Category Archives: Exercise

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 and John Hadd, Sasha Pachev preaches starting with a consistent diet of easy running. Then you progress 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. We as humans were not designed to sit all day. 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.

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

I’ve been doing these short jogs during the workday, around the neighborhood during 15 minute breaks and after eating lunch. I previously walked outside during breaks, but I wanted 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 can finish jogs 5 minutes faster on breaks, 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 run up to 3-4 miles during the workday. I can also train during the morning and weekends. I have effectively, though somewhat inadvertently, adopted Pachev’s Always On The Run Routine.

Despite my current weekly mileage rocketing upward from these little runs, I don’t feel any significant signs of burnout. I have 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 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

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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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Should You Intermittent Fast? A Basic Primer on Intermittent Fasting

Photo by Omar Mahmood on Pexels.com

First, in brief:

Intermittent fasting can work sometimes with exercise, depending on what you do and how.

You should avoid intermittent fasting if you work out in the morning.

The more training you’re doing, the less likely it’s a good idea.

Most of those who practice intermittent fasting and train effectively only strength train as their only meaningful, intense exercise. Generally, their only aerobic training is whatever walking they do during the day, or very brief high intensity interval training… if they do any cardio at all.

If you don’t do much exercise at all, then yes intermittent fasting is a good idea. And you should probably get some exercise, but intermittent fasting is a good habit.

A General Overview of Intermittent Fasting:

Instead of traditional fasting, where you may go a day or more without eating… intermittent fasting is about eating all your day’s meals in a short window of time and not eating the rest of the day.

Even if you eat a similar number of calories, the long break from eating gives your body an extended metabolic break, which can help reduce inflammation and better promote healing and recovery. This is actually more of the benefit of intermittent fasting than the potential fat burning improvements that can occur during the fast.

There’s no calorie restriction on how much you eat during the food window. But, obviously, it’s going to be harder to overeat in a single 8 hour window than it would be if you ate meals throughout the day.

Still, it is possible to outeat the fast during the 8 hour window and still maintain or gain weight. The fast doesn’t cause you to lose weight in itself. While it’s obviously more difficult in a shorter window of time, you can still overeat. That said, intermittent fasting can help with food portion and weight control.

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A Quick Cross Training Workout For The Spin Bike

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

The following cross training will really challenge your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Definitely don’t do this cross training workout if you’re sore and recovering from some other hard lower-body workout.

I would save a workout like this for base training, if you’re coming off an easy workout, or you’re not actively training for a goal race in general.

The Workout: Start the spin bike at the lowest intensity, level 1.

Every time the minute counter turns over (e.g. at 1:00, 5:00, etc), adjust the level to match the number in the minute column. So at 2:00 you’ll set the level to 2, and you’ll increase the level by 1 every minute thereafter.

If the lowest spin bike levels feel too light and easy for you (for example you normally do easy spin bike sessions at level 4), you don’t have to start at or go down to level 1. If you generally bike easy at level 4, then for any level 4 and below you can just go at level 4. In this example, you do the first 4:59 at level 4, then at 5:00 you switch to level 5.

Once you get to a level that’s too tough, take it back down to a low, comfortable level. Then once the timer reaches 10:00, repeat the process by adding the digits in the minute column to determine the level, e.g. 11 –> 1 + 1 = Level 2… or in the level 4 example above, that person can just stay at level 4 for now.

If you can get to level 10 or higher without needing to slow down, great! You don’t have to add the digits at 11:00 or higher just yet. Just keep climbing levels until you need a break, then add the digits of the next minute to see how far down you can take the spin bike’s level. For example, say you get tired after 16:00 at level 16. Then at 17:00 you take it down to level 8 (17 –> 1 + 7 = Level 8).

If you’re a super strong cyclist and plan to go longer than 25 minutes, you may be able to reach the bike’s maximum level 25 (most spin bikes only have 25 intensity levels). If you get to 26:00 in this case, just take the spin bike back down to level 8 (26 –> 2 + 6 = Level 8… you must be super strong if that’s too easy for you; if so you can set the level higher to whatever level you prefer to cruise at). Then from there build the levels back up each minute. Do note that this workout method after you max out the bike won’t get you higher again than level 14 once you do so, so if maxing out is your goal and you can max out the bike then you may want to stick to 30 minutes or less.

Regardless of your abilities, you can repeat this level-up process until your spin bike workout is finished, whether it takes 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 3 hours, etc.

You could also do this workout on an elliptical, rowing machine, or ARC Trainer. But it can be very demanding to do more than recovery-level training on these devices. To do a workout like this on a machine like those may defeat the purpose of cross training unless you’re in an offseason, or are a triathlete or similar and this sort of demanding training is in line with your key workout needs.

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