Tag Archives: training tips

The Bill Phillips Body For Life Inspired 10 Minute Warmup

A bit over 20 years ago, I bought the famous Bill Phillips book Body For Life. I won’t go too much into the premise of the book, its historical context at the time or its many flaws (including in-book product promotion). At the time, I found the template for fitness and diet interesting, so I bought it and followed the plan.

The book’s training method had you aggressively strength-train several days a week and follow some simple diet principles. For “cardio”, it had you do 20 minutes of effort-based high intensity intervals, which you can do in any aerobic-based way you desired, three days per week. I always used the treadmill. Back then I wasn’t the focused runner I am now, nor was I active beyond walking or cycling to commute, but I had enough fitness to run hard for some distance.

In short, the Cardio:

  • You start at a 5 out of 10 effort, whatever you feel that means
  • After two minutes you increase to 6 out of 10.
  • Each minute thereafter you again increase effort by 1, until you do a minute at 9 out of 10.
  • Then you scale back to 6 out of 10 for a minute, once again ramping each minute until at 9 out of 10, then falling back to 6 and repeating the process.
  • Once you get to 9 out of 10 for the 4th time, instead of dropping back to 6 you increase to 10 out of 10 and hold that for a full minute.
  • Then drop back to 5 and cool off for the final couple of minutes at 5 out of 10 to end the workout.

This workout always kicked me around, but I was always able to get it done. It was the only running I did, and you did it every 2-3 days so I had plenty of time to recover before the next one. I followed the Body For Life plan for a little while and then left it behind, probably in part because I lost gym access around that time.

In any case, this interval sequence resided in the back of my mind pretty much all this time. I still have the book but haven’t cracked it in a long while. The strength workouts I’ve forgotten as they’ve long since been replaced by far superior approaches.

But during recovery from my injury problems, as I started using the treadmill again, this approach came to mind as a warmup. It’s very similar to the 10 minute progressive treadmill warmup Lifetime Fitness taught me during my VO2max testing a while back. In that warmup, you jog for 2 minutes, and speed up by 0.4mph each 2 minutes before ending at a speed that is somewhat fast for you.

I realized that’s quite similar to how I did the Body For Life intervals. For 5/10 I would start at a 3.0mph walk. Then my 6 would be a fast 4.0mph walk. My 7 would be a 5.0mph slow jog. My 8 would be a 6.0mph steady run. My 9 would be a 7.0mph hard run. And the 10 out of 10 would be a nearly all-out (… well, at the time) 8.0mph run.

While the top intervals were harder than anything in the Lifetime warmup, the bottom intervals were of course much easier on me and allowed me to recover. The Lifetime warmup was harder to do because it required 10 straight minutes of progressively harder running (though, at least it was done after the fastest interval).

I realized doing an adjusted 10 minute version of the old Phillips workout as a warmup would be an easier and possibly more effective warmup, since I’d hit a faster top speed with a shorter duration, then have a walking period to cool off before re-trying.

I tried it recently and it not only felt better as expected, but I found it did a much better job getting my body ready to run at a higher intensity. So now that’s what I do as a warmup before any key indoor workouts (and you’ll notice I adjusted from the above paces a bit).

  1. I start at a 3.0mph walk for 1 minute.
  2. Increase to a 4.0mph power walk for 1 minute.
  3. Increase to a 5.0mph very easy jog for 1 minute. If too easy (e.g. I’m running into the front of the treadmill), I increase to 5.3mph, a more typical jog/recovery pace for me.
  4. Increase to 6.0mph steady run for 1 minute. If feeling comfortable after a few seconds I’ll often increase to 6.2mph.
  5. Increase to a brisk, somewhat demanding 7.0mph for 1 minute. If feeling comfortable after a few seconds I’ll often increase to 7.3mph.
  6. Drop back down to 3.0mph for 1 minute, and repeat the sequence.
  7. After the 10th minute, shut it down and go dynamic-stretch before the workout.

Since many of my treadmill sessions cruised around 5.5-6.5 mph, this whole sequence made that range feel very sustainable over a long period of time, suitably warming me up for a workout like that.

I not only do this warmup before treadmill runs but also do it before other cross training sessions, to ensure I’m at and can reach a suitable heart rate training range for a maximum training stimulus and benefit.

If I run near my gym, I could also do this warmup in the gym, then go outside and run. Sure, it can be awkward walking out of the gym 15 minutes after arriving, then back in the gym 45-75 minutes later.

I could also, with some discipline and adjustment, do the warmup outdoors by feel. That makes some sense after all, since the workout was originally intended to be done by effort rather than set parameters. I had an outdoor run yesterday that didn’t go great and had to be cut short. While not certain, perhaps it could have gone better had I thought to do an outdoor warmup like this.

You could follow the above sequence, with your own pace and parameters. Whatever a 5 out of 10 feels like or a 9 out of 10 feels like is up to you to determine (notice I don’t ever go to 10 out of 10, by the way; I stop at 9).

You could walk for 4 minutes and run just for 1. You could start at an easy run and just have it be all running. You could do it all on a spin bike or a rowing machine or elliptical. It’s up to you.

But I found this to be a great 10 minute aerobic warmup sequence, and it might work for you as well.

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Building A Better Self: July 2021 Edition

I not only finished Friday with 34 miles this week, with this weekend and a long run workout still to come (after 36 miles last week), but I did so despite insomnia on Thursday night and my air conditioner problem messing with my sleep earlier this week.

While obviously tired, I didn’t feel burned out, and I had the energy in me to pump out 30-45 minute training workouts on the treadmill after work, AND run 1K-2K on all my work breaks (except only for Thursday afternoon, which I walked). I played everything by ear and was willing to bail on any of the above if I simply didn’t feel well enough to do it.

But I did all of the above. No stimulants (outside of the same 12 oz of coffee I have had every morning for years and years), no crutches, no supplements I hadn’t already been taking for a while. Even now, other than understandable general fatigue (and yes I got decent sleep last night), I feel okay.

How am I doing this? I haven’t taken a complete day off from training since June 23 (10 days ago)

There’s a few new things I’m consistently doing. Some regular readers already know about, but some things not as much:

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Tactical pace management in an otherwise simple workout

On Monday I had a fast finish training run scheduled, 45 minutes. I usually run these with just my Garmin watch timing and monitoring stats. But this time around I decided to program the workout in and have it monitor my heart rate:

  • First 5 minutes within Zone 1 (50-60% of heart rate reserve (HRR), easy aerobic).
  • Next 30 minutes within Zone 2 (60-70% HRR, mid/high aerobic).
  • Final 10 minutes within Zone 3 (70-80% HRR, from aerobic threshold to lactate threshold).

When running a programmed workout with defined pace/HR parameters, the watch beeps at you when you’re not within them. Typically I’ll run by feel unless doing a speed or other goal-specific workout.

Monday, though, I decided I would practice staying within the zones, something I’d worked to do more in previous training plans.

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Intuitive intervals: Using a heart rate monitor to pace your run/walk intervals

If you have a Garmin watch you can set it to alert you during workouts if your heart rate goes higher or lower than a given threshold… kind of like a built in speed limit monitor for your heart rate.

I tried this feature once and quickly disabled it. I wanted to just run at my own pace and found the alarms when I reached a moderate heart rate annoying.

After a long recent layoff, as I recently started ramping up training, I found basic runs to be a bit too difficult, and sure enough my heart rate would rocket into marathon pace and the lactate threshold. It’s one reason I started doing Galloway style intervals, run/walking the workouts in 2 minute run, 1 minute walk intervals.

Galloway Intervals kept my heart rate level on-average: Even if it spiked during the runs, the minute of walking would bring it back down, the overall average more closely resembling a typical easy run. And overall the effort on these runs didn’t feel terribly difficult.

I’ve since gone on actual full-length training runs of 30+ minutes, and this past weekend I ran a 10K (albeit at closer to regular training paces), so I’m now in condition to run at distance again.

But I want to improve the usage of my natural speed. Now that I track walks on my Garmin watch, I can track paces of not just my walks, but those moments when I run across streets and the pace of those brief, hurried sprints that have always been a part of Working Class Running.

I find those easy, brief sprints vary around a 5:00-7:30 pace without much difficulty. I have speed, but it’s hard to maintain that speed over anything beyond those random little sprints. Even in 400 meter repeats and other workouts I find it very tough.

Is there a way to develop my ability to use that speed at distance in a race?

I think there’s a way, and it goes back to that once-annoying Garmin alert feature.

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Adding mileage with bookended run/walk intervals

I recently made another accidental discovery while training.

After cutting back on running for a while, leaning instead on strength and cross training, I started training seriously again after getting roped into joining a couple of spring 10K’s in the Vegas Valley. With COVID restrictions fading back, races (at least on a smaller scale) are coming back to the area.

To see where I’m at and give me an easy, productive training schedule, I had Garmin set me up on a McMillan algorithmic plan. McMillan’s easy workouts are often flexible, e.g. you can run 20 minutes at an assigned pace, or have the option to extend that paced run up to 35 minutes before the cooldown. I wanted to have that option rather than have to run 3-5 miles at pace or bust.

Previously I had been doing runs Galloway-style, with a run-walk approach. I figured out how to program my Garmin Forerunner to give me run-walk alerts on basic runs, and set it to have me run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat.

This had actually worked quite well in that my cross training helped me maintain more than enough aerobic endurance, but neuromuscularly I was still struggling to run more than 15-20 minutes without sending my heart rate towards the lactate threshold. I was able to easily extend runs beyond 15-20 minutes with the walk breaks.

Still, I figured forcing myself in the short term to combine some 20+ minute runs with some speedwork and ample nutrition/recovery in a training plan would compel my body to catch up.

On one easy training run I was laboring and decided to cut the workout short at 20 minutes, but that after the cooldown and nominal end of the training session I would “Resume” the rest of the run at an easy pace to cover the distance I wanted.

I got to end of the workout, hit “Resume”, and continued running. Within seconds I was surprised to hear my watch chime and tell me it was time to Walk 1:00, just like on my default runs.

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Heart Rate Training Zones: A New Approach

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

Heart Rate training zone systems take for granted that a fairly high level of sustained aerobic effort is comfortable or consistently sustainable for most people, which of course it’s not. Most runners just take for granted that it’s normal and never consider that what they consider “easy” or “recovery” is in fact still too hard.

One of the reasons a runner’s aerobic development improves more quickly than their neuromuscular development is because running itself is very demanding. On both fronts you’re being pushed very hard. However, your aerobic and hormonal capacities bounce back much more quickly than your muscles, bones and joints.

Still, it’s incredibly stressful on your body chemistry to go that hard that often, and the fatigue can snowball too quickly for you to be able to handle a high volume of that kind of aerobic training.

In my cross training, I find I need to go pretty hard to get to Zone 1 in most heart rate training zone systems… somewhat too hard for the purposes of whatever cross training I’m doing. The level of effort require would leave me rather tired and possibly sore. This supposed recovery exercise ends up not helping me recover much at all.

It’s not that most runners are just stronger. They just spend all their lives in this perpetual fatigue, physical and adrenal. The long term effects on their health are taken for granted as aging or wear and tear, when in actuality it’s probably preventable… without compromising your fitness or development.

My most recent heart rate zones of choice were a standard 50/60/70/80/90/100 split based on the Karvonen Formula, which uses heart rate reserve. This is a function of your resting and max heart rates, and the zones are proportioned against those rates. Zone 1 for example would be 50-60% of the gap between your resting and max heart rate (your “heart rate reserve (HRR)”), zone 2 60-70% of the HRR, etc.

With a max HR of around 184 beats per minute, this sets my minimum training heart rate around 120 (depending on what my resting heart rate is at that time), with zone 1 peaking at about 130-135. This is about where most heart rate zone systems would put zone 1, and is considered a “recovery” heart rate.

On the spin bike, even at a brisk but easy effort, my heart rate is around 105-110. On the ARC Trainer I can get to 125-130, but only with a more moderate effort. On the rowing machine, a concerted effort typically gets me to about 110-120.

However, when running, I rarely can cruise at a heart rate below 130, no matter how slow and easy I run. I basically have to stop and walk/run to average a zone 1 heart rate. This is not a product of lacking fitness: Even at my peak condition and training in Chicago, it took the right combination of circumstances for me to average 125-130 at an easy effort.


All of this is to say that maybe our view of heart rate zones and “recovery zones” is a bit warped and could use an adjustment.

This is especially true in our coronavirus circumstances, where if we go to the gym (and in many cases train outside) we need to wear a mask while while exercising. We can’t huff and puff at full volume and expect max results if a mask is filtering much of the air taken in or expelled. I’ve talked before about this being a long term training benefit, but in the present it makes the effort required for aerobic training a bit too much.

Bear in mind as well that, to maintain the typical intensity for a full volume of training, you have to consume a lot of carbohydrates, which can cause a variety of inflammatory health problems if consumed in the large amounts that most endurance athletes tend to require.

One of the reasons low-carb diets tend not to work well for endurance athletes is because they train at an intensity where they need a lot of glycogen, and that can only come from and be replenished from a carbohydrate rich diet.

Could it be possible to scale back carb consumption to a more (shall I say) human level, rely more on slower fat burning, and still be able to train, perform, and develop at a high level.

I say yes, and I say the key to doing so is combining (now-)traditional 80/20 training principles with a revised approach to heart rate zones.

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A Quick Cross Training Workout For The Spin Bike

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

The following cross training will really challenge your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Definitely don’t do this cross training workout if you’re sore and recovering from some other hard lower-body workout.

I would save a workout like this for base training, if you’re coming off an easy workout, or you’re not actively training for a goal race in general.

The Workout: Start the spin bike at the lowest intensity, level 1.

Every time the minute counter turns over (e.g. at 1:00, 5:00, etc), adjust the level to match the number in the minute column. So at 2:00 you’ll set the level to 2, and you’ll increase the level by 1 every minute thereafter.

If the lowest spin bike levels feel too light and easy for you (for example you normally do easy spin bike sessions at level 4), you don’t have to start at or go down to level 1. If you generally bike easy at level 4, then for any level 4 and below you can just go at level 4. In this example, you do the first 4:59 at level 4, then at 5:00 you switch to level 5.

Once you get to a level that’s too tough, take it back down to a low, comfortable level. Then once the timer reaches 10:00, repeat the process by adding the digits in the minute column to determine the level, e.g. 11 –> 1 + 1 = Level 2… or in the level 4 example above, that person can just stay at level 4 for now.

If you can get to level 10 or higher without needing to slow down, great! You don’t have to add the digits at 11:00 or higher just yet. Just keep climbing levels until you need a break, then add the digits of the next minute to see how far down you can take the spin bike’s level. For example, say you get tired after 16:00 at level 16. Then at 17:00 you take it down to level 8 (17 –> 1 + 7 = Level 8).

If you’re a super strong cyclist and plan to go longer than 25 minutes, you may be able to reach the bike’s maximum level 25 (most spin bikes only have 25 intensity levels). If you get to 26:00 in this case, just take the spin bike back down to level 8 (26 –> 2 + 6 = Level 8… you must be super strong if that’s too easy for you; if so you can set the level higher to whatever level you prefer to cruise at). Then from there build the levels back up each minute. Do note that this workout method after you max out the bike won’t get you higher again than level 14 once you do so, so if maxing out is your goal and you can max out the bike then you may want to stick to 30 minutes or less.

Regardless of your abilities, you can repeat this level-up process until your spin bike workout is finished, whether it takes 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 3 hours, etc.

You could also do this workout on an elliptical, rowing machine, or ARC Trainer. But it can be very demanding to do more than recovery-level training on these devices. To do a workout like this on a machine like those may defeat the purpose of cross training unless you’re in an offseason, or are a triathlete or similar and this sort of demanding training is in line with your key workout needs.

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