Project Crack – Pushing, pulling, pain and progress.

Posted: August 15, 2011 in Our Philosophy

For the last month I’ve been working on a top-secret project. Deep within the hostile bowels of my hidden laboratory (The Arc gym in Glasgow) I have been subjecting a previously unconditioned specimen (Crack) to high levels of stress by way of exercise.

The purpose of this experiment was to prove my hypothesis that subjecting an unconditioned human being to the physical stresses of exercise would improve every facet of that individuals physical nature, in both a direct (lifting barbell = get better at lifting barbell) and indirect (lifting barbell = get better at sprinting) fashions.

Crack is an overweight male in his early 20s, who decided that he wanted to lose weight and get fitter/stronger. He just so happened to have a massive set of balls and a confident approach – something to keep in mind.


On day one we tested the following with the following results:

Resting heart rate – 125bpm (no word of a lie, there was admitted anxiety re: testing)   (blood pressure testing was not possible due to equipment failures)
LOWER BODY STRENGTH/ENDURANCE : Leg press – 175kg for 8 reps
UPPER BODY ENDURANCE: Press ups – 7 in 1 minute
SPRINT ABILITY – Indoor Hockey Field in 5.72s
SIT + REACH – 8cm from wall

The leg press was our only option in testing leg strength as a squat would require more focus on technique, therefore gains would be more in line with adapting to a movement pattern and not “pure” strength gain. The machine did not go any higher than 175kg, which meant our real strength test became more endurance based and in fact landed right in between recommended rep ranges for each.

The main observation with the press-up testing was that the core musculature gave in before the arms/chest.

Sprint ability was decided by two factors – our subject played hockey in his early teens and it was the longest length, as defined by markers, the hall could provide for us.

Sit + Reach was determined without the appropriate equipment. As such, we relied on how far the distance was between the tip of the subject’s middle finger and the wall his bare feet were pressed up against.


The exercises were performed with the standard CommonStrength (common sense) philosophy in mind – pushing and pulling with the upper body (horizontally and vertically) and Quad + Hamstring based  leg movements. Rotation would normally be a part of this ideal – in this case, it was removed purely out of simplicity (which was part of the plan). I’m not suggesting rotational work isn’t simple or essential, personally I think it is both of those things, but when your first time gym goer puts on this shorts, he’s thinking “bench press” not “pallof press”.

Exercises were carried out in the 10-15 rep range. This is because the idea was to teach proper technique in learning the new movements (just as Ross and I did prior to commencing 5×5’s) and as such, more “practice” was performed because more reps were carried out – simple, right? 5 sets were performed with 90s rest in the first week, decreasing by 10s every week.  Upper body pushing/pulling was performed in super sets for time’s sake.

Lower body exercises were performed with additional core work – 15s plank, 15s side plank and 15s side plank (other) with a 15s dorsal raise. Each week, this increased by 3 seconds.

Work was carried out on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, alternating each of the following work outs with every visit (A,B,A,B,A,B, etc)

Workout A

Bench press and upright rows. (5×15)
Leg press. (15×5 w/core work)

Workout B

Pull-downs and Overhead press. (5×15)

Straight legged Deadlift. (5×10 w/core work)

Both workouts were followed by 30 minutes of steady state cardio ~140bpm.


“How much did he bench press?”
“What % is that of his bodyweight?”
“Was he standing or sitting for his overhead press?”

Who gives a shit?

In each consecutive session the workload increased – reps/sets remained the same, but recovery decreased and the weights increased. Every single session was aimed at failure on the last rep of the last set – this was achieved.

What point am I trying to make by being vague? Read on.


After 4 weeks of this, a week was spent doing a hybrid workout, where all of these exercises were combined into one circuit. This happened because I felt Crack would be getting bored and I was unable to re-test immediately. We re-tested that Friday of week 5.

Before I go on to discuss results, it should be noted that the testing second time around was all performed on the same day, except for sprints due to hall availability…read for yourself see what you think re: improved recovery – testing all of these on day 1 was not possible due to Crack’s unconditioned state.



Resting heart rate – 76bpm
LOWER BODY STRENGTH/ENDURANCE : Leg press – 175kg for 25 reps (OH YEAH)
UPPER BODY ENDURANCE: Press ups – 20 in 1 minute (YO MAMA)
SPRINT ABILITY – Indoor Hockey Field in 4.82s
SIT + REACH – 1cm from wall.

Discussion (Brief):

RHR = massive decrease which shows what? Well, hopefully a better cardiovascular system, but this result is clouded by that day 1 anxiety. That said, it does show that though the gym is a daunting experience to first force yourself into, it gets easier! Worried about what other people will think when they see you? If they’re new, they feel the same as you, if they’re not, they’ve been there and they don’t care. Don’t let gawkers hold you back, it’s entirely likely they’ve just zoned out on a treadmill and happen to be looking in your direction.

Leg press – Going from 8 to 25 reps is a fantastic gain – one which Crack himself was really confident about. He did in fact (in only 5 weeks) more than triple his output in this exercise. I think it’s quite clear this shows that performing a leg press against increasing resistance for a 5 week period does in fact make an individual better at leg pressing!

Press-ups – This huge gain is a prime example of indirect benefits via exercise. We did ZERO press ups over the 5 weeks, yet made a huge gain. Put together the added upper body pushing ability, core endurance and weight loss and it’s no surprise that gains were made.

Sprinting ability – Again, we did ZERO sprints during this time. Therefore, I put this down to increased leg and core strength with weight loss.

Vertical leap – As stated for Sprinting ability – no vertical leaps were performed.

Sit and Reach – An inch gain made here. The only real mobility work here was the straight leg Deadlifts. Nonetheless, it is impressive that flexibility was gained in the cold state (prior to warm-up). To be honest, I feel this goes again Chad Waterbury’s notes on core strength improving flexibility in the limbs via neurological dis inhibition as it’s quite clear core strength was vastly improved.

All together, the work out provided seems to have improved Crack’s cardiovascular health, strength, endurance, explosive power, sprinting ability and flexibility. Cool, eh?


What does all of the above tell us? I believe it provides (on the smallest scale possible) evidence of the following:

– Carrying out basic movements against resistance will improve your physical body in every way you can imagine.
– Stronger legs/Core/Weight loss = Better Sprinting
– Large gains in flexibility can only be made via flexibility/mobility work (i.e. it requires a large amount of specificity for gain, even at this early stage)
–  New gym goers will respond to just about any kind of stress!

I was deliberately vague so as to highlight simplicity and somewhat mirror the approach of a first time gym goer, who quite simply just wants to get fitter and stronger. My point is that getting into the gym is half the battle and that doing simple exercises and making them harder every time they get easy is a sure-fire way to make your body a more able vessel for your life. Running to catch a bus will be easier, as will tying your shoe laces, walking to work, picking up heavy boxes and, above all, looking at yourself in the mirror – Crack lost several chins during this 5 week time period. We would have measured weight loss, but Crack decided it would be a distraction and that he’d rather watch the weight fall off in the mirror.

Final conclusion: Exercise is awesome, everyone should do it – it makes everything you do better. I haven’t even touched on benefits in concentration, memory and mood.

Until next time…

Go train!

(I’m not trying to force this forward as some kind of super in depth research paper – I’m just making a point!)


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