Since ramping my training volume back up I’ve had an ongoing problem with staying in an aerobic, zone-2 type of heart rate zone during my “easy” runs.
The general rule is always to run as slow and as easy as you need to in order to stay in zone 1-2 (up to 75% max heart rate). When you’re undertrained and you go to run easy, what often happens is your heart rate steadily climbs at the same effort, until finally there is no pace slow enough for you to continue running.
From experience, I definitely have the aerobic endurance to go for hours, but I often get into 75-80% of max HR after a while, and then it’s no longer an easy workout. It’s more of a moderate, or what Jack T. Daniels would call an M Pace workout. Different stimulus, different training result, than I’m seeking. Even if I walk for a bit, when I run again it just spikes right back past zone 2. Walk breaks do no good. I’ve redlined my cardiovascular system for that workout, and there’s no going back.
Lately my 45 minute easy training runs, while I can complete them, are rather arduous. Whether the gym is well air conditioned or not, I was struggling and my heart rate would typically get into zone 3 before I was done. I actually got to the point where I was dreading the idea of doing another one. That’s not good. I’m not going to just beat my head against that wall again.
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.
You cut out almost all of your carb intake, outside of insoluble fiber. Instead, you eat a decent amount of protein, and a lot of dietary fat.
During exercise your body typically looks to burn glycogen (sugar) first, then fat. When you deprive your body of glycogen, your body adapts to produce ketone bodies from your dietary and stored fat. These ketones can mostly stand in for the glycogen you would get from consumed carbohydrates. This state of primary ketone production is called ketosis. The Keto diet (obviously) gets you into ketosis.
Why do this? Isn’t any low-carb type of diet bad for endurance training?
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.
After a few weeks of training daily, lots of strength training, lots of 45-60 minute cross training sessions, several short treadmill runs and work break runs… I’m feeling pretty worn out, clearly needing a break from what I’ve been doing, but obviously not wanting to take a full training break after having just come back from a long training break following Vancouver 2022.
Motivated by Kevin Beck’s 21 day cyclic training approach, though obviously not wanting to mirror high volume that I’m obviously not running nor in the condition to run… I decided to borrow from both him and Budd Coates to create my own 21 day cycle.
In Running On Air, Coates built training schedules using a 3 day alternating easy-medium-hard workout pattern. Similar to this, I patterned this 21 day schedule around big workouts every 3 days, the surrounding days easy, and a relatively easy strength workout coupled with easy training on days after the toughest, longest workouts.
Long Run: However long your longest workout needs to be, that’s the long run. I’d like to get this to a minimum of 2 hours. But it can be 60 or 90 minutes if that’s longer than my midweeks.
Notice that there’s only long runs every three weeks, and on that week they happen on back to back weekends within six days of each other. Then there’s not another long run for 15 days.
This patterning combines a bunching of long workouts with an extended break from long runs for a couple weeks while focusing on more medium-long workouts and strength training.
60-90min workout: These can be regular 60+ minute runs, or quality workouts like intervals or tempo work, or any mix of the above. But they need to be runs and they need to be 60-90 minutes, the sweet spot for aerobic endurance fitness growth.
Initially, they should just be regular easy runs, and if you can’t go 60 minutes then go however reasonably long you can at first, until 60 becomes do-able.
easy: These are either very short runs, no more than 30 minutes, or can be easy aerobic cross training for 45 minutes or more.
If an easy day falls on the weekend, you can go long on cross training, 2+ hours. On weekdays, keep it to 60 minutes.
But even on weekends, easy runs cannot go longer than 30 minutes. This is meant to be an active break, and the runs are best done as recovery runs, perhaps light work on technique or hills.
strength + easy: Here in addition to easy runs or cross training, you do strength training, no more than 20-30 minutes. I have two designated 20 minute workouts I can rotate between.
On the 2nd week, with three strength workouts, I actually would split into three separate 15 minute workouts, to make sure I do every exercise once per week. But it’s no problem to just rotate through two separate workouts and have them flip flop in order every 3 weeks.
I would keep weekday cross training to 45 minutes rather than 60 minutes, to keep the workout at about an hour. On weekends (or any day with more free time) it’s okay to cross train a full 60 minutes if desired.
Again, keep any running to 30 minutes or less, and that remains true with the strength workout. This will make these training days a bit longer than the other easy days.
When races and life intervene: If on a given day or weekend you have a race and it doesn’t line up perfectly with planned workouts, go ahead and turn the 2 days before and after the race into easy days. Don’t strength train within 3 days before the race, but feel free to strength train the day after the race or beyond if you’re up to it.
If an event in your life comes up and it interferes with a workout, it’s no problem to skip it. If you want to try and do a workout off-schedule the day after (leaving only one easy day before the next workout or long run), keep it to 60 minutes max.
The next easy day, you are allowed to skip the run or cross training if desired. If the next big workout is a long run, you can also skip strength training and just make the next one. If it’s not, it’s optional whether or not to make up the strength training displaced by your postponed workout. However, if possible, you are also allowed to switch your strength training to the day of the event postponing your workout.
If you need to take multiple days off in a row: Just do it, and don’t worry about it for now. If it creates a problem, it would have created a problem on any training schedule. Usually, though, a couple or few missed days shouldn’t derail you badly. Just get back to the schedule when you can.
So this 21 day cycle is the training template I’ve settled on going forward. Barring any random lumps in my schedule, I can follow this cycle without an issue through summer into fall racing season.
The goal with this was to refine everything I’ve been working on into a sustainable routine of training, demanding enough to build my fitness but not so demanding it burns me out.
Along with this cycle, I’ve also been focusing on adjustments for training monotony, but that’s another post for down the road….
I have finally settled into a 3 day weekly training pattern, all brutal workouts on the treadmill. I ran 100 minute workouts on Tuesday and Thursday in a fairly humid Planet Fitness gym. These modified workouts come out to 9+ miles, and meant I was returning home shortly before 8pm, right around when I typically head to bed.
Given that, and given my trouble sleeping after these workouts (after last night’s workout I got maybe 6 hours sleep last night despite heading to bed at 9pm), I’ve decided that while I still want to aim for 10 miles on these days, the treadmill workouts no longer need to be this long.
On non-training weekdays I’ve been taking one or two work break runs during the day, which has helped quite a bit with recovery and feels much better overall than taking those days completely off. Because of this, I didn’t actually end my run streak, which is now at 39 days and counting.
What I can now do is take one or two work break runs, most likely a 2 mile lunch break run. Then after work, even if a bit tired from that lunch jog, I go to the gym and knock out an 8 mile workout, which I’ve done quite a bit in the parks during cooler weather. It might be cooler next week and allow for this, but I can easily do these on the treadmill at the gym if it’s warm.
I had aimed for 10 miles and the 100 minute workouts because Runalyze metrics noted you experience a long run specific training benefit at 9+ miles (marathon shape’s long run effect does begin measuring at 13K, 8.07 miles, but the impact on marathon shape in the 8-9 mile range is near zero). So I initially wanted to try and nail some midweek 10 milers to boost that. However, the marathon shape benefit from these long, brutal single sessions was also negligible, though measurable.
So I saw much more benefit in shortening the midweeks back to 8 and boosting the mileage total plus shaking out with work break runs earlier in the day to get 10 miles on the day, even if it doesn’t count in metrics as a 10 mile run (The miles still count in the metric in different fashion). This, along with making those evening workouts shorter and easier, also allows me to leave the gym by 7pm and get home at a better hour, perhaps making sleep a bit easier as well.
During yesterday’s brutal 100 minute session I went ahead and made it an Easy Interval workout, a warmup followed by six 1000m intervals at goal marathon pace (which effort-wise on the warm indoor treadmill converts and requires an effort closer to lactate threshold), each followed by a 1000m jog cooldown with walk breaks.
This not only got me running some faster interval work, but some much needed practice physically running goal pace, which should be easier at sea level in cooler weather after practicing it in short bursts in these more difficult, higher altitude conditions.
Pretty much the last workouts that will specifically benefit my marathon effort will be the midweek of April 21-22. Anything after that simply serves to maintain existing fitness and avoid fitness loss, while engaging energy and hormone pathways enough that I don’t lose sleep from lack of exercise. I’ve never had any problems with “taper madness”. By the time the taper arrives, I usually find the lack of volume welcoming.
The goal this weekend is to finally, by hook or by crook, get to 20 miles on the long run, as well as pace the treadmill workout to loosely match the timing and demands of the course’s first four hours. While obviously I won’t run the full 26.3 miles (Vancouver is a slightly long marathon course), the timing of my slower easy pace will follow a written schedule where I’ll not only slightly change the speed and incline at defined points, but also take fuel and fluid at points where I expect to cross aid stations.
The paces were converted per my last post, to account for the air conditioned room temperature and my gym altitude versus the high end temperature expected in Vancouver along with the sea level altitude (… okay, actually about 33 meters, which is the average altitude for the rolling course). I will vary the incline between 0 and 3.0% (the incline along Camosun Street), though downhills obviously can’t be simulated on a gym treadmill so those sections will just be done slower with a conscious forward lean to simulate downhill running pressure on my legs.
From experience with the paces… yes, this workout’s going to be hard, though it should all be do-able. The interval workouts and other faster sessions should help bridge the gap on this.
Marathon shape right now is still just coasting at 44%, largely because the metric takes a 26 week sample and most early weeks (pre-marathon-training) were very light on mileage. As the next few higher mileage weeks replace these 10-20 mile weeks, and I bank a couple of 17-20 mile long runs, that number will go up and I expect it to hit 70-72% at about 10 days out from Vancouver. For comparison, Vancouver 2019 training peaked at 68% (extreme cold weather and the flu derailed much of that), and Chicago 2018 peaked at 71% (great shape but hiccups blew me up). However, my VO2max is such that at 100% it would estimate a sub-4 hour marathon. So my 4:15-4:30 goal should still be in reach at 70%.
If this approach works out great, and Vancouver goes great… this opens the door to summer training, and the possibility of a 2nd marathon this year.
I had previously intended to just strength train, cross train, and do shorter workouts throughout the hot Vegas summer. But this template creates the possibility that I can stay stretched out with my long run and aerobic endurance.
I’m inclined to just run shorter races and maybe a half marathon in the fall (I haven’t run a half since 2019). Most good-fit races would require travel, which would get expensive, and with pricey marathon travel plans I have in mind for 2023 I’m somewhat averse to spending a bunch for a December marathon. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, the marathon I’m currently planning to run is now a bit over 3 weeks away. I don’t like getting excited before I’m physically there and it’s clear it’s about to happen. So right now I’m just focused on continuing to work on training and getting ready.