The following interview is part of our STRONG & FAST training collaboration with Olympic athlete Ryan Hall. Tune in all month long for exclusive training, nutrition, and lifestyle content courtesy of Ryan to help make you unbreakable.
If there was any elite athlete or coach that could prepare a human for anything that life might throw at them, Ryan Hall is top of the list. The 39-year old is a legend in the long-distance running scene. Not only can he go the distance, but he can do it a whole lot quicker than anyone else. In fact, he holds the fastest marathon (2:04:58) and half marathon (59:43) in U.S. history.
In addition to having some serious endurance and speed, Hall knows strength too. After retiring from competitive running in 2016, he gained over 50 pounds of muscle and can currently deadlift more than 500 pounds. Now, the marathoner’s focus is to help others defy what they thought was possible for themselves.
“The journey I'm on — and have been on since I retired from pro running — is how do you go from being skinnier to getting bigger and stronger when that is not your genetic makeup at all?” Hall says. “It's pretty cool to see what your body and everyone's body is capable of, especially when we give it the proper nutrition, proper sleep, and the proper training.”
To train like Ryan Hall, commit to our STRONG & FAST program now. But first, read on for more about what makes him tick.
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How to Eat, Sleep, and Train Like the Nation's Strongest Marathoner
Spartan Race: What would you say was your key to success as a long-distance runner?
Ryan Hall: The power of consistency is insane. When I first started running, my first mile was like 5:32 when I was in seventh grade, and then I got to the point where I can run 26 miles in a row at 4:45 per mile. But that took 15 years of consistency over a long period of time. So it's not this sexy, cool answer that most people want to hear, but it's honestly the most truthful thing I could think to tell anyone who's aspiring to get better at anything across the board, whether it's athletics or another area of life in general.
SR: After you retired from running, what did it take for you to gain so much muscle?
RH: The first word that comes to mind is nutrition. I don't even like talking about training with people without talking about nutrition first, because nutrition is so important. You can be doing everything right in the gym, but if you're in a caloric deficit, it's going to be really, really hard to get stronger. Not to say that it's impossible, but it's very difficult. I've never had the experience where I'm losing weight and getting stronger or in a caloric deficit and getting stronger. So you've got to have that nutrition piece dialed in.
SR: Were there any particular training techniques that worked best for you?
RH: I'm a marathoner, I have marathon genetics. I had been teaching my body to run at relatively slow, lower intensities for a long period of time, like running 15 to 20 miles a day. So, I was fighting a very unique battle as I got into the lifting space. I had to play around a lot in the weight room. For example, some guys swear by 5x5 programs, and they might work wonderfully for them, but I could do 5x5s all of the time and not see growth from that at all.
What I’ve learned is that it’s not enough volume for me. And I not only need high volume, but I need heavy weight for the first half of the workout. So the only way I learned about this was just experimenting with myself and trying out different stuff, and that can be frustrating.
Ryan Hall on His Training, Performance, and Fitness Philosophy
SR: How would you describe your fitness philosophy?
RH: I'd say that it's intuitive, and it changes based on the results that I'm seeing. I move how my body wants to move and if I feel like my body's not ready for something, then I don’t do it. That’s what will keep you injury free, which goes back to the biggest thing in my programming that I was sharing at the beginning: consistency. If you're hurt, you can't be consistent.
SR: What inspires you as both an athlete and coach?
RH: It's pretty cool to see what your body and everyone's body is capable of when we give it the proper nutrition, proper sleep, proper training.
What I really loved about running was seeing improvement and change. I loved to be like, ‘Dude, I wasn’t able to run this fast for a mile or a 5K or a 10K, and now it's like a breeze.’ And I know I'm never going to be pulling 1,100 pounds like Eddie Hall or Thor or those guys, but I get so much satisfaction out of hitting a five-pound PR in the deadlift. It's like, ‘Whew, I wasn’t able to pick this weight up off the ground and now I can.’
On Recovery and Sleep
SR: What’s the key to recovery?
RH: Sleep is equally as important in nutrition. That's when you get better at things. That's when you grow, that's when you improve. I was sleeping a lot as a pro runner, and I’d often describe my job as being a professional sleeper more than a pro runner because it’s just that important. I would block off two hours every afternoon from one to three. I wouldn't schedule any meetings, any calls, nothing. I would just take a nap for like two hours, then sleep another eight to nine hours on top of that.
SR: What are your tips for getting better sleep?
RH: Sleep with earplugs in to eliminate noise, black out your curtains because light disrupts melatonin, stay off your phone for 60 minutes before bed, and keep your room really cold.
Related: 4 Ways to Sleep Deep and Grow Stronger
SR: What else do you do for recovery?
RH: Self massage: NormaTec and ice baths. If you had to ask me what my favorite recovery technique is that's probably not as commonly practiced, I would say it's contrast baths. And you can do these in your house if you have two bathtubs. Make one bathtub 55º Fahrenheit and make the other bathtub 95º with Epson salt. Then go back and forth between cold and hot, cold and hot. You spend three minutes in the cold, three minutes in hot and go back and forth for three or four cycles of that. Make sure you finish in the cold.
On Mental Fitness and Longevity
SR: What have you learned about your body as an athlete over the years?
RH: To partner with — and to be good to — my body. Don’t force things. I wanted to run a world-class mile, but it wasn’t in the cards for me genetically. Once I came to peace with that, I started doing what my body wanted to do. I went longer distances. And that’s when things took off.
SR: How do you find the balance between strength, speed, and endurance?
RH: You can’t do all of those things at the same time. All winter my running is zero, but hitting weights super hard, getting bigger and stronger. Spend the most time working on what you’re weakest at.
If you’re looking to train for strength, speed, and endurance, commit now to our STRONG & FAST program with Ryan Hall.