Ryan Corridor: From the nation's quickest marathon runner to an absolute powerhouse

Ryan Hall is one of the nation's greatest endurance athletes and holds the record for the fastest marathon (2:04:58) and half marathon (59:43) by an American. He retired in 2016 in his mid-30s, but at an age when most men are doubling down on their cardio, Hall decided to build muscle.

"So many professional athletes lose their purpose when they retire," says Hall. "I loved the challenge of running, but I went as far as I could. My body didn't have it anymore. I always wanted to challenge myself, so I wondered how much muscle mass could I build? how strong could i get It was a crazy science experiment.”

In recent years, Hall has dedicated himself to bulking, going from a 130-pound lean marathon jogger to 190-pound dense muscle. The transformation is remarkable, not only because Hall has gained more than 50 pounds of muscle, but because he has successfully transformed his fitness and physique at an age when most of us are just trying to hold on to the gains they're in have done in their youth. Hall will soon be 40 and has morphed into a functional fitness powerhouse capable of insane feats of strength most of us never dared dream of.

Courtesy of Ten Thousand

In October, he split a cord of wood before running to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where he filled two giant jars with water (62 pounds) and was carried back to the rim by peasants -- gaining 5,000 feet in elevation in the process. Hall says splitting the wood took longer than he thought (a string of wood fills two 8-foot bed pickups), but it was transporting the farmer up the Grand Canyon that proved the most difficult.

"I remember looking up from below at the edge and wondering what I was getting myself into," says Hall. "The longest I could walk without putting them down was about 45 seconds. It was like doing intervals, carrying them as far as I could, breathing super heavy and tasting copper in my mouth. It went on like that for five hours.”

Man carries water jars up the Grand CanyonCourtesy of Ten Thousand

Carrying 124 pounds of water up the Grand Canyon is a dramatic showdown, but most days Hall does the work alone in his garage and backyard. He didn't work with a strength coach at all during the process. Instead, he read Arnold Schwarzenegger's Bible of Body Building and consumed as much information as possible about powerlifting. His home gym is still a work in progress (he just added a leg press) but consists mostly of a power rack and some barbells. Hall never misses a day at the gym, dedicating just an hour each day to exercising, rotating through different muscle groups, because he doesn't want his fitness obsession to interfere with his family time and thriving coaching business.

"When I started, my goal was to bench press, squat, and deadlift 300 pounds," says Hall. “At the time, lifting 300 pounds felt insane. But now I bench press 330, squat 480 and deadlift 530.”

Those are impressive hallmarks of weightlifting, but more importantly for Hall, he's feeling better now than he did at the end of his running career.

"I was in a bad position when I retired," says Hall. “I was weak, small and had low testosterone levels. I was tired all the time. You need to train as hard as your body can handle as a pro marathon runner, but your body can only endure that kind of exertion for so long. I've been a zombie all day. For me, strength training was a way to give something back to my body—to get my energy and my life back. It has been good for me mentally and physically.”

There are also many scientific studies that support Hall's claims. According to the Mayo Clinic, muscle deteriorates with age and is replaced by fat at an amazing rate. Most of us lose 10 percent of our muscle mass per decade after our 30s. Strength training in old age can help maintain muscle mass, strengthen bones, and manage chronic age-related conditions like arthritis, back pain, and heart disease. Studies also show that strength training can help elevate mood and increase testosterone levels in men, especially as they age.

Man carrying blue jugs of water to the Grand CanyonCourtesy of Ten Thousand

"We need to redefine what we think is old," says Hall. "I've been talking this through to myself recently. I'm turning 40. How can I make this more positive? We age, yes, but we also evolve. We're not supposed to stay the same. We have to change our view of what is feasible.”

Still experimenting to see what's possible with his own body, Hall develops a series of feats as jaw-dropping as his chopping wood and carrying water in the Grand Canyon. His goal is to deadlift 500 pounds and then run a sub-5-minute mile. And for his 40th birthday, he's hoping to complete a 500-pound egg yolk carry - where the weight is distributed on a pole in four different places - for 5,000. Hall expects it to take five hours and be more intense than his Grand Canyon Farmer's Carry.

"I'm currently training at 525 pounds on the yolk. It's so intense," says Hall. "I carry it 10 or 20 meters and I feel like my eyeballs will explode. I love stuff like that. I like feeling the pain of the marathon. The pain of carrying water jars up the Grand Canyon. It makes me feel alive.”

Carrying water jars up stone stepsCourtesy of Ten Thousand

Ryan Hall shares 5 rules to get stronger

1. Nutrition is everything

Diet is the most important part of strength training. Getting enough food is also the hardest part of building muscle. I eat to the point every three hours. Lots of calories and lots of protein. It's crazy. I can do the exact same workout, but if I don't eat enough I lose strength. As I increase my calorie intake, I see progress and feel better.

2. Don't be afraid to soften up

The build-up phase is an important part of building muscle. You have to eat a lot and gain weight. Most guys are afraid of going soft. They freak out when they can't see their abs. You have to let that go. I look so round and bloated during my bulking periods, but that's only part of the process.

3. Set the bar low

Don't aim for a 500-pound deadlift in two weeks. And don't force yourself to lift for hours. Consistency, not punishing yourself, is the key to success. It's crazy what you can achieve in such a short amount of time. I was training for the Grand Canyon Farmer's Carry in just 20 minutes a day. That's it. Set the exercise bar low so you can hold onto it.

4. Make it fun

Pick two or three exercises that you enjoy doing and do them for 20 minutes a day. For me, it's heavy handles and jumping rope. I can take turns killing myself for 20 minutes while having fun.

5. Incorporate cardio into your strength training routine

You probably don't have time to run or bike and lift weights at the gym. So reduce the rest time between sets to just 45 seconds. It will keep your heart rate high and keep your heart in decent shape. I can run a 5 minute mile without training if I follow this plan.

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