Category Archives: Exercise

Antioxidants: Helpful or Not?

Antioxidants are a fundamental mixed bag. On the one hand, their ability to heal the body and combat inflammation helps the body recover quickly from exercise, not to mention help protect your everyday function and immune system.

On the other hand, researchers have in recent years discovered that this antioxidant influx also blunts the body’s adaption and supercompensation to training, that while you heal more quickly and completely you also interfere with the body’s ‘learning process’ in fighting the inflammation markers and growing to adapt to the stressor of your intense training.

Basically, because antioxidants are an external healer, your body is less likely to learn to adapt to the stress for future workouts.

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Building A Better Self: July 2021 Edition

I not only finished Friday with 34 miles this week, with this weekend and a long run workout still to come (after 36 miles last week), but I did so despite insomnia on Thursday night and my air conditioner problem messing with my sleep earlier this week.

While obviously tired, I didn’t feel burned out, and I had the energy in me to pump out 30-45 minute training workouts on the treadmill after work, AND run 1K-2K on all my work breaks (except only for Thursday afternoon, which I walked). I played everything by ear and was willing to bail on any of the above if I simply didn’t feel well enough to do it.

But I did all of the above. No stimulants (outside of the same 12 oz of coffee I have had every morning for years and years), no crutches, no supplements I hadn’t already been taking for a while. Even now, other than understandable general fatigue (and yes I got decent sleep last night), I feel okay.

How am I doing this? I haven’t taken a complete day off from training since June 23 (10 days ago)

There’s a few new things I’m consistently doing. Some regular readers already know about, but some things not as much:

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I love you, Spin Bike, but we need to see other people

Photo by Ivan Safmkov on Pexels.com

I have probably used the spin bike more than any other piece of equipment at the gym over the last year. It’s been my go-to cross training equipment while in-between training cycles, a low-key aerobic workout so easy to do I often will read books while doing it.

But it’s time to stop and take a break. It’s not you, Spin Bike, it’s definitely me. There isn’t anything wrong with stationary indoor cycling in general.

In my case, I not only have ramped up marathon training ahead of Indy Monumental, but I also decided that two signs were too strong to ignore.

The stiffness in my legs after most spin bike sessions is a sign I need to focus on other training methods. Typically, I would just stretch after spin bike sessions and this would subside. But if instead of limber and flexible my key movers were feeling tight while walking afterward, that intuitively tells me that range of motion isn’t helping my running. I have to keep in mind my primary goal.

Also, more importantly, the spin bike in general can exacerbate upper and lower crossed posture problems, encouraging tightly held, slumped shoulders, bent-in under-stretched hip flexors, and a rounded back from all that sitting on the bike. Most trainers working with clients who have upper crossed syndrome will make a point to emphasize those clients should not do cycling while working on their issue. It emphasizes the very (lack of) range of motion they need to change.

When you spend all day sitting in an office and have to therapeutically address those posture issues in training, the last thing you probably need is extra quality time sitting while exercising.

So, sadly, I decided a little bit ago to stop using the spin bike in training. There’s other methods that can better emphasize use of my running muscles while also better promoting the posture and range of motion I need to maintain to succeed.

For now, the spin bike and I can just be friends.

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The Idea of a Bad Workout

I don’t have bad workouts.

That’s definitely not because I’m perfect, or because I don’t challenge myself. And it’s not like I don’t have good workouts.

I’ve had plenty of workouts that didn’t go the way I wanted. I fail over and over again. I’ve had to cut workouts short, re-configure workouts, turn quality workouts into simple easy runs, stop the workout early and go home, etc.

But none of these workouts were bad. I didn’t screw them up… even if maybe I screwed something up (e.g. ran repeats too fast, went out too hard, didn’t bring hydration, ate or hydrated too much, etc).

I could give you a treatise on the perils of results based analysis, e.g. you ran a race and won, so you think therefore the way you ran the race was good… or you didn’t hit your goal time or finish despite following your race plan, and you decided therefore you screwed it up.

On a similar note, we as human beings often attach emotional judgment to our workouts and races. And so many have a workout not go the way they want and decide the workout was therefore bad. I see and hear this far too often.

To me, workouts are truly bad only if they set back your growth, fitness, or life… for avoidable reasons that were totally within your control.

  • Going out for a run if you’re injured and know you should rest, and aggravating the injury
  • You’re burned out and exhausted and know a run isn’t going to help you in any way, but you go and run anyway.
  • Running in a severe thunderstorm or tornado.
  • Chasing after someone while holding a knife, to try and end them.

As you can see, my threshold for labeling a bad run is somewhat higher than most people.

If I go out for a run, feel crappy the whole way, and don’t feel great when it’s done, I don’t consider that a bad run. I consider that a learning experience. Maybe I could have skipped that run. And now I know, thanks to that run, that maybe running in those circumstances isn’t the best idea or use of my energy.

Today I went out for speed intervals after yet another consecutive night of poor sleep (been having an unusual stretch of these nights recently). I was up for the run but my energy wasn’t high, and though I gave a solid 10K effort I couldn’t go as hard in the repeats as I would have liked.

I did knock out four solid repeats out of the five needed, but I knew while finishing the 4th that I was tapped and at the point where the 5th might push me too far for my good. So I stopped after that 4th and headed home.

Was it a bad workout because I never felt quite right, or because I couldn’t get myself to eke out one last repeat, or because I did them closer to threshold/10K effort than the desired 5K/mile effort?

Or was it a good workout because I made progress in my training plan, finished the needed workout minus just one repeat, didn’t lose any ground with training since I’m still in the base/foundational phase, and moderated my effort to where I felt more rewarded than worn out by a key workout in tired circumstances?

Recall I mentioned the value in giving every workout a purpose. On a similar note, if a run doesn’t go the way you want or doesn’t feel at all good, you can still take away some positive value from your workout. It’s rarely a total waste as long as you apply yourself.

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Why Does Pachev’s Always on The Run Routine work?

I’ve talked before about Sasha Pachev, the prolific patriarch of the prolific Pachev running family in Utah. To this day, I still consider his simple advice among the most effective for marathon training. Much like Hal Higdon, Pachev preaches volume first through a consistent diet of easy running, before progressing to a simple but consistent variety of speed and tempo workouts.

One of Pachev’s preached staples is what he calls his Always On The Run Routine. Basically, after training in the morning, every few hours he will take a break and go jog a mile. Pachev, to paraphrase, says this is to get the body moving, that we as humans were not designed to sit all day and that a short run every few hours is more natural, plus adds running volume and practice.

Keep in mind Pachev at his peak trained 80-100 miles a week, and was capable of running a sub-2:30 marathon. He was an elite-caliber runner and even in his older age probably still is. Even with such a high volume it didn’t take him more 10-12 hours a week to train. So, sure, Pachev’s scheduled short jogs between workouts were probably not too taxing after 10-20 mile workouts in the morning.

That said, though I’m nowhere near the prolific runner Pachev is, I have also taken inter-workout jogs during breaks to generally positive effect. I used to occasionally do them towards the end of my time in Chicago.

And now, I’ve been doing these short jogs during the workday, around the neighborhood during 15 minute breaks and after eating lunch. I had previously walked outside during breaks, but along with wanting to do more than walk I also didn’t like being out in the Vegas sun as long as it took to take these “short walks”. I could finish a jog 5 minutes faster on breaks, and well before the end of my lunch break, without being in the sun long enough to cause distress. Though sun exposure is good for your body, the decreased time in the hot sun was better for my skin.

I’m now running about 3-4 miles during the workday, in addition to training during the morning and weekends (as the heat rises and wanting to get better sleep, I’ve ditched postwork evening runs for now). I have effectively, though somewhat inadvertently, adopted Pachev’s Always On The Run Routine.

And, despite my current weekly mileage rocketing upward from all these little runs, I don’t feel any significant signs of burnout, no issues other than a bit of random soreness here or there, or occasional fatigue accumulation (as you would after a few days of multiple runs).

Plus, my running has shown more substantial week over week improvement than it was during earlier conventional training. I simply took one day off this weekend, and my running improved dramatically once I returned on Monday. Bear in mind that I’m not coming off a break in training: I’ve been running and endurance training for a while.

So obviously this had me considering what about this routine contributes to run development. I did land on a few ideas.

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Rapid-Fire Sets: A Strength Training Workout For Endurance and Strength

The Rapid Fire Set workout can be done on a Smith Machine rack or on strength machines at the gym

The following strength training workout is an excellent way to test your strength while still developing your muscular endurance.

It requires that you can quickly adjust the weight: Gym machines, a Smith rack, or at home with quickly adjustable dumbbells. I wouldn’t recommend doing this workout with conventional barbells or dumbbells unless you have the entire training area to yourself, such as at a home gym. Definitely don’t do this with barbells and dumbbells at a regular gym.

You basically do a lot of light, gradually increasing reps for each exercise in rapid-fire sets of just 4 reps per set. Eventually, you hit a max weight, then take the weight down and repeat the rapid-fire cycle one more time.

This can build muscular endurance while still building muscular strength, and gets your heart rate going enough to generate better mitochondrial development than your typical strength endurance weight training.

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Heart Rate Training Zones: A New Approach

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

Heart Rate training zone systems take for granted that a fairly high level of sustained aerobic effort is comfortable or consistently sustainable for most people, which of course it’s not. Most runners just take for granted that it’s normal and never consider that what they consider “easy” or “recovery” is in fact still too hard.

One of the reasons a runner’s aerobic development improves more quickly than their neuromuscular development is because running itself is very demanding. On both fronts you’re being pushed very hard. However, your aerobic and hormonal capacities bounce back much more quickly than your muscles, bones and joints.

Still, it’s incredibly stressful on your body chemistry to go that hard that often, and the fatigue can snowball too quickly for you to be able to handle a high volume of that kind of aerobic training.

In my cross training, I find I need to go pretty hard to get to Zone 1 in most heart rate training zone systems… somewhat too hard for the purposes of whatever cross training I’m doing. The level of effort require would leave me rather tired and possibly sore. This supposed recovery exercise ends up not helping me recover much at all.

It’s not that most runners are just stronger. They just spend all their lives in this perpetual fatigue, physical and adrenal. The long term effects on their health are taken for granted as aging or wear and tear, when in actuality it’s probably preventable… without compromising your fitness or development.

My most recent heart rate zones of choice were a standard 50/60/70/80/90/100 split based on the Karvonen Formula, which uses heart rate reserve. This is a function of your resting and max heart rates, and the zones are proportioned against those rates. Zone 1 for example would be 50-60% of the gap between your resting and max heart rate (your “heart rate reserve (HRR)”), zone 2 60-70% of the HRR, etc.

With a max HR of around 184 beats per minute, this sets my minimum training heart rate around 120 (depending on what my resting heart rate is at that time), with zone 1 peaking at about 130-135. This is about where most heart rate zone systems would put zone 1, and is considered a “recovery” heart rate.

On the spin bike, even at a brisk but easy effort, my heart rate is around 105-110. On the ARC Trainer I can get to 125-130, but only with a more moderate effort. On the rowing machine, a concerted effort typically gets me to about 110-120.

However, when running, I rarely can cruise at a heart rate below 130, no matter how slow and easy I run. I basically have to stop and walk/run to average a zone 1 heart rate. This is not a product of lacking fitness: Even at my peak condition and training in Chicago, it took the right combination of circumstances for me to average 125-130 at an easy effort.


All of this is to say that maybe our view of heart rate zones and “recovery zones” is a bit warped and could use an adjustment.

This is especially true in our coronavirus circumstances, where if we go to the gym (and in many cases train outside) we need to wear a mask while while exercising. We can’t huff and puff at full volume and expect max results if a mask is filtering much of the air taken in or expelled. I’ve talked before about this being a long term training benefit, but in the present it makes the effort required for aerobic training a bit too much.

Bear in mind as well that, to maintain the typical intensity for a full volume of training, you have to consume a lot of carbohydrates, which can cause a variety of inflammatory health problems if consumed in the large amounts that most endurance athletes tend to require.

One of the reasons low-carb diets tend not to work well for endurance athletes is because they train at an intensity where they need a lot of glycogen, and that can only come from and be replenished from a carbohydrate rich diet.

Could it be possible to scale back carb consumption to a more (shall I say) human level, rely more on slower fat burning, and still be able to train, perform, and develop at a high level.

I say yes, and I say the key to doing so is combining (now-)traditional 80/20 training principles with a revised approach to heart rate zones.

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