The following strength training workout is an excellent way to test your strength while still developing your muscular endurance.
It requires that you can quickly adjust the weight: Gym machines, a Smith rack, or at home with quickly adjustable dumbbells. I wouldn’t recommend doing this workout with conventional barbells or dumbbells unless you have the entire training area to yourself, such as at a home gym. Definitely don’t do this with barbells and dumbbells at a regular gym.
You basically do a lot of light, gradually increasing reps for each exercise in rapid-fire sets of just 4 reps per set. Eventually, you hit a max weight, then take the weight down and repeat the rapid-fire cycle one more time.
This can build muscular endurance while still building muscular strength, and gets your heart rate going enough to generate better mitochondrial development than your typical strength endurance weight training.
I’m currently working in a fairly isolated location across town, and some weeks I’m working longer than 8 hours. My schedule many workdays is wall to wall booked:
Perhaps run as time allows
Prep for work
Go to work and work 8-10 hours
Work out if I didn’t get to in the morning
Prep food and clothes for tomorrow
Go to bed.
On many workdays I can’t leave the client facility because I only have 30 minutes for lunch, plus even when I can the best food options are halfway across town. In this location there’s no supermarkets or viable restaurant options nearby. I won’t eat garbage fast food or something off a vending machine or convenience store counter. Even if any of it was satisfying (hint: doubtful), the near total lack of useful nutrients will crash my energy levels in the afternoon, in a job where I need to stay engaged and proactive.
And, of course, I’m now endurance training. I need to stay fueled for those morning and/or afternoon runs. I can’t just eat a minimal diet or whatever happens to be available and expect to perform as needed in these workouts. Plus, I have to maintain my overall health and not make choices that will contribute to illness or burnout. The food I eat has to support not just my general day to day health but what I am doing in training.
I spend a lot of time in the gym with a lot of people who work out. Social media shows me countless others who also work out, train others, etc. I don’t have a Kinesiology degree but I know what I’m talking about. I preface with this because some of you are not going to like what I’m going to say next.
The two most common mistakes I see people make with strength training are:
People train like a powerlifter, with powerlifter goals, even though that’s not or should not be their goal.
People train continuously without taking any proactive, conscious training breaks.
Matt Fitzgerald’s written a lot of books, and a lot of them are good books. He’s one of this generation’s great minds when it comes to endurance training.
He is also one of the champions of 80/20 Endurance Training, the approach found by Dr. Stephen Seiler to be the most efficient mix of easy and hard training. In a nutshell, 80% of your training is done at easy intensity and 20% is done at harder intensity.
Fitzgerald’s aptly titled 2014 book 80/20 Running is an extended research guide on how he and everyone determined that 80/20 training was the optimal blend of easy and tough workouts.
And as you’d expect, the book includes a set of training plans broken out by difficulty for every major racing distance, from the 5K and 10K, to the Half Marathon and the full Marathon. I want take a look at the Marathon training plans.
As usual, I’m not writing this as a review of the book… though I will freely admit that I love the book and, however dated it might be, I highly recommend you read it if you’re a serious distance runner. Triathletes will get just as much from his more recent 80/20 Triathlon, which adapts the principles to training for the three-discipline endurance sport.
And I will offer this important caveat: Fitzgerald makes it clear that he believes you should take the listed workouts in his book combined with 80/20 principles and create your own training plans based on your needs. So to review this training plan is fundamentally undercut by the fact that they are merely written as templates or samples, something to follow if you just for some reason cannot or won’t make a training plan of your own.
However, given the plans do mirror many of Fitzgerald’s general principles regarding scheduling workout and training progression, I’ll go ahead and review the marathon training plan anyway.
Do note that the training plan, not to my knowledge available in the public domain, would either way require that you have the book 80/20 Running. The workouts are listed only by title, and the finer points are outlined elsewhere in the book. So, you need the book to follow the plan.
Runners typically train for a race through 8-24 weeks of focused, progressive training, then take a break of either reduced or no running for some time afterward.
It just occurred to me that:
People who primarily strength train as their exercise never train like this.
Many who strength training typically see their development and progress hyperbolically slow after training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
Serious runners also see their progress hyperbolically slow after years of mostly continuous hard training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
Except for a weeks/months long “offseason” where they basically don’t train at all, most serious runners train continuously for their entire season with few, often brief planned breaks
Runners could benefit from peak-and-valleying their training season in the style of a 12 month grade school. Basically, you ramp training around recurring goal races, with the plan to downscale training in the week(s) following those periodic goal races.
Strength trainees may see more progress if they were to build regular periodic training breaks or “de-loads” into their training. Basically, progress training as usual for 8-24 weeks, then take a week or more where training stops and/or volume (whether reps, weight, frequency, or all of the above) are substantially, pointedly reduced. You rebuild, re-load energy and drive, then resume training a few days/weeks later really to attack the weights/road/water/bike/etc.
6a. Unplanned breaks like injuries and other life emergencies don’t count. Your body and mind are taxed and have to heal in other ways during breaks like these, and aren’t as fully available to rebuild and heal the way they do during a conscious, planned break in training. Sure, some recovery can happen, but imagine how you feel after a very stressful vacation. Are you “refreshed” and 100% when you go back to work or school?
I imagine a lot of the stalled progress in muscle growth and other “GAINZ” most strength trainees experience would cease to stall if they consciously built to a scheduled peak over weeks/months, then made a point to take a 1-2 week break afterward before resuming.
7a. Fitness loss is minimal during a 1-2 week extended break. As distance running’s Hanson Brothers have attested, the body tends to reap direct benefits from a key workout (and conversely, experiences a loss of fitness from a lack thereof) after 8-12 days. You can probably take a week off before resuming training and experience little to no loss in strength/fitness from where you left off. Two weeks off, and the loss would be very slight, to the point where after a couple weeks of gradually resumed training you’d be back to where you had left off.
So now, I’m looking at you, runners. Many of you have the right idea, where you start training mainly to run a goal race, train hard for that 8-24 weeks, then run your goal race and take it easy for a few days/weeks. There are certainly many things you could do better, but you have the right idea.
8a. And then there are some of you who continiously train, and train hard every week. You don’t take many planned breaks, maybe after a marathon or a longer race, but otherwise you’re doing high intensity workouts and/or high volume almost every week. And then you’re wondering why you get injured or you constantly have nagging injuries.
8b. Some of you call them “niggles”. I call them red alarm signals that you need to take a few days off.
This doesn’t mean don’t run unless you’re training for a goal race. This means your training should more consciously ebb and flow, at the very least follow a 3-5 week continuous cycle of gradually increasing volume to a peak before a week of lighter training. But what could benefit you most is longer 8-16 week cycles of gradually progressing volume, then or preceding gradually increasing intensity, before tapering and/or a goal race, followed by a 1-2 week period of reduced or eliminated training at a substantially lower intensity.
Plan breaks into your training before life makes you take unplanned breaks from training.