Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Be Like Mike

by Caleb Krieg | October 04, 2018

Michael McCoig has struggled with his bodyweight for most of his life. For many years, he had a physically demanding job that helped keep his weight from becoming a serious problem. But, eventually, Mike traded in his work boots for a desk chair. And, shortly after that, his wife, Wendy, was diagnosed with leukemia.

Between 2010-2012 lower activity levels and higher stress led to his rapid weight gain. And Mike found himself at almost 330 pounds with a 60+ inch waist. Wanting to be there for Wendy as she battled leukemia, he began a regimen of calorie restriction and cardio, losing about 100 pounds in less than a year. During this time, he dabbled with barbell training and found the book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, which ultimately reshaped the way Mike thought about going to the gym.

Despite his success, when life stress picked back up, going to the gym fell by the wayside, and by 2017, Mike found himself back where he started 5 years ago. One day while working in his yard, a few shovelfuls of dirt had Mike completely spent. Angry, frustrated, and embarrassed, Mike picked up his credit card, ordered a garage full of equipment from Rogue, and bought a ticket to the Starting Strength Seminar.

I started working with Mr. McCoig in September of 2017 through Starting Strength Online Coaching, immediately following his attendance at the Wichita Falls seminar. Mike has made some impressive progress this past year. He knew the solution to his problem was simple, but would require hard work, discipline, and guidance. Mike was a novice with lots of weight to lose and lots of strength to gain. The NLP was the perfect program for him.

When most people need to lose a lot of weight, their first thought is to do a whole bunch of cardio. Just like Mike did. Cardio will reduce the weight on the scale, but it isn’t the most effective approach to healthy weight loss. Hours upon hours of walking, jogging, or exercising in place on cardio machines is inherently catabolic. You are going to burn tissue, which will make you weigh less, but a lot of that tissue is going to be muscle. So, while you might be getting healthier in the short term, you aren’t setting yourself up for long-term success. And, like Mike, the most common result is that you re-gain the weight, often rapidly and with less muscle mass than you had before. This can be a vicious cycle.

Someone like Mike needs a long-term solution to a long-term problem. Strength training not only helps to immediately improve health and body composition, it is a building process, adding muscle that will not only make every pound lost more valuable, but also changing the body in ways that will help lose fat and maintain a healthy body composition in the long run.

We started Mike where we start every novice lifter. Mike’s training was essentially unmodified NLP, despite his physical size and lack of fitness. He started out squatting and deadlifting 3 days per week, and pressed/benched every other workout. Once deadlifting every session was no longer feasible, we added lat pulldowns in the middle of the week to replace one of the deadlift workouts. Chin-ups and power cleans were the only exercises excluded from the program. Importantly, we did not add conditioning to the novice program. Mike was effectively “doing cardio” since he elevated his heart rate for 90-120 minute sessions 3 days a week, only instead of using the elliptical, we used heavy squats, presses, and deadlifts. In this early phase of training, extra cardio would only have made it more difficult for Mike to get stronger, undercutting the most important aspect of the novice program.

The same basic principles of stress, recovery, and adaptation that work for everyone else also worked to help Mike lose weight and get stronger. He had to stop eating fast food and start preparing meals at home. These better quality meals fueled his workouts and helped him recover while also aiding his efforts to get stronger while losing body fat.

When Mike started he had a 180 pound squat, 95 pound press, 185 pound deadlift, and 115 pound bench press all for sets of 5. He weighed 290 and had a 58” waist.

mike training the squat

In 6 months he squatted 345, pressed 135, deadlifted 355, and benched 200 all for sets of 5, weighing 270 with a 50” waist.

Recently Mike has squatted 385, pressed 160, deadlifted 405, and benched 225 (again, for sets of 5). He now weighs 255 with a 47” waist. 


Over the last year Mike had every excuse to quit. Rotational shift work at a nuclear power plant means that sometimes he trains at 4 in the afternoon and sometimes at 1 in the morning. Routine doctor appointments for Wendy’s treatments (now in remission) causes him to travel long distances in the car on a regular basis. Yet he always shows up and does the work. He’s been sick, gotten injured, and had short periods where his eating has fallen off the wagon. Yet he continues to train and get back on track and stays positive even when things aren't going perfectly. 

This is important because there are countless people out there in the same boat who can learn from Mike. Individuals who are over 100 pounds overweight and searching for answers in cardio or fad diets, can get easily discouraged at the first sign of trouble. Others fall into the trap of thinking they need to lose weight before they start strength training. If you’re reading this and you fall into that category, you probably already know those things don’t work. Even some success in weight loss quickly leads to regaining the bodyfat once again. Don’t wait to start strength training until you lose the weight. Start now. It’s going to take a long time and it’s going to feel hard, but it will be worth it. A year from now you will be a totally different person.

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