Category Archives: cross training

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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