I finally got a membership at the nearby Planet Fitness. Despite having a gym within a block from home that only costs $10 a month and is open nearly all the time, I balked at getting a membership for a variety of practical reasons that now finally are no longer the case.
The gym itself has pretty much everything I’d need out of a gym. They have a ton of treadmills, several ARC Trainers and ellipticals, several spin and recumbent exercise bikes, and of course a wide variety of free weights and exercise machines. And because of the no-judgment motif of the Planet Fitness brand, everyone working out seems cool and goes about their business without any passive aggression or peacocking you see at other gyms.
I’m digressing a bit. As I ramp into official fall marathon training, the gym provides me with a ton of benefits it turns out I really need this time around. I’ve been admittedly struggling with several aspects of training over the last few months, and the gym’s going to help with several of them.
Cross Training. The obvious running benefit of a gym is being able to cross train using different machines. Without the gym (I also don’t own a bike for many practical reasons), I had virtually no cross training options, and while valuable I don’t count circuit or calisthenic workouts as relevant cross training because they don’t simulate the aerobic intensity of running.
The biggest benefit I always got when a member at gyms was the access to exercise bikes, treadmills and other aerobic machines. Sometimes you want to do some more aerobic work without the strength-bearing muscle/joint wear and tear that comes from running.
Training for prior marathons, I had gym access and could milk the end of an hour long run with 20-30 minutes on an exercise bike. I definitely felt the difference at Vancouver this time around without that. Machines can help spur additional mitochondrial development that will help those long runs, not to mention burn a bit of extra fat.
This time around I can ease into long runs while still developing long-distance aerobic development by doing more reasonable runs in the short term, but putting in a ton of additional time on the machines. Too often, we start with long runs trying to develop several parts of our fitness at once (long distance aerobic fitness, neuromuscular fitness to handle the extended work, etc), which isn’t efficient. A training plan like IronFit or FIRST becomes a lot more do-able.
While Planet Fitness doesn’t have rowing machines (one of my favorite cross training tools), they do have ARC Trainers, which many gyms don’t. The ARC is like an elliptical but the motion is closer to the motion of running, with greater lower body range of motion and effectively simulating the range of motion of uphill running without the impact of running. I find them comfortable and engaging, and more useful in many cases than exercise bikes.
Of course, no cardio machine is as engaging and useful for running fitness than the treadmill. And I plan to use that one quite a bit.
Find and control my desired pacing. I’ve talked before about the key benefit of a treadmill: Establishing the feel for your desired run paces and getting used to them. I’ve struggled lately with matching my pace to my perceived effort, and the treadmill cuts the crap on that. You set it to an exact pace, and it moves at exactly that pace.
You know right away on a treadmill if a pace isn’t sustainable. Sure, don’t set the pace TOO high and send yourself flying off one. But if, say, a goal marathon pace feels arduous within 5-7 minutes, that’s a sign you’re not ready for it.
I want to improve my pacing across the board, from regular runs to tempo, and the treadmill gives me a chance to build workouts around running that pace.
If I know what a 10:00 mile should feel like, then I’m more likely to run that on my way home from work most days… or, more importantly, on an easy long run. And it’s more likely to feel comfortable and easy.
If I set a goal to, say, run a 9:30/mile pace at a marathon, I can set the treadmill to 6.3 mph (9:31/mile… close enough) and run that throughout the week to get used to it. I only did this sort of pace-practice once, right before Chicago Marathon last year while tapering. I wish in hindsight I had done it more frequently throughout the cycle. It’ll happen this time.
Strength Training. The other obvious benefit of doing the gym is strength training. Sure, it’s more important to do functional lower body and core strength training, which is mostly bodyweight training (and that I will still do at home).
But other weight training helps establish balance and postural strength, reducing the learning curve while your body works to improve its overall balance.
Also, don’t forget: Your arms, shoulders and upper body are moving throughout every run as well, and over long distances they can tire and warp your posture, which further complicates your ability to keep going. Building your upper body’s strength helps improve its capacity to handle the work.
Also, as I age, building and maintaining overall muscle is important to aging well. It’s not just about running!
I can follow my prior plan to quickly get strength training in after runs, or even do full weight workouts on their own, since I live very close to the gym.
Climate Controlled Training. Never mind the brutal winters. In fact, as a cold weather runner, I handle running in snow/ice/cold pretty well. It’s the heat I always struggle with. And so far this late spring, early summer, it’s been rather muggy and a bit more brutal than expected. It’s actually derailed a couple of planned runs. Obviously, with summer approaching, it’s probably going to get worse rather than better. I will acclimate some but this is still very difficult to run in every day.
If it’s especially hot, I can now save the run for the gym and do it on a treadmill. It’ll still be warm in the gym, but it often won’t be as bad, I won’t have to deal with the stress of battling traffic, and I can keep liquids near me on a treadmill. I’m far more likely to get the entire run in now.
And even if I’m flat out too worn out for a run, I can still hit the other machines and get the aerobic development work in through cross training. It’s not a total loss and an unscheduled recovery day.
More flexibility and less pressure with training. On that note, when I just ran outside I had more pressure to try and fit workouts into my schedule, to work around weather and within the parameters of my work schedule.
Now that I can do runs on a treadmill as needed, I can worry a lot less about scheduling the vast majority of those runs. I can even get them in during the morning provided I don’t wake up too late and can clear the cobwebs before 6am.
Sure, I’ll still run commute to and from work where applicable. But now those don’t have to be 7 mile runs or tempo runs to suit my workout needs. I can just run easy for 5K to work or 5K back, knowing the main workout can be done at the gym once I return home… or even first thing in the AM with the work commute being recovery runs.
Better yet, if I would rather walk either way… I can do so with no consequences to my training. The gym can be the place for me to focus on key running workouts:
I can now focus most key run workouts. One challenge I always had when planning a marathon training schedule is figuring out how to get my needed mileage in while still focusing key workouts as needed so it wasn’t just a bunch of running with a weekly long run and maybe a speed/tempo workout if I could get it in.
Planning my current marathon training cycle got complicated. Either I planned high volume that asked for heavy post-work runs, or I planned specific workouts that asked far too little mileage to get me fit for the race. I had to scrap and start over a bunch.
Having the gym available now changes that. Little 3 mile runs to and from work will help low-key build some mileage (even if several of them turn into walks). I can now plan 3-5 key workouts each week (at least one done on the weekend, where there’s a lot more time to spare), and make sure those get done at the gym if nothing else.
It’s hard to find the steam for a tempo run on a crowded, obnoxious trail, especially if it’s really hot and muggy (and possibly dangerous for high-intensity running). If there’s an event going on, or a group is working out in your desired run space, it might even be unworkable.
It’s a lot easier to get that workout in on a treadmill one block away at 6am, or as soon as you get home and have some time to unwind and eat something.
Also, a 45-60 minute run that would have been somewhat tough to do at a good pace right after work on a hot day, and/or through heavy trail and street traffic, can now be done at 7pm on a treadmill after a bagel and some time to cool off and hydrate at home.
I have a lot more flexibility for getting a key workout in, and now I can get the desired results from that workout more often.
I can also plan a lighter running workout load. I only need to worry about the long runs, the needed tempo work, and a couple of extended easy runs per week. I know the rest of the running and aerobic development will quietly fit in around those thanks to the 5K commutes and all the cross training I can easily do at the gym in-between those workouts. There’s no longer any pressure to figure out how to get enough mileage in.
Casual Fitness. I live pretty close to this gym. I walk past it every day. It’s easy to get to, and easy to get back from.
An example: Let’s say it’s a Tuesday night and I’m feeling bored (I’m creative and active, but it happens). I didn’t have a key workout planned, so my exercise for the day was commuting to and from work. I’m not dog tired, and maybe even feeling some cabin fever.
Now I can walk down the street, go in the gym and spend some casual time on the recumbent bike with a book or something. It’ll be more engaging, for sure. But I’ll also end up low-key developing more fitness with the super-light aerobic work.
It doesn’t hurt much at all, and it certainly helps.
Once again, no fancy conclusions. I’m just about to spend way too much time at the gym near my home that I walk past every single day.