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The Fitness Run and the Real Meaning of an Easy Run

“Easy Run” is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied terms in running, and not for the reasons you’d think.

Yes, people often do go too hard on their “easy” runs. But to me the issue is the broad over-application of the term “easy run” to most training runs.

Most runs beyond 30 minutes aren’t necessarily easy. The effort and intensity desired may be “easy”, but beyond the 30-40 minute mark the body is now being stressed beyond the comfort zone. Your body isn’t going to come down from that effort as easily as, say, hurrying across a street, or doing a simple 20 minute workout that leaves you refreshed. The oxidative stress is higher over a longer period, and markers like your heart rate variability will remain abnormal for some time afterward.

Related: This is a reason the Pete Magills of the world strongly recommend you never go on a recovery run lasting more than 40 minutes. You’re defeating the “shakeout” purpose of such a run.

Some wisely avoid the term for base training runs (referring to them by training zones, e.g. a Zone 1-2 run, for example), or use a different term entirely (as Matt Fitzgerald does when he calls them Foundation Runs).

I consider recovery runs the true Easy Runs. They’re short. They’re not done to stimulate an endurance training effect. Usually, they’re done for circulation or to activate hormone production that will further drive recovery. Or, like a “shakeout run” the day before a marathon, it’s done to expend some energy as it feels better than just resting entirely.

I posit that what coaches call Easy Runs should instead be dubbed Fitness Runs. The difference is that the terminology makes the intention of the workout clear. Any run done at an easy effort, but for longer than 30 minutes, or at more than a 75%-max average heart rate, is by my definition a Fitness Run.

By my definition the recovery runs are the only ones that should be labeled Easy Runs.

And since it will come up, any run longer than 90 minutes, or longer than the longest run I can do during the workweek, is by my definition a Long Run. It’s fairly hard for me to do more than two of these a week, since I work full-time and on those days I can’t by this definition do a long run.

(In my case, the longest workweek training run I can manage to do is basically 90 minutes. If my workweek limit was 60 minutes, then any weekend run lasting 61 minutes or longer would be in my case a Long Run.)

I decided to label my training runs this way, and it’s way more useful and less confusing for workout tracking than the old Easy/Recovery/Long labels.

Some examples (all of these examples are what most would call an “easy run”):

  • I go on a training run after work that lasts 45 minutes, and my HR averages 71% of max. This is a Fitness Run.
  • I go on a work break run lasting 12 minutes at 74% HR. This is an Easy Run. It lasts less than 30 minutes, and the average heart rate is below 75%. I should bounce back pretty quickly from this.
  • I go on another work break run that lasts 10 minutes at a 79% HR. This is actually a Fitness Run, because my heart rate went beyond the 75% threshold, meaning this run was a bit harder. Though it was very short, the effort will impact my fitness.
  • I go on a training run after work that I have to cut short at 28 minutes, and average a 73% HR. This is an Easy Run, even though I intended it to be a Fitness workout, because the run did not hit the 30 minute threshold.
  • On a Monday holiday, two days after a Saturday 2 hour Long Run, I go out for a lengthy easy run that lasts an hour and 35 minutes (95 minutes). This is also a Long Run, even though I just ran one on Saturday. Many will only label their longest run of the week the long run, but again I have a clear threshold of 90 minutes for long runs, and this one qualified.
  • And of course, if on a subsequent weekend I go for a long run, but I have to to cut it short at 80 minutes, this run is only a Fitness Run, as it did not reach my 90 minute threshold. (Side note: If I run farther than 8.1 miles on this or any other non-long run, Runalyze will classify this as a long run for Marathon Shape calculations, whether or not I label it as such, since that’s their default threshold for long run calculations.)

A couple of added finer points:

  • If I have to drop out of a race, I don’t label this as a race. I’ll give it the appropriate label, whether a Long Run or a Pace Run (I lump all my under-90 minute tempo and marathon-pace runs, or Zone 3+ runs, anything steady and harder than “easy”, in as Pace Runs). For example, when I DNF’d the Vancouver Marathon this year at mile 19, I labeled that a Long Run. Only races I complete are labeled as a Race.
  • If I decide randomly on a Fitness or Easy Run to run hard, whether intervals or a time trial or a fartlek, it gets labeled accordingly to what I ended up doing. Regardless of intent, the run is labeled based on what I ended up doing.

So now I label my regular runs as Fitness Runs and my recovery-type runs as Easy Runs. I like this definition of Easy Run far better than what everyone else uses.

Enough of keto for now

After 30 days of keto, and initial dabbling with restored starchy carb intake, I decided to revert back to my prior lower/slow-carb diet going forward.

Keto worked well for what I needed at the time. It pushed my body to better utilize stored body fat. It helped kickstart fat burning that had stalled in recent months. It helped me hormonally readjust, which helped get my sleep patterns back on track (though the cooling Vegas weather combined with increasing daytime darkness may have also helped with that).

Now that I’ve adjusted to nose breathing and thus improved the quality and efficiency of my aerobic endurance workouts, which was also part of why I went keto, I think the whole project have served its purpose. The Vegas weather has cooled and I can once again easily train outdoors. I ran a 10K easy this weekend and was fairly pleased with the results.

My weight loss did slow after starting keto, though it did stabilize a few pounds below where I had started. Now that I’m ramping up run training again, my overall calorie requirements are going to increase dramatically, and I’m already maxed on how much protein and fat I can reasonably take in per day. Even if I had good reason to stay keto, it wouldn’t make much sense to pound more steak and more coconut oil.

Going forward I’m going to eat carbs without restriction, though again my normal intake was lower than most, in the 100-200g daily range. I still have done a good job of keeping my aerobic heart rate lower than before, even as I’ve reintroduced carbs and even as I’ve began picking up the intensity on some of these base runs.

The growing volume of run and cross training, combined with a greater need for daily overall calories and the predominantly slow-carb diet I generally eat already, will help spur subsequent weight loss.

I’ll probably still have some keto days where I eat low carb, high fat/protein. But now instead of being a mandated habit it can be employed incidentally.

Updating max heart rate with a random time trial

After taking basically the whole weekend off from training, I had planned on an easy Monday. But after losing morning training to stomach issues (that went away once I got to work, go figure), and having no big training plans tonight, I decided on a whim at my 10am break at work to try a Hadd HR-max test:

  • You run 800 meters as hard as you can manage. Your time isn’t relevant.
  • You rest for 90 seconds to 2 minutes.
  • You run 400 meters as hard as you can manage. Your time isn’t relevant.
  • Your max heart rate out of the whole thing is probably your actual current max heart rate.

Not a bad way to start out year 45, I guess.

Though I got it done without wishing death, let’s just say breathing was hard for a little while afterward, and even now (breathing better and able to function) I still feel like I’m recovering from the experience. I’ll probably need a good night’s sleep before I feel totally fine.

Also important, my max heart rate was 180, a couple ticks below my prior estimates. This makes sense as I haven’t been training like I was in Chicago, where my max frequently exceeded estimates.

As for HR training zones, I had historically warned against conventional 50-60-70-80-90% HRmax training zones (e.g. Zone 1 is 50-60% of HRmax, Zone 2 60-70%, etc). Those 50-60-70-80-90 zones were originally meant to be used with the Karvonen formula, which were based on a percentage of heart rate reserve (the difference between your resting HR and HR max), not a percentage of HR max itself!

As most people run, the zones are far too low for running, even if they work fine for other cross training. Most of us running naturally quickly exceed 70-75% without trying. With those zones, most wouldn’t be able to run at all! (For other cross training, they’re fine, as most don’t go hard enough to exceed 70-80% of max.)

Since reading Douillard and starting serious nose breathing, however, I’ve been able to jog at 60-65% for the first time ever (albeit very slowly). I still think for most the zones I recommended (65-70-80-85ish-90ish% of max, or using 50-60-70-80-90 of heart rate reserve) are the best ones to use.

Right now 60-70% is 108-126 bpm. If I get on a treadmill and go super slow, I can probably hang there for a good while, at least 30-45min. The pace is obviously not much of a problem. That’s not a bad starting point for building volume.

This past week, between any running, cross training, walking, I logged over 12 hours training, the most I’ve done since Vancouver this year. And it was probably the least stressful block of training I’ve done in a while. Sure, it still tired me out, but I didn’t feel run ragged after any of it like… well, after this time trial! This is sustainable.

Meanwhile, now I’m approaching a block of Saturday races, three in a row starting this weekend (the first two are 10K, the last is currently a Half Marathon, though I’m open to dropping down to that event’s 10K if not ready).

So now’s not the time to pile on volume. In fact, not being able to go this morning helped a bit with tapering for this Saturday’s 10K. But the trial did give me a bit of hard running stimulus ahead of the race, plus gave me an idea of what intensity I can do this weekend.

More to come as I start putting pieces together on training, but the real meat and potatoes probably won’t come before November, when this race block is done.

Forty Four.

Today is birthday number 44. Trip #45 around the sun begins today.

Let’s do this a little differently this year. Usually on my birthday I write about what I’d done and where I think I’m going.

This time around, I incidentally just went through a month or so where in training I learned and changed a LOT. Basically, I’m doing things a lot differently right now than I was a month ago, decidedly for the better I think. The light bulb went on for a lot of things all at once.


I started doing keto… though to say ‘started’ is a bit of a misnomer, as my diet generally has been somewhat high fat, high protein, low-moderate carb. I’ve had days in the past where I went real low carb, and it wasn’t a big deal.

But after reading Sky Waterpeace’s Lazy Man’s Guide to Marathoning, where he detailed that keto was a key factor in his being able to run well for distance, I decided in late September to go all in for a bit, see how well it worked, and if working well stick with it for as long as it worked well.

Each day on pure keto I rapidly lost weight without feeling worse for wear, outside of being a bit generally sluggish (which happens time to time anyway), and my running slowing down a lot, though I now could comfortably maintain much lower heart rates than ever before and felt like I could go on forever.

The weight loss did stall out over a week ago, and as I began adding more training (offseason’s over, folks! In fact, I have a 10K next weekend!)… I started feeling more peckish, more often.

So without fanfare I just re-added carbs again. I had a big bad starch-rich meal here or there. But mostly I just added peas/carrots/etc back into a couple meals, and stayed keto otherwise.

What was 10-20g net carbs per day is now more like 30-60g, and a day or two back at the old 125-150g. I had been eating eggs or a steak for breakfast a lot of mornings since I’m going to the gym most mornings now, but now some mornings I’m just fasting like before. A couple of pounds came back on since getting away from pure keto, but weight’s mostly steady.

So now, I’m mostly keto or slow carb. I don’t really worry going back or forth between either. If my weight starts creeping up again, I can just go pure keto for a bit and there’s a good chance the weight comes back down.


I joined the gym near my work on a good one-year-paid deal, which makes working out before work a lot easier and more practical (I’m still keeping my Planet Fitness membership, but going on days off from work). I wanted to cut down on my coffee intake anyway (I was going to coffee every morning before work, and while work has coffee it’s in decidedly smaller quantities).

And it still allows me to avoid the rush hour commute by working out before and after work (I cross train easy after work most days).

So now most mornings I commute to the gym, work out, change clothes and go to work afterward. It’s worked out great, it’s felt great, I get to work feeling really good (if not a bit physically worn from the training). It clearly fits me a lot better. And it’s considerably cheaper than going for coffee every morning.


The book’s been around forever but after multiple recommendations I finally caved in and read John Douillard’s Body Mind and Sport.

Douillard’s a bit out there, classifying people into three season-based body types (Winter, Summer, Spring) based on their lifestyle, body type and tendencies (you take a lengthy quiz, and it indicates I’m a Winter-Summer type).

Based on this seasonal mindset and typing, Douillard believes you should pick certain modes of training, eat certain foods, even train and eat at certain times of the day over others. I’m understandably skeptical, especially because I’ve had positive results and experience doing quite a few of his no-no’s out of season. It seems akin to basing your training on numerology or astrology, or condemning yourself to one of the somaotypes (e.g. mesomorph, endopmorph).

Douillard appears to be an avid vegetarian, and like many doesn’t believe anyone should eat much meat or protein, or eat big dinners, or egg yolks. So, grain of salt with that.

But Douillard’s recommendations on nose breathing, dialing back your training to a much lower intensity than most recommend (50-60% max heart rate), and warming up or cooling down with a balancing practice like yoga, do seem sound none the less.

So on his recommendation I test-drove doing some brief runs with my mouth closed, breathing only through my nose. It worked very well! It even worked beyond the effects of keto on my heart rate and ease of running. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to maintain anything like a 60-65% max heart rate on a training run. Even in my best Chicago days I couldn’t get it lower than 70% on an easy run.

And unlike prior runs, where my heart rate would climb and just keep gradually increasing, my heart rate would rise a bit but then come back down several beats per minute and stay. I was able to recover from spikes, instead of the increases just staying.

I used to finish my brief work break runs hot, breathing a bit hard, struggling. Even though these new work break runs had to go a lot slower because of the limited nose breathing, I came back feeling calmer, refreshed, and none of the run was a huge struggle. In fact, the biggest concern I had on these runs was my heart rate actually creeping towards the 70% range in the warmer conditions towards the end of the runs.

So I’ve once again made peace with running really slow for now, as I train myself to get comfortable with the nose breathing for steadily longer runs. I think this plus my lower/slow-carb diet approach will do wonders for building my aerobic capacity. And as he mentions, eventually I should naturally speed up as I get used to training like this.

That said, I’ll probably open my mouth and run somewhat harder in my upcoming races. I have some ideas to how to incorporate the nose breathing and harder efforts. We’ll see how they go. Worst case scenario, I’m just slow in these races, and I learn a few things, albeit with less strain than before.


Thanks to this, I was able to get on the treadmill at the gym (which thanks to my new portable thermometers I now know is typically 73-75°F with 37-40% humidity), and comfortably run slow at 60-70% of max heart rate for over 20-30 minutes, without too much of a heart rate climb. My spin bike workouts are also more comfortable, though those weren’t super harsh to begin with.

Runalyze tells me the TRIMP (stress) on these workouts is now about 20% lower. What this means is I can probably handle a large volume of these workouts without wearing myself out as much. I certainly don’t feel sore or worse than generally tired the day after these workout days.

This week I’m still taking days easy and off from training, especially ahead of upcoming races. But now I feel very confident that I can handle high volumes of easy running that previously would tire and burn me out.

I have three race weekends in a row. Once the last of this series of race weeks ends I’ll train mornings and sample a full marathon training week ahead of Thanksgiving (nothing crazy, more like the lighter first week of a training plan) and see how that feels, how much more volume I can capably take on, how many easy days I need, how many double days during the week I can do, etc.

I also notice that my sleep is better if I don’t run in the evening. Apparently the stress of running is now inhibiting my body’s ability to fully relax overnight. It’s a bummer to not be able to run outdoors during winter after work, and because parks I run at open at 7am, it’s not practical to run there in the mornings. It makes the most sense to train in the mornings on the treadmill.

Before, there was almost no way I could mange training mornings on a gym treadmill. Now? It should be a lot more manageable because my nose breathing should improve my oxygen intake and heart rate management.

Plus, as much of a bummer as morning treadmill runs might be, it’s not only better for pace/effort management, but it’s way better for heat/humidity acclimation for Vancouver 2023. One factor that might have added to my Vancouver difficulty over the years is training all winter in ideal cold conditions, then running a marathon in 60°F+ and 80% humidity. My body’s not heat acclimated.

But if I’m training indoors in 72-75°F with 35-40% humidity, that closes the gap a great deal. In fact, the Perceived Heat Index for 60° and 80% is lower than 73° and 40%! I’d be acclimated for the conditions!


I’ve been mostly strict about game-planning around avoiding high training monotony. But if I follow all of the above, it’s going to push my monotony over the 1.50 threshold.

That said, much of the research around Monotony is predicated around conventional training methodology, and a lot of what I’m doing is based on work from John Hadd Walsh, Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns, Phil Maffetone, and the aforementioned John Doulliard, which violates a lot of that conventional wisdom and has you training day over day at a far easier intensity than most.

So along with working with the nose breathing to maintain lower intensity, I’m going to ignore training monotony stats going forward. I’ll listen to my body, and intuitively cut workouts as needed if I’m feeling run down.

As for Workload Ratio, however, I’m still going to avoid exceeding that 1.50 threshold. But the plan I have as written does a great job building gradually and won’t come close to exceeding that threshold.


Amidst all of this, I am sleeping substantially better, more consistently. I don’t get more than 6-7 hours but they’re better hours now.

Even if I wake up during the night, I’m way more effective at getting back to sleep most nights. I’m not waking up with short sleep too often anymore.

The diet’s a factor. The training changes are a factor. Better focus on my micro-nutrient intake (making sure I hit requirements with everything) is a factor. Improving my overall health profile and losing a bit of weight is probably a factor. Keto’s effect on brain activity and recovery is a factor. It was all working before I cut down on my coffee intake but I’m sure that’s a factor too.

In fact, I undertook a lot of this recent stuff with the primary intent of improving my sleep. Improving my fitness and losing some weight were other intents, but none above getting better sleep. Sleep in fact is a key factor in improving all of the above, and I’m glad it’s starting to work better.


I’m going to roll with all this going forward, and see how the races go. These are basically glorified workouts at this point. The big focus will be expanding my training base and building on the improvements from the nose breathing, the keto/slow carb diet, and the better gym setup.

I made a point this past year to just work on myself, training, diet, finding consistent and repeatable habits. I like to think I’ve gotten better and smarter with running, even after having lost so much of the fitness I had in Chicago. Sure, a bunch of that was Covid in 2020, but that period was a break I probably needed across the board.

I’ve spent the last year or so beating my head against the wall to figure out how to train sustainably, and all of a sudden I figured a lot of things out, for the better.



On planning (and adjusting) training schedules using Training Monotony and TRIMP

The 21 day cycle has worked okay for me so far. However, the runs have been short due to a rash on my right arm that required I go to Urgent Care for a prescription. The rash is doing better, though the RX as it does has messed with my body a bit. I also had a dinner for my dad’s birthday. I also had a car issue to sort out ahead of registration renewal.

Basically, life intervened, and I had to patch a reduced schedule this week with work break runs. I’ve back-loaded my strength workouts to Friday and Saturday. After that, my 3 day cycle goes back to normal by Monday (which incidentally is the next scheduled quality-run day).

I ended that 21 day cycle post mentioning Training Monotony. That’s the subject I’ve been personally focused on the last week or so.

Training Monotony is a metric devised long ago by Carl Foster. Training Monotony measures how variable your workouts are within a training week or similar period. The concept is that the more day to day consistent your workout volume is, the higher your monotony.

High Training Monotony can be a problem in one of two ways. 1) Either you do a lot of hard workouts with insufficient easy days or rest, an overtraining or burnout risk. 2) Or you do a lot of easier workouts without a mix of more challenging workouts. This in turn stagnates or decreases your fitness.

Though poo-poohed by some writers (and I’d imagine given their plan layout that the Hansons have a problem with the monotony concept as well), Training Monotony is worth exploring. Honestly, most coaches and training plans do shove a lot of volume down your throat that for many just runs you into the ground (and possibly injure you) more than prepare you for your training goals. Elite athletes and teams get around this by being 99th percentile strong and resilient, and/or through covert systematic doping. For most of us, the relentlessly high training volumes most top coaches swear by are largely unsustainable long-term.

Conversely, you can get into a pattern of easily do-able workouts. This eventually stagnates your progress. Your body grows accustomed to the regular stress, and ceases to progress.

For basic examples, Jonathan Savage aka Fellrnr has done a great job of providing some himself, as well as providing a separate illustration of what it measures and is designed to deter.

Basically, the Training Monotony number is the volume of your week’s training divided by the standard deviation of all the days collected in the data sample. Standard deviation is a pain to calculate, so I just have Excel do it.

You can measure your volume by mileage or rate of perceived exertion. But because Runalyze provides it to me for every kind of fitness activity I do, I’ve been using TRIMP.

TRIMP is short for Training Impulse. This measures your effort based on heart rate (% max), and number of minutes doing the activity.

For example, a 1 mile easy run for me is worth about 15 TRIMP. A walk during a work break is about 6 TRIMP. A full strength workout is about 10-12 TRIMP, depending on what I’m doing. A 45 minute spin bike session is about 30 TRIMP. In planning a week’s workouts and measuring likely training monotony, I’ve been plugging in TRIMP approximates for the expected activities. If adjusting the schedule in midweek I use the actual TRIMP from completed days.

You want the Training Monotony ratio not to be any higher than 1.50. Your volume, divided by the standard deviation, needs to be 1.50 or lower. If your volume doesn’t deviate much day over day, you get an unacceptably higher number like 3.00 or more.

Why it’s unacceptable depends on how you get there:

If these are all hard workouts, you won’t recover between them. You’re going to burn out, if not stagnate and see diminished progress.

If these are all easy workouts, your fitness is going to stagnate, and certainly won’t improve much.

So you would combine monotony with total volume to get a better idea of which side you’re on. If you’re running 1 mile a day, 7 miles a week, you’re probably on the stagnate/unimproved end. If you’re running 10 miles a day, 70 miles a week, you’re probably on the stagnate/burnout end)

Going a bit over 1.50 isn’t a killer (consensus is it’s above 2.00 that you’ve got a clear problem), but eking over 1.50 is like drinking alcohol when you’ve got health problems: If you can’t outright avoid it, don’t make a habit out of it, and definitely avoid doing it on consecutive weeks.

Conversely, you usually don’t want it to be too low, below 1.00. This can happen if, say, you have multiple long workouts in a week, or too many rest or easy days. Either you’re losing opportunities to improve fitness on the rest days, or the workouts are too long and the training week is not as productive as reducing the daily workout volume and training more often.

Exceptions are understandable and okay for unusual situations, if you just ran a half marathon and took lots of days off to recover afterward, or if you had to take unplanned off days, etc. But as a practice during serious training you want to keep monotony between 1.00 and 1.50.

As the Simplifaster link above discusses, worrying about Monotony can seem much ado about nothing, that it’s an older traditional metric first used with racing horses, and that advances in training have theoretically rendered the concern obsolete.

However, looking back at prior years’ training (and without getting into a granular breakdown and collection of graph images), I see that times my training was productive often had more of a 1.30-1.40 monotony, and that training that didn’t pan out often cruised around 1.60-1.80, often exceeding 2.00. I see some loosely correlative evidence in my own training that worrying about it, at least in my case, can have some merit.

Someday I’ll probably write a granular breakdown post with all those old tables, graphs and images. It’s just not going to be now. However, I’ll show a sample of what I do now to plan training and keep Monotony at a proper level. This is using the Electric Blues “Daniels Tables” Excel spreadsheet, which has a section to enter in training volume, and shows percentage breakdowns by workout type.

A sample week of training using TRIMP values, entered in the Electric Blues spreadsheet, with Training Monotony measured in the bottom right.

I’ve been entering in TRIMP values for planned workouts in a given week. I also entered in an equation in the bottom right corner to quickly measure the Monotony for that week. I can immediately see if the Monotony goes under 1.00 or over 1.50 after making a speculative entry.

While a side topic, I do try to maintain 80/20 training principles. You’ll notice the easier Recovery & Aerobic training is around low 80’s%. Harder training for me now is any intense running. This is not just zone 3 and above. Harder zone 2 counts right now as I work back into regular running shape. I also include any strength training (the 10’s in the sample are strength workouts).

‘Aerobic Zone’ I use for easier zone 1-2 runs and cross training like the spin bike, elliptical or ARC Trainer. Warmup/Recovery I mostly use for walking, which does count and registers TRIMP scores that are part of my volume.

I not only plan weeks ahead but put the current week’s completed volume in, to compare with my remaining schedule. I want to make sure the Monotony stays on track, or if I need to make an adjustment.

The sample above is the current week. I had to make several adjustments to the remaining schedule, As mentioned earlier, this has been an unusual week with multiple distractions. I had wanted to do more Friday. The strength workout that day was originally scheduled for Wednesday. As I rearrange the schedule, I make other adjustments to re-balance the monotony.

I quickly noticed the longer the long workout is, the lower the training monotony goes. A more demanding long workout increases the standard deviation. At the same time, the long run’s ability to lower Monotony is obviously limited by how long and intense of a workout you can do.

For example, it doesn’t do good to plan 150 TRIMP worth of training, if doing 80 is currently too hard. Personally, I just did about 200 TRIMP in a 2 hour 45 minute hour workout. This was a 45 minute run and 2 hours on the spin bike. S,o in this case, I know the 105 TRIMP long workout in the sample above is well within reach. For me, 105 TRIMP is either about 7 easy running miles, or 5ish tempo or interval miles.

I also notice that if you add any volume to harder training days, it reduces the increase in Training Monotony. If you put it in an empty or lighter day, the Monotony goes up.

It also creates a monotony problem if you have to shorten that long workout. The deviation between workouts decreases, and the monotony could surge. You could just cancel the workout when this happens, though of course long workouts are important.

If measuring by TRIMP, cutting a long workout short because it’s TOO hard can actually even things out. A shortened workout could produce an average heart rate so high it produces the same TRIMP. If pressed for time, you can turn a long run into a shorter tempo or interval run resulting in the same TRIMP.

All of this is infancy-stage experimentation and research for me right now. The goal is to create sustainable consistent 21 day cycles, not to mention training weeks, that are better repeatable than some of the training approaches and plans I’ve previously struggled with.

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My streamlined, sustainable approach to weekly training

After weeks of tinkering with my training routines, my diet, adjustments to supplement intake… I have finally settled on a sustainable routine that has me feeling good.

I ramped up strength training this summer, wanting to seriously build strength while still endurance training regularly. Vancouver basically marked the start of my race-training offseason. With no plans to race before the fall, I can focus on base fitness as well as building strength. Plus I have space to take rest days where needed.

At the same time, I gained some weight, and hit a high water mark of 187 pounds. I’m not one to fuss much about my weight, but that probably needed to come down. I’m also about 10-15 pounds heavier for Vancouver 2022 than I was for past marathons, and that might have had some impact on my training not to mention the ill-fated race itself.

So I quickly ramped up to 3-5 progressive strength workouts per week, along with some running and cross training. But I also quickly grew tired, and needed to take a lot of rest days. It wasn’t that I was sore so much as I was all-around tired, meaning I was adrenally and hormonally tapped. How much I slept or didn’t sleep didn’t seem to matter much either, though it’s worth noting my sleep was just okay during all this.

So I tinkered with spacing blocks of workouts apart while remaining consistently active. I started with a block of 4 days of strength training in a row with no running, the 4th of which overlapped with a run, then three days of running with no strength training, before repeating the cycle.

But that too wore me out quickly. Just 2-3 strength workouts left me tapped out and sore, and once it was time to start the running portion I found myself very tired, plus it took several days off from strength training to feel suitably good to train again. This clearly wasn’t going to work long term.

Around the start of July, I started using the elliptical a bunch, figuring if I’m not going to run much, at least I can work on my aerobic fitness with a close-approximate activity. I quickly got comfortable again with 45 minute sessions, plus to mix in some running I would warm up with my old Life Time Fitness warmup, 10 minutes of slow then progressively faster running. Runalyze indicated these warmups were good for my VO2max fitness, and they felt fairly comfortable.

On strength training days I just did a work break run, then started swolework with no warmup. All of this together worked well.

It was around this time that I decided on several training changes in light of all this.

First, along with Garmin, Stryd and Runalyze, I’ve always kept a current Google Docs workbook tracking all of my training, dating back to my first serious run training in 2016. I’ve never deleted any of these records, and I’ve avoided any major changes to how I track data.

I tracked miles running and walking. I tracked any cross training by hours trained or fractions of hours trained. Then I calculated from this data an approximate fitness effect in combination with the mileage that I called “chops” (based on musician nomenclature to describe relative skill). Aside from minor adjustments to the calculations based on experience, I didn’t really mess with how this was calculated.

But over time I considered a major adjustment that I finally made last weekend. Instead of counting cross training by hours trained, I switched to counting the calories burned per Garmin. I divided these by 130 (average calories I burn per mile) for an equivalent “mileage” I add to my actual running mileage. The Weekly Mileage Equivalent (WME) is a function calculating this from each day as well as a rolling average of WME from the last 7 days. This I found best illustrates the compounding fitness effect of prior training). The EM is Equivalent Mileage, totaling the mileage plus all other recorded cross training to spit out a mileage number.

I went back to September 2019, when I first switched my old Fitbit out for my first Garmin watch. This data was all imported easily to Runalyze. I pulled that data from Runalyze and entered the calorie burn data for all the non-run workouts, including my walks. Much like how I calculated walk data the old way, I had the EM function divide walking calories by 10. Walking, while having a non-zero impact on aerobic fitness, is a mostly passive activity and does far less for fitness.

You’ll notice I even count the strength training, which in my experience does have a non-zero benefit on my running. Building strength prevents form breakdowns that slow you down later in a race or run. There’s also a slight aerobic and anaerobic benefit with many exercises. I don’t take long rest breaks while strength training. I rarely burn more than 150-180 calories in a 20 minute workout, more like 100-120. So calculating in a 130 cal/mile training benefit from these sessions isn’t unreasonable.

This basically changed my approach to workout programming. Visually I could now see a more objectively clear effect of any activity on my training volume and approximate fitness. I can also calculate Runalyze Marathon Shape based on the EM rather than my raw mileage as Runalyze does. This gives me a better idea of overall endurance fitness when I decide to cross train instead of running.

In turn, I decided to focus on cross training to build aerobic fitness and burn calories. The warm up runs not only allowed for more calorie burn on cross training (in line with a more zone 2 heart rate on these workouts, strengthening the aerobic training benefit), but were an easy and sustainable way to ensure I maintaining running fitness at varying paces before re-building aerobic fitness with the longer cross training sessions.

I don’t do the warmup runs every day, and I still do some full runs on the treadmill and outside. But most of my aerobic training is on a spin bike or elliptical. Currnetly I’m leaning on the spin bike now because I decided to go badge-chasing on Garmin again for biking badges.

I also realize that my strength workouts became very demanding. Instead of doing one full tiring workout every day or few days, I decided for now to do one single 4-set exercise every single day, rotating weekly through seven critical exercises:

Monday: Overhead Squat, 4x 8-12 reps
Tuesday: Decline DB Bench Press, 4x 8-12 reps
Wednesday: Lat Pulldown, 4x 8-12 reps
Thursday: Seated Cable Row, 4x 8-12 reps
Friday: Hanging Leg Raises, 4x 8-12 reps
Saturday: Incline DB Bench Press, 4x 8-12 reps
Sunday: DB Hammer Curls, 4x 8-12 reps

I would start the workout with today’s exercise, and it usually takes about 4-6 minutes to do the whole block. Then (perhaps after a 10 minute treadmill warmup) I do the cross training, about 45-50 minutes most days. That’s the workout. With post-run stretching, it takes a little over an hour.

I started this approach on Monday after work and have comfortably stuck to it through today, where I switched up today and did it this morning instead of after work. I’m not exhausted at work as I’d been after past morning workouts.

This plus a streamlined diet plan (2400-2600 calories, high protein) has me feeling more comfortable with training and better energized during the day than I’ve been in a while. I’ve slept fairly well, and even if my energy’s low on a given evening I can still get on a spin bike and give 45 minutes, no problem. I’ve finally landed on a sustainable training approach, and can finally (2 months after Vancouver) feel like I can get back to training like I want to.

I’ll stick with this through summer and see where it gets me by the fall.

The Working Class Strength Training Progression

I have fined tuned a strength training approach that I plan to follow going forward, and can be useful to many others. This is a gradual, sustainable approach to making consistent strength gains in the gym, without spending an excessive amount of time or effort in workouts.

This can be followed by people wanting to develop full-body strength, who aren’t lifting enough to have maxed out the cable machines at the gym (e.g. most people). If you’re strong enough that the available weight on these machines isn’t heavy enough to challenge you, then you’ll want to do a different workout, or do this progression with different, suitable exercises of your choice.

Each of these workouts are 20 minute strength workouts. No matter what, stop at 20:00. If you don’t have one, I recommend getting and using a fitness watch like a Garmin that will allow you to track sets/reps/weight. But it’s OK to use a phone or stopwatch or watch the clock if that’s what you got.

There are two rotating workouts, 4 base exercises each, with core/ab work to finish as time permits. They can be done once a week each, or almost daily if you can handle that (though I do recommend taking a rest day at least once a week).

Workout A: Pull Workout

  • Cable Lat Pulldown (either reverse grip or wide grip)
  • Seated Cable Row (any angle/grip desired)
  • Cable Face Pulls (rope or dual handles)
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curls
  • finish with Hanging Leg Raises, or sit-ups.

Workout B: Push Workout

  • Decline or Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press (30° incline)
  • Overhead Squats (Smith Machine or barbell)
  • Cable Close Grip Tricep Press-Down (with two-hand grip of your choice)
  • finish with Hanging Leg Raises, or sit-ups

When starting this progression, decide on a do-able but reasonably demanding weight for each weighted exercise (the raises/sit-ups are done with no weight). You want 4 sets of 8-12 reps to be do-able, not a question. Tip for starters: Whatever your known max is for each exercise, divide it in half. Err towards making it a bit too easy.

(If the Hanging Leg Raises are too hard, or there’s no Captain’s Chair or pull-up bar available to you for them, I list sit-ups as an alternative. If you have the equipment but it’s too hard, you can start with Hanging Knee Raises)

Start at that weight with 4 sets of 8 reps for each exercise, or with core exercises do just 8 reps with no extra weight. Take 30 seconds rest between sets, and longer than that between exercises to transition and setup. Take as long as you need to. Usually it takes me about 1-2 minutes, but sometimes it takes me 3-4 minutes if machines are taken or equipment isn’t available and I need to adjust.

Do Workout B with 4 sets of 8 reps. The next time you do each given workout, increase all exercises to 4 sets of 9 reps. The next time, 4 sets of 10 reps, and so on until completing each workout with 4 sets of 12 reps.

The next time after that, increase the weight on each exercise, and go back to 4 sets of 8 reps, repeating the progression between workouts.

For most exercises you can increase the weight by 10 pounds or 5 kilograms. The face pulls should only increase by 5 pounds or 2.5-3 kilograms (the smallest increment available to you).

Again, core exercises are always done with no weight: This is supplemental work and doesn’t need to be progressed. Just go back to 8 reps with the other exercises.

Now, if you fail any of the base exercises in any workout, i.e. you fail to complete every rep, every set, in every workout of that progression (8 reps to 12 reps)… you must repeat the weight in that workout once the workouts revert to 8 reps. You also should repeat a weight if for any reason you don’t feel comfortable increasing the weight in that exercise. You want the increase for each exercise to not be a big deal.

You can follow this progression indefinitely, forever increasing weight until you hit your limits and have to repeat weights, or until you max out a given machine and have to switch to a different exercise.

Added notes:

If you have never done the Overhead Squat before, it’s a challenging but rewarding and underrated full body lift.

Presuming you’re on a Smith Machine, you will likely need to employ a wide grip to ensure full range of motion and be able to fully stand. If you’re taller than 5’10”, you may not be able to use the Smith Machine because even with a wide grip the bar will hit the machine’s top range of motion before you can fully stand. Use a barbell or similar.

You can use dumbbells for Overhead Squats but the demand of the exercise is a bit diminished with separate weights, and depending on how the weights are held overhead it may become a different exercise for the upper body and core. Still, if you must, it can work. Start with 5 lb dumbbells if so and get used to practicing correct form on both the squat and how the weights are held overhead.

On the Overhead I would actually recommend starting out with just the bar and doing only 3 reps per set. On a Smith the bar weighs 25 lbs; if you do it with a freestanding barbell an Olympic bar is 45 lbs; some freestanding bars may only be 10-20 lbs and that’s fine. This compound exercise will be sneaky-difficult enough to do.

Start with just 3 reps per set, progressing for each workout like the others (i.e. when they go to 9, the overhead goes to 4). Once the other exercises get to 12 reps, you should be at 7 reps for the Overhead. Then, when the other exercises add weight and go back to 8 reps, you’d increase the Overhead to 8 reps and it will now match the same progression as the other exercises.

Once you can do 12 reps with the bar, you then add 10 pounds and go back to 8 reps on the next workout, following the normal progression.

For the Decline Bench Press, please use a decline bench with the leg handles (which many mistakenly presume is just a sit-up bench). If you don’t have a decline bench, go ahead and just do Flat Bench Presses.

Please do not lay upside down on an inclined bench for Declines, as this is dangerous as the inclined portion of the bench may not be able to support that weight, and your hips can slide down or off the bench because your feet are not on the ground.

Many coaches will tell you with the Decline Press to just drop the weights on the floor when done. I actually recommend you don’t, that you use a light enough weight that you can sit-up, reach for and pick it up off the floor, and put it back down without dropping it.

On a Decline Bench, don’t ever pick up or put down the weight while laying down, nor remove your legs from the handles while laying down: Both moves are injury risks. Keep your legs in the handles and sit-up before putting down or picking up any weight. Yes, this basically makes it sort of a core exercise because you’re effectively doing a weighted Russian Twist, plus you.

If this is unsuitable or challenging to do, just do Flat Bench Presses instead.

Typically, presuming about 30 seconds per active set, you should finish the 4th base exercise in a workout at about 17-18 minutes, allowing time for about 2 sets of raises or sit-ups before 20:00.

Sometimes you may finish the last base exercise with less than a minute left: Typically you should just rest or walk the gym and let the 20:00 run out. The core exercises are supplemental and not essential.

In rare instances, I’ve finished all the base exercises plus 4 full sets of raises with enough time to spare for another set of something else, in which case if I’m not exhausted enough to just wait out the 20:00 limit I’ll do another set of an exercise of my choice, any exercise I want. You can repeat a prior exercise, just do more raises/sit-ups if you’re up to it, do an exercise from the opposite workout, or experiment with a totally different exercise. But in my experience, this usually happens when I’m doing quick sets, like the Overheads with fewer than 8 reps, and once you’re up to 8+ reps of all base exercises this pretty much never happens.

I will recommend for the Face Pull, the Decline Bench, and the Overhead Squat you do not go any higher than your bodyweight.

The Face Pull faces diminishing returns at heavier weights.

As mentioned, you need to be able to sit up and pick up or put down the weight on the Decline Bench, and once you’re lifting heavy this becomes very difficult. In fact, once you max out the dumbbells and/or need to use a barbell, the Decline Bench is probably no longer feasible and you should switch exercises.

The Overhead Squat is a challenging full-body exercise that can be dangerous at heavier weights beyond bodyweight, because the needed shoulder stability at heavy weight isn’t guaranteed. You’re better off progressing the reps beyond 12 at bodyweight than increasing the weight.

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