http://www.cbass.com/CarpinelliNoNonsense.htm

My first book RIPPED, published in 1980, tells how I lost muscle with a six-days-a-week split routine and up to 20 sets per body part. I gained muscle and won the “Most Muscular Man” award at the Past 40 Mr. U.S.A. contest by cutting back to four-days-a-week and four sets per body part. My leg press increased from 15 reps with 450 to 15 with 650. http://www.cbass.com/PROD01.HTM

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You’ll find more details and photos of Ryan Hall in The Runner’s World article: https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=How+Ryan+Hall+Gained+40+pounds+of+Muscle

July 1, 2016

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