Category Archives: cross training

Do (but don’t overdo) core strength training

There’s a crew I once ran with on Mondays who after finishing the run would as a group do 8 Minute Abs, eight different 1-minute floor exercises for core strength. There was no formal structure to what exercises the crew did, other than they always finished with a 60 second plank.

Strength training after easier runs is typically a good idea, a low key, short opportunity to engage the core muscles a little bit after a low key run.

Most top training programs ask you incorporate a modicum of strength training in whatever form. Hal Higdon’s intermediate plans ask for you to do a bit of strength work after easier early-week runs. Brad Hudson and others swear by hill sprints as a low-impact way to strength train your lower body running muscles. The Hanson Marathon Method has you do some faster-than-marathon tempo runs as a sort of “strength” workout.

Your legs and hips aren’t the only muscles important to healthy, quality running form. Your upper body requires engaged core muscles to maintain a solid alignment that supports and augments, rather than inhibits, your running efficiency.

Many people as they tire begin to fall back into bad posture, though many run with bad posture whether or not they’re tired. Bad posture pulls the core and hips in one direction and gives your glutes/flexors more work to do on top of continuing to take steps with a(n often) tired lower body.

There’s all sorts of resources on effective posture but I’ll hit the basics:

When standing, a healthy aligned torso is upright and relaxed yet strong atop the hips, not pulling or leaning hard in any direction. The head and neck don’t necessarily have to be straight atop the shoulders, but shouldn’t droop forward. The shoulders should be strong and relaxed, not hunched.

When running, there may be a slight lean forward of the upper body, like how a Segway is prompted to move when you ride it. But the head, neck and torso otherwise remain strong and aligned atop your hips as you run. Nothing should hunch forward.

I don’t mean to turn this into a posture post. I only point this out to highlight the importance of core strength in your running development. Without a strong core, most of the keys to posture I described will be difficult if not impossible for someone lacking any of the above to develop and maintain. You can’t force good posture that sticks. There must be strength behind better habit formation.

Some core training is certainly valuable for improving not just your running, but your overall posture and alignment, a key component to effective running. It obviously won’t guarantee improvement, but it can certainly help.

However, like any training, it’s important not to overdo core training. This is a key reason top training plans don’t ask you to strength train in any way more than twice a week.

Imagine an example of a guy who tries to train for a marathon, while still lifting weights six times a week. Unless he’s taking performance enhancing drugs and eating 4000+ calories a week, he’s probably going to break down, burn out, get injured, drop dead… take your pick of any of the above. Even if his powerlifting doesn’t involve his running muscles and his running never involves his swole upper body… it’s asking too much of his organs, hormones, nutrition and recovery to effectively rebuild and maintain ALL of that.

To a lesser extent, consider that if you’re not already planking hard every single day or hitting Orange Theory or the Pilates studio all week long… your core has a limited capacity for strenuous exercise. Your body has a limited capacity for facilitating the rebuild and recovery from moderate to hard exercise, and you’re already taxing it with regular running. The capacity to handle additional core training and the effective recovery and growth from all of the above has limits.

So yes, do some core training once or twice a week. But the more running volume you ask of yourself, the less cross training you should ask of yourself.

8 Minute Abs isn’t too much. A quick blast of core work after a shorter run is honestly a great idea.

But a full, challenging strength workout on top of a distance run might be. It’s like how asking you to do difficult reps after a long run might be too much.

What your effective middle ground is depends on a lot and is your call. I encourage you to take it easy and add strength training gradually in small bite-sized increments. And definitely cut back on strength training during more difficult training periods such as peak mileage weeks or race weeks.

Remember that your top goal is to be in your best running shape. Make sure your core training sets you up for success, rather than hindering it.

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Orange Theory: Who and what it’s good for

OrangeTheory

Got a few friends, both runners and non-runners, who are really into working out at Orange Theory, a chain of gyms built around a somewhat interactive, competitive series of high intensity aerobic circuit training workout classes.

Long story short, participants aerobically work out hard for about an hour between numerous stations, and the establishment keeps score of your vitals on a big monitor, along with esoteric stats like “splats” (a metric measuring how long you hit their key orange heart-rate level).

As with such gyms, pricing is a bit of an investment for most working class individuals. While OT gyms offer free introductory classes, taking any more after that at a given location requires a membership. They want you to make a commitment up-front, though if you buy a membership you are free to use it at any OT gym available.

Tiered memberships cost from around $60 for 4 classes a month to $150-175 for unlimited classes. The heart rate monitors require an additional $5-10 to rent (and you can outright buy them for around $75-100). Additional classes on limited plans can be purchased for around $20-30 each.

This pricing isn’t relatively outrageous considering yoga, Pilates and other workout studios ask generally the same amount. However, someone looking into a new gym habit probably will be somewhat averse to forking out $60-200 a month just to work out. Of course, while they can either join a gym for $15-50 a month, or go run and do bodyweight exercises on their own for free… the direction of a coach or teacher is a key reason people look to fitness classes in the first place.

… I guess that was a little long to be a long story short. Whoops!


I’m a supporter of group fitness classes. A lot of people could use better fitness, could use some coaching, and these classes provide valuable direction in both. Whether people prefer this, yoga, Pilates, dance technique classes, chic dance variants like Pure Barre, etc…. if you enjoy these group classes, can consistently do it safely, and it gets you to actually work out when you otherwise wouldn’t, then yes: DO IT.

There are certain people who benefit more from it than others, of course. And in the case of runners, it can absolutely benefit some of them. I’ve seen it benefit several I personally know. Likewise, I wouldn’t outright say to certain runners that they should stay away, but there are also some cases where it doesn’t work as well.

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Preworkout is probably just another (not so) cheap stimulant

This is admittedly geared more towards people who lift weights at the gym than anyone who runs. I’d be surprised if anyone who trains as a distance runner uses this.

One increasingly popular supplement to gym workouts is the use of preworkout, a mix of stimulants that’s supposed to “prime” you for your workout.

Yeah, okay. We’ve had this for decades. We just called it caffeine.

Of course, preworkout is a mix of a wider variety of chemicals. But that’s literally all it is: A stimulant. And for many lifters and fitness enthusiasts, it’s mostly unnecessary. And on top of it, the stuff costs a lot of money.

I won’t go as far as to call preworkout a placebo, because it’s full of enough chemical stimulants to definitely not be a placebo. But it’s not the reason people lack the drive to work out.

As a runner who has to put in dozens of miles a week after work from a full time job, I realize as well as anyone that it’s hard most days to find the energy and drive to get a workout done. I realize a lot of people go workout early in the morning and it’s hard to shake off the cobwebs of sleep to get the workout in.

People who take preworkout believe that the kick it gives them is absolutely necessary to get them to function in the gym. And as a coffee drinker, far be it from me to tell people to not do stimulants in the morning, ever.

But ultimately the stimulants are in some effect a placebo for the motivation you need to work out. They are in effect a crutch. Pushing a barbell does not become impossible or even substantially more difficult if you don’t take preworkout. Nor does pumping yourself full of stimulants make the task substantially easier… even if it does give you a lot more energy to throw at it.

As I’ve said before, your motivation to work out comes from your habits. You form habits and follow the groove those habits cut into your everyday life. That, rather than anything you take or are given, is what drives most of your “motivation”.

Uppers or not, it’s ultimately up to you to decide to do the work, and then actually do it. The money spent on preworkout might be better spent elsewhere, while you look a little more at your habits to motivate your training.

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The Hike-Run: A commuter’s easy hedge between recovery days and missed training runs

On Thursday I had a morning run scheduled but didn’t manage to get it in.

I work late Thursdays, and taking a normal run after work closer to bedtime wasn’t a practical solution. In my experience, running too close to the end of the day revs me too far up to be able to get to or stay asleep. A shorter run might be okay, but I didn’t want to basically toss out Thursday as an off day with a very short run.

Carrying my backpack at 7pm, not being particularly interested in taking the train or bus, with the sidewalks still being a bit icy from previous snow, and having nothing to lose… I impulsively decided to experiment with what I’m now calling The Hike-Run. It ended up working out so well over 5K that I have decided to implement it as an easy training practice.

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The Hike-Run is an easy run done while carrying weight, whether in a backpack or while wearing heavy gear… basically, the weight of gear you’d be carrying during a hike in the wilderness (even though clearly the north side of Chicago is not the wilderness). Typically, you’ll find opportunities to do Hike-Runs before or after work, while out and about wearing a heavy coat or boots… or while commuting on foot while carrying a bag of stuff.

You typically can do the Hike-Run when you’ve got somewhere to go, and you’re not willing to do a full run with the gear, but need to get some training mileage in and know you probably won’t have much of a chance to do so otherwise.

You start your timer and start at a jog, a very easy sustainable running pace. At any point, if you want to slow to a walk or stop, you not only can, but you don’t need to stop the timer (runners often will stop their timers when they need to stop the run). You’re timing the hike, not a full run. It’s just a comfortable run where you have full permission to slow or stop as much as you please. And of course, you could just not time the Hike-Run at all. You log the mileage covered, and that’s that.

I’ll use my tracker to time the Hike Run as a hike rather than a run, so that the time result isn’t any sort of big deal or factored into any metrics. The only thing I track is the miles (more or less) ran.

The key is just to run most of the way. The Hike Run gives you permission to slow, but is not intended to be a full hike where you run occasionally. If you just want to walk, then just walk and don’t worry about timing it or running.

Ideally you do regular training runs or recovery days most of the week, and the Hike-Run is just a convenient hedge between a full rest day and getting your mileage in. Or, as I did this past Thursday, you use it to supplant planned running that you otherwise can’t get in.

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Planet Fitness is not bad

About a year ago, the growing and much maligned Planet Fitness gym chain opened a new location near my Chicago home in Wrigleyville. They advertised a rock bottom $10 per month membership, and 24/5 hours: Open 24 hours a day on weekdays, from midnight Sunday/Monday until midnight on Friday/Saturday (then open 7am-7pm on Saturday and Sunday).

(Before proceeding, note for the record I have only been inside one a handful of times, and currently have no need for a membership. I have also strength trained for extended periods at multiple gyms and fitness centers.)

Planet Fitness is known, and to many notorious, for their misnomered ‘no judgment’ policy. The policy creates a strict set of rules designed to curb/deter fitness bro behavior that is deemed intimidating to general gym-goers.

  • No grunting
  • No gallon jugs
  • No wearing stringers/crop tops
  • No deadlifting
  • No dropping or slamming weights on the floor
  • No bags on the gym floor

There are other restrictions but those are the major ones.

The key feature to Planet Fitness is the presence of the Lunk Alarm, which is set off by staff when a violation of the above policies is observed. This results in staff intervention and can result in ejection for the offending party.

To a lesser extent, staff may at their discretion quietly confront individuals exhibiting similar behaviors.


Fitness Bro culture is nowadays very popular, built around the idea of lifting heavy and getting a bigger upper body through low rep, close to max weight compound workouts like this and this. They abhor any aerobic exercise beyond brief, high intensity interval cardio, typically eat a low carb, high protein diet with supplements designed to build muscle, and judge fitness largely on max lifting strength as well as upper body size and definition.

I can address this topic another time, but the above prevalent approach is basically a one dimensional definition of fitness and tends to promote a one dimensional lifestyle. I do not have a problem with people lifting for strength. I have a problem with the implication that it’s the only valid, useful way to work out.

So, needless to say, that crowd doesn’t like Planet Fitness. And because Bro Culture has done a terrific job of using the internet to promote their niche culture as a much larger demographic and voice than they actually are, they have long since successfully crafted a negative cultural movement towards the Planet Fitness brand.

I’m not going to claim all their reservations are unjustified. There are a lot of complaints about Planet Fitness that in some contexts are important. The gym is definitely not for everybody, and certainly not for the 5×5/SS/Stronglifts disciple whose fitness goals revolve around their upper body measurements and their one rep max in a handful of key compound lifts.

There are however a variety of positive, worthwhile fitness goals that are not that. And there’s a variety of ways to build strength and upper body definition that Planet Fitness can productively serve.


Is Planet Fitness in itself bad? You may sense my answer from my prior tone: No, it is not inherently bad. And I’m saying this as someone who is not a member, who currently doesn’t have a use for the gym, who has worked out plenty and had positive experiences at other, more conventional gyms.

I have nothing much to gain from putting Planet Fitness over. In fact, I have many of the same reservations and concerns about their restrictive policies.

But I also know a negative niche agenda and bias when I see one. Much of the criticism Planet Fitness receives comes from that rather than an objective perspective. This makes me as skeptical of the criticism as it does towards Planet Fitness itself.


Depending on your goals, yes, Planet Fitness may not be a good option. But for many, Planet Fitness can still provide a lot of value and positive growth. Planet Fitness is not assured to stunt your fitness development And yes, while it can be useful in the present, you can eventually outgrow Planet Fitness.

I think both sides in the debate have some issues. I think Planet Fitness, however well meaning, is somewhat misguided and can be limiting. I think detractors feed off a misguided agenda built from their own selfish views and egotistical issues.


While many argue the gym’s strangely restrictive policies are designed to keep people away… the Planet Fitness near my home, since opening, (based on my bird’s eye view through their windows to the gym floor) has been very popular at most hours and consistently utilized, both on their treadmills and their weight machine section.

If the chain’s goal is in fact to net unused memberships, they’ve done a poor job of keeping the gym unused and unattended.


Most aspiring weight trainers get their news and info from conventional content aggregators, like Reddit or the Gawker family of websites. Many gravitate to hardcore weight training sites like T-Nation.

These provide a one-dimensional perspective on how to work out, and their predominately young adult demographic tends to fall into the trap of seeing their way as absolutely right and converse points of view as absolutely wrong.

Reddit’s Fitness community leaders in particular have crafted and operate upon a specific agenda built around a specific set of concepts on how to strength train and what your goals should or shouldn’t be. This agenda has influenced other platforms and driven a lot of derision towards Planet Fitness.

Not only are their specific principles or “recommendations” not right for everybody or even most people, but most beginners are nowhere near the physical condition needed to safely attempt and routinely do heavy compound exercises like low-rep high-weight bench presses, squats and deadlifts.

Most can’t lift anywhere close to their bodyweight with any muscle group. Plus, the mechanics of the compound exercises may conflict with the individual joint/bone structure of their bodies, which can facilitate long term injury. This never minds most’s lacking command of proper form, technique, recovery between workouts, dietary choices, etc.

It would make more sense for novices to first develop some basic bodyweight strength with exercises like pushups, dips, weight-free squats/lunges, etc… done with safe and proper form, and to develop strength within individual muscle groups (shoulders, back, chest, glutes/core), before considering max-level weight work in the more popular compound powerlifts. Most shouldn’t even attempt a low-rep high-weight barbell exercises before developing the strength and ability to do over a dozen push ups and chin ups. And, if their bodily structure produces uncomfortable joint/bone friction and shear if they do the exercise, then it may make sense not to do the heavy lifts at all.

This is where I think Planet Fitness can come in handy. A beginner isn’t going to get much more value from a conventional gym’s machines and Olympic-caliber weight training area. Even an intermediate trainee may not yet have the strength to move along to benches and deadlifts. They’re just going to pay more to either do the same more-appropriate exercises, or to get injured lifting beyond their capability.

A key note: The fallacious argument against machines is that they make you lift in a straight motion whereas humans naturally lift things in a curve, which can lead to injury.

However, if you look at the motion path of most of these machines, most do require you press/lift/move the weight at a curve. Plus, when seated, the seat and placement is often at an angle that facilitates arc-movement.

Also, a lot of barbell lifters, whether or not they’re taught to do so, end up doing their lifts in a straight line path anyway. So conventional lifting doesn’t outright avoid the problem. In fact, the machines may do a better job of preventing it.


I think Planet Fitness for most can be more valuable than other gyms, until you outgrow it. And most people aren’t at the point of having outgrown it.

To Planet Fitness’ credit, lifting beyond one’s safe capability is actually why so many lifters grunt and slam weights.

They don’t have safe, proper command of the weight they’re trying to push. They’re extended beyond their capabilities, and they have to redline themselves just to complete exercises, plus they’re not completing them with full command and proper form.

If these lifters had command and capability to lift the weight they were attempting, no grunting would be necessary, and they could quietly put the weight down instead of being forced to drop or slam it.

All this never minds people who slam and grunt for effect, to peacock around other people. I honestly don’t think there’s many of those. But the emphasis on pushing unsafely beyond one’s means comes from the same misguided and egotistical place.


You don’t break through from consistently overexerting yourself. You break through habitual work below and near your *stable* limit at an exercise, and then practicing sound diet/rest between workouts. And then you exhibit growth from testing your limits, not trying to lift beyond them.

Someone starting out can get a lot of mileage out of Planet Fitness beginning with the weight they’re capable of lifting, and gradually improving until they max out every machine and dumbbell.

Say what you want about their capability to exhibit max-gainz at a real gym. Maybe they’ll graduate to a big gym and struggle to bench press the same weight they max out on a machine, needing to take the barbell weight down some.

But they’ll be a lot closer to getting there after maxing out Planet Fitness than they are when they start. Isn’t progress the stated goal?


This also gets lost: Your fitness isn’t a primary function of the max weight you can lift. That expectation is a simple minded social construct that’s been culturally forced upon people by said Bro-culture.

It doesn’t honestly matter in the big picture exactly how much you can lift unless:

  1. You have a job that requires you lift that much weight.
  2. You are a competitive powerlifter whose wins and losses come down to how much you can push.

If your goal instead is bodybuilding, to improve your physique, there are a variety of ways to optimize your physical training for that aside from max compound lifts (which honestly are not efficient for bodybuilding beyond generally training major muscle groups). And the specialized machines may better facilitate that development. Not everyone who wants to look better wants to maximize their gains.

Bodybuilding is also largely a function of your diet and recovery anyway. Your chest only gets bigger from strenuous exercise if you eat the nutrients and get the rest that facilitate its growth. Your abs and other muscles only show once you’ve lost all the fat hiding them.

So I don’t mind the Planet Fitness no grunt, no slam policy. Never mind slamming weights being unsafe in itself, and never mind grunting being disruptive (and perhaps needlessly intimidating). Grunting and slamming weights shows you’re outside of your body’s pay grade, and you’re not physically ready to safely do what you’re doing.

Putting a weight down safely without straining is just as important as picking it up and pushing it without straining.


How do the lighter-weight strength machines at Planet Fitness promote novice strength training over a more loaded gym? Simple. If it’s challenging for you to lift, without being dangerous for you to do so, it provides strength training value.

If you’re too strong for the equipment at Planet Fitness, then you should be able to max out their free weights and machines. If you max them out, then sure: Run away to a bigger badder gym and don’t look back. You will get more value out of the big gym.

There are a lot of people who regardless of how they train are too far along for Planet Fitness. There is nothing wrong with the facilities at conventional gyms, or those SS/5×5 workout plans in themselves. They just are more useful to a particular type of person who has grown to a certain point, has a certain makeup, or has a certain set of goals ideal for their needs.

Most who have a use for Planet Fitness either aren’t close to that yet or won’t be that. As long as Planet Fitness has weights on the floor you cannot lift, and settings on the machines you can’t safely push, there is still potential in strength training in that environment.


Obviously, it’s important that you challenge yourself enough to spur growth during recovery. That’s one other gripe about Planet Fitness, that it’s such a soft training environment that people don’t effectively push themselves to grow.

Sure, if you aren’t pushing yourself enough at Planet Fitness you’re not going to grow. And that would be the case at any gym. If you’re going to not push yourself at a gym, you can either spend $10 a month for limited growth at Planet Fitness, or much more money than that for limited growth from the same training habits at another gym.

Being around people showing out before/during/after grunting out 1RMs and 3RMs isn’t going to better motivate people to work out. That’s not how positive habits are formed. Only one person can motivate a person to improve.

And of course, if you feel you need a coach, teacher or personal trainer to push you, then go ahead and pay for one. No, a friend or random guy spotting your attempt to bench weight that’s too heavy for you is not an acceptable or safe substitute.

Planet Fitness is not a reason people aren’t suitably motivated. And this never minds the people who aren’t even working out to begin with.


Another substantial criticism is Planet Fitness’ horde of cardio machines. Never mind that every gym has the same horde of cardio machines (even more so in most cases) and never draws the same derision.

If you have a fundamental issue with people doing too much aerobic exercise, I don’t think Planet Fitness is the dragon you need to slay. Maybe walk across the floor to your gym’s treadmills and start there.

That said, people use cardio machines for a variety of reasons aside from optimum fitness or weight loss. For example, I personally am a distance runner and I don’t use the treadmill or run outside for weight loss or “cardio” for its own sake. I have distance running goals that are personally important, and at times the treadmill can help meet those. This and other machines allow me to work on my aerobic fitness, of which I need a lot more than the typical person… who might do just fine with some periodic brief running or high intensity interval training.

Obviously the person who walks or lightly jogs on a treadmill for 20 minutes for the sake of “cardio” or “fat burning” is not going to get much from it. But they probably weren’t going to get much from a bigger gym either, nor was the presence of a squat rack going to get them to lift.


So, in conclusion, some people can get positive value from Planet Fitness. Some people can get more positive value elsewhere.

There are valid issues with the Planet Fitness business model, and legitimate limitations to the value they provide. The policies, however well intentioned, are ham-fisted. Calling their policy “non-judgment” is completely inaccurate, since clearly they are judging people (just like anyone else who claims non-judgment… to say so or point it out is in itself an act of judgment). The Lunk Alarm will always be an over the top method for dealing with their issues.

But slamming Planet Fitness is mostly a misguided product of an agenda from an over-represented niche culture whose way of life is merely one view among many, rather than absolutely correct. Both sides err in their own ways.

As with any gym or workout method, you get out what you put in, and how much you get out of Planet Fitness or any gym is a matter of what you put into working at it.

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Now that it’s cold, you need a better warm-up

As Chicago temps have now dropped to their traditional late-autumn 20’s and 30’s Fahrenheit, my hands and feet are now feeling quite cold at the start of runs.

Previously, it only took 1-2 miles before the generated heat of my running warmed my hands and feet back to normal. But during the last couple runs, I’ve found it taking as long as 30 minutes for my feet to warm up to normal.

That’s a long time to tempt frostbite in your feet. And keep in mind it’s been mostly dry. If I was running through slush or snow, the resulting moisture could have exacerbated the problem.


Did something change? Am I suffering from circulation problems?

No way. The answer is simple: I’ve gotten fitter, and that ironically has made warming up on cold-weather runs harder.

In previous years, regular runs required a greater effort from me than they do now. That greater effort means more heat, which with normal run-elevated circulation warms your limbs up sooner.

While better fitness means faster paces at easier effort, the easier effort doesn’t produce warmth as quickly, meaning those cold hands and feet are going to stay cold longer unless I push the pace hard (which for various reasons I’d rather not do in these runs).


Now, acclimation will help. As I grow accustomed to being out in the cold, my body will better sustain comfort or warmth in cold weather. By January I will probably not need 30 minutes of running to comfortably warm in clear conditions.

In the interim, however, this isn’t going to fly. With trail races coming up this winter, I will be facing some non-clear conditions and thus need to figure out how to warm up quickly.

I’m not about to tire and wear myself out with tempo sprints and strides before every long run, overheating myself before the real workout starts just to get my feet warm. There has to be a better way.

And there is.

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Strength runs, or a backpack of pain?

When I first began running in Chicago, I would run home wearing my backpack. I did it largely out of necessity, because at the end of a busy day I needed to get home, and the end of a busy night was often the only real time I could get in a run.

At the time, the weight (my bag usually weighs around 8-10 lbs) slowing me down was not a particularly big deal since I didn’t run all that fast anyway. Covering the distance consistently and building my aerobic fitness was the main goal.

But as I began training more seriously, at a higher volume, running with that weight on my back was not the most useful form of training. I began leaving my bag at home and coming to work with only what could fit in my pockets, so I could run after work as unencumbered as possible. My wallet, phone, keys, etc still added a few pounds, but that was more manageable.

The thing is, while walking with a backpack is no big deal, running with a backpack can beat up your upper body if you’re not used to hauling weight all the time. Admittedly, I’m not. The few times I had done it since, it was an unusually arduous experience even at a slow easy pace.

Along with your lower body’s typical glycogen needs, now your upper body and core muscles are demanding glycogen and post-run protein to handle the shifting extra weight as you run. Plus, this can leave your upper body feeling sore.


This morning I ran to work with my bag on, a straightforward 5K route to my workplace from home. After work, I ran back with the same bag on, albeit at an easier pace than the morning’s run. Having improved my conditioning over the last few months, this run felt a lot steadier and more comfortable both ways, and I don’t feel sore right now.

I’m not in a hurry to get back to the gym, but this could help me develop upper body strength if I can consistently, comfortably do this two way run during the workweek.  And it would further prepare my running muscles, as I’d do other runs, not to mention races, with 8-10 lbs less weight than I do during these work haul runs.

The key is for these runs to not be painful ones. If it becomes painful, then I’ll stop doing them. Until then, if it makes me stronger, then let’s go for it.

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Nailing the 2 Mile Run on the US Army’s Field Test

Aspiring US Army trainees are currently preparing for the Army’s fitness Field Test, which demands a required volume of push ups and sit ups, as well as a 2 mile run.

Male entrants age 17-22 are expected to run 2 miles at a pace around 8:00-8:15 per mile while female entrants age 17-22 are asked for closer to 8:15-8:30 per mile. Older enlistees are given more leeway on pace times, but those are the baseline benchmarks.

There is a new version of the test slated for an October 2020 rollout, with more requirements that will thus scale back the expectations on the run. But the run will still remain a daunting task for many aspiring enlistees, especially following the strength portion of the test.

For runners, this part of the Field Test is not a big deal (though of course the other strength requirements might be!). But most aspiring enlistees are not runners by trade, and for most non-runners (even those who excel at strength training) the act of running just a mile seems like a somewhat heroic feat. Running 2 miles seems doubly tough. Add in the exercise tests you have to pass before the run, and now the 2 mile run seems like a herculean feat for many.

Someone who runs regularly to begin with would have little to no trouble nailing the Army’s time requirements, even if they struggled with the other exercises. Even with no speedwork, running an 8 minute mile over 2 miles becomes a lot easier for most young adults once you’ve been running a lot.


Of course, it’s a little late for me to give training advice if your Field Test is right around the corner. Ideally you should have already been running at least 6 miles a week, if not a lot more, along with your other strength training. And running at your goal pace, even if difficult, should not be uncharted territory.

The more time you have to prepare, the less you need to train at the desired goal pace. Your main objective in training is to develop aerobic fitness, and once you have that fitness your pace generally improves as the habit of running also develops your neuromuscular fitness. Running faster over longer periods becomes more comfortable as you improve aerobic and neuromuscular fitness.

First of all, you need to figure out your goal pace as well as your current running pace. The goal pace is simply the desired 2 Mile time divided in half. For example, a 17:00 goal time requires an 8:30 mile pace (17 / 2 = 8.5).

Your ideal goal mile-pace should not be the bare minimum required to pass with a 50. You should pick a goal pace that’s about 10 seconds faster than your required minimum, to give yourself some leeway on Test Day in case the Test proves more challenging than expected. (Plus, giving yourself a buffer is a habit that will help you in other ways once enlisted.)

If you’re not sure how fast you can currently run, do one of the following:

  • Find a full-sized Olympic style track, and run four times around it
  • Find a one mile stretch of road or path, and run it
  • Get on a treadmill, set it to goal pace, and see how long you can run at that pace before you have to slow it down. Run here for 1.0 mile no matter what.

Whatever time it takes you to do this is your current running mile-pace.

If this time more than 60 seconds slower than your needed goal pace, you may want to try the Field Test another time.

Even if you must postpone your attempt, you will want to run regularly from now until you get another chance to take it. You will see improvement! And you can come back to this article if you feel you’re in striking distance of the goal time the next time around.

But, if you have a sense of your current comfortable running pace, and know your goal pace is within reach… what you need to do now depends on how much time you have before the Field Test.

Two caveats that apply to everyone:

  1. You absolutely should do strength training on the same days as your runs, especially before the runs if you can.
  2. Eat clean, eat a lot of protein, and get as much sleep as you can every night.

Normally one would advise against strength training before a training run. But since the Army Field Test requires you do your strength tests before the run, the best way to train for the Test run is to do strength training and THEN go run. Train with the same pattern you’re going to need to follow on Test Day. This will also get you used to the physical fatigue your upper body and core will feel on your Test run.

And no matter what, your recovery and nutrition are vital to how well your body responds to any training. The cleaner and better your nutrition and rest habits are during training, the better your body will bounce back, and the better you’re going to ultimately do in workouts… not to mention on Field Test Day.

If you have less than two weeks and you’ve been struggling to hit your goal pace:

I would highly recommend getting on a treadmill and setting it as close to goal pace as you can manage. To figure out the treadmill speed, divide 60 by the mile pace to get the miles per hour setting for the treadmill. An 8:00 mile would be 7.5 mph (60/8), for example, while an 8:15 mile (8.25 minutes) would be 7.3 mph (60/8.25) (Many modern gym treadmills helpfully display your speed’s mile pace, so if yours does this will save you some trouble).

Run the treadmill at this pace for no less than 15 minutes. If you can do 20 minutes, do it. If at any point you’re going to pass out, vomit or something similarly dire… just slow the treadmill down or stop it until you get your bearings back. If possible, get back on, restore the pace and keep going for the remaining needed minutes.

No matter what… after that workout, you may take a day off from running, then do the treadmill workout again. Repeat the treadmill pace run no less than every other day.

If you can manage running every single day with your other strength training without getting sore or overtly exhausted, then absolutely run every day (and if you do get real tired or sore later, take a day off before working out again). At this point, you want to run at goal pace as much as you can possibly muster. Just make sure to rest from running the last 2 days before the Field Test, so your lower body can recover.

Similar to how I approached my last marathon taper, you will want to run at or near goal pace on a treadmill for short periods as many days as you can. If nothing else, this helps you ingrain the pace at which you need to run on Field Test Day.

If by the week prior to the Test you’re not able to hold even the minimum required pace for more than 1.5 miles… you may want to drop out of Test consideration for now and try again some other time.

But what will often happen is that running at this pace will get subtlely easier over the next few days as you develop a bit of neuromuscular fitness. Aerobic fitness is not as likely less than two weeks out, but you will improve that a little bit.

If you can get to Test Day feeling at all comfortable running goal pace for 15 minutes, you have a great chance of nailing the 2 Mile test.

If you have more than two weeks before the Field Test:

I would recommend running at least a couple miles, more if you can comfortably handle it, 3+ times per week.

The more time you have to train and the more miles you can run per week, the less important it becomes for you to run at goal pace during all of these workouts.

Still, every week, start with a 2+ mile run as close to goal pace as you can muster. If you generally struggle to stay on pace, use a treadmill. It’s important that this first run of the week be at or very near goal pace. If you can comfortably do more than 2 miles for this run, then absolutely do more miles, up to a maximum of 4 miles. This workout is about mastering the needed pace, and while you don’t want to overkill you do want to practice what you need to do on Test Day.

After that, any of your other running during the week can be slower than goal pace, and the treadmill isn’t necessary for these runs. Running about a minute per mile slower than goal pace is perfectly fine.

For example, if you’re trying to nail an 8:00 mile, then you can do the rest of your runs at 9:00 per mile or slower. If 8:00 per mile feels totally comfortable, not only is that a very good sign, but of course you should just do that for all your runs. Still, give yourself permission on the remaining runs that week to go slower.

Once you’re within two weeks of the test, then:

  1. You need to scale back how much you run
  2. Every run should be at goal pace.

Run no less than 2 miles and no more than 3 miles on any day within two weeks of the Field Test. Unless you’re super comfortable with running every day, you will also want to take a day off from running between every workout if you’re not already.

You want to give your lower body space to recover from training and load up on glycogen for the Field Test.


No matter what, the key to nailing the Army Field Test’s run is to do as much running as you can with at least some of that running at goal pace… and as the test gets closer you want to do as much running at goal pace as you can.

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Want to stay warm in winter?

This occurred to me about halfway through a brutal cardio workout in my otherwise cold apartment (bearing in mind that it isn’t even that cold yet).

There are two very easy ways to warm up during the winter, if you’d rather not blast your heater too much, or it’s so cold your heater isn’t really keeping your home warm.

One, you can cook. Use the oven, use the stove, use whatever generates heat. Cook a full meal. The meal itself can provide some temporary warmth, but a 350-400 degree oven or a hot stove will also provide some warmth. Learn to love cooking again if you need some help dealing with the cold.

Two, you can do serious exercise. The easiest and most direct way is to do an aerobic or circuit exercise program that really kicks your ass, in the not-quite-comfort of your own home. During warmer months, you may sweat enough to need a mop. But in the winter, your overheating may be exactly what your body needs to counteract the cold seeping through your walls into your bones. The added circulation during and after the workout will help keep you warmer than you were before.

Another helpful exercise method is to run outdoors, if you can handle it. I run all winter, and it makes acclimating to the cold easier to spend any extended amount of time active in it. Plus, after about 10-20 minutes of running, you warm up about as much as you do any other time of year. What may overheat you in summer is exactly what you might need in the dead of winter. Once you get inside, it not only will feel warmer than the outdoors, but you’ll be warmer and able to handle the cooler indoor air a lot better.

So, while most people want to curl up under a blanket during the coldest months, your best bet to warm up and stay warm may be to do the opposite. Get busy, and get warm! And probably cook a nice meal as well.

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Circuit training, aka strength and cross training in the interim

So even though I still have a week of no-running left to go, nothing is stopping me from beginning my next phase of training.

So I went ahead and began this program this afternoon:

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I had bought and followed Adam Rosante’s 30 Second Body a while back. The program did help me some, but was at the time challenging to follow.

It’s a full body circuit training program that mixes a variety of compound squats and plank movements (like burpees) done as fast as you can properly do them for 30-60 seconds at a time. None of the movements seem hard at first glance, or even as you begin the intervals. But after a few of them, the relatively untrained body begins to feel tired, and that’s when you realize you still have 15-30 seconds left.

Right now it’s probably a perfect program for me.

  • I want to improve upper body strength, core strength and overall flexibility that may help my running once I get back into training
  • I also want to improve my overall physique, which will never be a 10 out of 10 but could always use some improvement in muscle definition.
  • With marathon training complete, and no imminent goal races on the horizon prior to next spring, I have plenty of time to primarily invest myself in a valuable physical activity other than running.
  • I also am hesitant to re-invest in a gym membership (having let my most recent one expire right before the Chicago Marathon), and am not sure that pushing weight is the best way to improve my overall conditioning right now anyway. Eventually, I want to get back in the gym, but I think I can get more out of something else.
  • Plus, this allows me to develop some overall aerobic and anaerobic conditioning aside from running… which in a lot of ways should help my running.

Would I recommend it over other similar book/video-based programs like Body For Life, or 30 Day Shred?

It was very difficult for me to do, and stick to. Granted, while I wasn’t super active at the time I first tried it… I used to do yoga, Pilates, and perform theatre and dance, so I’m no stranger to intense floor exercise.

I still found the 30 Second Body workouts to be an ass-kicker. I found myself many nights turning to the stop-gap 5 minute workouts listed in the book, simply because after a tough workday I didn’t feel I had it in me to do a full longer workout. Being a lot better trained physically these days, I’ll probably stick to the full workouts every day this time around. But they are very demanding. They will loom large every night I go to do them.

Two things to Rosante’s credit:

  1. My difficulty despite my other experience is proof that the workouts will challenge anyone. Someone in great condition will be challenged by them just as much as someone who doesn’t exercise otherwise.
  2. The workouts don’t prescribe a minimum rep count: If for example it takes everything you have to do 2 of Adam’s designed 3-Point Plankers in 30 seconds, then that is all you need to do for that interval. You only do as many reps as you can physically manage with good form, as fast or as slow as you need to go.

The 30 Second Body still incredibly challenging, but it’s not like an aerobics class or  a racing team workout where you may struggle to keep up with everyone else. You work at your own pace and capability, and that’s all you need to concern yourself with. In that sense, the workout plan can be done by anyone.

… provided you can safely do all the needed movements. Never mind good form (which Rosante doesn helpfully outline up front in the book). Some people can’t brace much of their weight on their hands for a plank movement. Some people’s knees or hips won’t allow for a compound squat exercise. Rosante does offer modification options for all the exercises to be done differently, but the more physical issues you have with key joints, the more likely this plan may not work for you.

I’m fortunate to be in good condition and able to do all of the movements, even if some moves are quite difficult for me. Some people meanwhile have wrist or shoulder or knee problems. Those folks, and even some who are not particularly athletic, may be better off with a more conventional workout plan.

Still, I really like the 30 Second Body program, and athletes looking for a cross training break from their pursuit of choice may get a lot of value from this six week program of intense circuit training. Non-athletes who feel ambitious, and promise to be careful about practicing the program, can also get a lot out of the 30 Second Body. That’s who Rosante originally designed it for, after all! Rosante is an accomplished personal trainer, so he has a pretty good idea of what people in general, let alone his clients, can handle.

As with any new exercise program, see your doctor, eat and rest right, be careful, blah blah blah: We’re adults. I think if you can handle doing a classic squat, push up, and burpee without your limbs exploding, you can get a lot of value out of Adam Rosante’s The 30 Second Body. I’m planning to do so myself this fall, starting about an hour ago.

Also, I need some bananas. My glycogen stores need some help!


The 30 Second Body is available at the link below:

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