Switching to Endurance

By Danny Vega

I wanted to share my thoughts on switching from strictly powerlifting to competing in endurance events. This last year has been full of big changes for me, and one of them has been to move away from being strictly a powerlifter. I still love watching meets and impressed by those who dedicate their time to the single purpose of increasing their total and doing it the right way (proper nutrition and rest, knowing when to push the envelope and deloading, etc.), but since March, I have been venturing off and trying other things. In my case, it started with a meniscus tear that caused me to rethink things. I pulled out of one of my favorite meets that I used to do every year, teamed up with Brian and Tucker to create the principles of powerbuilding that will be in our upcoming eBook (late spring 2017), and even was a guinea pig for the program over three months. After that, I switched to the ketogenic way of eating (low carb, moderate protein, high fat) and was so impressed by how I felt and how my inflammation went down that I began training for the 666 challenge (squat 600, deadlift 600 and run a 6 min mile in the same day) but unfortunately after I got into the 500’s on squat, the knee pain came back, so I had to table the whole plan. So for the last 3 months I have dedicated myself to running and lifting. I just ran a 5k and I am currently training for my first half marathon 3 months from now. Here are my observations on why someone would switch and what to expect.


Getting out of your comfort zone

I am constantly self-examining. I think about what habits I am building, what my goals are and if my behaviors are in line with those goals, what kind of husband/father/neighbor I am being, etc. So I am keenly aware of who I am and what I need to work on. One thing I have realized lately is that doing things out of my comfort zone has been a goal in and of itself in my lifetime. I have played college football, ran track, done capoeira, boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, muay thai, etc. Each time it has been fun to learn about the sport or art, and follow a plan to master it. There is something awesome about trying something completely new, sucking, and then eventually not sucking at it. If you are like me and have spent most of your life doing anaerobic, intense activities, doing something like distance running or a triathlon is completely out of your comfort zone. If you want to challenge yourself in a whole new way, this may just be it.

Beginner Gains

Once you do something for a long period of time, you start hitting a point of diminishing returns, and even the smallest improvements start to become few and far between. That can be frustrating and cause you to really become creative, try new things and reach for new depths to get that extra tenth of a second or 5 lb PR. One thing I have noticed with my running is that I am experiencing beginner gains like I used to in my first years of lifting, and it feels awesome. It’s motivating to feel my runs getting easier and my times getting faster, sometimes on a weekly basis. It has made training more fun than before and has motivated me to keep going and see how much better I can get. So if you miss that feeling, there is another great reason to switch to endurance.


Health vs Performance

Brian and others on our team have said it many times before; once you get past a certain level in most sports, it becomes less about overall fitness and health, and more about being as good as you can be. Often times, this may be detrimental to your health, and then the goal becomes minimizing the damage as much as possible while trying to push the limits of performance. I won’t claim that endurance events (especially distance running) are the BEST thing for your health, as there is obvious damage to your joints and there could even be cardiovascular damage and oxidative stress. We were not designed to run 100 mile marathons, just like we were not designed to squat 800+ pounds. That being said, I do love the feeling of being able to pick up and run for extended periods of time without feeling like I am going to die any second. My blood work is better, and I feel much better than I have in the past. I have also lost some extra fat during this process, so I look better as well. If you want to improve your health and feel better, that may be another reason to make the switch.

What to expect

Personally, I have realized the limitations of my knowledge when it comes to endurance training. I have been passionate about lifting, strength and anaerobic sports for 2 decades. In grad school, most of my interest was on how to get better at those endeavors, so I always skimmed over the aerobic stuff. That was boring to me. I learned just enough to pass the class or move to other things that were more interesting. One of the biggest mistakes to look out for is trying to do too much too soon. Find a good coach and/or do your research. I have relied on Tony Cowden for my programming, and he recommended I read the Jack Daniels Running Formula, which has been an awesome resource. I highly recommend it. After I stopped training for the 666, I decided I would experiment on my own for a few months and apply what I have learned. I realized that I have a lot to learn yet. If you do decide to do this, realize that it takes time. You cannot just increase your mileage every week and expect your body to adapt to it. Sometimes you may have to stay at the same distances for a few weeks to allow your body to acclimate.


One of the best pieces of advice I can offer came from the Jack Daniels book. Instead of trying to do the most mileage your body can handle, try to get the most out of the least mileage. Skip workouts or lower the intensity when needed. Rest is also a crucial part of training. This is literally a marathon, not a sprint. Find ways to gauge your progress. There are long easy runs, marathon pace runs, threshold runs, intervals, and sprints. These all have their place and each type should not be done too much. The more intense workouts should be fewer and farther between. There is the principle of diminishing returns and accelerating setbacks. Basically, there comes a point where training harder not only produces less gains, it may increase the risk of injury. So just like lifting, staying in the moderate training zone most of the time will produce the best results. You will have to learn about things like proper breathing, running form and economy, stride frequency, etc. Just like proper form in lifting, these are all crucial aspects. You wouldn’t just walk into a gym and lift haphazardly without learning about form and proper training; the same applies to distance. If you are interested in making the switch, even for a short period of time, I hope these thoughts help get you started on the right path.

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Danny Vega

Danny Vega is a 220lb raw powerlifter with meet bests of 640 squat in wraps (610 raw), 400 bench, and 700 deadlift. A native of Miami, Florida, Vega received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University in 2004, where he was a member of the football team and a three-time Dean’s List recipient. Vega earned his masters of science in human performance from the University of Florida, where he worked with the national championship men’s basketball team along with women’s basketball, tennis, and golf programs. He then went on to become the Strength & Conditioning coordinator for VCU basketball. The Rams were 2007 conference champions and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
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