Category Archives: cross training

Two Common Strength Training Mistakes

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

I spend a lot of time in the gym with a lot of people who work out. Social media shows me countless others who also work out, train others, etc. I don’t have a Kinesiology degree but I know what I’m talking about. I preface with this because some of you are not going to like what I’m going to say next.

The two most common mistakes I see people make with strength training are:

  1. People train like a powerlifter, with powerlifter goals, even though that’s not or should not be their goal.
  2. People train continuously without taking any proactive, conscious training breaks.

Why are these problems?

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Current October 2020 Training Status Report

I have been training for a half marathon to be determined in early January, though (as long as it’s not cancelled) that half marathon will likely be the Lake Mead Half Marathon on January 9.

I’m on the 5th week of an algorithm-programmed Garmin plan, and have done quite well on all runs throughout the plan. By maintaining the GPS-estimated assigned paces, I have actually completed my easy training runs with an average pace of about 10:00 per mile (6:13/km), far faster than I had previously run my easy runs.

These faster easy runs actually have been little trouble to complete, thanks to one simple adjustment: I focus on maintaining a light, quick cadence over anything else. I used to run at about 160-165 steps per minute, and am now doing all my runs at 174-178 steps per minute. Clearly the extra steps per minute are making a difference not just with the average pace, but making that pace easier to sustain. For whatever reason, this was always hard to do in Chicago, but has been very easy to do now.

The Garmin algorithm plans to have me run a 1 mile time trial on Wednesday, from which it should program my subsequent speed, tempo and long run workouts. The last mile I ran about a year ago came out to a disappointing 7:34, and my documented PR is 7:05.

According to Garmin’s race predictor, I apparently have the fitness to smash my PR’s in the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and of course full Marathon. The Electric Blues Daniels tables indicates from these that I could probably run the mile in 6:33. I don’t foresee running that mile time after having done no speedwork for a while, but to break 7 minutes on a mile trial would be terrific.


I have also cross trained quite a bit during the training plan. It might be a big reason I’ve been able to improve so quickly.

After taking on a Garmin Badge Challenge to bike 300K in a month, bike 16 hours, and walk 16 hours… I ended up riding the spin bike at the gym almost every day, about 45 minutes each time, which at my usual 95-110 rpm came out to about 12-13 miles each go. I also walked about a couple miles most days to get those 16 hours in.

I’ve also continued strength training with my mostly upper body push/pull 20 minute workouts roughly 3-4 times a week throughout all this.

Between all this training and the 5 running workouts each week, I’ve probably logged about 8-10 hours of total training (not including the walking, which I generally don’t count as training) each week since beginning the Garmin plan. There were many days I’d spend 2+ hours at the gym, aside from my running (none of which, by the way, was done on a treadmill; all of my running was outside in the morning).


Other than feeling understandably weary at times, I haven’t been too beaten up or worn down by all this.

One key to that is maintaining a protein rich diet, eating to maintenance calories instead of a calorie deficit, and having given a backseat to intermittent fasting.

I’m focusing more on fueling for recovery and eating to a minimum of energy availability. This leads to a slight calorie deficit when I hit the minimum calories, though I’ve still managed to get my bodyfat to 18% while keeping my weight around 170-172 lbs (78kg).

The other key, obviously, is getting enough rest. I have slept an okay amount, and for me I usually do get less sleep than average during summer due to the heat and extended sunlight hours. I generally sleep better during winter when it’s dark more often. Naturally, I wake up rather early, often around 4-6am, and I go to bed around 9-10pm. I have also taken advantage of all this free time and taken naps on various days, which slightly helps. Now that I’ll be working again, naps will only be an option on the weekends and holidays.


After last month’s extensive cross training, I’m going to scale that back and diversify that a bit more. After sticking almost exclusively to the spin bike, I’m now going to mix in sessions on the rowing machine and the ARC Trainer, and will probably cross train less frequently than the “pretty much every day” I had been doing.

I can now take it easy on the walking, doing it only to make sure I get 10,000 daily steps in (an ongoing Seinfeld calendar goal of mine, which is now at 32 days straight and counting). Plus I generally train less time on the rowing machine (I like to row for 20 minutes max vs the 45 minutes I always go on the spin bike), so that will lead to shorter gym visits than 2 hours.

Also, of course, working again means I have fewer time windows to work out. The early morning runs will remain, so long as I can finish workouts well before 7am so I can shower/dress and commute to work. I can also train following work most afternoons (unless a situation demands overtime, of course), and will probably do my cross training then… crowded gym be damned. The weekends of course are wide open.


So, in all, I am once again seriously training. I am training a lot. And I’ve been able to train consistently at a higher level than I have before.

But what about my marathon plans? Well… I’ll get into that in a bit….

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10+ Thoughts on Building Training Breaks Into Strength And Endurance Training

Runners typically train for a race through 8-24 weeks of focused, progressive training, then take a break of either reduced or no running for some time afterward.

It just occurred to me that:

  1. People who primarily strength train as their exercise never train like this.
  2. Many who strength training typically see their development and progress hyperbolically slow after training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
  3. Serious runners also see their progress hyperbolically slow after years of mostly continuous hard training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
  4. Except for a weeks/months long “offseason” where they basically don’t train at all, most serious runners train continuously for their entire season with few, often brief planned breaks
  5. Runners could benefit from peak-and-valleying their training season in the style of a 12 month grade school. Basically, you ramp training around recurring goal races, with the plan to downscale training in the week(s) following those periodic goal races.
  6. Strength trainees may see more progress if they were to build regular periodic training breaks or “de-loads” into their training. Basically, progress training as usual for 8-24 weeks, then take a week or more where training stops and/or volume (whether reps, weight, frequency, or all of the above) are substantially, pointedly reduced. You rebuild, re-load energy and drive, then resume training a few days/weeks later really to attack the weights/road/water/bike/etc.

6a. Unplanned breaks like injuries and other life emergencies don’t count. Your body and mind are taxed and have to heal in other ways during breaks like these, and aren’t as fully available to rebuild and heal the way they do during a conscious, planned break in training. Sure, some recovery can happen, but imagine how you feel after a very stressful vacation. Are you “refreshed” and 100% when you go back to work or school?

  1. I imagine a lot of the stalled progress in muscle growth and other “GAINZ” most strength trainees experience would cease to stall if they consciously built to a scheduled peak over weeks/months, then made a point to take a 1-2 week break afterward before resuming.

7a. Fitness loss is minimal during a 1-2 week extended break. As distance running’s Hanson Brothers have attested, the body tends to reap direct benefits from a key workout (and conversely, experiences a loss of fitness from a lack thereof) after 8-12 days. You can probably take a week off before resuming training and experience little to no loss in strength/fitness from where you left off. Two weeks off, and the loss would be very slight, to the point where after a couple weeks of gradually resumed training you’d be back to where you had left off.

  1. So now, I’m looking at you, runners. Many of you have the right idea, where you start training mainly to run a goal race, train hard for that 8-24 weeks, then run your goal race and take it easy for a few days/weeks. There are certainly many things you could do better, but you have the right idea.

8a. And then there are some of you who continiously train, and train hard every week. You don’t take many planned breaks, maybe after a marathon or a longer race, but otherwise you’re doing high intensity workouts and/or high volume almost every week. And then you’re wondering why you get injured or you constantly have nagging injuries.

8b. Some of you call them “niggles”. I call them red alarm signals that you need to take a few days off.

  1. This doesn’t mean don’t run unless you’re training for a goal race. This means your training should more consciously ebb and flow, at the very least follow a 3-5 week continuous cycle of gradually increasing volume to a peak before a week of lighter training. But what could benefit you most is longer 8-16 week cycles of gradually progressing volume, then or preceding gradually increasing intensity, before tapering and/or a goal race, followed by a 1-2 week period of reduced or eliminated training at a substantially lower intensity.
  2. Plan breaks into your training before life makes you take unplanned breaks from training.
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Preliminary strength for key bodyweight exercises

Photo by Karl Solano on Pexels.com

I imagine that the Coronavirus lockdowns closing gyms has something to do with this, but there’s a growing movement towards bodyweight strength training (also known traditionally as calisthenics).

I ran into this recent Medium Elemental piece, which as recent others have done says that you don’t need weights to get in shape. It basically recommends you stick to basic exercises like push ups and pull ups.

And yes, in principle, you can get swole on as little as the Fundamental Few: Push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges, core exercises e.g. planks, sit ups, crunches, Russian twists, etc.

All of these exercises are safe, healthy and useful for most to do, except for push ups and pull ups. Most people do not have the needed muscular strength to minimally complete push ups or pull ups.

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Does Power Eating hold up after all these years?

I have a lot of educational books that at this point are now old books. Susan Kleiner‘s 1998 book Power Eating is one.

Whereas at the time the notable RD’s tome was timely and cutting edge, the preceding couple of decades have rendered much of the book’s conventional wisdom somewhat outdated and possibly to some extent currently off-base.

To preface, it’s worth noting that Kleiner has since released a sequel to the book, The New Power Eating, that is certainly more up to date on today’s knowledge. But still, I’m curious to see how well the old edition holds up.

Kleiner obviously didn’t err based on the information available to everyone in her field at the time. No one then knew of the benefits of concepts like intermittent fasting, carb cycling, that the kidneys could in fact handle a large amount of protein without ill effect, that we didn’t necessarily need as much carbohydrate as they thought for intense activity, etc.

I’m reading through some of the book now, primarily initial sections on exercise fueling, before and after training. She echoes a lot of the conventional wisdom regarding endurance running nutrition, which as people know is very high-carbohydrate and carb-centered.

While the following is hardly comprehensive, I have read a few interesting points that are either not necessarily true today, or could well be valid today and has not been carried over into subsequent analyses.

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Active recovery is better than full rest

Amazon.com : RELIFE REBUILD YOUR LIFE Exercise Bike Indoor Cycling ...
A much fancier version of what I exercised on today, while reading

Today for me was a rest day, and by rest I day I mean I ran a tick below 3 miles and rode the spin bike for 45 minutes before 10am. How relaxing!

Honestly though, I mentioned yesterday how I was going to resume daily running. That almost-3 miler went well, as I kept it super easy and got out there very early.

For the sessions on the spin bike at the gym, here is how intense I tend to do these: I usually bring a book, and read that book while I’m riding. I set the spin bike around level 3 (among the lowest levels) and maintain around 85-90 rpm. Not exactly hard work, though it’s a steady easy effort.

Today I read through an old standby I’ve read a few times: 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald. I didn’t pound through pages, and I usually don’t on these spin bike sessions. I very carefully read through about 20 pages towards the beginning of the book. I’d stop reading frequently to look up and around the gym. It was about as intensive a task as the spin ride itself.

Something like this is only a workout in title. This is mostly an exercise in active lower body circulation, getting the legs to move and flush waste products while cycling in fresh blood and nutrients.

There is a hint of upper body isometric work throughout. To stay upright, I won’t just sit upright in the seat: It’s impractical to read a book this way during this kind of effort. Maintaining upper body alignment, I will brace on the handles using my hands or forearms, depending on position.

This while not exactly tiring does require a subtle bit of arm strength, and is probably beneficial for my arm development and recovery (they do already get quite a bit of more serious work in my 20 minute strength workouts).

You don’t want to make a constant habit of isometric exercise, as you can stunt range of motion and possibly generate stress fractures over time. But a bit at a light intensity every now and again can be helpful.

I’ll do these recovery spin bike sessions now and again, probably 1-2 every couple weeks or so. They can be clumped together in a week and then not happen again for a week. They can happen once in a while. I play by ear when they happen, or build them in when I know there’s a lot of other exercise behind it.

As I’m looking to stay more consistently active, this for now is a very easy way to get some work in when also trying to rest and recover. As I type this (about an hour later) I really don’t feel tired at all, and certainly not sore. I was as expected a bit stiff in the legs, but as always I did some stretching afterward and now they feel alright.

If needing a day off, you are often better off doing some sort of activity on a recovery day than sitting and doing nothing. Most people often do plenty of nothing already.

Obviously there are caveats. If you are injured or very sick, you typically should rest and do nothing. Barring that, you should at least take a 20+ minute walk. And, even if you don’t want to read, an extended session on a stationary bike is also a decent way to sneak in some aerobic exercise and fat burning.

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A training schedule I built around my current work schedule

Right now I’m basically exercising three times a day. No, these are not all hard workouts. I would have dropped dead by now if so. Or be incredibly ripped. Who knows.

For example, on weekends:

Morning – Take a 2-3 mile run, or a long walk of probably a couple miles. Either option gives sun exposure in reasonable temperatures, and some light to decent calorie burning exercise. If I have any step goals, this gets me a good way there. Any extended walking would last about 45 minutes, and is a thin substitute for the everyday walking in Chicago. Since I’m not seriously training for races right now, I play this by feel. I run that day if running feels good, and walk that day if it probably doesn’t.

Afternoon – In the blazing hot Vegas sun, probably during a brief work-from-home break, go for a brief run around the neighborhood. This is only a few blocks, and less than a mile, all pretty close to my home just in case I absolutely have to stop for some reason. I run about 3/4 of a mile, and come back inside. it takes about 7-8 minutes. That’s pretty much all you can reasonably do in 100 degrees Fahrenheit without hurting yourself. This is more of an anti-cold-shower mid-day pick me up than serious training. But it augments your training volume.

Evening – Towards the end of the day, around 7pm, I go to the gym and get some swolework. Do my 20 minute workout. Head home.

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