Strength and Heroism

There is a story in the news about a man and dog who rescued two young girls who fell through the ice into the Saskatchewan river in Edmonton. Adam Shaw was in a nearby park with his family and dog Rocky when he heard the girls scream. He and Rocky ran down to the edge of the river through deep snow, where he rescued the first girl who was clinging to the edge of the ice. They then ran down the edge of the river chasing the other girl who was quickly being pulled away by the current, who Rocky was able to jump in and rescue.

Adam Shaw and Rocky

Adam Shaw and Rocky

There are many stories about people performing heroic physical feats to save others:

Almost every year there are stories of people lifting cars to save people. In 2011 college football player Danous Estenor lifted a car off a man trapped underneath in Tampa and a group of people in Utah lifted a burning car off a man trapped under it after it struck his motorcycle.

The pro wrestler Chris Masters once uprooted a tree and threw it through the window of his mother’s house to save her from a fire started by a neighbor.

In 2009 Shelly Johnston, a 115 pound female college athlete, carried her 160 pound boyfriend down a hill it took them forty five minutes to climb after he fell about 120 feet from a waterfall and sustained severe head injuries.

In 2006 a woman fought off a polar bear long enough for hunters to arrive and save her son and two other children.

I love stories like these because they show people at their best; heroic, compassionate, and strong. However, I can’t help but wonder how many stories with similar beginnings ended tragically because an otherwise heroic person lacked the necessary strength or stamina. Whatever the number, it is far too high.

What if the Edmonton man didn’t have the stamina to run through the snow quickly enough to reach the first girl before she also slipped into the river? What if the various people who have saved people by lifting cars off of them lacked the strength?

Sometimes when I’m out I watch people and wonder if there were some disaster or emergency whether any of them would be able to help themselves, much less others. Sadly, the answer is usually no; most people are weak, slow, and frail compared to what they can and should be. While proper strength training will not turn everyone into Superman, most people would be amazed at the strength, stamina, and toughness their body is capable of if they are willing to put in the time and effort.

I think most people are good and will do what they can to help others in a bad situation, but what most people can do physically isn’t much. Wanting to help is not enough – you must also be able.

While most of you reading this already work out regularly, all of you know people who don’t. You never know if you or someone you know – a relative, friend, classmate, coworker, etc. – will find themselves in a situation where lives might depend on them.

Offer to take them to the gym with you and teach them how to work out. Buy or offer to help them pick out some home equipment and teach them how to use it if they don’t want to join a gym. In addition to the health, fitness and appearance benefits to them, every person you help start exercising is another person more capable of helping others and someday might even save a life.

Proper exercise is one of the most important things a person can do to improve their quality of life and human well-being in general. Help spread the word:

High Intensity Training Basics

Effective exercise is simple. You must work your major muscle groups hard enough to send a message to your body that it needs to increase their strength and improve the supporting factors (cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning, bone and connective tissue strength, flexibility, etc.) then provide your body proper nutrition and rest and enough time between workouts to do so.

While proper exercise is hard work, very little of it is required to be effective. One set of one exercise for each of the major muscle groups is all it takes. While individual response to exercise varies, most people will get good results training only once or twice weekly. In most cases more does not produce better results and in some cases less exercise works better.

Examples of basic, full-body workouts covering all the major muscle groups using different equipment:


  1. Leg Press
  2. Pull Down
  3. Chest Press
  4. Compound Row
  5. Overhead Press
  6. Trunk Extension

Free Weights (Barbells and/or Dumbbells)

  1. Squat
  2. Pullover
  3. Bench Press
  4. Bent Over Row
  5. Seated Press
  6. Stiff-Legged Deadlift

Bodyweight Only

  1. Squat
  2. Chin Up
  3. Push Up
  4. Inverted Row
  5. Shoulder Press Up or Handstand Push Up (static, half, or full depending on ability)
  6. Hip Raise

Optionally, additional exercises can be performed at the end of the workout to more directly work smaller muscle groups like the neck and calves, or the abdominal muscles (although those are worked in almost all other exercises).

A variety of repetition methods and cadences can be effective. For simplicity, safety, and efficiency I recommend taking four seconds to lift and lower the weight over a conservative range of motion (avoid extreme stretches).

  • Move slowly and focus on intensely contracting the muscles you are working during each exercise.
  • On compound pushing movements reverse direction immediately but smoothly at full extension without pausing to avoid unloading the target muscles. Reverse direction or “turnaround” about ten to fifteen degrees short of full extension on lower body pushing movements like squats and leg presses.
  • On compound pulling and simple (rotary) movements pause and hold the weight at the top for a few seconds before reversing direction, unless there is little resistance in this position (for example, free weight pullovers and stiff-legged deadlifts). Starting with the third rep, “squeeze” the target muscles during this hold.
  • As soon as you complete a repetition begin the next without stopping to rest or setting down the weight.
  • Breathe continuously. Do not hold your breath.
  • Do not have anything in your mouth during exercise, like gum.
  • Keep your head and neck still, looking straight forward with your chin slightly down.

A variety of repetition ranges can be effective. I recommend a moderate range of  six to ten repetitions on compound pushing movements and five to eight on pulling movements (taking into account the additional time spent holding at the end point) which allows for loads heavy enough to be challenging without compromising form or safety for most people. When you can perform the upper number in strict form (only count good repetitions) increase the weight slightly the next time you perform the exercise.

For bodyweight exercises attempt to increase the difficulty as you become stronger by deliberately contracting the antagonistic muscles during each exercise, for example contracting your upper back muscles, rear deltoids and biceps during push ups to make them harder for your chest, anterior deltoids, and triceps.

Move slowly during exercises, but quickly between them to maximize the cardiovascular and metabolic benefits of the workout. Attempt to gradually reduce the time you rest between exercises until you are able to move from one to the next in only a few seconds. When done with a high level of effort these workouts effectively improve cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning more safely and efficiently than traditional endurance activities.

Keep accurate records of your workouts and attempt to gradually increase the amount of weight you use on each exercise, while maintaining strict form (how you do each exercise is far more important than how many repetitions you perform or how much weight you use).

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34 Responses to Strength and Heroism

  1. Carl Hudon April 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Spot on Drew
    I am reminded of this every time the elevators in my workplace go down for maintenance – even for what appear to be young healthy people have a difficult time climbing the 2 or 3 flights of stairs – never mind those who are obese – who do 1/2 a floor at at time and spend 3 minutes on every landing to catch their breath – the kicker is they are holding their lunch which often consists of large portions of fried foods.
    I can only hope if there will enough of them (by sheer numbers) around when I’m trapped under a car that they can help me !!

    • Drew Baye April 3, 2013 at 2:01 pm #


      If they can’t get up a flight of stairs without having to stop to catch their breath I’m afraid you’ll be out of luck if you have to rely on them to do anything physical during an emergency.

      Maybe next time the elevator goes down you can make photocopies of the URL to this article and tape them up in the stairwells.

  2. Ondrej April 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Which of those exercises fall under “squeeze+lower rep range” category?
    Bench Row
    Lateral Raise
    Wrist flex/ext.
    Calf Raise
    Triceps Extension
    Bicep Curl

    • Drew Baye April 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm #


      You should hold motionless for a few seconds at the top of all of these, and on all of them except the lateral raise you should also squeeze starting on the third rep.

      • Ondrej April 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

        Thanks, I hesitated to incorporate that before as I wasn’t sure to what movements exactly it applies and did all movements in 6-10 range. Does this mean all those mentioned should be done in 5-8 range?

        • Drew Baye April 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm #


          Yes. While a broad range of repetitions or time can be effective I like keeping the sets between 40 and 80 seconds as a starting point because provides a good balance of various important factors (load, inroad and metabolic demand, safety, etc.). On simple and compound pulling exercises I use a lower rep range to account for the longer repetition duration. Six to ten reps at 4/4 is about 48 to 80 seconds. With the squeeze this many reps would take 66 to 110 seconds, but reducing it to five to eight reps brings it down to 55 to 88.

  3. Thomas April 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    “and on all of them except the lateral raise you should also squeeze starting on the third rep.”


    Sorry if you have written about this or explained it before, but why start the squeeze on the third rep instead of right from the start?

  4. Andy April 3, 2013 at 6:41 pm #


    “On compound pushing movements reverse direction immediately but smoothly at full extension without pausing to avoid unloading the target muscles. Reverse direction or “turnaround” about ten to fifteen degrees short of full extension on lower body pushing movements like squats and leg presses.”
    Is there a difference concerning the range of motion between compound pushing exercises for upper body respectively lower body?

    • Drew Baye April 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm #


      I recommend turning around earlier on lower body pushing movements to avoid risking knee hyperextension.

      • Andy April 4, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

        Does that mean you recommend to go to
        the point of full extension during chest press
        and shoulder press movements?

        Thank you very much,

        • Drew Baye April 4, 2013 at 9:02 pm #


          Yes, but with most equipment you should turn around immediately at that point, with no pause or squeeze.

          • Andy April 5, 2013 at 3:14 am #

            Do you see an advantage concerning the growth stimulus
            for chest, shoulders and triceps in fully extending the
            arms compared to ending chest press, shoulder press
            and dips 10-15 degrees before full extension?

            • Drew Baye April 8, 2013 at 9:28 am #


              No, but there is no reason to avoid full extension on these either as there is less risk of hyperextending the elbow than the knees with most people.

  5. Greg Roseman April 3, 2013 at 9:04 pm #


    about thee months ago, I was at the dog park with my two dogs (Bernese moutain dog and german shepard). I saw my dogs playing with a 90 lb golden retriever. They took off through the woods and I heard this horrible yelp and screaching. Ran into the woods and the Golden Retriever had broken its leg and was in agony. I picked the dog up found the owner and ran 300 yards with the dog in my arms to the owners car. I truly gassed me but I was able to get the dog to the car and to the vet. Not truly heroic but not bad for a 54 year old man. Great article.



    • Drew Baye April 4, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

      Thanks Greg,

      It is good you were there. Sadly most people couldn’t carry a 90 pound dog that far, much less run with it.

  6. Brian Liebler April 5, 2013 at 4:45 am #

    In your explanition of bodyweight squats, you have a pause of 5 seconds in the lower position. Do feel the same pause should be in the lower position of the leg press?

    • Drew Baye April 8, 2013 at 9:33 am #


      No. It is not necessary to pause that long when leg pressing. When you return to the start point of a leg press you should allow the pinned weight to very briefly touch the remainder of the stack without setting it down or unloading even slightly, then immediately but slowly begin the next rep.

  7. james spella April 5, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    years ago, i had a conversation about this subject with my friend dave. dave was a smoker, and over time became quite obese. dave was the only guy i knew who took a cigarette break on a “health walk” as he used to call them. daves reply was something to the effect, i go to work and am able to do my job. dave died several years ago. he fell, and suffered a heart attack in the attempt to get up.

    • Drew Baye April 7, 2013 at 1:18 pm #


      You’re in pretty bad shape when the effort of just getting off the floor induces a fatal heart attack. It’s unfortunate so many people let themselves go so badly.

  8. enlite April 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    I understand the point your making here Drew but i think you may be underestimating people in general. Most healthy human beings are reasonably strong and would be able to do what’s necessary even without strength training. We’ve all heard stories about little grandmother’s who lift cars off of their trapped husbands for instance. However i still agree with your point that people should be strength training. Stronger people would obviously be better equipped to deal with dire situations.

    • Drew Baye April 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm #


      Stories of “hysterical strength” are the exception not the norm, and most people are in relatively poor shape and definitely not what I would consider reasonably strong. I’ve trained a large enough number of people over the past twenty years to have a pretty good idea of the difference in the average person’s strength with and without training, and people who do not strength train are nowhere near as strong as they could be with it. This is especially true for older people.

  9. Pete Collins April 6, 2013 at 12:56 am #

    Great perspective Drew, humans survived as groups in the past by bringing together people with different skills & strengths for a collective benefit, I am sure having a population of physically strong males and females helped the tribe survive in times of hunting, fighting and survival. Sadly this balance is lacking in modern society with the survival of many dependent of a very few strong.

    Doug McGuff sums it up perfectly in UE Bulletin 1, stating “In an accident one would rather a strength trained individual came across the scene to rescue, rather than a marathon runner”


  10. Øyvind April 7, 2013 at 8:27 am #


    great article! I am a tall skinny bastard, and what you teach really got my eyes up for what resistance training should be about, amongst all the fraudulent “miracle solutions” for gaining muscle and getting fit. I am looking forward to the elemnts of form book, but until then i have a small question on form: in some of your later articles you have recommended the stiff legged deadlift as a free weight option, and on the internett i see a lot of controversy as to wether it should be performed with a straight or a rounded back, mainly leaving me confused. What do you think?



    • Drew Baye April 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm #


      The low back should be kept relatively straight during stiff-legged deadlifts but you’re not going to injure yourself if you flex or extend slightly towards the start and end points as long as turnaround smoothly, without any bouncing or jerking.

  11. Drew Baye April 7, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Recently a lot of people have been posting off-topic questions in the comments. If you want to discuss training or nutrition related issues on topics other than the subject of the article please join the HIT Forum. If you have a lot of questions or need help with your workout or diet I am also available for consultations.

  12. Steven Turner April 8, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    Whilst a lot of people strength train what I see in most large fitness chains are people wandering (prancing) around in between sets, looking in the mirrors, their minds appear to be thousands of miles away and then go back to the next set and blast out a few reps avoiding maximal moment arm – spending hours in the gym. No doubt the strength gained from this type of training would help in an emergency situation.

    The differences between the above type of training and high intensity type training is completely different. I feel when I train HIT I am training my body for an emergency situations. I am tapping into my emergency levels of strength inroading the targeted muscles to MMF. I feel that high intensity training is true training for emergency situations.

    At the same time I am achieving all the goals that most people go to the gym for and never achieve. With only 1-2 sessions per week of approximately 1-2 hours including going to the gym and going home.

  13. John Stuart April 12, 2013 at 1:45 pm #


    I can’t agree with you anymore on this.

    I have known two people nearly dying to obesity. One who fell over, but my brother – who exercises and is strong from exercise – caught him, saving his life. The other nearly died due to heart failure, but was rushed to hospital in time and was treated successfully.

    Modern day technology, peace and isolation from danger in society has lead humanity to be lazy and appallingly unfit. A lot of the time I think it is not their fault though. A lot of people don’t exercise because they don’t think they need to in their everyday life. And that’s understandable. Unfortunately, they are delusional to the fact that it is still possible for something to go wrong. It is still possible to fall over, and it is still possible to find yourself in a position where you have to lift something heavy, such as a person who has fallen out of a window or off of a bridge. But in my opinion, most of all, it is possible to be attacked by someone. Are you fast enough to run away from someone who is trying to mug you with a pocket knife? Are you strong enough to save someone who is being chased by someone? You might be. But do you think a lot of other people out there are? This is why I try to encourage people to not only exercise to become fitter and stronger, but also learn self-defence to defend yourself and at least basic fighting skills to defend a loved one of yours.

    If everyone in the whole planet suddenlly fell off of something, then was holding onto a ledge with no possible support and 5 miles above the ground below them, it scares me to think how many billions of people would die on that day. How many would even be able to catch onto the ledge in the first place?

    • Drew Baye April 16, 2013 at 9:45 am #


      Good points. Unfortunately a lot of people do have their heads up their asses and believe nothing bad will happen to them until it’s too late to do anything about it.

      Learning self-defense is also extremely important, but there is just as much bad information out there on self-defense as there is about exercise so people should do their homework and be skeptical about most of what they see, hear, and read. I recommend Marc MacYoung’s No Nonsense Self Defense for those interested in reading about the subject.

  14. blain April 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    What a great time for this article. I read an article pertaining to the boston marathon bombings where runners, after finishing a 26 mile marathon continued to run another 2 miles to the nearest hospital in order to donate blood for those that were injured. Not the type of thing most others in the general population could or would be able to do.

    • Drew Baye April 19, 2013 at 9:55 am #


      I would strongly discourage people from running marathons or engaging in any kind of ultra-endurance training if they value their long term health and functional ability.

      A proper exercise program can improve your general endurance to a significant degree without wrecking your joints while also improving all other general, trainable factors of functional ability and improving your ability to handle a greater variety of physical challenges.

    • Vanner April 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      Hey blain,

      I’d agree that it’s pretty noble that after running a marathon, those folks decided to continue to the hospital and donate blood. I’m assuming they had no other means to get there faster during the chaos of such a horrible event.

      • Drew Baye April 22, 2013 at 8:29 am #


        It makes sense if they had no other means to get there. I’m not denigrating anyone’s attempts to help, just clarifying that high volume endurance training is unhealthy.

  15. blain April 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    I agree 100%. I was simply providing an example pertaining to your article. In no way was this to promote endurance training of any kind. Sorry, i guess i should have clarified that.

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