Category Archives: Exercise

Cool, and certainly not impossible

CoolImpossibleCaveat: I’ve talked before about books relevant to training plans I’ve reviewed, but I’m not big on book reviews. I’ll talk about my thoughts on reading this book, but this is not totally a review of the book. If interested, look up reviews of the book or browse a copy separately on your own. And of course, if you disagree with any of the following… cool.


A few weeks back at a local bookstore I stumbled upon and bought a book by Eric Orton called The Cool Impossible. Orton gained fame in Christopher MacDougal’s book Born To Run, about Christopher’s journey to run the Copper Canyon ultra with the uncanny endurance-running Tarahumara natives of northwest Mexico.

Eric Orton coached Chris through training for the ultra, and his personally developed methods (derived in no small part from what he learned with the Tarahumara) find their way into this book I found a few weeks ago.

I read this book and unlike other running books it doesn’t map out a training plan to prepare for a goal race. Instead, what training plan the book has intends to rebuild your running ability through balance and strength exercises using slant/wobble boards and a balance ball, and later through perfecting your running form and cadence through drills and then shorter bouts of running that grow gradually longer over 26 weeks (including the initial strength building phase) of general training.

Orton details how the Tarahumara run on custom-made minimalist shoes made from old tires on uneven, rocky trails that constantly require stepping on and pushing off from uneven terrain. Most runners in civlization run on cleaner, flatter surfaces, and don’t develop the nuanced lower body strength from running on rocky terrain that the Tarahumara do.

Reading through these anecdotes and Orton’s breakdown of the subsequent exercises, two ideas jumped out at me.

1) Virtually no one else who coaches or writes about running even talks about this, let alone works on or teaches how to do this.

In fact, most running coaches probably have no idea how to run on truly uneven terrain, even if they run trails or trail races. Such runners probably stick to paths and then just tiptoe through these sections that Orton and the Tarahumara have the nuanced strength to run straight through.

2) Hey wait, I already do this.

Growing up in dry hot Vegas, what grass we had in the schoolyard and parks was largely unmaintained. It was mowed and occasionally weedwacked, sure. But we played soccer and ran laps over lumpy, rugged grass whose random bumps and divots you perhaps got used to over time.

Add in running over dusty desert dirt, the random consistency of what pavement there was, and I got a lot of practice growing up in running over uneven terrain. I wasn’t even a distance runner.

Once I got seriously into distance running so many years later, I was among the few who had no problem taking my run onto the dirt fringes of the Lakefront Trail, or even onto the similarly rugged, inconsistent grass terrain.

Whenever I slip in icy terrain during winter, I have the proprioception to stay balanced and continue forward without falling or getting hurt. Even when I do trip or slip and begin to fall, I have the awareness, balance and strength to often stay on my feet, or at least land safely without injury.

Over my life I’ve been in a few messy homes, workplaces, classrooms, and got used to stepping through and over a variety of mess, stepping accidentally on all sorts of random things, and staying balanced when that happened.

That certainly helped when I got into theatre and dance, and that sort of dynamic balance came in handy. Add in the deep movement training of both disciplines, and having that now-natural perception helped a lot when I later got into distance running.

I realize I’m not a typical case, that most other people won’t have this ability or awareness if they don’t discover and work on it. Sure, they may have some, but a lot of them tiptoe through tough spots, or hurt something as soon as they step off-balance on something. A book like this might actually be really useful for a large number of such runners.

Meanwhile, while I might get some value out of some of the exercises or the renovative training plan (probably after the Chicago Marathon in October, though)… the idea of, say, balancing on one foot on a slanted surface isn’t new territory for me. In fact, I had to do stuff like that in George Lewis’ Meyerhold Biomechanics theatre class every week.

A few weeks ago, I had to run through large swaths of terrain during my last 17 miler. Weather, people and conditions forced me onto bumpy grass and dirt for a good portion of it. Not only have I not forgotten how, but I still need and utilize those abilities today.

I’m glad I got this book, and there’s useful material in here, even if it turns out I already have some of this knowledge. Sometimes it’s cool (and certainly not impossible) to learn that what you innately knew isn’t foreign to others.

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Headwinds are a training blessing in disguise

agriculture alternative energy clouds countryside

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve spent a busy April mostly off the grid. I am running the Vancouver Marathon in 8 days. Since muscle damage takes about 14 days to fully repair and quality training’s benefits take about 10 days to manifest in your running, I am done with high volume quality training or any tough workouts. Now it’s about maintaining conditioning and resting up for the marathon.

After getting sick a few weeks ago I had to abbreviate peak training, and I ran a final 17 mile peak run last weekend. The 20 miler I ran in mid-March would be my only one this training cycle, and the 40-45 mile weeks I had that month would be as high as my volume would get.

So, that final long run. Due to weather forecasts and other needs, I had to run it on a Friday right after work. Even though it was the best possible weather of any time I could run that weekend, I had to do most of the run into a stiff 25-30 mph headwind.

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Training volume is about more than mileage

One runner does a 12 mile run on the weekend. The only other run he does is a 6 mile run on Wednesday night.

One runner runs 3 miles every day, except for a rest day on Sunday.

One runner does a 5 mile run Tuesday and Thursday, then she does a longer 8 mile run on Saturday.

A sprinter practices 3200 meters of reps plus 2 miles of warmup and cooldown jogging on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday she does an easy 3 mile run. She takes the weekend off.

All of these runners run the exact same mileage every week (18 miles). Would you consider their training equal? Do you think they’ll all develop their running ability the same way?

More importantly, is it accurate to cast a firm judgment on the quality of their training largely based on the fact that they run 18 miles a week?

I would say not. And yet that’s the pedestal on which so many runners and coaches put weekly mileage.

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Long Walks as Recovery Day training hedges

To save money, I’ve been walking home from work on days where I don’t haul run or drive home (yes, even in cold Chicago winter weather; when it’s not -16 degrees outside the conditions aren’t that bad). I have the luxury of living about 5K from where I work, and this while time consuming isn’t all that bad.

One great feature of Ventra Chicago’s web platform is it shows you your historical usage of your transit card. Thus I saw about a month ago that even though I was paying $105 a month, I wasn’t using $105 worth of transit (based on a value of $2.50 per trip) each month.

So I stopped my pass autoload and set up a cash autoload. This now saves me about $30-40 a month.

Since every use now costs actual money, I take fewer incidental trips and now have incentive to find other ways to and from work… especially since (being 5K away) I have several commuting options.

While I could just haul-run home every weekday… I’m also undertaking a training plan with built in rest days, and at this stage I’d rather not beat myself up with carrying 10-15 extra pounds several miles while running (for various reasons I have to carry stuff to work) at the end of every workday, while dodging vehicles, other commuters and incidental harassment.

Thus I’ve been walking home from work, and while this can take over an hour it’s a relaxing low-intensity form of aerobic exercise. Incidental walking shorter than 30 uninterrupted minutes isn’t really exercise, but anything beyond that starts to require extra aerobic effort.

Without wearing and tearing your body you get a little extra aerobic benefit from a long walk. You also get the fat burning benefit from walking several miles, though this is a tangential benefit. Walking is such a beneficial low-key exercise that most brolifters swear by walking as a key cardio component, and Hal Higdon considers it a form of beneficial cross training.

So if I’m not planning to run on a given day, or if I’m not feeling well enough to run a few miles… I’ll opt to take a long walk instead. It’s not that stressful, it helps get your circulation going, and provides a bit of aerobic benefit.

Long walks are a fine hedge for physical activity on a recovery day. And even if I’m not running home from work, at least I’m walking home instead. Ditching my transit pass didn’t just save me money, but also helped me add some extra training.

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KINeSYS: The best running sunscreen I’ve ever used

Before last year’s ill-fated Vancouver Marathon, I visited the race’s Expo and did some opportune shopping for in-race items I would need, such as Clif Shot Bloks.

I also needed sunblock, but was wary of being suckered in when I encountered the people selling KINeSYS, a Vancouver-based brand of sunscreen. However, it had several qualities that quickly drew me in.

  • It didn’t contain the highly reactive and dangerous carcinogens oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.
  • It sprays on, like other athletic sunscreens.
  • But! It doesn’t leave the tell-tale disgusting film that other sunscreens do. Since it’s oil free, it absorbs into your skin leaving it feeling far more normal, and doesn’t smear all over your clothes or getting into your sweat and your eyes.
  • Because of that liquid consistency, it sprays directly toward your skin, more like a liquid than an aerosol. You won’t lose valuable sunscreen to the air, or end up breathing any of it in.
  • It’s also fragrance free, so you don’t end up with an overt weird sunscreen smell.
  • It comes in a portable 1oz spray bottle that can easily be carried on your person at the race, allowing re-application in mid-marathon to be easily done. It’s also a travel-acceptable size, allowing you to fly with it.
  • It didn’t cost too much more than typical sunscreens. The $8.99 listed on the company’s Amazon page is pretty much what I paid in Vancouver BC (in Canadian currency). They have other types they sell at different prices, but the base $8.99 variety worked just fine.

Since I don’t need to use sunscreen terribly much, I still have the original 1oz bottle I bought back in May 2018. But if I needed more sunscreen I absolutely would order this again.

Those of you who run a lot in sunny, hot climates, and want to improve the quality (and lower the health risk) of the sunscreen you use, I’d absolutely recommend trying KINeSYS.

Funny how the Canadians do sunscreen better than we do.

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Injuries, your aerobic fitness, and your neuromuscular fitness

person seating on bench while holding knees

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Most common injuries happen because your aerobic fitness improves before your neuromuscular fitness does. You aerobically can run faster, but your bones/muscles/tendons/etc can’t handle running faster yet.

This is actually one (of many) reasons many running minds oppose tempo running. You’re often asking a lot from your body’s structure before it’s built up strength to handle it. While I don’t consider that a damning argument against tempo running, that’s a valid point.

This is also a key reason most recommend you do most of your running at an easy pace. You may be aerobically able to run faster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your body is ready to run faster. The best way to help your body build the strength to run faster over time is to ask it to run a lot, rather than to ask it to run faster.

The high volume of lower stress running builds the strength and endurance that will facilitate faster running later. Obviously it’s still a good idea to do some faster running, but not too much.

If you struggle with shin splints, IT band issues, knee/ankle/hip problems or muscle injuries… you may want to keep running, but slow way down.

You also will want to work on your form and make sure you’re not slamming your feet into the ground, unnecessarily torqueing your body or bearing weight on your joints, etc. This is to some extent a contributing factor to recurring injuries.

But for the most part, your recurring injuries are from running too hard too much too soon as your aerobic fitness grows ahead of your neuromuscular fitness.

If you want more info on the relationship between aerobic and neuromuscular fitness, the book Build Your Running Body is a great all-around running resource for this and other subject. It’s definitely worth a look.

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The Best Beginner’s 5K Training Plan: Building a winning habit with easy every day runs.

The best 5K training plan for beginners is simple, and addresses the hardest part about doing it: Yourself.

If you’re not a runner but you want to run a 5K, there’s a multitude of training plans you can follow over 8-12 weeks to get ready. The most popular is Couch to 5K, where you follow a run/walk approach 3 days a week and build up to running 3 uninterrupted miles by week 8.

Almost every beginner plan has you run 3-4 days a week, every other day. As I mentioned in a recent post, what derails you on these plans is (somewhat ironically) the scheduled days off.

Intended to help you recover, the days off instead tempt novices back into their old habit of not-running, and prevent running from becoming a repeatable, sustainable habit.

It ironically takes more discipline to maintain a half-time running schedule over time than it does to maintain an every-day running habit. Though starting an everyday running habit is more of a grind in the short run, you more quickly ingrain running as a repeatable habit. It becomes easier to continue training.

Meanwhile, if you’re taking a day off every other day, not to mention a full weekend off each week… it’s very easy to forget or give in to temptation, and skip the next workout.

And the next. And eventually quit running.

This is because you’re not building a repeatable habit. You do a workout one day, but then do no workout the next day.

Imagine if instead of brushing your teeth every day, you brushed them three times a week. Chances are pretty good you’d forget to brush your teeth a lot more often doing it three times a week. However, brushing them everyday quickly ingrained the action as a habit, and you do it without a second thought.

This is the power of habit. And it’s the key to conquering your inertia towards exercise, let alone towards training to run a 5K. The key isn’t just to train yourself to run 3+ miles without stopping. The key is to build the habit of running so that it’s easier to get you to do the workouts you need.

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New Year’s Resolution To Run: Sticking to a new running habit

people walking on shore

This stock photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com shows a lot of casual runners who were beginners once… probably while wearing shoes and not wearing those shirts, though

The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fail within three weeks. People fall back to the old habits they’re trying to break, habits built over a lifetime.

I’m not the guru on habits that others are. To learn more about how habits form and can get formed, you may want to read up from others who specialize on the subject.

James Clear just released a great new book on the subject called Atomic Habits, full of actionable advice and tips on how to form and maintain positive habits. Clear’s also written some great articles on the subject that are worth a look.

One of the classics on human habits is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, a fascinating narrative of personal cases that revealed how the brain is wired to form and follow habits. Even people who suffer permanent brain damage and lose memory still retain old habits. Definitely worth a look.


That said, a lot of people take up an exercise goal as a resolution. Gyms get their most signups during the New Year. The gyms are crowded for a few weeks, then people flake off.

Ditto the trails on the weekends, as people decide to start running. I won’t go as far as to call the Lakefront Trail “amateur hour” (that’s Wrigleyville during peak drinking hours, to be honest). But there’s a lot of newcomers during the first few weekends in January. Then the pull of old sedentary habits (not to mention intimidation from the cold!) keeps them from coming back once February rolls around.


So you want to start running as your resolution? Or come back to running? You want the habit to stick beyond Martin Luther King Day? Or you decided on a whim to register for a spring race like the Shamrock Shuffle and now you’ve got to train for it?

Here are some ideas that can at least give you a fighting chance of sticking to the habit:

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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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You won’t see your abs until you see fat loss

 

I’m not sharing any groundbreaking info in repeating this, but it’s important:

If you want washboard abs, or at the least for your ab muscles to appear on your stomach… you have to lose enough body fat for them to appear.

Making the ab muscles bigger won’t work in itself. They are covered in fat, and you have to burn that fat in order for them to appear.

You also cannot spot-reduce fat. Fat burns in a mostly even fashion from the inside out, all across your body. To lose the fat over your abs, you have to lose a corresponding amount of fat all over your body.

Plus, fat is first burned from the center of your body, from around your organs and muscles. As that’s exhausted, then your body moves to the fat closer to your skin. If you want to burn the surface fat over your abs, you’ve got to burn off all that other internal fat first.

This takes quite a bit of fat burning, and you typically need to diet down to a rather low body fat percentage before you can see ab definition. For men, this is about 10-12% max, and for women (who biologically carry more fat) this is around 16-19% max.

Yes, strength training helps you get there, not just because muscle burns calories (and in turn fat), but because more prominent muscle will begin to show through the skin and reduced fat layers sooner than less-prominent muscle.

However, strength training is only one part of achieving the needed definition for visible abs. Diet and body composition is the larger component. You can’t out-train your diet and composition.

So if you want six pack abs, maybe take it easy on the core training and ab workouts. While good for core strength, that’s only one minor component of getting your abs to show. You need to lose the fat in a healthy fashion for the muscle to emerge.

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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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Ensure your running fitness by building a Running Floor

Finding it hard to keep up with mileage demands? Finding yourself taking days off and skipping workouts?

If you want or need to run, but find much of your workout schedule daunting or find you don’t have the time you want/need to run… the key is to do a little bit of running rather than no running at all.

For example:

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100 mile weeks are for elites. You should run as much as your life allows.

Despite talking about adding mileage to my training… I’m not worried about building a lot of new running volume. I peaked at 50-55 miles my last training cycle, and that’s probably fine as a max average for this next training cycle. Like most, I don’t have the natural speed to run more than that given my available time and physical capacity.

Elites who run 100+ miles a week also run easy 6-7 minute miles, can run speedwork with 4:00-5:00 minute/mile paces, and can knock out those 100+ miles a week in fewer than 8-9 hours per week of running.

Another important point: Virtually all elite runners are sponsored and can build their entire lives around training because running can be their job. They can spend virtually all the time outside of training relaxing and focusing on recovery.


Meanwhile, working class runners do not have that luxury. We also have to navigate the stressors, work and competing demands of everyday life. Those who live in big cities also have to commute a lot on foot. Eliud Kipchoge is not battling hordes on the subway to get to a day job, and then weaving his way through the neighborhood to get groceries and pay bills, while also training to run a 2:00:00 marathon for his next race.

So, barring the speed to run easy at 7:00/mile plus some resourcefulness and extra ambition… most of us shouldn’t run more than 60-70 miles a week. Not only are most of us not built to reasonably run that kind of volume, but we’ve got so much other work to do everyday that we risk burnout and injury going beyond that.

If your easy mile pace is more like 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 12:00 or slower per mile… your volume should be lower until you pace improves.

I’ve written a bit about this before, but we should look at our training volume in terms of time required than in terms of just mileage.

I offer the following guidelines, hodge podged together from the principles of other top running minds (Daniels, Hanson, Fitzgerald, Higdon, etc).

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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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