Tag Archives: strength training

The less you run during marathon training, the more important strength training becomes

As a runner, your body can only handle so much mileage. Some runners can pile over 100 miles a week. Some runners can’t run more than 3-4 days a week.

A better more emcompassing way to put it is that you can only handle so much time on your feet. Sure, some runners are faster than others and that’s why they can rack up 100+ miles at an easy pace, whereas if most of us ran the same amount of time we’d probably max out at around 60-65.

Back to the main point: While it’d be ideal to have you log 50+ miles while training for a marathon, many can’t quite hit that number within their reasonable best efforts, or their plan doesn’t ask that much. Even if your plan does, maybe you struggle for understandable reasons to do it: Hal Higdon might ask for 20 milers and 7-10 mile midweek runs, and maybe you don’t have the time to put them in… or your body simply gives out after 15 miles. Maybe the Hansons want you to run 6-8 miles six times a week, but there’s no way you can run six times a week.

However, as Jonathan Savage says, everyone running a marathon has to run the same 26.22 mile distance. Whether your longest run was 15 miles or 18 miles or 22 miles, everyone’s got to run 26.22 on race day. It doesn’t matter if you can’t handle the distance, the pounding that volume requires, in training. You’ll have to handle it eventually just like everyone else.

This doesn’t mean you need to do 20-26 milers in training to be ready. Some runners certainly can do that, sure, and they’ll usually be ready on race day. But while I do think it’s important to develop the aerobic endurance to go no less than 2.5-3.0 hours without stopping… what you do on the other days of the week can be far more flexible.

With one key caveat.

Your body not only has to be aerobically prepared to run long, but it physically must be prepared to take the pounding of that much continuous running. No matter how much you run or how you run, you must develop the physical strength to handle the 3-6 hour pounding. And that simply will not happen on a lighter running schedule by itself.

I also don’t think speed and tempo work is anywhere close to enough by itself. You’ll develop solid ability to run a 10K or something, but that won’t fully prepare you to handle hours of pounding and aerobic demand.

The successful marathoners I know and see all tend to have one other common denominator aside from just running a lot, running regularly and eating/sleeping/recovering well.

They strength train.

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One key to easy lunges

LungeThroughout my adult life I always struggled with lunges, the leg exercise where you lunge forward and stand on a bent front leg, then step back to a standing position. I’ve always had to work on leg and glute strength, and I’m sure that’s been a factor in my struggles.

My problem was that I’d wobble and struggle with balance stepping forward, and it was a fight to stably land and maintain balance. Stepping back always required a forceful push from the front leg.

I don’t remember the exact moment I realized the key to successful lunges, possibly while reading Jean Francois Harvey’s book Run Better. But once it occurred to me, and I focused on this element while lunging, they immediately became easy to do. And now it’s about focusing on control and building strength in habit.

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Fitness Debriefing After Vancouver 2019

VancouverMedalSitting down and beaten up from the longest run is a great time to take stock of where I’m at with fitness and what I ought to do for next time, even if next time isn’t going to get here for a little while.

I worked hard to prepare for and run Vancouver, and while I improved my endurance and strength in a variety of ways, there’s a number of things that even before the race I knew I wanted and needed to improve.

There’s a lot of goals I have regarding how fast I want to run races, how fast I know I’m capable of running races, and there remains a substantial gap between what I can do and what I want to be able to do… a gap I believe I can substantially close starting even before the beginning of my next training cycle….

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Headwinds are a training blessing in disguise

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve spent a busy April mostly off the grid. I am running the Vancouver Marathon in 8 days. Since muscle damage takes about 14 days to fully repair and quality training’s benefits take about 10 days to manifest in your running, I am done with high volume quality training or any tough workouts. Now it’s about maintaining conditioning and resting up for the marathon.

After getting sick a few weeks ago I had to abbreviate peak training, and I ran a final 17 mile peak run last weekend. The 20 miler I ran in mid-March would be my only one this training cycle, and the 40-45 mile weeks I had that month would be as high as my volume would get.

So, that final long run. Due to weather forecasts and other needs, I had to run it on a Friday right after work. Even though it was the best possible weather of any time I could run that weekend, I had to do most of the run into a stiff 25-30 mph headwind.

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Do (but don’t overdo) core strength training

There’s a crew I once ran with on Mondays who after finishing the run would as a group do 8 Minute Abs, eight different 1-minute floor exercises for core strength. There was no formal structure to what exercises the crew did, other than they always finished with a 60 second plank.

Strength training after easier runs is typically a good idea, a low key, short opportunity to engage the core muscles a little bit after a low key run.

Most top training programs ask you incorporate a modicum of strength training in whatever form. Hal Higdon’s intermediate plans ask for you to do a bit of strength work after easier early-week runs. Brad Hudson and others swear by hill sprints as a low-impact way to strength train your lower body running muscles. The Hanson Marathon Method has you do some faster-than-marathon tempo runs as a sort of “strength” workout.

Your legs and hips aren’t the only muscles important to healthy, quality running form. Your upper body requires engaged core muscles to maintain a solid alignment that supports and augments, rather than inhibits, your running efficiency.

Many people as they tire begin to fall back into bad posture, though many run with bad posture whether or not they’re tired. Bad posture pulls the core and hips in one direction and gives your glutes/flexors more work to do on top of continuing to take steps with a(n often) tired lower body.

There’s all sorts of resources on effective posture but I’ll hit the basics:

When standing, a healthy aligned torso is upright and relaxed yet strong atop the hips, not pulling or leaning hard in any direction. The head and neck don’t necessarily have to be straight atop the shoulders, but shouldn’t droop forward. The shoulders should be strong and relaxed, not hunched.

When running, there may be a slight lean forward of the upper body, like how a Segway is prompted to move when you ride it. But the head, neck and torso otherwise remain strong and aligned atop your hips as you run. Nothing should hunch forward.

I don’t mean to turn this into a posture post. I only point this out to highlight the importance of core strength in your running development. Without a strong core, most of the keys to posture I described will be difficult if not impossible for someone lacking any of the above to develop and maintain. You can’t force good posture that sticks. There must be strength behind better habit formation.

Some core training is certainly valuable for improving not just your running, but your overall posture and alignment, a key component to effective running. It obviously won’t guarantee improvement, but it can certainly help.

However, like any training, it’s important not to overdo core training. This is a key reason top training plans don’t ask you to strength train in any way more than twice a week.

Imagine an example of a guy who tries to train for a marathon, while still lifting weights six times a week. Unless he’s taking performance enhancing drugs and eating 4000+ calories a week, he’s probably going to break down, burn out, get injured, drop dead… take your pick of any of the above. Even if his powerlifting doesn’t involve his running muscles and his running never involves his swole upper body… it’s asking too much of his organs, hormones, nutrition and recovery to effectively rebuild and maintain ALL of that.

To a lesser extent, consider that if you’re not already planking hard every single day or hitting Orange Theory or the Pilates studio all week long… your core has a limited capacity for strenuous exercise. Your body has a limited capacity for facilitating the rebuild and recovery from moderate to hard exercise, and you’re already taxing it with regular running. The capacity to handle additional core training and the effective recovery and growth from all of the above has limits.

So yes, do some core training once or twice a week. But the more running volume you ask of yourself, the less cross training you should ask of yourself.

8 Minute Abs isn’t too much. A quick blast of core work after a shorter run is honestly a great idea.

But a full, challenging strength workout on top of a distance run might be. It’s like how asking you to do difficult reps after a long run might be too much.

What your effective middle ground is depends on a lot and is your call. I encourage you to take it easy and add strength training gradually in small bite-sized increments. And definitely cut back on strength training during more difficult training periods such as peak mileage weeks or race weeks.

Remember that your top goal is to be in your best running shape. Make sure your core training sets you up for success, rather than hindering it.

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Preworkout is probably just another (not so) cheap stimulant

This is admittedly geared more towards people who lift weights at the gym than anyone who runs. I’d be surprised if anyone who trains as a distance runner uses this.

One increasingly popular supplement to gym workouts is the use of preworkout, a mix of stimulants that’s supposed to “prime” you for your workout.

Yeah, okay. We’ve had this for decades. We just called it caffeine.

Of course, preworkout is a mix of a wider variety of chemicals. But that’s literally all it is: A stimulant. And for many lifters and fitness enthusiasts, it’s mostly unnecessary. And on top of it, the stuff costs a lot of money.

I won’t go as far as to call preworkout a placebo, because it’s full of enough chemical stimulants to definitely not be a placebo. But it’s not the reason people lack the drive to work out.

As a runner who has to put in dozens of miles a week after work from a full time job, I realize as well as anyone that it’s hard most days to find the energy and drive to get a workout done. I realize a lot of people go workout early in the morning and it’s hard to shake off the cobwebs of sleep to get the workout in.

People who take preworkout believe that the kick it gives them is absolutely necessary to get them to function in the gym. And as a coffee drinker, far be it from me to tell people to not do stimulants in the morning, ever.

But ultimately the stimulants are in some effect a placebo for the motivation you need to work out. They are in effect a crutch. Pushing a barbell does not become impossible or even substantially more difficult if you don’t take preworkout. Nor does pumping yourself full of stimulants make the task substantially easier… even if it does give you a lot more energy to throw at it.

As I’ve said before, your motivation to work out comes from your habits. You form habits and follow the groove those habits cut into your everyday life. That, rather than anything you take or are given, is what drives most of your “motivation”.

Uppers or not, it’s ultimately up to you to decide to do the work, and then actually do it. The money spent on preworkout might be better spent elsewhere, while you look a little more at your habits to motivate your training.

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Planet Fitness is not bad

About a year ago, the growing and much maligned Planet Fitness gym chain opened a new location near my Chicago home in Wrigleyville. They advertised a rock bottom $10 per month membership, and 24/5 hours: Open 24 hours a day on weekdays, from midnight Sunday/Monday until midnight on Friday/Saturday (then open 7am-7pm on Saturday and Sunday).

(Before proceeding, note for the record I have only been inside one a handful of times, and currently have no need for a membership. I have also strength trained for extended periods at multiple gyms and fitness centers.)

Planet Fitness is known, and to many notorious, for their misnomered ‘no judgment’ policy. The policy creates a strict set of rules designed to curb/deter fitness bro behavior that is deemed intimidating to general gym-goers.

  • No grunting
  • No gallon jugs
  • No wearing stringers/crop tops
  • No deadlifting
  • No dropping or slamming weights on the floor
  • No bags on the gym floor

There are other restrictions but those are the major ones.

The key feature to Planet Fitness is the presence of the Lunk Alarm, which is set off by staff when a violation of the above policies is observed. This results in staff intervention and can result in ejection for the offending party.

To a lesser extent, staff may at their discretion quietly confront individuals exhibiting similar behaviors.


Fitness Bro culture is nowadays very popular, built around the idea of lifting heavy and getting a bigger upper body through low rep, close to max weight compound workouts like this and this. They abhor any aerobic exercise beyond brief, high intensity interval cardio, typically eat a low carb, high protein diet with supplements designed to build muscle, and judge fitness largely on max lifting strength as well as upper body size and definition.

I can address this topic another time, but the above prevalent approach is basically a one dimensional definition of fitness and tends to promote a one dimensional lifestyle. I do not have a problem with people lifting for strength. I have a problem with the implication that it’s the only valid, useful way to work out.

So, needless to say, that crowd doesn’t like Planet Fitness. And because Bro Culture has done a terrific job of using the internet to promote their niche culture as a much larger demographic and voice than they actually are, they have long since successfully crafted a negative cultural movement towards the Planet Fitness brand.

I’m not going to claim all their reservations are unjustified. There are a lot of complaints about Planet Fitness that in some contexts are important. The gym is definitely not for everybody, and certainly not for the 5×5/SS/Stronglifts disciple whose fitness goals revolve around their upper body measurements and their one rep max in a handful of key compound lifts.

There are however a variety of positive, worthwhile fitness goals that are not that. And there’s a variety of ways to build strength and upper body definition that Planet Fitness can productively serve.


Is Planet Fitness in itself bad? You may sense my answer from my prior tone: No, it is not inherently bad. And I’m saying this as someone who is not a member, who currently doesn’t have a use for the gym, who has worked out plenty and had positive experiences at other, more conventional gyms.

I have nothing much to gain from putting Planet Fitness over. In fact, I have many of the same reservations and concerns about their restrictive policies.

But I also know a negative niche agenda and bias when I see one. Much of the criticism Planet Fitness receives comes from that rather than an objective perspective. This makes me as skeptical of the criticism as it does towards Planet Fitness itself.


Depending on your goals, yes, Planet Fitness may not be a good option. But for many, Planet Fitness can still provide a lot of value and positive growth. Planet Fitness is not assured to stunt your fitness development And yes, while it can be useful in the present, you can eventually outgrow Planet Fitness.

I think both sides in the debate have some issues. I think Planet Fitness, however well meaning, is somewhat misguided and can be limiting. I think detractors feed off a misguided agenda built from their own selfish views and egotistical issues.


While many argue the gym’s strangely restrictive policies are designed to keep people away… the Planet Fitness near my home, since opening, (based on my bird’s eye view through their windows to the gym floor) has been very popular at most hours and consistently utilized, both on their treadmills and their weight machine section.

If the chain’s goal is in fact to net unused memberships, they’ve done a poor job of keeping the gym unused and unattended.


Most aspiring weight trainers get their news and info from conventional content aggregators, like Reddit or the Gawker family of websites. Many gravitate to hardcore weight training sites like T-Nation.

These provide a one-dimensional perspective on how to work out, and their predominately young adult demographic tends to fall into the trap of seeing their way as absolutely right and converse points of view as absolutely wrong.

Reddit’s Fitness community leaders in particular have crafted and operate upon a specific agenda built around a specific set of concepts on how to strength train and what your goals should or shouldn’t be. This agenda has influenced other platforms and driven a lot of derision towards Planet Fitness.

Not only are their specific principles or “recommendations” not right for everybody or even most people, but most beginners are nowhere near the physical condition needed to safely attempt and routinely do heavy compound exercises like low-rep high-weight bench presses, squats and deadlifts.

Most can’t lift anywhere close to their bodyweight with any muscle group. Plus, the mechanics of the compound exercises may conflict with the individual joint/bone structure of their bodies, which can facilitate long term injury. This never minds most’s lacking command of proper form, technique, recovery between workouts, dietary choices, etc.

It would make more sense for novices to first develop some basic bodyweight strength with exercises like pushups, dips, weight-free squats/lunges, etc… done with safe and proper form, and to develop strength within individual muscle groups (shoulders, back, chest, glutes/core), before considering max-level weight work in the more popular compound powerlifts. Most shouldn’t even attempt a low-rep high-weight barbell exercises before developing the strength and ability to do over a dozen push ups and chin ups. And, if their bodily structure produces uncomfortable joint/bone friction and shear if they do the exercise, then it may make sense not to do the heavy lifts at all.

This is where I think Planet Fitness can come in handy. A beginner isn’t going to get much more value from a conventional gym’s machines and Olympic-caliber weight training area. Even an intermediate trainee may not yet have the strength to move along to benches and deadlifts. They’re just going to pay more to either do the same more-appropriate exercises, or to get injured lifting beyond their capability.

A key note: The fallacious argument against machines is that they make you lift in a straight motion whereas humans naturally lift things in a curve, which can lead to injury.

However, if you look at the motion path of most of these machines, most do require you press/lift/move the weight at a curve. Plus, when seated, the seat and placement is often at an angle that facilitates arc-movement.

Also, a lot of barbell lifters, whether or not they’re taught to do so, end up doing their lifts in a straight line path anyway. So conventional lifting doesn’t outright avoid the problem. In fact, the machines may do a better job of preventing it.


I think Planet Fitness for most can be more valuable than other gyms, until you outgrow it. And most people aren’t at the point of having outgrown it.

To Planet Fitness’ credit, lifting beyond one’s safe capability is actually why so many lifters grunt and slam weights.

They don’t have safe, proper command of the weight they’re trying to push. They’re extended beyond their capabilities, and they have to redline themselves just to complete exercises, plus they’re not completing them with full command and proper form.

If these lifters had command and capability to lift the weight they were attempting, no grunting would be necessary, and they could quietly put the weight down instead of being forced to drop or slam it.

All this never minds people who slam and grunt for effect, to peacock around other people. I honestly don’t think there’s many of those. But the emphasis on pushing unsafely beyond one’s means comes from the same misguided and egotistical place.


You don’t break through from consistently overexerting yourself. You break through habitual work below and near your *stable* limit at an exercise, and then practicing sound diet/rest between workouts. And then you exhibit growth from testing your limits, not trying to lift beyond them.

Someone starting out can get a lot of mileage out of Planet Fitness beginning with the weight they’re capable of lifting, and gradually improving until they max out every machine and dumbbell.

Say what you want about their capability to exhibit max-gainz at a real gym. Maybe they’ll graduate to a big gym and struggle to bench press the same weight they max out on a machine, needing to take the barbell weight down some.

But they’ll be a lot closer to getting there after maxing out Planet Fitness than they are when they start. Isn’t progress the stated goal?


This also gets lost: Your fitness isn’t a primary function of the max weight you can lift. That expectation is a simple minded social construct that’s been culturally forced upon people by said Bro-culture.

It doesn’t honestly matter in the big picture exactly how much you can lift unless:

  1. You have a job that requires you lift that much weight.
  2. You are a competitive powerlifter whose wins and losses come down to how much you can push.

If your goal instead is bodybuilding, to improve your physique, there are a variety of ways to optimize your physical training for that aside from max compound lifts (which honestly are not efficient for bodybuilding beyond generally training major muscle groups). And the specialized machines may better facilitate that development. Not everyone who wants to look better wants to maximize their gains.

Bodybuilding is also largely a function of your diet and recovery anyway. Your chest only gets bigger from strenuous exercise if you eat the nutrients and get the rest that facilitate its growth. Your abs and other muscles only show once you’ve lost all the fat hiding them.

So I don’t mind the Planet Fitness no grunt, no slam policy. Never mind slamming weights being unsafe in itself, and never mind grunting being disruptive (and perhaps needlessly intimidating). Grunting and slamming weights shows you’re outside of your body’s pay grade, and you’re not physically ready to safely do what you’re doing.

Putting a weight down safely without straining is just as important as picking it up and pushing it without straining.


How do the lighter-weight strength machines at Planet Fitness promote novice strength training over a more loaded gym? Simple. If it’s challenging for you to lift, without being dangerous for you to do so, it provides strength training value.

If you’re too strong for the equipment at Planet Fitness, then you should be able to max out their free weights and machines. If you max them out, then sure: Run away to a bigger badder gym and don’t look back. You will get more value out of the big gym.

There are a lot of people who regardless of how they train are too far along for Planet Fitness. There is nothing wrong with the facilities at conventional gyms, or those SS/5×5 workout plans in themselves. They just are more useful to a particular type of person who has grown to a certain point, has a certain makeup, or has a certain set of goals ideal for their needs.

Most who have a use for Planet Fitness either aren’t close to that yet or won’t be that. As long as Planet Fitness has weights on the floor you cannot lift, and settings on the machines you can’t safely push, there is still potential in strength training in that environment.


Obviously, it’s important that you challenge yourself enough to spur growth during recovery. That’s one other gripe about Planet Fitness, that it’s such a soft training environment that people don’t effectively push themselves to grow.

Sure, if you aren’t pushing yourself enough at Planet Fitness you’re not going to grow. And that would be the case at any gym. If you’re going to not push yourself at a gym, you can either spend $10 a month for limited growth at Planet Fitness, or much more money than that for limited growth from the same training habits at another gym.

Being around people showing out before/during/after grunting out 1RMs and 3RMs isn’t going to better motivate people to work out. That’s not how positive habits are formed. Only one person can motivate a person to improve.

And of course, if you feel you need a coach, teacher or personal trainer to push you, then go ahead and pay for one. No, a friend or random guy spotting your attempt to bench weight that’s too heavy for you is not an acceptable or safe substitute.

Planet Fitness is not a reason people aren’t suitably motivated. And this never minds the people who aren’t even working out to begin with.


Another substantial criticism is Planet Fitness’ horde of cardio machines. Never mind that every gym has the same horde of cardio machines (even more so in most cases) and never draws the same derision.

If you have a fundamental issue with people doing too much aerobic exercise, I don’t think Planet Fitness is the dragon you need to slay. Maybe walk across the floor to your gym’s treadmills and start there.

That said, people use cardio machines for a variety of reasons aside from optimum fitness or weight loss. For example, I personally am a distance runner and I don’t use the treadmill or run outside for weight loss or “cardio” for its own sake. I have distance running goals that are personally important, and at times the treadmill can help meet those. This and other machines allow me to work on my aerobic fitness, of which I need a lot more than the typical person… who might do just fine with some periodic brief running or high intensity interval training.

Obviously the person who walks or lightly jogs on a treadmill for 20 minutes for the sake of “cardio” or “fat burning” is not going to get much from it. But they probably weren’t going to get much from a bigger gym either, nor was the presence of a squat rack going to get them to lift.


So, in conclusion, some people can get positive value from Planet Fitness. Some people can get more positive value elsewhere.

There are valid issues with the Planet Fitness business model, and legitimate limitations to the value they provide. The policies, however well intentioned, are ham-fisted. Calling their policy “non-judgment” is completely inaccurate, since clearly they are judging people (just like anyone else who claims non-judgment… to say so or point it out is in itself an act of judgment). The Lunk Alarm will always be an over the top method for dealing with their issues.

But slamming Planet Fitness is mostly a misguided product of an agenda from an over-represented niche culture whose way of life is merely one view among many, rather than absolutely correct. Both sides err in their own ways.

As with any gym or workout method, you get out what you put in, and how much you get out of Planet Fitness or any gym is a matter of what you put into working at it.

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