Let’s Talk About: Health, Pain, and Stress

Often when I see other people healthblogging, they talk a lot about their workouts: how long they ran, how much they lifted, how far they rode. What we do is an important part of any workout: it’s a metric we can use to judge results, to explore improvement. The workout itself seems like the core focus: do the workout, improve yourself. Complete the workout, challenge yourself. Through a system of workouts, get better, beat your PR. Work out –> get healthy.

This is true. But health is a holistic thing: it involves a lot more than lifting a barbell or running a mile. And if you’re really interested in health, there are factors other than your actual workouts that are going to come into play as these things settle into your life. I want to talk about two of them today: pain and stress.

The reason I want to talk about them personally is because they’ve been on my mind recently, maybe more than my actual workouts. I have a difficult time dealing with both, and so I think it’s time for me to get my thoughts out there. A lot of bloggers throw around the words listen to your body – but what does that mean? How do you learn to speak your body’s language, and how do you learn what’s a warning sign and what isn’t?

Pain
Pain is part of life, part of having a body – but it’s especially a part of working out. We work until we are in pain, because then we feel like we have pushed the hardest; it’s in healing us from that pain that our body improves. We lift weights until failure, until our muscles burn and ache and we can’t walk or lift our arms for two days afterwards; we run long and slow for hours until we’re pushing the limits of endurance, until our feet feel blistered and our ankles and knees feel like stones and our lungs are gasping. And then we take a rest day, and we do it again, and eventually 7 miles feels like 5, and 60lb feels like 35lb, and suddenly we’re better than we were before.

The pain that I want to talk about isn’t the good ache of a challenging workout. It’s the sharp ache of an injury, or the lingering ache of a strain, or the recurring pain you get during that first two miles.

Here’s the thing: if you let pain talk you out of a workout, you’ll never work out consistently. Or, I wouldn’t, anyway – I’m constantly in pain, somewhere. On a good day I’m hovering at a 2-3 on the pain scale (of 10). If I waited until my body was 100% to do a workout, I would never do a workout. Ever. My question is: how do you tell when you’re just using pain as an excuse to skip a workout, because you’re lazy or tired, and when your pain is a message you should listen to and take an extra rest day?

I’ve tried both methods. When I was training for my half marathon, nothing got in the way of my training plan. As long as I could move, I would still run. Sore ankle? Still running. Back hurts? Still running. Got the flu? If I can breathe, I’m still running. Might be a stress fracture? Run on it anyway. I did well at the half, but then I had to take almost an entire month off to heal up overall; I had to start training for another race afterwards, but after that race, I had to take off a long period of time. And what I remember most about those months of training for the half was just hating running. I was tired, I hurt, I didn’t like doing tempo runs because they were hard and triggered my asthma, I didn’t like doing long runs because they took up so much time and triggered my asthma, I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was agony. But on the positive side, I showed that I could stick with a plan through anything, and I also showed myself that plans work, consistency works: I got so much out of that dedication when I raced that year. I was better than I ever thought I could be.

But I’ve also tried the other side of it. After both my big races were done that year I knew I needed a break, so I decided that I would start erring on the side of a rest day: if I felt like I needed the break, physically or mentally, I took the break. If I didn’t feel like running, I didn’t run. If I didn’t feel like lifting, I stayed home. If something hurt, I’d try to take care of it with ice and heat and rest. And over the course of that, I lost almost all of my fitness, and gained 10 pounds. I’m not trying to say that heavy/fat = unhealthy here — but what happened for me was that I took the concept of a break or a rest day and used it as an out, a reason to just do nothing.

It’s something I’m struggling with now as I face the races I’ve already committed to and this awful thing in my neck/shoulders that won’t stop stabbing me. Do I take it easy, but then lose what I’ve gained? Or do I work through it – as carefully as I can – even though it makes the pain stay? Some pain is a message from your body saying I’m making you stronger; some is a message from your body saying cut that the hell out. I’m listening, but my body isn’t telling me what it wants me to do for it.

There has to be a place that’s healthy. Or healthier than either of the two extremes.

Stress
Stress is a part of life, too. Nobody gets a free ride. We have to work a job, to make money; we have to feed ourselves, and keep our homes, and care for ourselves – and others – too. Adding a workout plan into a life that’s already busy – work, school, chores, social life, etc – can fill up time, real quick. If working out is supposed to be so healthy, why does making that 7:00pm trip to the gym add so much stress, take so much effort?

When you’re stressed out, it can be that much harder to find the time, the willpower, the motivation to work out. Yes, we’ve all heard about endorphins and cortisol and how physical activity can relieve stress and combat those horrible hormones — but that doesn’t mean much when you left the house at 7:00am and worked all day and it’s now 6:30pm and you haven’t eaten dinner and you really, really, really don’t want to go run that 5 miles. Or is that just me? I don’t think, I’ll feel so much better after that run! I think, oh god, I don’t have the energy to do that.

It’s another thing I’m struggling with right now. My job has been more stressful than ever since January, and although it’s finally starting to come back under my control – now, in August – a lot of the damage has already been done. My dentist is pretty sure I’ve given myself TMJ because I’m so stressed out I clench my jaw during the day and gring my teeth in my sleep: I’m going to need a night guard. My doctor is pretty sure that I’ve triggered this pinched nerve in my neck through a combination of overworking it (lifting heavy weights) and stress – hunching my shoulders, carrying knots in my neck and back, and sitting at the computer: I’m going to need physical therapy. I’ve done a lot of damage to my body in the last six months, carrying all of this stress.

And it makes it harder to work out, not easier. I’m exhausted and stressed and all I want to do is relax. Maybe part of it is that I haven’t yet found a workout – or training plan – that I enjoy, but the last thing I want to do is go run 5 – or 7 – or 3 – miles. I want to sit on my couch covered in cats and do nothing. So is it healthier to give myself that break, or to make myself run? Where’s the balance between relaxation-time and workout-time?

 

Being healthy isn’t just about what you do and what you eat. It’s about how you live.

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7 Basic Things To Know If You’re Going To Start Weight Lifting

  1. Come to terms with ignoring the scale. Weight lifting isn’t going to make you lose pounds. Muscle weighs more than fat, and since the point of lifting strong is to gain muscle, chances are you’re actually going to go up a few pounds on the scale. However, it will make you look better: pounds of muscle will look thinner / slimmer / trimmer than pounds of fat, so it may look like you’re “losing weight” when you aren’t. Remember: the number on the scale is meaningless. Use measurements in inches (gained/lost), or use your overall health, or what you can lift: don’t use the scale as a success metric.
  2. In general, clean up your diet. If you’re going to be lifting weights to build muscle, you have to fuel that muscle, and you need to fuel it right. You shouldn’t be in a huge calorie deficit – make sure you’re eating what your body needs every day. Calculate your BMR and your exercise expenditure and make sure you’re eating enough. And if you feed your body crap, you’ll get crap: focus on cleaning up that diet too. Lean proteins, vegetables and fruit, complex carbs: don’t lift weights and eat trash; don’t just eat more, eat better. If you don’t eat enough, or you don’t eat right, you’ll be wasting your time with a weightlifting regimen. You don’t have to count every calorie; you do have to pay a little more attention.
  3. In specific, eat more protein. If you’re going to be lifting, you need to feed the muscle itself, specifically, by eating protein. If your muscles don’t have the protein they need, they won’t grow, and then what’s the point? Some guidelines say eat 1 g protein per lb body weight daily. Others target overall food macronutrient consumption: 40/40/20 protein/carbs/fat. The basic rule is, if you’re gonna lift, get your body more protein or – again – you’re wasting your time.
  4. Lift heavy (if you can); Push hard. In general, lifting heavy weights for fewer reps is more efficient than lifting light weights for many reps. You’ll build more muscle faster with less time at the gym. Be aware of the possibility for injuries, and know your body’s limitations, and work with them. But in general, aim to do fewer reps at a higher weight. You don’t necessarily have to work to ‘failure’ every single time, but pushing through a set with heavy weights until you legitimately don’t feel like you can push any harder means you’ve actually done something. And lift heavier, push harder, the next time you’re in the gym.
  5. Do compound lifts with free weights. The machines may look less intimidating, and doing weight machines is better than doing no weight-bearing work at all, but the machines are actually less efficient. They isolate muscles (rather than using multiple muscle groups and getting a full-body workout), and they stabilize you by having you sit or lie down (again, using less overall muscle, balance, and core strength). Learn to do compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses. Learn to do them with free weights: barbells, dumbbells, a squat rack.
  6. Remember your rest days. When weightlifting, when you push hard through a heavy set, you’re actually microtearing your muscles; it’s in healing these microtears that you’ll actually grow muscle and build strength. This is what the protein’s for, but the muscles can’t build themselves back up if you don’t give them a rest day. Make sure you aren’t overworking. That healing period of rest in between workouts is when your body is actually growing stronger!
  7. Be as consistent as you can. Lifting weights once a week every once in a while will still be good for you, but you may not see any significant gains. Try to stick to a schedule of 2-3 times per week, and try to stick to that for a period of 6-8 weeks at minimum. This kind of change can be slow, and it depends on what kind of fitness you’re coming from. Don’t give up if you don’t see any changes within a week, and don’t quit if you have a bad week or miss one workout. At the same time, don’t skip your workouts and wonder why nothing’s changing! Stick with it.

Let’s Talk About Health: Misconceptions

I’m still trying to stabilize my plans for this month – my neck / the chiropractor, along with some personal stuff, has derailed this week – so as I work to figure out where I’m going with my workouts in August, I want to talk a little about, basically, this: how you decide where you want to go.

The definition of efficiency is getting the most out of the least: getting the most output out of the least input. But how do you define these variables? Is your input money? Time? Effort? Sweat equity? And what’s your output? There are so many things we can track – pressured by the industry, by books, by each other, by body image.

One thing I’ve learned over the years that’s important to understand:

“getting healthy” ≠ “losing weight” ≠ “looking thinner” ≠ “being fit”

Just take a look at that for a second.

Getting healthy. What is it? How do you define it? Getting healthy could mean eating better; it could mean working out more; it could mean working out less; it could mean working out smarter. It could mean stressing less about how you’re working out. It could mean things unrelated to activity: not getting sick as much, managing a chronic illness, functioning with daily pain. It’s usually an overall thing, yes, and has to be considered from so many angles – but we have to define where we are going if we want to build a path to get there.

Losing weight is actually not a great judge of “health”. It can be, of course. But a) muscle, which gives you a much healthier body composition, actually weighs more; b) due to muscle/fat distribution, someone can look thinner but weigh more –  muscle takes up far less space and looks better; and c) many people can vary 5 lb or more over any given day or given week due to water intake, salt retention, phase of the moon, etc.  And yet so many people are so focused on the scale.

Looking thinner isn’t necessarily a good gauge of “health” either. In some cases it might be – where a more muscled person would weigh more but look thinner than their less-muscled counterpart – but declaring ‘skinny’ to be ‘healthy’ isn’t correct either. Plus, people who don’t feed their bodies correctly aren’t being “healthy” either, no matter how “thin” they may appear.

Being fit is confusing, too. What defines someone who is fit? The ability to do 100 pushups? To run a 5K? Being able to bench press a certain weight? Running a marathon? There are many different kinds of ‘fitness’ – and some are mutually exclusive, for anyone who isn’t a professional athlete.

I’m sure everyone can think of a couple people who slot right into a certain area of this odd set of overlapping ideals. Someone who runs 20 miles a week and has completed half-marathons but still carries some pudge around their belly. Someone who appears tall and slender, but sits at the computer all day, eats junk, and can’t walk a mile without getting winded. Someone who could barely run a mile, but can do pull-ups until the sun sets; someone who can run a marathon but couldn’t do 10 proper form push-ups. Someone who is carring 10-15 extra pounds, but takes long slow walks and does yoga. Someone who batters their body with running lifting and contact sports so that they’re almost always sore and injured. Somewhere in the middle of all of these options lies actual health. Where do we find it?

If you want to run a marathon, you’re going to need to become a completely different kind of healthy than if you want to start lifting heavy weights. You’ll need a different regimen: long slow runs, vs short high-intensity intervals. You’ll need a different diet: carbs vs protein. You’ll look differently at the end. But both are healthy- and in the busy world most adults have to deal with now, ‘both’ isn’t an option.

And let’s not forget what we get marketed, the things we’re being sold: thin is healthy, according to the ads and the health campaigns, and food is sin; low-fat! low-carb! fake sweeteners! treat yourself to that brownie if you worked out. It’s a mindfuck, plain and simple.

The answers are complicated. But the first thing to do is wade through all of the misconceptions and misinformation out there and decide: what is it that you want your body to do?

Let’s Talk About Running… With Asthma

I’ve been trying to give some general advice for runners looking to get better and faster and train more efficiently, but before I get into any more details, there’s some additional information I want to share specifically for runners with asthma. Running with asthma is its own kind of difficult – because running wasn’t hard enough on its own, right – and I’ve learned a lot as an asthmatic runner in terms of how to keep training plans flexible because of this health disability. (I have a number of health problems, but asthma plays directly into running.)

About This Asthmatic Runner
I suffer from exercise-induced asthma (EIA). This means the very act of high-intensity exercise triggers my lungs into an asthmatic shutdown. What does it feel like to me? I start out by wheezing, and my breath gets very shallow. It feels like, no matter how hard I am hauling air into my lungs, I only get a small trickle that goes through. If I try to “push through it”, I eventually get to the point where it feels like I am gasping and panting as hard as I can and getting little to no air into my system. At that point, it feels like my lungs are full of tiny pins and every breath feels like it’s being poked by itty bitty knives. Once I recover, I’ll cough for probably the next 2-4 hours.

I’ve had plenty of EIA attacks triggered by running – especially sprints, intervals, and high intensity workouts – but I’ve also had it trigger in HIIT weight/aerobic/exercise classes my gym offers, and during BodyRock’s HIIT workouts: it isn’t just running.

My running stats are here, if you’re checking my street cred. I consider myself a decently average, overall middle of the road amateur runner. Even with asthma.

What It Means To Be an Asthmatic Runner
There are a couple things you need to train your brain to understand and be aware of, so that your expectations are reasonable and safe. The general running advice you find online will work for you – with certain modifications.

  1. Running’s going to be hard for you. You’re doing something your body doesn’t want to do – something your body so emphatically doesn’t want to do that it’s shutting down your lungs to try to stop you. This doesn’t mean you can’t run, but it does mean that some days are going to be bad. Some days are going to hurt.
  2. Running’s going to be harder for you than for other people. If you’re a competitive person, this is something you’re going to have tocome to terms with. If you like to train with friends, feelings of “how are they getting so much faster and I’m moving so slowly” or “how can they do that pace for a tempo run?” can show up. Running really should be only about you vs the clock, but with asthma, it’s even more so. People who don’t have asthma are going to find running easier than you do. You need to prepare your mind to let that go.
  3. You’re adding another variable to your performance. Runners who race already are concerned about race day variables: weather, course, sleep the night before, general mood, injuries, mental headspace… you’ve now added “lung condition”, or “asthma triggers”, to your set of stars that have to align perfectly for a race to go well. Sometimes, you’ll be feeling amazing, and then that asthma attack will just come (seemingly) out of nowhere and ruin a perfectly good run – or a perfect race. It’s hard to not be disappointed, but it’s just going to happen.
  4. You need to be flexible, self-aware, and honest. You need to be flexible enough with your training that missing a day, or having to rearrange a weekly schedule around days that are hot/cold/high pollen, won’t mess with your mental state. You need to be self-aware, so that you can learn the line between “pushing through a hard workout” and “this is going to lead to an attack”. You need to be honest with yourself when you’re approaching that line, and always err on the side of safety.
  5. Get a preventative inhaler. I have ProAir, and if I take it 20 min before I run, I can reduce the asthma effects I have on the run maybe 80%? It isn’t a perfect fix, but before the inhaler I was at the point where every run would end in gasping and tears. Even through the inhaler, I can trigger my EIA by going too hard or by weather conditions (cold, heat, pollen, etc), but it definitely helps. I also bring it on the runs with me, so in case it triggers on mile 5, I know I can make it home before the vampires come out.

How To Train As An Asthmatic Runner
The concepts I posted about developing a training plan (part 1 | part 2 | part 3) are all still valid. However, you can make your life a lot easier by making certain choices when designing that plan – since there are a lot of options – to keep your training as pain-free as possible.

  • Prioritize the long slow run, and learn to do it. The LSR is already the keystone of any running plan; when you’re asthmatic, it’s your holy grail. Regularly running longer (slower, more mileage) is the way you’re going to build endurance, muscle, and running capacity without triggering your asthma. And you need to learn to do it right, which means, doing it so slow you feel like you’re slacking. Because here’s the thing: if you have an asthma attack on mile 7 or 8 because you’re tired and your exertion level is rising, you’re running too fast. Learn to run long and slow, learn to prioritize it, and do it. More long slow miles will build the base you need to race.
  • Choose your speedwork carefully. As I’ve said before in these LTA posts, I can’t do short sprinting intervals because they trigger my asthma. So I make sure to design speedwork that I know I can perform – tempo runs, and medium to long intervals. If I do put in any short sprints, I make sure that there aren’t many, and that they’re part of an overall workout plan that’s modifiable if my lungs are having a bad day: a course or setup where I have the option to turn to longer slower intervals if needed.
  • Be careful running outside. It isn’t just speed that triggers asthma: it’s exertion. Hills can set this off, even gradual ones. Sprinting to cross a road at a red light can set this off.  And when you’re running in a neighborhood and you’re 4 miles out and you have an asthma attack, you still have 4mi to get back home. Be smart and be prepared. Choose your courses wisely: hill training is still good for you, but be aware of how it’s going to affect your exertion level.
  • Make room in your plan for flexibility. Let’s say you go out on your long run, but your asthma hits 2mi into it. Can you turn that day’s run into an easy recovery 3 mile jog, and do your long run another day? Or, let’s say you got 5mi into a 9mi LSR. Can you do the remaining 4mi the next day? the day after? Maybe your tempo run botched. Can you turn it into a short easy run and do some speedwork in your next run? You get the picture here: just because a run went badly doesn’t mean your training plan is defunct. Stay flexible and just keep trying to get those long slow miles in.
  • Crosstrain. If running is really triggering your asthma – maybe you’re out of practice; maybe it’s allergy season; maybe it’s just too cold – you can add some crosstraining into your plan to help grow your overall fitness level in a way that’s easier on your lungs. I find that elliptical – while it definitely isn’t running – is probably the closest, better than bike or stairmaster. Instead of a 3 mi easy run, for example, do 30-40 minutes of a good effort on the elliptical. (Good effort is key: running is harder than elliptical, so you aren’t going to gain anything by coasting on the machine for 20 min.) You do still have to run to get better at running; use crosstraining as a supplement, not a replacement. But it will still challenge your cardiovascular system and help you build fitness.

The most important thing to remember when running with asthma is to listen to your body. Sometimes you don’t really know what the message is; it takes time to learn the language. Put in careful practice, and you’ll learn to work with your lungs, rather than against them.

Let’s Talk About Things That Aren’t Running: NROL4W and BodyRock

I’ve been doing a lot of posts on running lately, but running isn’t all that I do – and if you want to be efficiently healthy, honestly, running isn’t necessarily your best choice. So I want to launch a second series of LTA posts, this time addressing stuff that isn’t running. It’s more related to weight training, cross training, and an intersection of the two.

This is just an introductory post and only involves these two programs that, right now, I’m making a part of my routine – I have many more thoughts on these kind of things and how they relate to efficiently honing your workouts, which will be coming soon.

The New Rules of Lifting for Women (NROL4W)

NFOL4W is a lifting program. It’s more than a program, I guess – it’s an entire book. The book itself is dedicated to a much bigger-lifestyle-type program that hits every area from diet to mindset to weight room. If you’re new to the fields of health, weight training, weight loss exercise programs, “dieting” and the like, it may be worth picking up. However, if you’ve done a little research on these kinds of things (or if you’re here), I can kind of sum up about half the chapters for you.

  • Eat more good stuff, eat even more protein, and eat less junk.
  • Lift heavy weights with your whole body.

The book’s main selling point is to convince women to lift heavy. There are some companion “unisex” programs, but since for whatever reason many women are still terrified by weights, by “bulking up”, by dumbbells, this book was designed specifically to sell women on heavy weightlifting. I do have to say that it’s interesting from a feminist perspective to be told “YOU can totes lift like a dude!! It will make you HOTTTT” — you think, do I like this message? or do I want to punch this author in the face? But this is about the program, not the book.

The program itself focuses on compound lifts. The beginning routines are built around squats and deadlifts – two of the most important and most effective compound lifts out there – and add in other things like lunges, shoulder press, pushups, ab work, seated row: stuff that generally hits more muscle groups. The program’s theory is that by building muscle (which involves the important steps of weight lifting and eating more, high quality food) we can design our bodies to burn more fat (since muscle burns more efficiently) which, generally, improves the look of one’s bod.

As a very brief summary, the program’s advantages are:

  • A good target: building muscle is in fact a good, efficient, effective way to eliminate fat and “look better”
  • A good plan: compound lifts are a great, effective, efficient way to build said muscle and get stronger
  • Focus on nutrition: many times when people are working out, if they don’t clean up their diet, they won’t see results as clearly – aka wasting time, aka inefficiency. This program emphasized a clean(er) diet and increased protein intake

and the disadvantages are:

  • The program requires equipment: namely access to a weight room. The compound lifts use dumbbells, barbells, a squat rack — you not only need access, but the knowledge on how to use it without hurting yourself.
  • The program does provide directions for the lifts, but it isn’t a trainer, so there is the chance for injury. Good form is required and must be learned to progress.
  • Weight training programs – although they can be more effective in the long run depending on your goals – may not provide results quickly initially, which can make them hard to stick with.
  • The general lack of cardio in the program – cardio burns calories, which is somewhat detrimental when you’re trying to build muscle – means runners can’t train for races, for example.

Overall, I do like NROL4W. I do find that as a runner and as a chronically injured person, I can’t stick to it as well as I’d like. But I think the program is sound, and I think if nothing else, it’s good knowledge to have in the bank.

BodyRock

BodyRock is a website which supplies a series of high intensity interval-style mainly bodyweight type workouts. That’s a lot to take in, so let me split it out: each workout provides you with a set of exercises. The exercises are usually based on bodyweight – using little to no equipment, and even when there’s equipment involved, there are almost always modifications one can make at home – and are usually very high intensity, meaning they’ll get your heart rate up quick. Exercises are done in intervals of 50/10, meaning perform the exercise for 50 seconds and then rest for 10. Usually exercises are presented in sets of 4 done 3x or sets of 6 done 2x, so each BodyRock workout is 12 minutes long. (of course, some are longer, some are shorter – the program has lots of options.)

The website has resources for diet and nutrition, but I haven’t explored those yet – I’ve done enough research thanks – so I can’t really speak to that side.

Because most workouts are only 12 minutes, BodyRock is built on a slogan of “no excuses” — everyone has 12 minutes in their day they could use to get their heart rate up and smoke some calories. The workouts aren’t a joke, either – the combinations of moves is quite challenging, and if there’s a move you’ve done for a while, there are modifications shown so that you can keep challenging yourself. I wear my heart rate monitor while I do these, and I find that in those 12 min I burn between 120-160 calories. For a day I would have otherwise done nothing, that’s a good addition.

In brief, the advantages are:

  • Accessibility: not only are workouts short, but there are almost always modifications for people who don’t have equipment — or people who might have injuries. And the program is available online for free.
  • A good concept: combining high intensity intervals with bodyweight work is an efficient way to burn some calories and improve cardiovascular health while also strengthening the body. You get dual benefits.
  • Good execution: the bodyweight exercises focus on full-body moves and will help balance, flexibility, and core strength as well as overall health/strength.
  • Variety: workouts are different every day and there are tons on the website, some with different themes (yoga, strength, weight training, etc).

And the disadvantages:

  • 12 minutes at a time may not be enough to see drastic results or changes, unless you also clean up your diet and maybe add other workouts.
  • With only 12 minutes, you are neither building large amounts of cardio endurance nor building significant muscle (like you would running or lifting heavy). Since you’re getting a small amount of both, you’re getting significant gains in neither.
  • Form is important, and if you don’t commit to the exercises and to making them hard, you won’t see results. It’s easy to cheat.

Overall, I love BodyRock, but that’s because it has filled a distinct hole I had in my workout regimen. I’ve always loved yoga and many of the exercises seem rooted in yoga poses (to me at least) so I feel like the overall full-body workout is more useful than “bicep curlzzzz again”. Personally I use BodyRock as part of an overall workout plan. I’m not sure using it by itself would produce the kinds of results I want.

And there’s an overview. I have plenty more to talk about, but if you have questions or anything specific to ask, please let me know.

Let’s Talk About Running: Speedwork Workouts and Ways To Jazz Up Your Plan

My first LTA post talked about the parts of a training plan, and my second LTA post talked about how to put the parts together. What I want to talk about in this third one will be shorter, I promise: I want to talk about a couple fun run workouts you can do once you start getting up there in mileage, to keep your runs more interesting and add variety. Remember, if you keep running the same thing, you’re going to keep running the same thing. Changing it up is what makes you better.

Most of these variations involve some kinds of speedwork, so you’re really going to want to save this for a day your legs need that extra push — an actual speedwork day in your schedule, a week you aren’t also upping your long run, a recovery run where you feel great and want a little extra push. Or, maybe you’ve reached a weekly mileage you’re happy with – your body’s used to the long runs – and you need to step it up in intensity another way. (Please don’t overwork your workouts — injuries and burnout are so prevalent, and so easy to do. Make sure you’re listening to your body overall.) Or maybe you have to run on a treadmill because it’s really freaking hot where you live (…) and you need to make that run interesting.

Here are some of the things I like to throw into my runs …!

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Let’s Talk About Running: How To Make A Training Plan

In this LTA post, I talked about the different parts of a training plan: long slow runs (LSRs), speedwork (tempo runs and intervals), and easy recovery runs. Today, I want to cover how to use these pieces to build a training plan that will help you improve. There are lots of places out there that will give you a training plan – I linked some in the previous post and a google search will bring you tons more – but for people who want to build their own plan, or to better understand how to construct something on their own, I want to share what I’ve learned to try and help.

There are almost too many resources out there, and when you start a training plan there’s a lot of fear in it: will this work? am I wasting my time? Since Healthefficiency is all about the value of your time and how best and most efficiently to use it, I think understanding how to build a plan is valuable — because if/when you realize how all the pieces come together and understand how they’re working for you, you gain trust in your plan. Worry less; run more; train happier.

Before I start in on the plan stuff, though, there are a couple things I want to state upfront.

The first is a basic rule: You aren’t going to get any better/faster unless you run more.

This might sound obvious, but really, you need to understand this before you launch off into any sort of training plan: you aren’t going to get better or faster unless you run, you run more, you run harder, you run more. You have to do the workouts and push yourself and keep changing up that speed and increasing that mileage. You have to stick to it. With running, you get out what you put in. And the result is, if you keep putting in the same thing, you’re going to get out the same thing.

Let’s imagine you have a friend who is a runner; I have a good handful. But let’s think about this: let’s say I’ve got a friend, ‘the’ friend who struggles with her running. She constantly bemoans the fact that she’s slow: she’ll never get faster, she’ll never improve, no matter what she does she doesn’t get faster, she’ll never be as fast as other people. Now, on one hand: there are always going to be people faster than you; being slow sucks, I get it. I’m an asthmatic runner: I’ll never be as fast as many other people, either. And seeing no improvement is really disheartening.

But when I look at her workouts, her “training schedule”, and I see her running the same 3 or 4 miles each time, at the same speed, on the same trail or over the same path. She doesn’t run with any consistency – some weeks she’ll run that 3 miles thrice; others she won’t run at all – and she doesn’t run with any goals: there’s no long slow run to build up a base, there aren’t any targeted speedworks, there’s nothing. She’ll complain to me, “I even did intervals and it didn’t work” — as if doing an interval workout once makes you immediately faster on your next run out. Her interval workouts aren’t a part of anything — she isn’t going anywhere with them, and she doesn’t know how to make them more useful. Overall, it’s still that same 3-4 miles on that same path with that same low frequency. To me, this is the definition of “health inefficiency” — I mean, yeah, she’s running, and that’s awesome in itself, and good for her, but: she isn’t going anywhere with it.

It’s really frustrating to me, as a friend and a runner, to watch that. And when I as a friend offer to help build a training plan or send resources, the answer I get back is always, “I don’t have the time for that.” Ignoring my arguments to the contrary, the point here is: you won’t get better unless you run more. If you don’t have the time to actually train, don’t expect significant improvements. If you want to get faster, make some time. It doesn’t actually take that much time to get better if your workouts are designed and targeted, and you’re dedicated to consistency.

The second thing I want to point out before we launch in here is who my target audience is. If you are just starting to run – if you’re on the beginner side – I welcome you to keep reading to educate yourself, but I would also suggest you start somewhere like Couch to 5K, because there are a lot of really awesome beginner training plans out there and I’m aiming for people with some running experience already. On the other side of things: if you already run like 50 miles a week and you do 6 marathons a year and you regularly do “quarters” and “doubles” and your long runs are like 30 miles — I’m not really aiming for you, either, because you probably know all this. That doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome here! Just, this is a blog about efficiency, and if you’re too new or too experienced, this stuff isn’t going to be the most efficient use of your time.

I’m talking to people who are running their first 5K and want to train for it. Or maybe they’ve done a 5K and want to train for a half marathon. Or maybe they’ve done a couple 5Ks casually and want to get faster. Or maybe they’ve been puttering around running for a few years and want to start training more concretely. That’s the genre of running I’m in, and that’s the level I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about here is “standard procedure”  type stuff. I’ve done a lot of research and read a lot of opinions, so what’s here are general “rules” you can follow to put together a plan which will help you get faster but not push you so hard you injure yourself or just crap out. If you feel like something different will work better for you, feel free to work it in; I’m just trying to compile information to give you a general idea of how this goes.

I’ll be using myself as an example as I talk about putting together a training plan. I haven’t run consistently in a while, so it makes a good reference. When starting a training plan like this, I’m assuming you can run at least 3 miles / 5K without stopping, at a decent clip, and that you run a couple times a week and are hitting maybe 8-12 miles a week as a rough start. If you aren’t there yet, you can still use this info, but you should build from where you are to about there before you start pushing yourself in other directions too.

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