A FEW MONTHS AGO, we reported on British fitness adventurer Ross Edgley’s 2884km, 157-day swim around the British Isles. It was a stupendous feat of endurance made possible by a body custom-built for the task.
Astounding as it was, though, the feat was very much on-brand for Edgley, a man who’s previously completed a marathon towing a Mini and rope-climbed the height of Everest. So, what’s the secret of Edgley’s mindbending achievements? The answer lies in his attitude to his body. Is Edgley a strongman? A swimmer? A climber? The answer is none – and all – of the above. The fact is he’s a contortionist, a human Swiss-Army knife. Throw him a challenge and he’ll build a body designed to knock it off. In the process, he’s earned the label: fittest man alive. It’s a label he resists but given the scale and breadth of his achievements, one that’s hard to dispute. A phrase he’s more comfortable with: your body is an instrument, not an ornament.
Applying this resolutely utilitarian lens to physical conditioning inevitably means building all-round fitness, prioritising not strength or stamina but both. The reason Edgley included strength training in preparation for his Kingdom-encompassing, jellyfishbaiting odyssey wasn’t because he was worried about becoming an emaciated rake after enduring 12 hours a day in freezing cold waters but because he believed he needed the extra “seal bulk” to successfully complete the challenge.
“I believe that muscle mass during (non-load bearing) endurance work is an advantage,” Edgley says. “Muscle allowed me to store more glycogen. Leaner athletes reach for gels when I’m still feeding off last night’s pizza.”
You’d be forgiven for assuming a man who ticks off colossal feats of endeavour the way mere mortals collect Insta likes would be a unique physical specimen. Edgley is typically self-effacing. “I’m built like a hobbit,” he laughs. “I’m like five eight (173cm) so when people go, ‘You’re a beast’, I’m like, ‘Not really’. I’m just good at eating and sleeping. That’s all I do.”
So, how do you build endurance alongside brawn? Edgley offers a little science. “If you train strength and stamina in the same session, you dilute the stimuli, and, in turn, your ability to adapt,” he says. Instead, be specific with concurrent training: do a squat rack strength workout, recover, then spend an hour on the bike the next day, Edgley recommends.
The upshot of Edgley’s fitness philosophy is that the key to unlocking your best body rests not in aimless sets and reps in the gym or mindless pounding of the pavement. To hit your fitness peak, select a suitably lofty but very specific goal, like an Ironman or ultra-marathon, for example. Then train hard, incorporating a mix of strength and stamina work. Afterwards? That’s the hard part: be as humble in your achievement as Edgley is.
The June issue of Men's Health is on sale Monday May 6th.