If you're looking for an effective way to challenge your metabolic conditioning, or you're just wanting a new posterior chain movement, the death march is hard to beat.

Mental Focus Under Extreme Stress

One thing that goes beyond strength and good motor patterns is the ability keep your mental focus while you're under extreme stress. The death march is the grand champion of the miserable feeling that makes you want to give up, lay down, and die. It's one of the toughest exercises you'll ever do.

It'll take you to that dark place everyone fears. CrossFitters enter that place when they finish Grace or Fran. For a weightlifter it's always the place you go after a tough clean and right before a jerk. The weightlifter may be slightly dizzy and the pressure of the bar on the chest is causing lack of blood flow to the brain. Vision starts to shrink and you can feel as though you'll lose consciousness if you don't get the bar off your chest quickly.

As much as being in this dark place sucks, doing well while you're there is trainable. If extreme stress is new to you, then your ability to fight through it and perform well will be low. But if you go to this place regularly you'll learn to deal with the stress and perform anyway. This is called building mettle. And there's no better way to do it than the death march.

The Death March

  1. Grab either a dumbbell or a kettlebell in each hand.
  2. Start with 16 kg kettlebells. If you're a real fire-breather maybe you could try 32 kg bells to start.
  3. Now start walking while lowering the kettlebells to the ground, touching it with every step. Take medium steps and keep an unbroken stride as much as possible. Don't wait till the next foot-touch occurs before lowering the kettlebell. Keep the gait as even and unbroken as possible.
  4. Go about 40 yards. Try doing these on a 40 yard track or anywhere you can walk in a straight line between 20 to 100 yards. If you pick your dumbbell or kettlebell weight correctly, by the time you get 10 or 15 yards you'll begin to see why the death march can help in any sport or activity that requires you to perform exact movements when fatigued.

Metabolic Hell

Keeping your balance will become an issue, and you might start to weave a little. When this happens, congratulations! You're now feeling just like a weightlifter on his or her third attempt clean and jerk right after a particularly tough clean.

This is actually a glute, ham, and lower back exercise that just happens to push an athlete into metabolic hell. The first time you do the death march you won't have to walk more than 10 steps before you notice that your whole posterior chain is lighting up.

The first time you go for 40 yards you won't be walking normally for a few days. The death march hits both the glutes and the hams differently than exercises like RDLs, stiff-legged deadlifts, and even lunges.

The further you go the harder this will become. Your steps will have to get shorter. I've seen a 19 year old weightlifter do the death march with 120 pound dumbbells for 80 yards without a pause. You probably can't do that yet. And don't try to unless you can afford a couple of days without being able to walk.

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