Why I’d Rather Get Strong Than Run

By Brian Carroll

Writing “running sucks” articles seems like the thing to do in the fitness industry these days. Publish one, and you get a whole shitload of responses from both camps, for and against: The growing anti-running faction that’ll yell, “Yeah! F**k running!” no matter what kind of argument you present, and the pro-running contingent that seems to want simply to be left alone to do what they love.

These anti-running screeds fall into two categories:

1. Scientific mini-dissertations explaining how harmful running is for your long-term health, body composition goals, and even your immune system.

2. Testosterone-fueled “man’s man”-type stuff about how the human body is designed to run solely to flee from predators or pursue prey, and how the physiques of Olympic sprinters are far more pleasing to the eye than those of Olympic marathon runners.

Strong, after all, is the new skinny, right?

F**k that. It’s all been said before, and that’s not what I want to do here. Instead, I want to present a hypothetical choice between two viable alternatives—a choice presented to the novice who’s trying to decide what he or she really wants to do as a main source of exercise, and be, in terms of psychology, self-confidence, and the image being presented to the world.

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The great thing about exercise is that it allows us to define—or redefine—ourselves in whatever way we want. It obviously takes a great deal of work to make major changes, but if you commit yourself, you can do or be whatever the f**k you want to be. In this case, we’re talking about a very simple set of options:

Do you want to be strong, jacked, and huge? Or would you prefer to be thin and streamlined, with endurance out the ass? It’s your choice. The internet can’t make it for you.

Beginnings

I look at this whole skinny vs. jacked debate in terms of what I remember about exercising when I was a kid. Back then, aside from all the sports I played, there were two forms of “training” most of us invariably did:

1. Our first introduction to distance running usually came in gym class, where some masochistic gym teacher made us run laps before were permitted to do anything else.

2. I started lifting weights with two eight-pound water bottles hooked to either side of a broomstick, then graduated to a concrete Weider weight set in my garage.

I hated the running, but I loved the lifting. It’s that simple. Running was something coaches forced me to do. There was nothing fun about it, it didn’t prove anything to me, and I hated every minute of it.

Conversely, I was 100 pounds soaking wet in 9th grade, and that wasn’t going to cut it. I needed my weights, because jogging at night wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to be. I loved lifting, even before I understood how much confidence I was getting from my results.

There were external factors, obviously—one was voluntary, while the other wasn’t—but the simple fact of the matter was that I naturally gravitated toward one and away from the other. I still do, and I’m happy it turned out that way.

I’m Not Here To Bash Running

Unlike most of the articles I’ve seen in this genre, this one will neither make fun of runners nor advise people not to run. If you love running, and it means something to you to beat a certain time at a certain distance, then do it. I can respect that.

I can also respect and appreciate freak athletes, and I know there are plenty of them in the running community. You’ll be hearing a lot in the future from my friend Alex Viada—an ultra-marathoner who maintains a ridiculous endurance training schedule while still staying incredibly strong. That’s what he loves to do, he makes it work, and I’m all for it.

The Douchebag Factor

I know perfectly well that when the uninitiated see a big, jacked, muscular guy walk past, they typically think, “Man, what a f***ing dickhead that guy is.” Spend a weekend on the expo floor at the Arnold Sports Festival or the Olympia, and you’ll see more of this shit then you’ll ever need to in one lifetime.

This is abject narcissism at its absolute finest, but here’s the thing: Douchebags will be douchebags no matter whether they’re juiced up and jacked or obese and sedentary. Lifting weights and putting on muscle tends to wake up douchebag tendencies in people that are already predisposed to go that way, but that’s the extent of it. If you’re not already a prick, lifting weights isn’t going to suddenly turn you into one.

Have you ever seen that kind of swagger—or any kind of swagger, for that matter—from a distance runner or jogger? I’m sure there are plenty of giant egos within that community, just like you’d find anywhere else, but I don’t think it builds confidence of the kind you’d see from a guy with five-foot-wide shoulders and a 3D back. People treat you differently when you look like that—or, even better, they consider treating you a certain way, then decide doing so would be hazardous to their health.

Sure, I’ve seen plenty of narcissistic “fitness personalities” that I know were the dude who used to get kicked into urinals as kids turn into raging delusional egomaniacs, but that’s far from the norm. That narcissism is a reflection of the person himself—or herself—because they were destined to develop that personality eventually.

The Lifestyle

Here’s what I love about being a strength athlete:

I love the feeling of resting the night before a big day in the gym. I love Friday nights before my Saturday squat sessions—chowing down, putting my feet up, watching a movie, then going for a walk and meditating on what I need to get done the next day. There, I focus on my short-term goals for the day—working my weak points, and getting stronger and faster in certain positions—and I think about what’s going to happen when I get under the bar.

I love driving out to the gym on a hot-as-hell August Saturday morning—in the 100 degree Florida heat with 100 percent humidity—then slamming an energy drink, warming up, and finally practicing what I spent the previous night dreaming about.

Once I get to that point, I’m where I want to be, and I’m getting precisely what I want: To prepare for, load, yell at, and lift weights that few people in the world can say they’ve ever touched. For me, this isn’t about developing my physique or getting ready to get on stage. Instead, it’s about looking—and being as strong as—a gorilla who can tear a guy’s arm off and beat him over the head with it.

Dueling Psychologies

Distance running is challenging and even a little bit frightening to me, but those feelings pale in comparison to the idea of getting under a bar that’s not supposed to be lifted, then smashing it for a set of five without any effort. There’s something to be said for pushing the limits of your blood vessels, muscles, and organs, and overcoming it all without backing down—and I find that in the weight room, and not on the road or the track.

Are you a pussy or are you smart? The pussy and bitch in everyone come out when you have more weight on the bar than you’ve ever lifted before—or more weight then you think you’re capable of handling. What do you do at this point? Where do you go mentally?

Do this long enough, and you’ll learn to put your fears and concerns aside and prevail. You don’t let doubt creep in. You get under the bar, get as tight as possible, and understand that the entire thing is a life-or-death situation of sorts. If you get too loose under too much weight, and your knees shoot in, you can get crushed, paralyzed, and even die.

That, however, is when you really start to live. When I get under a loaded bar, I get scared for my life sometimes, but I channel that fear. In other words, I’m not going to miss that mother***er. You’ll have to literally scrape me off the platform before I’ll pass on that lift. This isn’t the best outlook to have with training, but that’s the way I think about things in competition. That’s where I go, and it’s what keeps me coming back.

The Way You See Yourself

If I were a distance runner, I’d strength train, too, but that’s a little beyond the scope of this article. There are some absolutely incredible feats of endurance that happen in every road race, marathon, triathlon, and Ironman event. There’s no denying that. Those feats, however, are limited to the top 1-2 percent in those sports, and they’re accomplished by people whose bodies are genetically designed to do such things.

For the average guy or girl trying to figure things out, “skinny” equates to “average,” and when I was in that position, I didn’t want to be average. I had a choice between being skinny or average-looking—and, granted, being able to run forever, which is undoubtedly an admirable skill—or looking gorilla strong and being able to back it up in the gym.

Unless you’re making serious headway competitively in running—i.e., you’re one of the top people in the sport—you’re just another average-looking runner. You’re just a skinny guy or skinny girl. If this is what floats your boat, and you’re cool with that look, then don’t lift weights, run your ass off, eat like a bird, and be as skinny-fat as you want. I don’t really care.

The “Tough Mudder” Phenomenon

I’ll first issue a disclaimer and say that I love the fact that these things are done to benefit all kinds of great causes and charities, but they’re a recipe for disaster when it comes to your athletic career. From what I’ve seen, these races are filled with weekend warriors blowing out knees, hamstrings, and ankles because they’re out of shape and haven’t trained in any capacity whatsoever. You see this on Facebook all the time—some guy or girl you know doesn’t do any exercise whatsoever will suddenly post photos of themselves crawling through the mud as though they’re suddenly on a Navy SEAL team.

Again, I have nothing against these events—like CrossFit, they’re not inherently bad—but if you’re looking to transform your mental and physical game by doing an obstacle course once every two weeks, you’re going to be “mudding” for a very long time.

Here’s a cool alternative:

If you want to have more fun with these races, try adopting a regular weight training regimen, and get stronger on a consistent basis. That way you’ll raise your heart rate four or five times a week and build a base for what you’re trying to do. These events require some modicum of strength—and the ability to “explode” from time to time—so throw in some interval work and sprinting, too.

Try sprinting for 15 seconds, then walking for a minute, and do this for a month or two. I guarantee you’ll have an easier time at your next Tough Mudder, because you’ll actually be ready for it.

How The Workouts Actually Make You Feel

I know there’s such a thing as the “runner’s high” or “runner’s euphoria,” but I’ve always assumed that it happens because runners feel such a profound sense of relief when their runs mercifully come to an end.

I’m only kidding, by the way. At points in my life, I’ve run 2-5 miles a few times a week, and although I hated every minute of it, I always felt really good afterward, so I get it.

For me, the main concept is that I can take the inner workings of my mind—my goals—into the weight room and smash weights that most people will never see on the bar. That’s bigger for me than simply feeling good for an hour or two after a workout, and it’s more about facing my fears—and meeting and exceeding my goals. That’s something that stays for me for days, and not just hours.

Given a choice between the two, I would always advise people to opt for heavy lifting. If you’re just starting out, you’re overweight, or you’ve hit some rough patches in your life and it’s time to start over, try picking up a barbell and doing some lifting. Whether it’s getting your “swag” back, filling out your dumpy physique, making it past 50, or just becoming physically active after a long layoff, training for strength will never steer you wrong.

And remember, those douchebags with 20-inch arms and tribal tattoos made themselves look that way for a reason:

So we can all see them coming.

Learn how to get the job done here.

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Brian Carroll

Brian is a world-class powerlifter with over two decades of elite and pro-level powerlifting under his belt. Coming back from a devastating back injury in 2012 that broke multiple bones and that most experts said he would never recover from, he has returned to the pinnacle of world-class lifting (while 100% pain and symptom-free) and is now dedicated to helping others avoid the same mistakes that he made in the past through private and group coaching in Jacksonville, FL. Brian’s impressive recovery has given him the opportunity to teach and deliver talks to physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, professional strength & conditioning coaches and experts from all facets of sport, on how to avoid injury, while building anti-fragile strength and resilience in athletes.
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