Strength Training for D&D Nerds

The D&D Approach to Working Out

Let’s face it – nerds aren’t exactly well known for getting to the gym and pumping some serious iron. Up until a year ago, I felt much the same way – and my body reflected that. Months of graveyard shifts and McDonalds value meals while working at Xbox Live left my body in pretty poor shape, and I had decided to seriously start considering getting “back” into shape. Of course, this assumes that I ever was in shape. Sure, in the early years of high school, I was running 4+ miles a day during soccer season and stayed in relatively decent shape while playing spring sports, but I was never strong. Like a true nerd, I decided to do a little research and figure out the most efficient ways to “get back into shape,” whatever that meant. My searching led me to Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program; a simple program with a basic A/B workout schedule:

Workout A:

  • Back Squat: 3 sets of 5 reps (3×5)
  • Bench Press: 3×5
  • Deadlift: 1×5

Workout B:

  • Back Squat: 3×5
  • Standing Overhead Press: 3×5
  • Power Clean: 5×3

That’s it; that’s the list!

Seriously. No abs, no bicep curls, no stupid accessory stuff. The workouts are meant to be done every other day; a typical schedule is MWF. Warming up and flexibility issues are important and are not adequately covered in the Starting Strength book in my opinion, so it’s worth checking out self-myofascial release (SMR) via foam rolling, dynamic stretching (especially for the hip flexors), and general ways to improve blood flow.

After some time on the program (3 months or so), adding in overhead support (Turkish Get-Ups), ab work (barbell rollouts, TRX fallouts, Pallof presses), and direct “arm” work (chin-ups, pull-ups) makes sense. But you don’t want to interfere with your novice progression. This topic is a bit more complex and is dealt with more in-depth using the Starting Strength wiki link above, so I’d suggest starting there if you’re interested.

So How Does This Relate to D&D Again?

Ah, right. Good point. So the basic D&D stats are:

Basic D&D Stats

I’m not going to explain how the D&D stats particularly work in-game, since my target audience has already rolled a few dice to make saving throws I’m sure. For those who do not play, you can read about them in-depth here, or take my simple explanation: these characteristics scale from 1 to 18, with 10-11 representing average human ability. (Scores can exceed 18, indicating superhuman ability, but again, let’s keep it simple.)

Let’s assume the average mostly-sedentary gaming nerd at age 25 has the following character statistics:

  • Strength: 8
  • Constitution: 7
  • Dexterity: 7
  • Intelligence: 15
  • Wisdom: 13
  • Charisma: 7

Since INT/WIS are already above-average, what’s the most efficient way to improve most of the remaining stats? It turns out that focusing on strength is the best way to do this; humorously, this is typically the best approach in-game as well (strength is arguably the most important attribute for melee fighters in-game).

Strength is obviously the representation of muscle mass, stamina, and – to a lesser extent – endurance in a human. It makes the most sense that basic strength training is what improves this score. However, in real life, training for strength and power on a good program (like Starting Strength) positively affects the other attributes as well – particularly Constitution (physique/toughness/endurance/health) and Dexterity (agility/speed). After a year of good strength training and a decent diet, it only stands to reason that you’ll look a lot better, which will improve your Charisma (physical attractiveness, persuasiveness).

The reverse approach does not work: Focusing on long-distance running to improve your endurance and speed has negative effects on strength, and may not make you look much better. Typically when people say “I want to lose 30 pounds,” what they really mean is “I want to look like a badass.” To do this, muscle mass must be grown. Exercise is great at putting on muscle but actually quite poor at stripping fat. It’s far easier to not drink a few Cokes and eat pizza than it is to burn off those calories; if you don’t believe me, look up the nutritional information in a Big Mac Value Meal and see how long it would take to burn an equivalent amount of calories on a treadmill.

Additionally, learning about strength training to any reasonable degree requires the study of several books and websites, thus positively affecting your Intelligence/Wisdom scores. There’s a lot of interesting biological and chemical effects that enable muscle growth, fat loss, and increases in strength; if you have an inquisitive mind, this type of stuff will really pique your interests. It’s more than simply lifting heavy weights and being a meathead – I promise!

If I had to rate myself 10 months ago and now using the D&D scale, I’d probably give myself the following scores:


  • Strength: 9
  • Constitution: 6
  • Dexterity: 6
  • Intelligence: 16
  • Wisdom: 13
  • Charisma: 12


  • Strength: 15
  • Constitution: 13
  • Dexterity: 11
  • Intelligence: 16
  • Wisdom: 14
  • Charisma: 14

Anyone who plays D&D can tell you that those are pretty impressive improvements!

Hopefully translating exercise science into geek speak makes it more understandable to some of my friends.

8 thoughts on “Strength Training for D&D Nerds

  1. I suppose people will want to know my stats. Fair enough.

    Height: 6’1″
    Weight: 248

    Known 1RM efforts:

    Back Squat: 455 lbs.
    Bench Press: 205 lbs. (estimated ~225 now)
    Standing Overhead Press: I omit these due to a sports-specific need.
    Deadlift: 500 lbs.
    Power Clean: 180 lbs.

  2. i assume you are equating power clean = max press in 2nd edition? that seems like the easiest way to compare real-life strength to d&d strength

    i would doubt that you seriously had a dex of 6 unless you gained a TON of weight after the oddr days but this is still really neat

  3. Hey, now! Everybody knows that the lowest score you can roll up is a 3, since you get the score by rolling three six-sided dice. Geez, man!

  4. A lot of people say that, but that’s simply not true for a multitude of reasons:

    1) Not all DMs use the 3d6 method. There are many other ways of assigning skill points.
    2) Certain races have modifiers to their base skills. For example, Wood Elves get +2 to STR and DEX and -2 to CON and INT.

  5. What is the average strength range of the average man during that time? It seems like the men of our time are bigger and stronger.

  6. I don’t if that’s true. We have less physical demands imposed on us, but nutrition IS better. Interesting debate.

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