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The Brutal '5 Minutes of Hell' Test to Challenge Your Upper Body

Bench Press
Per Bernal

What It Is

A hellacious bench-press challenge—created by Jim Smith, C.P.P.S., owner of Diesel Strength and Conditioning—that tests your upper-body strength and endurance.

How It Works

"The challenge is to bench-press your body weight for as many reps as possible in five minutes," says Smith. "You can set the weight down whenever you need to during the time. My only advice: Keep one or two reps in the tank each time you go for a set, or you'll burn out."

When to Do It

"If you bench-press twice a week, then do this challenge in place of one of your main bench workouts," Smith advises. "If you bench once per week, make it your only session that week. Don't attempt this challenge more often than every four to eight weeks."

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Take the Challenge

Before you attempt this, Smith advises warming up your shoulders with lots of volume and foam-rolling your lats, triceps, back, chest, and delts. Also, perform exercise-specific movements like pushups and empty-bar bench presses. Then load up the bar with the equivalent of your body weight. (Or round off the number accordingly, depending on your body weight. For example: If you're 207 pounds, just bench 205.) Set a timer for five minutes, and accumulate as many reps as possible, resting as needed.

The Bench Progression to Help You Ace the Challenge

Directions: As the reps lessen each week, increase the weight slightly. After three weeks, retest your results.

  • Week 1*: 3 sets of 8
  • Week 2*: 5 sets of 5
  • Week 3*: 8 sets of 3

Week 4 (retest): 5 min. AMRAP

*After your last set, rest 90 seconds. Then drop the weight of the last set by 10% and do AMRAP for a burnout set.

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6 Diet Rules to Follow If You Want to Get Stronger



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CBD Is No Longer Banned From Athletic Competition. Here's What That Means for You.

Water-soluble full spectrum cannabidiol (CBD) oil
Bloomberg Creative Photos / Getty

Athletes are increasingly turning to cannabis—particularly the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD—for everything from pain relief to anxiety reduction. Research is finding evidence of CBD's therapeutic benefits. And while the federal government remains slow to change its views, other regulatory bodies are starting to recognize CBD's potential to benefit recovery.

In September 2017, the World Anti-Doping Agency, a foundation started by the International Olympic Committee to monitor drug use in sports, announced that it was removing CBD from its list of banned substances. While CBD remains banned in the NFL and in American collegiate athletics, the NHL and MLB have lenient policies toward cannabis use, focusing instead on banning performance-enhancing drugs. Even the NBA, which has historically been stringent about its cannabis restrictions, is beginning to rethink its policies.

As an athlete, how do you navigate this convoluted world of cannabis? We're here to help.

What is CBD, and what does it do?

There is evidence that CBD reduces inflammation, muscle soreness, muscle spasms, and pain. It also can help with insomnia, depression, and anxiety. CBD has been shown to have neuroprotective properties, which could help athletes with the neurodegenerative disease CTE. CBD might even even protect athletes' brains from developing CTE, a potentially life-changing development for athletes who play full-contact sports, explains Perry Solomon, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at HelloMD, a startup dedicated to educating people about marijuana.

"CBD is being looked at for its neuroprotective ability in the nerves themselves," Solomon explains. "It prevents the inflammation that happens in the nerves from constantly getting banged. The amount of trauma that you get is minimized because inflammation in the nerve cells is reduced."

Despite CBD's potential for fighting CTE, doctors will need to see a lot more research before they can rule decisively on CBD's neuroprotective effects, says Jeff Chen, M.D./M.B.A., director of the Cannabis Research Initiative at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

"Research on the role of cannabinoids in treating brain-related traumatic injuries is incredibly preliminary, with no human studies," Chen says. "In the case of CTE, the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids could theoretically help in its prevention, but there have been no animal or human studies investigating cannabis or CBD for preventing CTE," he says.

Why is it so hard to find definitive information about CBD's benefits?

In the eyes of the federal government, marijuana remains a schedule-1 drug, which creates major barriers in licensing, funding, and government approval for studies. To put that into perspective, heroin and peyote are also classified as schedule 1 (meaning there is no potential for medical use and a high risk of abuse) while cocaine and meth are schedule 2 (meaning there are medical benefits, but still a high risk of abuse).

"The biggest problem with anything to do with cannabis is the amount of legitimate studies that can be done because of its schedule 1 classification," says Solomon. "My feeling is that it should be de-schedulized completely and treated like alcohol, where you have to prove that you're over a certain age and it's standardized across the country. It's tested for pesticides and strength and it shows what's in there—terpenes, THC, CBD, et cetera."

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Erich Anderer, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn agrees that more work needs to be done. "Cannabidiol is getting a lot of attention because there have been studies on the positive effects of marijuana in the treatment of various psychiatric disorders and pain, but that benefit comes without the intoxication. The problem is that right now there is no scientific evidence it works in humans," he says. "Given the theoretical advantages of CBD—including treatment of muscle spasms, better sleep, and appetite stimulation—it is a potentially interesting subject to study for use in athletes both in training and as a recovery aid."

What are the dangers of using CBD?

Honestly, not much—that we know of. So far, researchers haven't found any definitive negative side effects of CBD use. While marijuana's primary psychoactive compound, THC, causes intoxication and can lead to depression and anxiety with chronic use, CBD has not been found to stimulate those these psychoactive effects. Also, CBD is often taken orally or topically, so smoking-related problems (like, say, lung and throat health) aren't an issue.

One danger of CBD, Solomon warns, is that it could produce adverse reactions to other drugs. "CBD in high doses—I'm talking about very high doses, hundreds of milligrams—does act in the liver, specifically in something called the cytochrome P450 enzyme system," he explains. "These enzymes break down various drugs. So if someone's taking a high dose of CBD, the CBD takes space in the cytochrome so other drugs don't break down as expected. For example: Taken with too much CBD, the blood thinner warfarin can make the blood too thin and cause bleeding issues."

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Another warning: If you do use CBD, know its source, Solomon says. "Extracted CBD concentrates anything in the hemp," which is problematic "if it's coming from overseas and they're using pesticides and chemicals when they grow it."

And as with any pain-reliever, masking pain during exercise can also lead to worse injuries, Chen says.

"There is substantial evidence for cannabinoids like CBD being effective for chronic pain, and there is preliminary evidence for the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD," Chen says. "While these properties may be useful for recovery, it may also blunt the pain response during exercise, which could lead to overuse injuries."

Should athletes expect to use CBD, now that it's legal?

Using CBD is a personal choice. While existing studies have found that CBD is non-habit forming and doesn't appear to have negative side effects, we still have a lot to learn. At the very least, it could be a promising alternative to opioids, which have been proven to be extremely dangerous.

"Advil or Aleve is worse than CBD in terms of possible kidney damage and stomach ulcers," Solomon suggests. "But if an athlete is adamant about not taking anything, then CBD is not for them."

Scott Chipman, the founder and chairman of CALM, an anti-marijuana nonprofit, thinks there's no room for any drugs in sports: "Sports is about achievement, striving for improvement, making the most of your body and talents. Any drug use to achieve some physical goal makes the effort a phony one."

What does it mean that WADA has removed CBD from its banned substances?

WADA's decision doesn't exactly mean they're embracing cannabis, and THC continues to be banned. "The removal of CBD from the prohibited list of the World Anti-Doping Agency isn't due to the recognition that it may have benefits or that it lacks adverse effects," explains Chen. Rather, CBD's removal from the list signals a "recognition that it's not a performance-enhancing drug,"

What are the current marijuana laws in the U.S.?

At least one aspect of existing American marijuana legislation is clear: It's really damn confusing.

Two governing bodies shape our federal marijuana laws: the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) under the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Marijuana is still federally illegal in all capacities under the Controlled Substances Act. But states also have the right to make their own cannabis laws, and currently, 22 states have legalized marijuana for medical use while eight states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Further complicating the matter, the regulations, carry limits, and restrictions attached to these laws vary state-to-state. It's a lot to remember.

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Marijuana dispensaries in states where medical marijuana was legal were still vulnerable to federal raids until 2013, when the so-called Cole Memo [PDF] created a federal policy of non-interference with states that had legalized marijuana as long as they had regulations in place. But in January 2018, attorney general Jeff Sessions rescinded the policy.

Chipman agrees with these regulations. "We support the FDA process for determining what is and is not a drug," he says. "There are a couple of FDA-approved, cannabis-based drugs. They are properly regulated, fully tested with double blind tests proving effectiveness for specific ailments. There are medical exams and histories taken, follow-up visits and tight controls on potency. When the prescription runs out you have to get it refilled giving the doctor an opportunity to evaluate effectiveness and status of your condition."

What are my rights if I decide to use CBD?

Even if your state has legalized marijuana, it's still federally illegal, so using cannabis products is still a risk. You can be arrested by a federal officer, employers can do drugs tests for it, and moving it across any state lines is illegal. While the chances of an officer actually citing you for marijuana possession are low, you should absolutely research your state's marijuana regulations and adhere to them.

Currently, it looks like the federal government is standing firm on its stance to keep it illegal. The FDA has a very high standard of proof when it comes to approving drugs and even then, it will approve very narrow, specific versions of drugs (never cannabis as a whole). With state governments beginning to legalize it more and public perception of it changing, there could be a federal shift, but if Sessions' recent move is any indication, marijuana—CBD or otherwise—won't be legalized under his watch anytime soon.

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9 Ways Weed Can Help (or Hurt) Athletic Performance

Man Exercising With Dumbbells
svetikd/ Getty Images

Now that cannabis is legal in several parts of the U.S., researchers are starting to debunk several myths about marijuana. At the same time, weed's social stigma is beginning to loosen—so much so, in fact, that athletes and fitness gurus who laud marijuana's wellness benefits are starting to challenge the stereotype of lazy, overweight stoners.

But is marijuana truly a miracle drug that enhances athletic performance or do its negative side effects outweigh its benefits?

We spoke to several experts in medicine, fitness, and the cannabis industry about how marijuana can potentially benefit or hurt your fitness.

Five ways weed can improve athletic performance

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1. Reduce inflammation

Reducing muscle and joint inflammation is one of the most promising areas of cannabis research. Many studies have found that CBD, the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, helps ease inflammation. Now, researchers are looking into its potential to treat autoimmune conditions like Crohn's disease, lupus, and psoriasis.

Adam Brous, a certified yoga instructor and founder of Ganja Guru Yoga in Denver, CO, uses marijuana in his practice and recommends it to his clients for this purpose. "I have worked with athletes who have found cannabis to be a helpful aid," Brous says. "Typically, they're dealing with pain and inflammation of the muscles and connective tissue or recovering from past injury or surgery."

For athletes who want to reap the benefits of CBD's anti-inflammatory properties without smoking it or getting the high, Brous recommends topical products. "Topicals and tinctures are incredible for locally targeted recovery in highly concentrated doses."

Jamie Feaster, a former Division I college pole vaulter and current vice president of marketing at marijuana delivery startup Eaze, also turned to CBD for its anti-inflammatory properties when he ruptured his Achilles tendon.

"As an active athlete, it was a devastating injury and I was open to exploring alternative medicine solutions to help me heal," Feaster says. "The CBD lotion really helped me understand the wellness benefits cannabis can provide. CBD is my favorite form, given that it typically delivers the best results when it comes to anti-inflammatory and healing properties."

2. Ease soreness and pain

Going hand-in-hand with its anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis has also been found to alleviate pain. This is one area of cannabis research that has shown many positive results. Marijuana can alleviate pain caused by everything from chronic pain to acute pain from muscle spasms, studies have found—and that's good news for anyone looking for alternatives to dangerous, habit-forming opiates.

San Francisco-based trainer Zach Scioli of DIAKADI Fitness is an advocate for marijuana therapies to help with muscle recovery and alleviate pain from injuries—but he wasn't always.

"Societal norms shaped my thinking about marijuana, but it doesn't take much digging into studies to find that cannabis' compounds are anti-inflammatory, stress reducing, antioxidative, and pain mediating, to name just a few benefits," Scioli explains. After suffering a slipped disc in his lower back, he was bedridden for weeks and on a cocktail of painkillers. "Being prescribed extremely strong prescription painkillers to treat pain, I realized their high addiction and toxicity potential. I opted to try CBD oil and high-grade THC extracts to manage pain and inflammation. Looking back, it was the best choice I could have made."

Christopher Louie, founder of Colorado-based cannabis startup Made in Xiaolin, had a similar experience, although his injury was more catastrophic. He credits marijuana with saving his life. "My passion for cannabis began when it replaced the opiates I was being prescribed for a gunshot wound I sustained in 2003," he says. Specifically, he was prescribed a powerful pill form of morphine known as Kadian, and when the withdrawal between refilling prescriptions became too much, his doctor put him on Neurontin, which made him suicidal. "Since treating with cannabis I've learned that not only does it help with the physical pain, it helps me mentally—it has greatly increased my quality of life."

3. Treat muscle spasms

Another area of medical application for cannabis is in treating muscle spasms. Cannabis has shown positive results in treating muscle spasms associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's, and its benefits could extend to athletes suffering from spasms as well. "There have been studies in rodents showing some beneficial effect in muscle recovery and reduction of muscle spasm, presumably due to the anti-inflammatory properties the compound possesses," explains Erich Anderer, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn.

That said, health application of cannabis is a new area of study, and Anderer says scientists need more research on athletes who don't suffer from any of these disorders. "I don't know any rats that do CrossFit, so more research needs to be done before we can recommend it for this use with any confidence," he says. "The problem is that right now there is no scientific evidence it works in humans."

4. Improve sleep

It's no secret that THC induces sleep, but studies have also found that it can help people with sleep apnea and even suppress dreams, which is beneficial for those suffering from PTSD. Meanwhile, CBD can ease REM sleep disorder (where people "act out" their dreams) and daytime fatigue. Everyone knows how important sleep is to overall fitness, so this can be extremely beneficial to your athletic performance.

"I recommend CBD to nearly all of my clients for sleep," Scioli says. "It greatly decreases their stress levels, which in turn improves their sleep quality and duration."

However, marijuana's effects on sleep do come with some caveats. One small 2004 study found that young adults who took THC before bed slept normally, but woke up feeling sleepier and with an impaired memory. The same study found that a blend of 5mg CBD and 5mg THC resulted in less stage-3 sleep, but better performance the day after on a number recall task.

Another benefit: Marijuana can be an alternative to traditional sleep medications, which can be habit-forming and come with a litany of side effects. "Eaze recently released our 2017 State of Cannabis data report, which found that 95% of respondents used cannabis to help reduce their sleeping and anxiety medication consumption," says Feaster.

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5. Improve mental acuity

Contrary to popular thinking, marijuana may not have detrimental effects on brain function. In fact, it could be the opposite. Regular, low doses of THC actually restored cognitive function in old mice, according to a June 2017 study published in Nature Medicine. Anecdotally, many of the fitness experts who spoke with us said weed helped them get in the "zone" with their workouts.

"Cannabis has helped my mental game and focus incredibly. Early in my practice, cannabis helped to reduce anxiety, and keep me calm and focused on one task," he says. "Later, I noticed that cannabis acted as a catalyst to achieve a meditative 'flow state' that is crucial to success in athletics."

Risks of marijuana use

6. Smoking weed can damage lungs

"Marijuana can hurt athletic performance significantly if you smoke it," says Anderer. "It has been linked to structural damage in the lung—possibly even cancer, although the evidence is not as strong as it is with cigarettes."

All athletes know that healthy lungs are essential to your overall fitness, so they should be wary of smoking anything.

Scott Chipman, the head of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, cites the lack of regulation in marijuana production as one of the key reasons he's opposed to it. "Marijuana smoke is registered in California as a carcinogen and contains four to five times the toxins, irritants, and carcinogens as tobacco smoke and 20 times more ammonia, a poison," he says. "And, a recent UC Davis study of marijuana samples from four Southern California dispensaries found 93% of the samples tested positive for contaminants including pesticides."

Of course, airborne contaminants aren't necessarily exclusive to marijuana, and not all marijuana products are consumed via smoking, but the hazards are there nevertheless.

7. Weed can impair motor skills

It's no secret that, like any intoxicant, marijuana can impair your motor skills.

"Cannabis use can acutely impair decision making and motor coordination that can make certain activities more difficult, such as driving," says Jeff Chen, M.D., M.B.A., the director of the Cannabis Research Initiative at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

While Feaster believes in the healing properties of marijuana, he notes that some physical activities shouldn't be done under the influence. "Marijuana can be a great supplement for recovery after workouts, but I don't recommend using high levels of THC when pole-vaulting!"

Scioli agrees: "THC should not be used just prior to resistance exercises. It decreases reaction speed and global stability—not what you want when lifting heavy objects."

In the same vein, research has now found evidence that while marijuana may actually restore cognitive function in older users, it can be harmful to the developing adolescent brain. "Cannabis use during adolescence is correlated with decreased neurocognitive performance, changes in brain structure, and alterations in brain function," Chen explains. "However, like with other cannabis findings, you can only demonstrate correlation and not causation in observational studies."

8. Increased likelihood of chronic depression

"In medicine, whenever we look at the therapeutic use of a compound, we want to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks—and there are certainly health risks to cannabis use," Chen says. One of the risks of extended cannabis use is an increased likelihood of depression. "Heavy long-term usage of cannabis is correlated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia," he says.

Depression can be detrimental to fitness, both by decreasing motivation and causing numerous physical side effects. Depression and stress increase the body's cortisol levels, which can lead to weight gain, a weakened immune system, blood sugar fluctuations, and gastrointestinal problems.

9. Increased heart attack risk

Marijuana has been linked with an increased risk of heart attack within one hour of consuming it. Combined with one of the main triggers for heart attacks—sudden exertion—exercising while under the influence of cannabis can be potentially dangerous.

Anyone with any history of heart problems should consult a doctor before beginning any fitness regimen, and probably should avoid marijuana altogether.

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