In my previous two articles, I discussed the challenges of finding and maintaining balance between strength and body mass in the military. I had trained with a complete disregard for the latter and was issued a wake-up call when the Army physical fitness test and the body fat tape test standard came knocking.

However, I am happy to say that I have been successful in my endeavor to work my way back into compliance with the Army’s standard for body fat testing and its cardiovascular fitness test (a two-mile run for time). This in and of itself is nothing impressive as there are thousands of soldiers who maintain this standard daily. In fact, and as I have stated before, I used to despise individuals who were unable to meet this standard. However, that's beside the point...the purpose of this article is to describe the method I used to get there, the surprises and setbacks I faced along the way, and the strength gains I made while doing so. That’s right, I actually gained strength while running more and losing body fat—this being something that has been deemed almost impossible without a perfect diet and excellent training.

I will pick up more or less where the previous article left off.  I had changed my diet slightly, dropped some assistance work, and took up more distance training runs. This was working well—minutes fell off my run and I was making some good losses in the waist area. Yet, much like your average guy in the gym, I hit a plateau and injured myself while trying to train through it. This made me realize that I knew very little about 3,000-meter training, diet, and running injury recovery. I had stuck to the “old school” Army way of just "run further, longer and your two-mile time will take care of itself."

Little did I know that this was not a recipe for success at a body weight of 250 pounds, and after two months of this type of training I had sustained mild tears in both calf muscles and was working on a pair of very uncomfortable shin splints. I had shaved my run time down from 20:15 to 18:05, but it was still not the 17:40 I needed to pass, and my body fat percentage was slightly below where it needed to be depending on who was taking the measurements. (Anyone with any experience with the Army’s method of determining body fat percentage knows just how subjective the test can be; however, that is not the subject of this article).

I was pretty discouraged at this point, not to mention worried about keeping my job. With the Army downsizing, being fat and slow is not great for career security. So, much like my stumble into some of the correct methods of powerlifting, I dug in and started to research the actual training methods that 3,000-meter runners use. To my surprise, their programming closely mirrored modern day powerlifting and olympic lifting methods in the sense that massive amounts of volume are not often used. Instead, intensity (Max Effort) and speed (Dynamic Effort) is at the core of most of their training. This raised my eyebrows—the Army’s new PRT program emphasizes this, but it is scoffed at by any soldier who has served more than a few days.

However, I immediately began to implement 400- to 1,200-meter sprint/run repeats at varying intensities, interval sprints, and the occasional longer run into my training. I was still suffering from lower leg injuries, but the drastic drop in volume helped to remedy this immensely. I also started using a combination of Jacks Hot Pink liniment and a pair of calf compression sleeves to further combat my injury—and with great success. For the first time in years I was enjoying running again; I was setting personal records for each distance and was breaking them. Using these methods, I broke through my plateau...and I continue to get faster. On my last for-record run I hit 16:05 at a body weight of 242 pounds. While it's not blazing fast, it's much better than 20:15 at 250 pounds.

The next piece of the puzzle was my eating habits. I had always prided myself on eating fairly clean, other than the occasional pizza and beer splurge. Yet, in order to continue my career in the Army, something obviously needed to change. There is an obscene amount of nutritional information available on the Internet—so much so that it is overwhelming. So, how do you sort through all of it? It is similar to comparing religions: it all focuses on one central thing (food), but what is the “one right way” to eat it? Thankfully, I found a short article by Rob Shaul, the founder of Mountain/Military Athlete, which was a no-shit assessment of what he has found to be successful in his athletes. It basically amounted to the fact that if you need to lose some fat, then you need to eat protein, vegetables, very little cheese and fruit, and minimize your sugar intake.

Sounds like a no brainer, right? Well, that was until I realized all of the small traces of sugar I consumed throughout the day: bread, milk, beer, large quantities of fruit. So meat and veggies it was. However, the problem with this was that after a number of deployments, even looking at a can of tuna made my stomach turn, and a guy can only eat so many chicken breasts before he starts to cluck and peck through the grass looking for feed. My answer ? I bought an electric smoker—apartment friendly and I could prepare beef, pork, or turkey that would keep all week. This has been a lifesaver. I honestly have no idea how I would have managed without it. With these minor changes, I have been able to chase a few more inches off my waist without gagging down pounds of tuna and frozen chicken breast.

Finally, after much running and protein-filled meals, it came time for the true test. Had I sacrificed strength while losing body weight and increased running? My mind was conditioned to accept the fact that this was probably the case. Although, I was not 100 percent convinced of this during my training sessions. Granted, I had not been breaking PRs every week like I had been during my food free-for-all, and I had experienced a larger number of “off” training days, but I still felt strong. So, I found a meet close by and sent in my check. By meet day I was feeling pretty solid (I had experienced a pectoral strain a month prior, but that turned out to be a non-issue), and I made the 242-pound weight class easily, something I had failed to do previously.

However, after missing my opening squat attempt, I was worried. Yet, I recovered on my next attempt and went on to set a meet PR of 445 pounds. The bench went much the same way with my best attempt being 330 pounds, another meet PR. Then came the deadlift, the true test of strength—no depth to hit or pause to worry about. Had I actually gotten stronger at lighter body weight with increased running? I pulled an all-time PR of 550 pounds, breaking my previous record by 20 pounds.

Throughout this process I learned as much about myself as I did about training. Overcoming obstacles is not normally an easy task. If it was, we would all be at a mere five percent body fat and and be lifting at an elite level. I am very fortunate to have a supportive wife, friends, and chain of command. I truly hope that there are others out there who can learn from my experiences.

If you care to follow my training you can at: #.