Category Archives: cross training

A tip for an easy, productive Double Workout Day

adventure athlete athletic daylight

If you do double workout days, a short jog isn’t your only option. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Higher volume runners practice doubles, where they add a 2nd shorter run later in a day after a prior regular morning run.

It’s a key to building those 120+ mile weeks that elites run. Otherwise, such a runner’s typical workout tops 10 miles and with few exceptions that’s not sustainable long term.

However, miles on your legs are still miles on your legs, and a runner wanting to avoid burnout and injury probably should avoid two runs on easy days.

Still, there’s value in endurance training with doing double workouts, and there’s an easy way to do two workouts in a day without taxing your legs through an extended run more than once.

Just cross train for the second workout. It seems so obvious, and yet so many don’t think to do it. Cross training is low impact aerobic exercise, and there’s a reason IronFit refers to the practice as “Free Miles”. Even if you’re not actually running, you’re working and developing aerobic fitness that will help you down the line.

On top of that, you’re resting bones, joints and muscles that have to do work on a regular run, and avoiding wear and tear that exacerbates the amount of recovery you need.

For example, you run 6-10 miles in the morning. You go through your workday. After work, instead of a 3-4 mile recovery run, you hit the spin bike for 45 minutes at an easy aerobic heart rate. Or you use the rowing machine for half an hour. Or the ARC Trainer, or the elliptical. You get the idea.

You could also do strength training for that 2nd workout instead, provided your body is up to doing so. The extra anabolic boost could jump start your overall recovery, especially when paired with a good healthy dinner and a lot of sleep.

Basically, there’s no law stating that to do a double workout day your 2nd workout has to be another run. Provided that morning workout was a full aerobic run, you could do just about any other form of cross or strength training for that 2nd workout and still receive dividends.

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Despite Not Running For A Week, I Might Have Improved My Running Fitness

After taking a week off from running due to a bum hamstring, I reeled off three days of short runs in a row, none over 3 miles. Felt fine.

Two days after that last run, I ran over 5 miles home from work, despite not having run farther than 3.5 miles in over a month. Felt fine.

How, despite not running double digit miles in a week since mid-June, despite losing an entire week after a month of minimal running… was I able to reel off 12 miles in 5 days?

Okay, I left out all the cross training I did in the gym. Sure, I also ate well and got good rest. But, along with the 5 hours of cross training I did during the week “off” from running, I’ve been cross training quite a bit outside of any running. This is in large part because I’m about to move cross country, and with no goal race on the horizon I want to take it a bit easier while focusing my energy on cleaning up and packing.

At the same time, I’ve been ramping up my weekly cross training akin to a runner ramping up their mileage ahead of a goal race. Of course, the cross training is not as physically intense as regular running. And that’s a key reason I’ve been able to do so much of it in the interim.

The week after my last double digit mile week, I logged 2 hours of non-running cross training. The week after that, 2.5 hours. The week after that, 3.8 hours. And sure, I was not feeling great the week I got hurt, so I only logged 2 hours. But, with no ability to run, I logged extra time cross training and got 5 hours that week.

In this past week, I logged 5.8 hours of cross training in addition to 16.2 total miles, close to 8 hours total. Factoring in the heart rate training and calorie burn of the cross training, I finished last week trained to a level equivalent to about 24 miles of running a week.

My aerobic fitness development didn’t stall as my mileage dropped to lows unseen since before I began seriously running. I still logged easy/moderate efforts on the ARC Trainer, and easy sessions on the spin bike. Plus, this ignores all the day to day walking I have to do while living in Chicago (for now).

And because of this it’s certainly possible that, despite not running for a full week, my running fitness may have improved. Sure, a week of relative rest from running helps too. But I not only didn’t lose aerobic endurance… I might have gained some.

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The ARC Trainer might be a runner’s best cross training tool

ARCTrainerI’ve cross trained with a variety of methods and machines over my time as a runner. There might be more runner-specific cross training methods than the ARC Trainer, but you won’t find one simpler and more readily available in most gyms.

The ARC Trainer is a machine developed in 2003 by a company called Cybex International. Your legs move forward and back on tracking similar to an elliptical, except the motion is more straightforward, and the angle is closer to that of running uphill. On some ARC Trainers the arms may move as they do on ellipticals, but on most (including the ones at my gym) the handles are stationary and only your legs are intended to move.

The ARC Trainers are usually empty at gyms where they’re available (including my current gym), and it’s a bit of a surprise they have stuck around this long given their limited popularity. But they’re still present in many big gyms, and after discovering them recently I quickly discovered that they’re my most effective cross training tool. When the gym’s packed and everyone’s crowding the weights, treadmills and ellipticals, the ARC Trainers are a widely available and welcome training option.

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How runners can effectively track cross training

person on elliptical trainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One thing clear to me this summer is that getting in a lot of miles is probably not going to happen. It’s one reason I went ahead and joined the gym near my home: I need to do more to fill in the blanks with cross training. I’ll hit my key workouts whether outdoors or indoors, and then have a variety of indoor options with which to fill in the blanks.

Filling in the blanks however requires some analysis. People cross train, but people don’t have a firm basis from which to equate their cross training to the needed aerobic development.

How much work on the bike or elliptical equals one mile of easy running? Most do an indeterminate amount of cross training, but beyond knowing that it helps some with training, they have no idea how many miles or how much progress it has helped make them.

(I will also note that, while some writers and coaches think it so, I don’t consider treadmill running cross training. I realize at a zero incline, with a consistent surface, and with no wind resistance… running on a treadmill could be easier than regular running. However, there are enough equalizing factors I’ll discuss another time that can and usually do make it as difficult, sometimes more difficult, than regular running. Plus, you still are bearing all of your weight at a higher speed and intensity, as you do with running. So, I consider miles run on the treadmill equal to regular running miles.)

What’s the best way to figure out how much value, how much volume, a cross training workout provided to your training? It’s a question I’ve dabbled with over time, and wrestled with more in recent memory, especially now that I’m cross training more frequently at the gym.

I think the best way to figure this out is:

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The Quadathlon Long Distance Gym Workout

Are you a member of a gym? Does that gym have treadmills and at least three other different kinds of readily available cardio machines, like ellipticals, spin bikes, rowing machines, ARC Trainers, stair climbers… maybe even a pool (assuming of course that you can swim, and own a waterproof watch)?

Are you training for a long distance event like a marathon, an ultra, a bike race, a triathlon, or jury duty?

Then boy do I have a long distance workout for you!

Creative minds can look at all the information I’ve provided and immediately see where I’m going with this (and by the way ignoring a jury duty notice may technically be a crime), but I’m going to spell it out either way.

The Quadathlon is a 2-4 hour workout where you spend 30-60 minutes working at a sustainable pace on each of four different cardio exercises.

This of course requires that each machine or avenue of cross training is readily available: You don’t want to go do the stair climber section and find out they’re all taken or broken. So, of course, make sure the machines you want to use are available.

Also, how long you spend on each machine may be a function of a gym’s policies. Many gyms set a 30 minute limit for using a single machine. So then at a gym like that you do this as a 2 hour workout, period.

This also is a purely cardio/aerobic exercise, because the continuous aerobic activity is integral to the workout. A circuit of weight machines doesn’t work because, along with the stops and starts, trying to speed through these without stopping can be dangerous. It’s also very hard to find 30-60 minutes of continuous weight exercises (and the needed open machines!) that won’t leave you injured. Plus you have to adjust the weight of every machine. It’s a pain; don’t do it.

I recommend starting if possible with the most difficult apparatus first, and then finishing with the easiest, for obvious reasons: Your body will be freshest for the toughest exercise, and will reach the 4th and final one when you’re most tired. If this were intended to be a contest, I’d say do the exercises in reverse. But your goal is not to beat anybody: It’s to get a good workout that won’t injure you.

For example, because cross training is generally done as a soft-impact substitute for running, it makes the most sense to make running on the treadmill the 1st exercise. Running is fundamentally tougher to do than most other cardio exercises because you are bearing your entire weight throughout the exercise.

However, if one particular set of machines tends to fill up often while the others are empty, I would then start with the busiest machines first. Usually in gyms this is the treadmill, and that’s typically a logical starting point anyway. But gyms with rowing machines tend not to stock a lot of those despite being popular. So maybe if you want to row and that’s open you should start with that.

One exception: Some people consider swimming nice and relaxing, and may want to do that last. But if you struggle to stay afloat when tired, maybe don’t do that one last. I don’t want you to drown at the end of a 4 hour workout! Maybe do that one 2nd.

If you use the pool as one exercise, get your triathlete on afterward by quickly changing into gym-appropriate gear for your next exercise (probably the most difficult one). And vice versa: If switching to the pool, change quickly into your pool gear. Of course, don’t run or walk fast on wet terrain. Be brisk but be careful. Do all your rushing while sitting down.

A good exercise to do last, if available, is the exercise bike, especially if you opt for the easier recumbent (sitting) bike. It’s easier to maintain a basic aerobic effort when exhausted on the bike. Plus, more importantly, many tend to feel real stiff when they get off the bike after a long workout. You don’t want to get on another machine for 30-60 more minutes in that condition.

If your gym has it, you’ve used it before for more than a few minutes, and you’re up for it… another good final exercise is the hand crank, a sort of arm bike. The advantage to finishing with this is all the other exercises require your legs, and this one uses your arms instead, which should be somewhat fresher and won’t ask anything of your tired legs.

A good example of a common Quadathlon Workout would be this:

Event 1: Treadmill, at tempo, 30 minutes.
Event 2: Elliptical, easy/moderate effort, 30 minutes.
Event 3: ARC Trainer, first 3/4 easy, last 1/4 moderate, 30 minutes.
Event 4: Spin bike, whatever you can muster, 30 minutes.

Or, if your gym has a really popular rowing machine and it’s available:

Event 1: Rowing machine, moderate effort, 30 minutes.
Event 2: Treadmill, first 3/4 easy, last 1/4 at tempo, 30 minutes.
Event 3: Elliptical, easy/moderate effort, 30 minutes.
Event 4: Spin bike, whatever you can muster, 30 minutes.

Or maybe you cannot or don’t want to run at all this weekend.

Event 1: Swimming in gym pool, 30 minutes. Change into gym gear.
Event 2: ARC Trainer, easy/moderate effort, 30 minutes.
Event 3: Elliptical, easy/moderate effort, 30 minutes.
Event 4: Spin bike, whatever you can muster, 30 minutes.

Or:

Event 1: Jury duty, wait 4 hours, get sent home instead.
Event 2: Get to gym, get on treadmill…

… okay, maybe not.

For the most part, the Quadathlon is a challenging 2 hour aerobic workout, requiring differing ranges of motion throughout, and you usually only need to run 3-4 miles total.

This is an excellent idea for weekend “long run” workouts where you might not have it in you to knock out 10-20 miles that day but you do want to get in a long effort.

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Finally Getting Back In The Gym

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.

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One key to easy lunges

LungeThroughout my adult life I always struggled with lunges, the leg exercise where you lunge forward and stand on a bent front leg, then step back to a standing position. I’ve always had to work on leg and glute strength, and I’m sure that’s been a factor in my struggles.

My problem was that I’d wobble and struggle with balance stepping forward, and it was a fight to stably land and maintain balance. Stepping back always required a forceful push from the front leg.

I don’t remember the exact moment I realized the key to successful lunges, possibly while reading Jean Francois Harvey’s book Run Better. But once it occurred to me, and I focused on this element while lunging, they immediately became easy to do. And now it’s about focusing on control and building strength in habit.

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