Here is a topic near and dear to my heart, an important facet of health that I’ve been working on as much as my diet and exercise.
The single most important aspect of your training development outside of the actual exercise is your ability to get good sleep. Even the important factor of your diet serves in large part your ability to effectively sleep, and its positive effects on your health will be limited if you aren’t sleeping well.
Unless you’re caring for a newborn child (during that period, they’re often going to wake up overnight and there’s little you can do about that), those choices were to a substantial degree probably avoidable. Even being compelled to keep a complicated, troublesome schedule due to career or family concerns is to some degree a preventable product of life choices. We often choose other priorities over sleep and don’t realize what a mistake that is.
But I digress, and that’s a whole other topic. Barring such extenuating circumstances, most people have ample opportunity to get good sleep every night, and they just don’t. And they may not be fully aware of what else they do aside from just staying awake to deny themselves of that opportunity to sleep….
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 imagine that the Coronavirus lockdowns closing gyms has something to do with this, but there’s a growing movement towards bodyweight strength training (also known traditionally as calisthenics).
I ran into this recent Medium Elemental piece, which as recent others have done says that you don’t need weights to get in shape. It basically recommends you stick to basic exercises like push ups and pull ups.
And yes, in principle, you can get swole on as little as the Fundamental Few: Push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges, core exercises e.g. planks, sit ups, crunches, Russian twists, etc.
All of these exercises are safe, healthy and useful for most to do, except for push ups and pull ups. Most people do not have the needed muscular strength to minimally complete push ups or pull ups.
I’ve said this before, and since we’re here I’ll say it again: 80% of your body composition is determined by your diet. And I don’t care if you want to argue that’s wrong. See the forest for the trees: If you want your abs to show up, your diet needs to change so that you burn off most of your current body fat while maintaining your existing muscle and biologically healthy function.
And a good portion of that theoretical remaining 20% is going to come from improving your posture. Improving your posture increases the “display” of your abdomen, which maximises any ab visibility. Often, abs don’t show up because a rounded back causes fat/flesh/fascia to bunch up around your abdominal area, further obscuring your abs even if you’ve burned the fat necessary for those abs to show up.
A well rounded fitness routine combined with addressing your postural imbalances will go a long way to making the necessary posture improvements. That I can and will address another time.
Meanwhile, will doing ab or core exercises help your abs show?
Today marked the first time I’ve run four straight days since March, and the first time I’ve run four straight day all outside since December. After months of 2.0-2.75 mile runs, three of the four runs have been 3 miles or more.
Incidentally, each of the last couple days, I didn’t feel good about a morning run. But in each case I just started at as comfortably slow a trot as I could, and within 10 minutes I was running at closer to a normal easy cadence. If you had asked me at the start of each run I’d have said 3 miles would be tough to do, and by the end of each 3+ miles wasn’t a problem.
None of this is to preach or to reinvent the wheel. There’s a legion of anecdotal advice about how 90% of a workout is just getting it started and how making yourself doing the work is worth the reward of having done, and so on. I get tired of that preaching as well.
And who knows… maybe I wake up tomorrow and successfully talk myself out of running. However, probably not, because I recognize how easy it should have been to talk me out of the last three runs.
It’s very hot. I’m feeling weary. Given how little I’ve run, you could justify taking a rest day. I’m already strength training later in the day on top of this. If I need 10,000 steps I can go on a long walk later or a long walk that morning instead, which is way easier.
But along with my pursuit of 40 miles in a fortnight thanks to all ill advised Garmin challenge badge, and knowing I probably need to run 2-3 miles everyday for it to be in reach… I also realize that the easiest way to hit a step goal like 10,000 is to go on a 30-45 minute run.
By the time I finish each run I have 7000-9000 steps already, and it’s typically not even 8am. That makes getting the last 1000-3000 fairly easy, having the whole entire day to do it. Often I’ve hit the goal in midday or early evening with little to no additional effort.
I could if needed take a couple days off during this challenge fortnight, as long as all my other runs are this same 3.3-3.7 mile distance I’ve somehow been able to comfortably hit. So it’s nice to have that buffer.
At the same time, I also want to see how much running volume I can handle with everyday 3 mile runs. I hadn’t run more than 10 miles in virtually any week since the lockdown, and now I’ve already got 12. For reasons I’ll discuss in a bit, I have the luxury of being able to rest most of the day. So while others may get injured ramping up their volume like that (plus, again, I’m also strength training with mostly upper body exercises between all this), I may be able to successfully handle the intense ramp. I want to see how far I can take it. After all, like I said, I can afford to take a day or two off during the next week if I need it.
Not a lot to report here other than me trying to run everyday right now despite 115°F midday heat, just to see what I can do in a time and place where there’s currently not a lot to do.
Okay, so most of us live somewhere where a mask is required in any indoor public place. Assuming your state hasn’t closed all gyms (hello, California!), many see this as a huge bummer while working out at the gym.
In fact, gyms have been the most difficult offenders regarding enforcement of indoor mask policies. People just don’t want to wear them while doing intense exercise (though many local governments have permitted mask removal when performing cardio exercise on a machine).
Instead of seeing the required use of a mask as a burden or shackles holding you prisoner to The Man… recognize the two key training benefits wearing a mask is providing you.
Constricted breathing trains your breathing
The biggest complaint about masks in gyms is that you need to breathe harder to exercise, and the mask interferes with breathing. I’m not going to pull punches: Yes, masks by design constrict your breathing. The intent is to keep any germs you have out of the public airspace, but the flip side is that it makes taking air in more difficult. Your lungs themselves don’t have muscles, so the associated core muscles that keep them going have to do more work.
However, because your associated lung muscles are working harder per breath, this is actually a workout for those muscles. You are effectively making your breathing stronger, and once you can train and compete without a mask you will improve your overall oxygen intake.
Many people don’t breathe, take in oxygen during exercise, as effectively as they could. Wearing a mask will force your body to adapt your breathing patterns and muscle usage to maximize oxygen intake.
Even though it wasn’t the intent of the law, this policy is actually helping you get stronger and better.
The mask is to some degree an air filter
So while the mask obviously won’t stop most viruses from getting into your windpipe, they do however filter out dust, allergen and dirt particles you otherwise would have breathed in.
Recall that people in heavily polluted Chinese and Indonesian cities walk around in public wearing these masks. The masks do filter out most if not all of the pollutants in your immediate airspace.
Most don’t realize that indoor air is generally far more polluted and dirty than outdoor air. The air is enclosed and very few people and businesses employ ground-level air filtration systems. Most don’t clean or replace their HVAC air filters more than once every few years, if ever. The air you breathe indoors is often rather unhealthy.
In fact, if you don’t own one already, I recommend you buy a cheap electric air filter for your home, at least for your bedroom if not other rooms you frequently use. Also, if you can keep them alive, get some house plants: They also help a bit with air quality. But I digress….
Your mask is actually cleaning the gym air you’re breathing in. By being forced to wear one, you have improved the quality of the air you breathe during gym workouts (and of course you breathe more heavily during these workouts, needing more oxygen) by a lot. Again, this was not an intent of the mask policy, but it is a useful and healthy side effect.
So instead of getting mad about having to wear a mask, recognize the unintended ways that it’s actually helping you train healthier and get better.