I like to get to the gym on weekday mornings, or during a time on the weekend when I know the gym usually isn’t busy. Still, it often does get a bit busy, and so to minimize any disruption either way I order my exercises according to what best makes sense.
First of all, it makes more sense to not run or aerobically train on the strength training day. The swolework is already fairly challenging, and my body has lately responded better to an easy day of strength training with no running/cardio every three days than it has from running or cardio every day.
Secondly, continuing my research on training monotony, I’ve noticed that monotony scores are helped by not having any other training on the strength days. Monotony has gone up as I’ve gotten back to regular training, and it indicates that aerobically training everyday would probably be unsustainable. With every three days being only strength training, the monotony stays closer to normal.
This also indicates it may be sensible to make an otherwise do-able 2nd day run shorter, in order to vary that week’s training stress and reduce overall training monotony.
Conversely, it’s often a good idea to make the 3rd day workout longer, or add a 2nd cardio session elsewhere in that 3rd day, to increase the variance between days and reduce overall monotony.
So scheduled swolework days would come up and I’d make the judgment call to skip them. After a bigger 8/6/22 workout (which itself came after a 5 day break), I went two weeks until my next strength workout.
I’m not oblivious. During that time away, I realized my rotating strength workouts had become somewhat demanding. This was fine when I was not seriously run training following Vancouver 2022.
Now that I’m getting back to longer aerobic runs, the strength training sessions were a little too much. I wanted to scale back strength training but not train too infrequently, or go too long between training muscle groups.
So I made an adjustment
Right before my 8/21 workout, I decided to keep my current 3 day micro-cycle (strength + maybe cross train, running 2nd day, tougher running 3rd day, repeat). But instead of cycling between two workouts with 4-sets per group, I would do one set of every exercise. This reduces the demand a great deal, but also allows me to train everything more frequently.
Plus, with running now once again taking focus, strength is secondary and this volume better reflects that. I won’t get so tired or sore that it impacts my running, and reduces chances of having to skip workouts. Why skip what should be more easily attainable? Even if I dread an exercise, it’s just one set! I can do that!
I would maintain the overload progression I’ve been following to good results: Progressing from 8 reps to 12 reps over multiple workouts, then increasing the weight, dropping back to 8 reps, repeating. But now, it’s just one set, of every single exercise.
I did my central seven exercises, with some revisions. In my last such workout, I incidentally tried Overhead Squats with dumbbells instead of on the Smith rack. Since that felt considerably better, I decided going forward to do overhead squats that way. I also re-added Russian Twists, which would give my obliques some neglected work.
It went fine.
The 8/21 workout was fairly simple and went great, before I got on the spin bike for some low aerobic work.
Garmin Connect’s strength heat-map shows muscles worked. Red sections indicate groups that were primary movers in the workout. Yellow sections indicate secondary movers. Gray sections are untouched.
This workout was a nice snapshot of all the muscle groups I had been working over the last couple months. Everything from both workouts was for the first time together on one chart. (The exception is the obliques, as I hadn’t been doing Russian Twists in a while before this workout.)
It also provided a clear picture of what muscle groups were missing work. The workout was so easy, and I had only done 8 exercises, with plenty of room for more.
Connecting the missing links.
I decided to research a bit and try to get the whole picture red or yellow in one workout. I wanted every muscle group to work in at least one exercise. And then one set of all that can be my go-to total body strength workout.
In Garmin Connect, I’d go back to a prior workout that worked few muscle groups, then edit in different exercises to see the heat-map change. Then I’d delete them. This allowed me to find do-able exercises that would hit the different muscle groups.
I decided to re-introduce deadlifts, which I’d done in prior workout plans months ago. This addresses missing red work for the lower back core muscles. I injured my lower back doing them last December, so I had avoided them since. Some helpful feedback (from the Manosphere of all places) recently fixed my form issues that contributed to that injury. I decided to start deadlifts at a definite sub-max weight and progress from there. I also decided to avoid the Smith rack (where I suffered the December injury). Instead I’ll use dumbbells (DB’s), which I’ve done before with good results.
I mentioned re-adding the Russian Twists. I do these with one of the DB’s from my bench presses, so they’re done at half those exercises’ weight. This reds the obliques, so they’re staying in. I do these on the decline or flat bench after those bench presses.
I re-added triceps extensions on the cable deck. I had removed these, as my other upper body exercises were already involving triceps as secondary movers. However, I wanted one set of red primary exercises for triceps, so the extensions are back.
I re-added work on the hip abduction machine (your legs are in weighted clamps and you press them outward). They’re usually a skippable isolation exercise. But the abductors are a hard muscle to red out otherwise, and hip abductions are a red exercise for those. Abductions are not hard to do with considerable weight and proper form.
The hardest heatmap group to find exercises for is the neck. Exercises you think impact that group (like shrugs or neck extensions) don’t impact them on the Garmin heatmap. Randomly I thought of the levator scapulae muscles. I found a Garmin option for the Levator Scapulae Stretch (a neck stretch against resistance from your arms). It turns out that exercise turned the muscle group red! So I’m doing those now (no weight added).
I gave this a try this morning.
This morning I knocked out a total body strength workout. I did 1 set of 11 reps for all twelve (12) exercises, in this order.
This workout, tough but do-able, only took 21 minutes.
After I finished, I updated Garmin Connect and then realized I hadn’t done or programmed anything for calves. Calves however are pretty easy to program. I just did a quick set of standing bodyweight calf raises, to get to 13 exercises total.
My heatmap for this morning’s workout then looked like this.
So, cool. I managed to work every single muscle group. And, a few of them are yellow. So, I now want to make the whole chart red. This ensures every muscle group Garmin calls out is a primary mover in at least one exercise. This is a total body strength training workout should do.
I had good energy in this workout (at 7am, despite no coffee, I might add!). There’s certainly room to add more exercises. (I’m currently not concerned about keeping these workouts to 20 minutes. It’s a total body workout rather than a split routine. These can now go 30 minutes if needed.)
The muscle groups in question:
The hip flexors
The hip adductors (inner thigh and groin muscles).
It would be easy to just do specific isolation exercises for those groups. But finding other compound exercises that worked with other muscle groups would be more productive and better for run fitness. Isolation is better suited to bodybuilding, which needless to say isn’t a high priority goal of mine.
So I went to work:
I programmed a new total body strength workout, that would work every muscle group as a primary mover.
If you create a strength workout manually in Garmin Connect, you won’t get a heatmap for exercises. I just figured out that doing a super quick set and saving it on my watch allows me to freely edit that workout with a full heatmap.
So I did a couple squats, saved that “workout”, and went to town in Connect on swapping in/out different exercises.
The Hip Flexors
The Flexors are a hard muscle group to program. We use them a lot in our lives, but isolating them as a primary mover is another matter entirely.
Initially I was at a loss for what exercises to consider. But then I randomly thought of burpees, the classic ‘squat to full plank, do a pushup, jump back to plank, tuck jump straight up and back down to squat, repeat’. I entered that as a lone exercise, and found myself a mother-lode exercise:
The burpee works so many muscles. It does in one set what bench presses, squats, and calf raises would do. Plus it works anterior hip flexor muscles as a primary mover, not the easiest group to program. It does all that in one exercise.
So I definitely will add burpees, which I’ve done many times before. I won’t have trouble doing one set of 8-12.
Now, I could subsequently remove my bench presses, since this uses the pecs as a primary mover. But I still want to improve my incline/decline bench weights, as well as build my overhead squat. So I’m leaving those bench presses in. My chest will just get 3+ sets of work every workout at different angles, as will my quads and glutes. Plus, the overhead red-works my deltoids and traps (shoulders).
The one set each of those exercises isn’t a killer, and fronting those with burpees won’t be a problem.
So that only reds out the hip flexors and calves. It also eliminates the need for the hanging leg raises, which red-worked the abs and quads. The raises were always a secondary priority, and finding the captain’s chair free is often a pain anyway. That eliminates a hassle at the gym.
I always do Hammer Curls, a stiff-forearm bicep curl that along with biceps work the forearms as a secondary mover. I really didn’t want to waste time on separate forearm curls or similar.
It was while separately considering Farmer’s Walks (walking the gym while carrying weight at your sides, akin to carrying groceries into the house), seeking out an alternative to obliques and hamstrings, that I found the Farmer’s Walks actually red-work the forearms as its primary mover.
Yes, you are carrying weight with your legs. But your leg, shoulder and back muscles are actually secondary movers. It’s the forearms that do the bulk work holding and balancing the weight. So the rest of your body can capably walk with it.
This seems a lot more cumbersome than simple forearm curls. But its total body engagement is closer to what I’m looking for. Plus, it’s essentially a dynamic cousin of the deadlift. Most of all, it’s one of the more functional exercises you can do. Think about how often you’ve got to carry stuff this way in everyday life (e.g. I mentioned carrying groceries).
No matter how crowded the gym gets, walking across with a pair of weights has never been a problem. So Farmer’s Walks are definitely going in.
There’s pretty much no other exercise aside from the Adductor Machine that works the inner thighs as a primary mover, without being cumbersome and needlessly redundant. Doing burpees on the floor is fine, but I’m not doing clam-shells or weird squats/planks on the floor just to red out one muscle group, when I can just get on a machine and knock out one easy set in seconds.
I’ll just use the adductor machine, before moving to the abductor machine.
The Full Fourteen
From all this I have put together a sequence of what is now fourteen exercises. Below is the Full Fourteen, a total body strength workout (including sample reps and weights). All listed exercises are just one set, with at least 60 seconds rest (longer is OK as needed).
Entry of all these exercises into a sample Garmin Connect workout confirmed that every muscle group is red-worked.
Garmin Connect estimates this workout would take about 21-22 minutes if done efficiently. I’d imagine some breaks would run a bit longer as needed, so it’s more like 22-25 minutes, certainly less than 30 minutes even with some challenges.
Let’s do it.
This going forward will be my total body strength workout, done on schedule every three days (barring races or race taper timing requiring a day off).
I will follow my 8-12 rep and weight progression normally, and see how far I can go with all of the above. For new exercises, I’m using a known-do-able weight and will just progress that the same as the other exercises. This last workout was 11 reps of everything. So the next workout will start with sets of 12 reps. If everything’s fine, I’ll increase exercises’ weight by 5-10 lbs and go back to 8 reps.
Go ahead and give it a try.
Obviously, you’re free to take this template and use it as a workout yourself. Google and research any exercises as needed. From my experience, these are easily do-able exercises in a gym for most people.
Eventually, I will devise a total body-weight strength workout equivalent, and will post it here.
So since introducing the Rapid Fire Sets I’ve modified the approach in a way that suits my training and has benefitted me quite a bit. I should probably talk about it, and note that what I do now is not really true to the name anymore. I still think Rapid Fire Sets are valuable, but what I do now while similar is rather different.
First of all, this approach is exclusively used with strength machines at the gym, where the weight is set using a metal pin. You could probably use this with a Tonal or similar machine, if you have one.
But I don’t use this approach with free weights of any kind, as switching between them at the gym is too complicated and at times prohibitive. For exercises requiring free weights, I still continue to follow a standard four set block, with the first and last set 12 reps at a light weight, and the 2nd and 3rd middle sets 8 reps at twice the weight.
Given that, here is the (as of now unnamed) approach I follow for any given machine exercise.
I start with a light weight. On most machines I’ll start at the lightest weight possible. In many cases I’ll start several pounds higher as the lightest weight is so effortless that it’s not an exercise. (As I get stronger I imagine I’ll do the latter with every machine)
I do 8 reps at that weight.
I pause/rest 30 seconds, during which I increase the weight by 10-20 pounds, depending on how the weight is divided on the machine. In my case, some stacks are in 10 pound blocks, some are in 20 pound blocks. Whatever the next step up in weight is, that’s what I increase the weight to.
Then I do 8 reps at the new weight. Then I stop for 30 seconds, and increase again by one step. Repeat.
Once I’m at a weight that’s too heavy to finish 8 reps, or I finish an 8 rep set and know I probably don’t have enough to do the next weight up… I stop increasing. I rest another 30 seconds.
I divide the highest weight I lifted in half. I set the pin to that weight. Most machines have some way to let you do half increments, so if the half-weight is not an even number I use that to set the correct weight.
I then do 12 reps at the half-weight. After that, I am done with this exercise, and move on.
I now do this on machines for all my 20 minute workouts. I still restrict my strength workouts to 20 minutes, and find this way I can do two machine exercises, plus at least one regular 4-set block of a free weight exercise. I don’t always do 2-and-1… I might do all free weight exercises, or just one machine exercise. It depends on what I plan to work on that day.
Sometimes there’s enough time left over to do 2-4 sets of something else, and often I’ll do seated cable rows at a single light weight, hanging raises, or Russian twists, as these exercises work on muscle groups I incidentally want to improve. Which ones I do depends on feel. I’ve also mixed in odd exercises like farmer’s walks or goblet squats.
Since starting this approach I’ve found that if I leave a machine exercise for last, I often run out of time before I reach a weight too heavy to continue. I don’t go over-time: I just end the workout after the last set I’m able to complete before the clock reaches 20:00. So now, if I find maxing out an exercise important, I make sure to not do that one last. And I typically default to the old wisdom of “do the most important thing first”. Likewise, if I want to take it easy on a machine exercise, I’ll often schedule that one last, knowing the clock may run out before I can max it out.
Because I can only do about three exercises per workout, this allows me to spread my full routine across multiple workouts, without burning me out or leaving me too sore to continue in subsequent days. I’ve done a couple of 5-day splits and been able to strength train 4-6 times a week without problems. In the last month or so I’ve done this, I’ve made a ton of progress.
So while I have yet to codify this process (it is a bit complicated to clearly describe for others), I’ve found this progressive approach to strength training effective and repeatable.
A bit over 20 years ago, I bought the famous Bill Phillips book Body For Life. I won’t go too much into the premise of the book, its historical context at the time or its many flaws (including in-book product promotion). At the time, I found the template for fitness and diet interesting, so I bought it and followed the plan.
The book’s training method had you aggressively strength-train several days a week and follow some simple diet principles. For “cardio”, it had you do 20 minutes of effort-based high intensity intervals, which you can do in any aerobic-based way you desired, three days per week. I always used the treadmill. Back then I wasn’t the focused runner I am now, nor was I active beyond walking or cycling to commute, but I had enough fitness to run hard for some distance.
In short, the Cardio:
You start at a 5 out of 10 effort, whatever you feel that means
After two minutes you increase to 6 out of 10.
Each minute thereafter you again increase effort by 1, until you do a minute at 9 out of 10.
Then you scale back to 6 out of 10 for a minute, once again ramping each minute until at 9 out of 10, then falling back to 6 and repeating the process.
Once you get to 9 out of 10 for the 4th time, instead of dropping back to 6 you increase to 10 out of 10 and hold that for a full minute.
Then drop back to 5 and cool off for the final couple of minutes at 5 out of 10 to end the workout.
This workout always kicked me around, but I was always able to get it done. It was the only running I did, and you did it every 2-3 days so I had plenty of time to recover before the next one. I followed the Body For Life plan for a little while and then left it behind, probably in part because I lost gym access around that time.
In any case, this interval sequence resided in the back of my mind pretty much all this time. I still have the book but haven’t cracked it in a long while. The strength workouts I’ve forgotten as they’ve long since been replaced by far superior approaches.
But during recovery from my injury problems, as I started using the treadmill again, this approach came to mind as a warmup. It’s very similar to the 10 minute progressive treadmill warmup Lifetime Fitness taught me during my VO2max testing a while back. In that warmup, you jog for 2 minutes, and speed up by 0.4mph each 2 minutes before ending at a speed that is somewhat fast for you.
I realized that’s quite similar to how I did the Body For Life intervals. For 5/10 I would start at a 3.0mph walk. Then my 6 would be a fast 4.0mph walk. My 7 would be a 5.0mph slow jog. My 8 would be a 6.0mph steady run. My 9 would be a 7.0mph hard run. And the 10 out of 10 would be a nearly all-out (… well, at the time) 8.0mph run.
While the top intervals were harder than anything in the Lifetime warmup, the bottom intervals were of course much easier on me and allowed me to recover. The Lifetime warmup was harder to do because it required 10 straight minutes of progressively harder running (though, at least it was done after the fastest interval).
I realized doing an adjusted 10 minute version of the old Phillips workout as a warmup would be an easier and possibly more effective warmup, since I’d hit a faster top speed with a shorter duration, then have a walking period to cool off before re-trying.
I tried it recently and it not only felt better as expected, but I found it did a much better job getting my body ready to run at a higher intensity. So now that’s what I do as a warmup before any key indoor workouts (and you’ll notice I adjusted from the above paces a bit).
I start at a 3.0mph walk for 1 minute.
Increase to a 4.0mph power walk for 1 minute.
Increase to a 5.0mph very easy jog for 1 minute. If too easy (e.g. I’m running into the front of the treadmill), I increase to 5.3mph, a more typical jog/recovery pace for me.
Increase to 6.0mph steady run for 1 minute. If feeling comfortable after a few seconds I’ll often increase to 6.2mph.
Increase to a brisk, somewhat demanding 7.0mph for 1 minute. If feeling comfortable after a few seconds I’ll often increase to 7.3mph.
Drop back down to 3.0mph for 1 minute, and repeat the sequence.
After the 10th minute, shut it down and go dynamic-stretch before the workout.
Since many of my treadmill sessions cruised around 5.5-6.5 mph, this whole sequence made that range feel very sustainable over a long period of time, suitably warming me up for a workout like that.
I not only do this warmup before treadmill runs but also do it before other cross training sessions, to ensure I’m at and can reach a suitable heart rate training range for a maximum training stimulus and benefit.
If I run near my gym, I could also do this warmup in the gym, then go outside and run. Sure, it can be awkward walking out of the gym 15 minutes after arriving, then back in the gym 45-75 minutes later.
I could also, with some discipline and adjustment, do the warmup outdoors by feel. That makes some sense after all, since the workout was originally intended to be done by effort rather than set parameters. I had an outdoor run yesterday that didn’t go great and had to be cut short. While not certain, perhaps it could have gone better had I thought to do an outdoor warmup like this.
You could follow the above sequence, with your own pace and parameters. Whatever a 5 out of 10 feels like or a 9 out of 10 feels like is up to you to determine (notice I don’t ever go to 10 out of 10, by the way; I stop at 9).
You could walk for 4 minutes and run just for 1. You could start at an easy run and just have it be all running. You could do it all on a spin bike or a rowing machine or elliptical. It’s up to you.
But I found this to be a great 10 minute aerobic warmup sequence, and it might work for you as well.
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.
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: