Monthly Archives: March, 2012

Words to Live By – #1

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”   – Aristotle


How Much is Too Much?

Recently, a cycling friend of mine commented that they had to decide between cycling and another strength workout regime that they have been doing. The strength workout was preventing them from training for an important cycling race they wanted to do.

Why did they have to make this choice?

Because their strength workout was very hard, they were so sore that they couldn’t ride for several days.  My immediate thoughts were that they are overdoing the strength workout.  Doing very heavy weight lifting and extreme moves may be challenging and fun, but if it makes you unable to do anything for several days it  is counterproductive.   In an earlier post I talked about the benefits of overload and recovery, and the adaption that occurs to make you stronger.  Too much overload without recovery is called overtraining, and leads to physiological maladaptions, performance degradation (being unable to ride, for example),  and the overtraining syndrome.

The athlete with overtraining syndrome will not be able to rest enough to recover in a normal amount of time, will get burnout, stress   and fatigue.  They may have elevated heart rate at rest and even altered immune status making them susceptible to  illness.  The treatment for overtraining is rest, the longer the overtraining, the longer the rest required.

Once rested, workouts can resume on an alternate day basis, with less total volume than before.  Increasing the volume and workout frequency  must be done slowly with alternating workout and recovery days to allow normal adaptation to occur.  Remember, you get stronger on the recovery days, not on the high-intensity days.

So what should my friend do? They should reduce the workout to a level that allows for easy (comfortable) recovery days and a slow progression of effort/volume. Many people want to get right to the target lifting weight, the target distance on a ride or run, or the target pace immediately. But that will result in overtraining, possibly injury, and ultimately lower performance.  Small steps get you there, and patience is the key.  Remember, if you can’t train, you can’t improve or meet your goals.

Shiny and New Again

The only thing harder than starting a regular exercise program is sticking to it, once the newness wears off.  Embarking on the initial change can be quite invigorating.  It’s exciting because it’s different from your normal routine, and empowering because you know you’ve made a healthy lifestyle choice. Unfortunately, time has way of dulling the shiny finish on things and before you know it, your upcoming workouts are met with lack-luster enthusiasm.

Getting bored with your workouts is an age old problem and the typical solution offered is to “change things up.” And yes, change is good, but FUN is even better!

If you want to stick to your physical activity plan and help others adhere to theirs, put some fun into your workouts. Here are some of my favorite things to do for my boot camp classes and even when I’m working out at home:

  1. Random Ball. Get yourself 2 inflatable beach balls. On the first ball, use a black Sharpie pen to write the names of 15-20 different exercises. Examples- Push Ups, Burpees, V-Sit Ups, Squat Jumps, Heisman. On the other ball, write numbers, such as 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, to represent the number of repetitions or seconds for performing an exercise. Now toss the balls around the group. The people who catch the ball simply lift their right hand and the exercise/number revealed (or closest to their right hand) is the one the group performs. Continue to hit the ball in the air for someone else to catch.
  2. In the Cards. Similar to Random Ball, but use a shuffled deck of cards. Each person draws a card. Designate 4 exercises in advance for each suit. Use the card value as your reps, making face cards equal to 20.
  3. Tug-o-War and Relays. That’s right. Good ol’ fashioned playground competitions. Battle ropes are perhaps best for the tug-o-war, but I expect a good substitute could be found in your garage. And relay races can take as many forms as the imagination can bring. Engage class participants in the decision – let them decide!

Fighting workout routine boredom is a critical component of exercise adherence. Adding a dimension of fun, using simple, inexpensive props can easily reinvent familiar exercises that keep you (and your class) coming back for more!

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Lists, Not Labels

I was recently in Sam’s Club and couldn’t help but slow the cart as I passed by the shelves stocked with energy bars, Muscle Milk (there’s no milk in there!) and Slim-Fast.  Ignoring the packaging’s intentional catch phrases, I immediately turned to look at the ingredients list.  As expected, most of this stuff is clearly not “healthful”.

This article, by Katherine Tallmadge, in The Washington Post is a reminder about how important it is to read the ingredients lists.

Eating healthy can be harder than you think, thanks to an enterprising food industry that wants us to consume more than we need. That’s because our country’s agricultural system produces twice what most people require, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. This encourages creative marketing to unload the excess, much of it with minimal nutritional value. As a nutrition consultant, I know that words such as “low fat,” “high fiber,” “multigrain” and “natural” can fool even the most sophisticated customers into believing what they’re buying is healthful. So what can you do? First, make a habit of reading the ingredients list, not just the Nutrition Facts panel. And remember the following products worth resisting.

  • Reduced-fat peanut butter
  • Enhanced Water
  • Energy bars 
  • Multigrain foods
  • Non-fried chips and crackers

Tallmadge is a registered dietitian and the author of “Diet Simple” (LifeLine Press, 2011).

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Recovery Days and Mondays

So what is a recovery day?  A recovery day is a day where you allow your body to recover from the stress of a hard workout. This promotes the physiological adaptations that occur in your body following the workout overload (i.e. increased intensity and/or duration).   The body responds to overloads by an  adaptation called supercompensation which allows it to better handle the overload in the future.  Training involves ever increasing overloads to stimulate this adaptation. But supercompensation won’t occur unless you have a rest period between hard efforts.  Therefore, recovery days are critical to achieving peak performance.

Some would say that a recovery day is a “no workout” day, but when you are training for a long event such as a century ride or  marathon,  it can be hard to get the volume necessary for aerobic endurance  if you take every other day completely off.  I believe that you are better off taking your recovery days as “easy” days. Lower the effort, lower the stress, and aim for a ride, run or workout in the low-med intensity range.  Some studies also suggest that getting your muscles moving and warmed up  promotes circulation which removes the toxins, promotes healing  and improves the recovery adaptation.  Adding stretching and flexibility work into your recovery days is also a good option.

So a typical runner’s training  week might look like:

  • Sunday:  Long run 1-1/2 to 2 times the daily distance.
  • Monday:   Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
  • Tuesday:  Interval workout  ( could be track workout, at interval pace, 90% max HR)
  • Wednesday: Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
  • Thursday: Threshold work ( could be on the roads, 3 -5 threshold intervals at 80-85% max HR)
  • Friday: Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
  • Saturday: Day off or very light workout.

The above is a general training framework, but notice that you spend at least as many days at an easy pace as you do a hard pace, and not every hard day is at the same intensity. The distance and paces will vary by individual, fitness level and goal (upcoming race, or general fitness).

Ignoring the recovery process can easily lead to overtraining which will reduce performance in the long run either through injury or exhaustion.   So remember:   Stress – recover – stress -recover is the sequence.

Enjoy the process and good luck!

Related Articles:  its-what-you-dont-do-that-matters

If the Shoe Fits

The question is really if the Bike fits….

I’ve been riding this road bike for more than  1-1/2 years and doing quite well at it, without really have a true bike fit analysis and adjustments done. Just the local bike shop’s “eyeball” fit on the bike. Was it good?  I’m not sure. I went today to my race team bike shop, Bikeway in Wappingers Falls and had Mike go through a complete bike fit analysis and setup for me.  The result, he raised my seat by almost an inch and says that it will give me more power in my pedal stroke.  When asked why, he pointed out that it moves the work from my hamstrings to my quads which is the larger muscle (and thus more powerful).  While it was just done today, I haven’t had time to try it out on a familiar road course to see if I have more leg power to work with, as the bike is having some other work done, including a new chain to replace the one I broke last night.   It may have to wait for the criterium race on Sunday morning.  That should be a good test since I have done that race twice now on this bike.

Stay tuned…

Tabata Tamer

This just in from IDEA Fit – “Tabata Training – The Hottest Trend in Hard-Core Cardio”.  Tabata or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is basically about taking an exercise, such as sprinting or push-ups, and performing that exercise all out for a burst of 20-30 seconds, recovering for 10 seconds, and repeating this 8 times. The key to getting the full benefits of this approach is the “high-intensity” part. That is, you have to push yourself to work those 20 seconds at max effort (85% MHR,or RPE of 15).  About a month ago, I set up a Tabata segment for my bootcamp class.  We started with V-situps, moved to Push-ups, Prisoner Squats and ended with Tricep Dips. So each move followed a  20 second work and 10 second rest pattern, for 8 sets with a  60 second transition to the next exercise (W20/R10/T60).  After watching my bootcamp class tackle Tabata, I ran myself through various other interval workouts, and discovered I really liked this approach because…

  1. Having the ability to adjust both the interval time and the exercises you do means people of all fitness levels can do this. For instance, you could start with jogging in place for 15 seconds and giving yourself 10 seconds or more recovery before repeating. Once you can handle that, increase the work time to 20 seconds and keep the rest period at 10 seconds. Then progress the work time to 30 seconds, or change the exercise to something more challenging like Jumping Jacks or Squat Jumps.
  2. No fancy equipment is needed.  Your wrist watch or room clock should suffice for timing your intervals. But I have to admit, I love using the free HIIT and Tabata timers you can download on your SmartPhone.  They are all very simple to set up, and once you hit start, you just listen for the whistle to blow!

Still looking for a tamer introduction to the world of intervals? I suggest you get moving to your favorite songs.  This is one of the best ways to learn to run, but can apply to other movements as well.  Grab your mini music player and start walking, briskly, to the first song or two.  When the next tune starts, take it up to an easy jog for the duration of that song. When the songs ends, return to your brisk walk for the length of the next song. If your breathing rate has recovered, jog again for the next song.  Keep repeating this pattern. Your favorite songs will make the experience more enjoyable and the time goes by quickly. This is the technique I used to develop my ability to run, and I still leverage it today.  I just try to pick up my pace and hold it for 2-3 songs now before returning to a jog.  And since most songs have a run time between 3 and 4 minutes, you don’t need any other timer, and you can easily estimate your total workout time based on how many songs you’ve heard.

So don’t fear the hottest trend in high intensity… embrace it as a way to bring variety to your exercise program and build intensity appropriate for you, over time.

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Good Weather

With the weather going from early spring conditions (I can’t say that we have had a real “winter” this year) to late spring in just a few days, everything is coming out of hibernation: the spring flowers are up, the trees are budding,  the rabbits and other small animals are out, the noisy peeper frogs are singing away (earliest date in memory), the mosquitoes are back  (ugh) and so are the folks looking to restart their  running and cycling for the year.  But will they continue or will they burnout and return to the easy chair? We know the rabbits and skunks will continue, they have no choice, they are driven by instinct.  But what about us? It seems that our instincts drive us to conserve energy, not go out there and run a few miles or do a few pushups and crunches everyday or every other day. Truth is our subconscious is programmed to avoid stress, pain, and exhaustion, all or some of which is included to some level  in any exercise program.   Motivation is the key. Planning and setting appropriate goals is the best way to motivate yourself.  Achieving these goals provides rewards to keep us moving forward, even though it is not easy.  Unfortunately, most of us get really excited about getting out there again, work too hard, get burned out, and quit in a few weeks or days since  our goals are not readily achieved and seem totally unattainable.

But what about those goals?  I can say that my dream goal is to win the Cat5 Men’s 55+  race at the Tour of the Battenkill this year.  Is that a great goal? It certainly is, but is it realistic?  Probably not for several reasons. More importantly,  is it motivation enough to keep me working out every day to achieve my best performance? Also, probably not, because I can’t measure it until the end of the race. That makes it hard to keep focused when it is more than  3 months away.    So how do we keep motivated for the “Dream Goal” without burn-out. We do that by creating a plan, which will contain intermediate goals, like building strength for climbing, improving pedaling technique, improving speed and endurance, etc.  We then go create short-term training goals to meet the intermediate goal plan, each building towards the larger goals. Getting immediate short term goals that are achievable quickly, can keep us motivated to train for the long term goals.  For example, with 3-1/2 months to go to the big race, layout the sequence of desired training. First month is base building both on the bike and doing strength work in the gym. The second month might be speed, climbing, and endurance intervals on the trainer and the roads.  And the 3rd month is building distance and endurance to meet the rigors of the 62-mile tour race. Finally the last two weeks is polishing the skills and tapering the workouts down before the big race.

So the first week of my training plan  might be do 5 days of 45  minute rides at a easy pace.  The second week would then add short intervals at 80% HR on one or two days, and so forth, each building on the prior week. These are attainable goals, and allow me to realize that I am making progress towards the long term dream goal.  As I always say, the hardest part of working out is getting started, so reward yourself for getting out there. You can even set goals during a workout…. instead of looking at the total workout goal of 5 sets of 5 minute intervals at 85% heart rate, you just focus on completing the interval you are on.  Completing the task at hand, then when that is  done you rest, pat yourself on the back for a getting it done as planned  and  then start the next one. Before you know it, ol’ Jed’s a millionaire,  and you have completed the last interval and the days workout goal. Now you are feeling great that you got through them all as planned. That’s the way you do it, you can only eat that elephant one bite at a time.

So you say you are not a athlete that has been competing and training for many years and thus don’t have a clue about creating  training goals and plans. That’s no problem, you can still set goals and a plan to achieve your goals.  There are many websites and books devoted to training, but developing a relationship with a mentor or coach can improve the process greatly.  The plan needs to be tailored to you specifically, that’s why a coach who talks with you for the first time, and hopefully many times during your relationship, will assess your goals,  desires,  current fitness, level of activity, recent performance and all parameters that affect your ability to achieve your fitness goals.  Only then can they create a plan that will get you on the path to the goals.   But that’s not the end there, the athlete and the coach have to work together on the plan and the implementation of it. No plans are set in stone, injuries, personal time commitments, illness, and a host of other things can affect the plan. The idea is to make it a fluid plan the develops as you do.  A framework for achieving your goals.

So I recommend that anyone who is resuming or starting new on a fitness program find a coach or mentor that can work with them, help them set realistic, attainable goals and create a plan for success. Something reasonable and achievable without the burnout that results from over-training or the frustration from making no progress. We all can do it, we just need a plan.

Here’s to your fitness journey! Enjoy it!

Who’s the Better Person?

I just got back from a late afternoon run. A simply picture perfect day with temps around 70 degrees and a very light wind. I headed out on one of my usual routes when just short of my half-way point, I passed a man jogging in the opposite direction. We both smiled, waved and continued on, because of course, this was nothing out of the ordinary.  I continued out through the loop and came upon the same man once again, but this time he was walking.  “You’re a better person than I am,” he shouted, to which I quickly replied,  “No! We’re both out here, and that’s all that matters!”

It's Your Journey

I wasn’t just trying to be nice or polite, I really meant what I said.  I’ll be the first to admit that I get down on myself when I plan to do a longer run, but end up cutting it short. Or have to stop and walk my bike up a hill while others pedal past me. But Glen would constantly remind me that I should feel good about getting out there and doing “something” !  And he’s right. In fact, every time you make the choice to walk, jog or run, shoot some hoops, ride your bike around town or to work, you are doing more than what 85% of the population does.  And that’s a lot to be proud of.

I hope that man realizes he has nothing to be ashamed of and instead should be patting himself on the back for getting himself out there!  If I see him again on another run, I’ll be sure to tell him that!

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My First Criterium

5AM rolled around quickly this morning, but who could sleep with my first criterium just 3 hours away!  That’s right, I was headed to Bethel CT to watch Glen compete in his second crit.  (You actually thought for a moment that I was going to do this?)

It was a pretty day. Pretty darn cold that is, with freezing temps and of course, wind.  I watched all the Category 5 riders complete the mandatory training session and take their warm up laps while I fumbled around mounting my cheap point-n-shoot camera on a what my son tells me is a very expensive tripod.  That tripod must be impressive because a nice man asked me if my photos would be for sale. I chuckled of course, and we had a nice chat. Turns out he and his 15 yr. old son ride for Pawling. His son was in the Cat 5 and he was riding in Cat 4.  Anyway,  with my position secured on the outside of the first turn, I was ready to capture the action as riders crowned the hill with every lap. Well actually, I was ready, but the camera required two reboots in the form of popping the battery. (Now I know why Kodak isn’t making cameras anymore.) I knew better than to attempt any single shots, so my plan was to let the video run until the race was over or the battery quit, whichever came first. The good news is, I got the first 10 laps. Unfortunately, the last 5 laps were only recorded in my head, and we all know that is only temporary storage.  Once I figure out how to edit the video, I’ll share that.

Toronto Criterium

Toronto Criterium (Photo credit: hyfen)

Actually, a criterium is pretty impressive. In Cat 5 they do 15 laps around a closed road course that is just shy of 1 mile.  The start at Bethel is uphill, (isn’t that just mean?) and goes immediately into the first turn. So the start is not exactly fast, though they were all cranking faster than I can do on the flats, but once they get moving you can see the speed build with each lap and watch the pack of riders – actually called a peloton – shape shift like a swarm of bees. It just amazes me how these cyclists can ride wheel to wheel and practice a technique called bumping – without wiping out.  At this level, they’re riding between 20- 25 mph. You’ll see 30-35mph in higher categories! Crazy!  And Glen, despite covering 35 miles of nonstop hills in New Jersey yesterday, beat last Sunday’s performance! Woot woot!

I’m looking forward to the rest of the series… on hopefully warmer days.  And who knows.  Maybe you’ll find me at a criterium one weekend, doing more than just taking pictures. 🙂

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