Category Archives: General health

Can Low-Carb Diets Be Good For Runners?

A lot of fitness enthusiasts support eating low-carb lifestyle diets adapted from the traditional Atkins diet… typically with labels like Keto and Paleo, as well as carb-limited variants like the Bulletproof, Carnivore or Primal diets.

The obvious problem for runners interested in these diets is that running is the one form of exercise that demands a LOT of quick-burning glycogen, which can only be properly supplied by a diet rich in carbohydrates. Running minds like Hal Higdon and Matt Fitzgerald outright recommend avoiding low-carb diets and to build your diet around 60+% carbohydrates. Fitzgerald in fact found in his research for his book The Endurance Diet that pretty much every elite coach and endurance athlete he consulted with subsisted on a diet rich in carbohydrates.

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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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Losing fat, losing weight, begins with knowing your eating habits

One of the reasons most dieting fails is because people lack a healthy, sustainable diet baseline. Of course, a big part of that is people not having any idea what their baseline is to begin with… if they even have one.

This is also a key reason modern people insidiously gain weight over time. Their metabolism slowing with age and decreased activity certainly doesn’t help. But a lack of consistency and healthy eating habits is the larger contributor.

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How to run in snow and ice

Snow finally hit Chicago hard for the first time this cold season. While 4-8″ isn’t anything close to a record, it means runners here finally get to deal with snow and ice.

Walking in snow and ice itself is an acquired skill, which puts running in snow and ice on a whole other level. Being a winter runner, I have enough first-hand experience and knowledge to help you continue to train outdoors in cold conditions.

The standard caveats apply: Layer accordingly, dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer since you will warm up while running, and of course should the weather get suitably severe (blizzard conditions, massive snow or ice, thunder-snow, and dangerously low temperatures and windchill) you should go ahead and stay inside.

Barring that, here’s some key tips to running in snow and ice.

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Overeating: What To Do When You Do It

You’re trying to lose weight or maintain your current weight, trying to stick to a calorie total… but then you go wild and over-eat. Literally all of us have done this countless times. And it doesn’t have to trigger a disastrous slide into terrible long-term eating, or to a lesser extent another eating binge.

Here’s some tips for what to do in the moment after you’ve done it, and what to do the next day to mitigate what you did.

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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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The Control Rest Day Baseline, and using it to successfully carb cycle

Yesterday with the day off I did nothing, in terms of training. No running, no strength work, nothing particularly strenuous. I actually drove to get coffee, since I had vehicle-related errands to run that day. I did a minimum of walking… not easy to do in Chicago when you live in Wrigleyville and you do most of your business on foot.

Okay, big deal, just a rest day, right? Well….

… it had been a while since I’ve taken stock of my working basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the rate at which you would burn calories in a day if you did nothing but lay or sit there. For men my size and age, this is somewhere around 1650-1700 calories.

You do more than sit around all day, so to find your baseline calorie burn you multiply that BMR by a standard multiplier.

  • Sedentary people who drive everywhere and never exercise can use 1.2 as their multiplier. You multiply your basic BMR by 1.2 to get your actual basal metabolic rate.
  • If you get any exercise once or twice a week, or you walk to get around everyday, your multiplier may be closer to 1.3.
  • If you work out every day it may be as low as 1.5 or as high as 2.0, depending on what you do for workouts.

Of course, I can’t just set my baseline at 1700 calories multiplied by a standard multiplier. My daily activity can vary widely, as a Chicago local who gets around on foot and runs a lot. Even if I don’t run, I may walk anywhere from 20ish minutes a day to several miles, and there’s no rhyme or reason relative to my training as to how much walking I do. Plus, this completely ignores strength training and any other physical activity.

I’ve had days where, with identical training (or lack thereof), I’ve burned anywhere from 2100 calories to over 4000. So, plugging my estimated general activity into a BMR tool and spitting out a number isn’t necessarily going to help me.


I still want to get enough to eat, while not overeating. I still do have tracker data that shows an average weekly calorie burn, which is around 3000 calories per day during training. But there’s more to it than that:

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Why is my resting heart rate going up?

 

When I first got my Fitbit tracker, back when I first began seriously training as an endurance runner, it initially showed my resting heart rate’s (RHR) beats per minute (BPM) in the high 60’s.

As I continued training, my resting heart rate came down and settled around the high 50’s. Sometimes it would drift up, but often it came back down to around that number.

I noticed that generally it would increase during times of substantial stress, and that it would decrease with proper rest and exercise.

Suddenly, during the late summer and early fall, my resting heart rate started slowly climbing. Suddenly it settled into the mid 60’s and nothing I thought to do could bring it down. Resting more didn’t help. Eating more or less or better didn’t help. Exercising more or less didn’t seem to help.

At some point, not at the same time as last year, it began to come down again and settled around the high 50’s, low 60’s.

And now my resting heart rate’s risen again. It had settled around 65 for several weeks, and nothing I’ve done has gotten it to move. Now suddenly it’s climbed to 68… but at the same time I think I realized what has caused it to increase.

It’s not a lack of rest: I’ve actually slept rather well, and I haven’t trained at anywhere near the volume I’ve trained before. Outside of residual soreness from workouts and Sunday’s cross country race I haven’t been all that sore, tired or hurting. My energy levels by and large have been great.

It’s not a lack of exercise. I’ve now ramped back up to about 25-30 miles per week, and I’ve done multiple speedwork sessions as well as some long runs. The only difference from my last training cycle is I’ve taken days off and not held myself to much of a strict training schedule.

It’s not even post-marathon weight gain. I’ve had my RHR go lower even after gaining weight, and I’ve had it rise after losing weight. There’s not much correlation between my resting heart rate and my current weight.

It’s not illness. I haven’t been sick and I’m not sick right now. I don’t feel any passive symptoms like unusual tiredness or soreness. I’m in good health on that front.

It’s two things.

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Quick thoughts on how to find comfortable, fast, efficient running form

Think quick. Think low. Think short, swift movements.

If you’re trying to run fast, I’ve talked about how most fall into the trap of longer, lunging strides… instead of shortening up enough to where they can turn their feet over more quickly. The latter will cover more ground in the long run, and is a much more comfortable way to run faster than usual.

When starting your run, begin with a trot, and gradually accelerate the turnover of steps in that trot.

Many also fall into the trap of swinging their arms far too much, extraneous movement that wastes energy and not only tires you out more quickly but slows you down.

The only directions your arms should drive is back. Your arms should naturally repel back forward, allowing you to drive them back once again. In fact, and this is admittedly from various running form texts, your arms should ideally not swing in front of you at all. The farthest forward your elbows should come is right beside your obliques.

And your arms ought to be low, and stay low. Yes, I’ve seen (and know) plenty of runners who run comfortably with their arms high in front of them. Like a baseball pitcher with a high leg kick, it’s a quirk that works well for some and their style. For most, the most efficient form for your arms is low and driving back while not propeling far forward.

A good way to think about running is to run with the feel a hovercraft… or like a plane taxi-ing along the runway. The latter glides along the pavement, occasionally firing the engines just a little bit, enough to move itself forward.

If you’re not sprinting, look to find a rhythm that feels like you’re briskly gliding low along the pavement. Your legs aren’t lifting too high with each step. Your arms are low to the ground. Your steps are smooth, swift, so short and imperceptible that if you didn’t know any better you’d swear you had no legs and were in fact gliding like a hovercraft.

This smooth rhythm also making slowing down or stopping for obstacles easy and seamless, as well as gliding back into your desired pace once you’re running again.

At the very least, it feels a lot better than grunting and pushing out hard steps to try and run fast. You may find smooth is faster anyway.

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Why do your legs itch when you run?

Many experience itching on their legs whenever they go out to run, regardless of weather and regardless of what they’re wearing. Why?

Well, nothing’s biting you and you don’t have some sort of skin condition. So over the counter remedies aren’t going to do you much good.

The reason your legs itch is because when you start running, you activate previously dormant nerves in your legs. The sudden stimulus compels your legs to send the sensation of itching up your nerve fibers back to your brain.

So your legs itch, and the temptation is to think that something’s happening on your skin. But the reality is that your legs are basically waking up and using more energy. Often, if you continue running through it, the sensation passes.

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Final thoughts on Vancouver 2018

StanleyPark

Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC Canada

I didn’t go on a lot about what happened with the 2018 Vancouver Marathon, which I had to DNF at around 5K due to heat exhaustion.

There was a lot going on in my personal life right when that race occurred, which undoubtedly impacted my health leading up to the race.

My work situation had been stable until about a month before the race (for various reasons, mostly beyond my control), to the point where I decided to resign shortly after I returned from Vancouver due to how bad the situation had gotten. It felt like, and still feels like, exactly the right decision. My working life even without the full-time salaried stability got a lot better since (EDIT: And I’ve since been hired on full time in a new career that’s much better in too many ways).

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Do you really need a doctor?

I want to talk a bit about seeing the doctor.

Many Americans go to the doctor just about any time they get sick, even when the illness can only heal on its own (like a cold). And then we wonder why healthcare has gotten so expensive.

The overlooked prime contributor to health problems is people’s own lifestyle habits. A diet heavy in processed food, light on natural whole food, a lifestyle devoid of physical activity and sufficient sleep, and the resulting penchant for quick, rampant obesity are all easy contributors to nearly all of America’s most common health problems, from chronic colds to heart attacks to even cancer.

You are what you eat and what you do. Your body is the scoreboard for the health of your lifestyle. It usually won’t lie.

A doctor will rarely do more than blithely address a patient’s need to improve their lifestyle, and to their credit there isn’t much more they can do than that: Most of a patient’s contributions to their own bad health are a product of bad habits that a doctor can’t really do anything to address.

A doctor can’t stand over you 24/7 and rouse you from the chair to exercise or slap the processed food out of your hand. They know you need to fix your diet and can tell you so when you visit them, but that’s about as far as they can go.

So that leaves the person in the mirror. To be honest, most people lack a sense of accountability. This is why so many people go to the doctor far too often for just about every ailment, regardless of how much can be done about it.

You can avoid going to the doctor most times, and if you’re reading this chances are you have already taken far more steps to address your health than the average person. You have the ability to take your own countermeasures, in many cases more effective than anything you could pay a doctor to prescribe you.

A good metaphor for this approach: Let’s say you accidentally knock a small hole in the drywall of your apartment. Whoops!

You can either call the maintenance guy to come fix it, possibly costing yourself $50-100 for the repair and labor, possibly costing yourself part of your security deposit, or even a higher rent the next time you renew your lease.

Or you can buy a wall repair kit at a store like Home Depot for $10-15, find and buy a small can of some matching paint for even less, and quickly patch it up yourself.

And you can do the same thing with your health, because many of your health problems can be addressed by paying attention to how you handle your diet, your sleep, your exercise and your emotions.

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