Monday, October 24, 2016

My 5 Favorite Track Workouts

Are you looking to take step 2 as a runner?

Once you've been running for a little while and have achieved your initial goals, you'll probably want to improve a little bit. That may mean adding some distance to your long runs, but for most people, it also means you'd like to get faster. There are many things you can do to improve your speed. But one of the best is speedwork.

I do most of my speedwork at the track. It takes the guesswork out of things. You know exactly how far you've gone. And track running means interval training.



The basic science behind interval training is simple: You force your heart rate up close to or even beyond your aerobic threshold. Then you bring it back down, which forces additional blood through your heart and strengthens it.

First off, no matter what workout you're doing, you need an adequate warmup. One lap really isn't enough. I run a full mile -- four laps -- at an easy pace before starting the workout. Maybe that's a bit much for you, but to achieve Level 4 Suck, you have to be able to give your run a full effort from the very first step.

When we discuss effort here, keep in mind the green-yellow-red scale: Green = you can have a conversation. Yellow = you can blurt out a few words. Red = you can't talk.

Are you ready? Here are my favorite interval workouts.

400 Repeats: These are meant to be run pretty hard. Go for 1 lap, with a half-lap of recovery. (Note: It takes a little paying attention to make sure you keep your starting and stopping points straight.) I do anywhere between 8 and 12 of these repeats. Effort level: Yellow bordering on Red. Significantly above 5k pace. You're not sprinting, but it should feel hard from the get-go. If you need to walk for some of the recovery half-lap, that's fine.

800 Repeats: 800s are probably the number-one staple for 5k and 10k training, and they're pretty good for longer distances, too. You do 2 full laps around the track with 1 lap of recovery. I try to work at least 6 of these repeats into my run. Effort level: Yellow. Slightly faster than 5k pace, with a slow jog during the recovery laps. If you're doing it right, your breathing will be just about back to a regular cadence by the time you start the next repeat. If you need to walk for a small part of the recovery lap, OK, but keep it to a minimum.

Mile Repeats: This is the one workout I'll do on the street. I have a good mile loop mapped out in my neighborhood, with an easy landmark halfway through. As with the 800s, warm up for a mile. If you're on the track, you'll do 4 laps, with 2 laps recovery. If you can get through 3 of these, you're doing pretty well. Effort level: Yellow, around 5k pace. It's OK if you go slightly faster, but not too much. You're doing a few of these, so you don't want to collapse after the first one. With a half-mile to recover, you shouldn't have to walk any.

Ladders: Ladders challenge you at various distances and speeds. You can work out a pattern that you prefer, but I'll do something like 400-600-800-1000-800-600-400. Recovery intervals are always half the distance of the previous hard part (except after the 1000 -- just recover for 1 lap). Effort level: The shorter the repeat, the higher your effort level should be. So you'll be close to Red on the 400s, but comfortably in Yellow on the 1000. You can play around with the distances, or even do something like 2x400, 2x800, 1x1600 (mile), 2x800, 2x400.

Straights and Curves: This is Level 4 Suck. It's deceptively simple: Jog or even walk the curves, sprint balls-out on the straights. Effort level: Red. If you can make it through 2 miles of this, you're doing really well. It's a killer.


After a tough interval workout, you should cool down for at least two laps at a nice, easy pace. You've built up a lot of lactic acid in your muscles that you'll want to clear. And once you're totally done running, don't forget the stretching. I do toe touches, a butterfly stretch and figure-4 stretches.


What's your favorite interval workout? Leave a comment or touch base on Facebook or Twitter!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

3 Tips for Beginning Weightlifters

Let’s just start with the disclaimer: I am not an expert and I am definitely not your coach or trainer. The advice I’m giving here is meant to be general. If you’re unsure of anything having to do with weight training -- or any fitness regimen -- talk to a pro and make sure you’re doing things correctly.

OK, with that out of the way, I want to talk you into lifting weights.

Regardless of where you are on your fitness journey, what your interests are and what your goals are, strength training is an essential component. Lean muscle will make you a better runner, biker, basketball player or whatever. It will help with the yardwork and lifting the kids and so many other things. And come on -- lean muscle just looks good.

But starting out weightlifting can be confusing and intimidating. Believe me, I've been there -- not that long ago. As I said, I'm no expert, but I've gotten to the point where I'm comfortable anywhere in the gym. So here are 3 basic tips to help you take the first step.

   
Start Out With Light Weight

If you’re trying a lift for the very first time, err well to the side of safety. Don’t worry about getting the maximum benefit right away, and whatever you do, don’t worry about what other people are thinking -- they couldn’t care less. It’s much more important to learn the proper form for a lift and how that actually feels when you’re doing it, so that you can replicate that when you stack on more weight.

But even more elementary: You want to be sure you can get your full set done. If you fail the first time you try a lift, what are the odds you’ll try it again next time? If that means putting two 25-pound plates on the bar, so be it. You’ll move up pretty quickly.

If it’s really too easy, you can add weight. But if it’s too hard, you can get hurt.


Don’t Be Afraid of the Big 3

Bench Press
Deadlift Rack/Platform
Squat Rack

For the longest time, I was intimidated by the “Big 3” lifts: chest press, barbell squats and deadlifts. These are the lifts you think of when you think, “I pick things up and put them down.” They’re the ones you see the muscleheads doing, with lots of plates on the bar. And it’s easy to figure, “Hey, that’s just not for Regular Guys.”

First of all, every one of those guys had to try it for the first time, too. And if you’re listening to my advice, you’re starting out with a low weight. You’ll be fine.

The Big 3 lifts recruit the most major muscle groups of any strength training you can do. If you’re doing these three on a regular basis, you will work pretty much every muscle in your body. And that includes your core. If you do these three lifts, you will get stronger, no matter what else you’re working on.

Click on the links above for specifics about your form. Doing these movements correctly will give you the most benefit and put you at the lowest risk for getting hurt.

One big caveat here: You may be limited by an injury or simply from a lack of joint mobility. Even though I already said it in my disclaimer, I do want to emphasize this: If you're unsure of anything, enlist the help of a pro, and talk to your doctor if you need to.


Dumbbells Are OK

A good way to work up to the Big 3 is by using dumbbells to start. Though you can go heavy with dumbbells, you don’t have to. They offer some more flexibility with certain lifts. And you don’t have to worry about getting pinned under a barbell.

In some cases, dumbbells can even be better. With a barbell, your dominant hand or leg can do more of the work, and you might not even realize it. With dumbbells, each side is working independently, forcing you to do equal work.
  •  For chest press and deadlift, you don’t really have to do anything besides replace the barbell with dumbbells. Form remains the same.
  • Obviously, you can’t rest two dumbbells on your shoulders to do squats. Grab one and do a goblet squat, where you hold the dumbbell to your chest as if it were a goblet or chalice. Proceed with the squat.
  • And of course, you can use dumbbells for pretty much all the accessory lifts, such as curls, rows and vertical shoulder press.


Some Little Tips:
  • Use collars, even on deadlifts. You never want the plates to slide off the bar.
  • Wipe down the bench when you’re done. Don’t be gross.
  •  A standard barbell weighs 45 pounds before you add any plates.
  • Watch other guys in the gym, particularly ones who look like they’ve been doing this for a while.
  • Machines are good for pulls, such as rows, tricep pulldowns and lat pulldowns.. It’s OK to use them, too. 


Got any more great tips to help people get more comfortable lifting weights? Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

5 Dumb Little Tricks to Help With Pacing and Running Form


Do you feel like your running form is all over the place? Can you never seem to keep a consistent pace from run to run? Are you totally frustrated by either (or both) of those?

I'm not a running coach -- and I'm certainly not your running coach. But I have some neat little tricks that work for me, and maybe they'll work for you, too.
Turn Off the Tech
I have a really old smartphone. I could probably get money from an antiques dealer for it. And one of its problems is that it craps out completely when I use a GPS run-tracking app. So at some point I decided I would just have to use the stopwatch function, and log my runs after the fact. 

But something odd happened: Instead of depending on the voice from my phone to tell me how fast I was running, I got much better at understanding my own pace. I learned to pay attention to how hard I'm breathing, how much bounce is in my step, whether I'm engaging my glutes. When things feel the way I want them to for a particular run, I am usually within a few seconds per mile of where I want to be.

Focus on Your Breathing
They were running so hard their shoes flew off!
I mentioned that I learned to pay attention to my breathing when I turned off the tech. The "talk test" is my best barometer of how fast I'm going. I generally categorize it into Green, Yellow and Red.
  • Green: Can talk in full sentences without strain. Easy run pace.
  • Yellow: Can blurt out a sentence, but can't carry a conversation. 5K pace.
  • Red: Can barely get a word or two out.
    End-of-race pace.

Watch for Your Feet
If you've read anything about running form, you've almost certainly heard advice to avoid overstriding. It's good advice -- the farther out from your body's center of gravity, the more pressure there will be on your knees. You want a stride that will allow you to strike the ground with your calf perpendicular to the pavement. 

I have a real dumb trick for this, but it works: If I'm looking straight ahead and catch my feet in my peripheral vision, I'm overstriding. That's a good reminder to dial back.

You may be wondering how you can go faster if you don't lengthen your stride. The answer is hip mobility. The better you can rotate your hip joint, the longer you can stride without getting ahead of your body's weight. And you've probably heard me say it before: That means squats. Real squats. With a barbell. And heavy plates on it. Squats are the single best developer of hip mobility that I can think of.

  
Check Your Shadow
If you've been running for a while, you probably have a decent idea of how you look when you're doing things properly. If the sun is to one side or the other of you, you can glance at your shadow and get a sense of whether your form is how it's supposed to look.

Just be sure it's safe to look away from dead ahead. Don't do this in traffic, in a crowded race or on a technical trail.
Run With Your Dog
OK, I know this isn't an option for a lot of you. But I know that if Lily has to break into a canter, and not just trot, I'm into race pace. Sometimes that's what I want. But if I want to go easy, I try to keep her in a trot.

One caveat: If you don't stop your watch every time, you have to factor in poop, pee and sniff stops into your pace mentally. I'll often lose 30 seconds a mile this way.


What Are Your Tricks?
Everybody has some little trick for keeping things in order. I've shared my faves -- how about you? Sound off on Facebook, on Twitter or in the comments below!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The 4 Stages of Suck


Sometimes working out is fun. Sometimes it's tough. And sometimes it just flat-out sucks.

But how do you deal with the suck? What do you do when your legs and arms are dying and your lungs are burning? I think that it comes down to your mindset.

And thus, the 4 Stages of Suck

Definitely not a quitter.
Stage 1: Quitting

If you're just starting out on your fitness journey, you're going to hit a wall -- and probably pretty quickly. I would be that most people who've tried to set up a fitness routine have given up at least once. And it's usually because of unrealistic expectations.


Stage 2: Survival

Once you've gotten the basic hang of exercise and maybe set up a weekly routine, you'll probably get to the point where, when things really start to suck, you can at least slog through. Your form may suffer and your performance may slack off as the workout goes on, but you'll at least get it done.


Stage 3: Fighting Through
The New Jersey Marathon was a fight!

Regular Guys who've been working out for a while know that just getting something done isn't the same as doing it well. If you want to get the full benefit from a tough workout, you need to try to keep up your performance the whole time. And yeah. it really sucks to push that last interval when your body is screaming for you to slow down, but that's when the improvement comes.


Stage 4: Embracing the Suck

You may never experience this one. Or you might feel it once in a while, but not every time. Regular Guys aren't going to get to the point where this is the norm in a hard workout. But the big jumps will happen when you welcome the suck. You're looking for it. You want it. And you push your workouts to ensure you get it.

I want to add something about Stage 4: Be careful! It's easy to get overtrained or injured when you're actively seeking the suck.

What stage of suck are you at? Sound off on Twitter, on Facebook or in the comments below!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Am I Still a Regular Guy?

If you’ve been keeping up with my admittedly sporadic blog and Facebook posts over the past three or four months, you probably know that 2016 has been a breakthrough year for me. I’ve set major PRs in the marathon, half-marathon and, most recently, the 5K.

You may have seen this pic on Facebook recently.

You probably also know that when I’m not on the road, the trail or the track, I’m kind of a gym rat. I’m not afraid of free weights and especially not the “Big 3”: deadlifts, squats and bench press. I believe these have helped me both with general fitness and specifically with running.


I’ve come a long way since I started the blog back in December 2014. But it's also planted an existential question in my mind: Am I still a Regular Guy?

The whole point of being a Regular Guy is Keeping Fit and Living Your Life. It's about finding the balance between your real priorities and being healthy enough to engage fully in those priorities. Being able to keep up with your kids, keeping your heart strong so you can enjoy grandkids someday, having the physical dexterity and endurance to handle the housework and yardwork that comes with life. That sort of thing.

Here I am getting the yard ready for a party. Tough guy!

So what does it mean that I:
I'll admit: I don't know. I am by no means an elite athlete, that's for sure. I'm certainly not the fittest, buffest, most ripped dude at the gym. And I honestly do try not to be that guy at parties, on social media or anywhere else. 

And yet, here I am wondering. I'm definitely past the point of just trying to lose (or keep off) that beer belly. I'm definitely past the point where I go to a race with the goal of finishing and having fun. I'm at the point where I'm wondering just how good I can get. How much I can lift. How svelte I can look. How fast I can run (especially that one). 

But this isn't just about me and how I view myself. My goal is to have a Conversation about Keeping Fit and Living Your Life. To foster a discussion and a community where we Regular Guys can talk about our health and fitness without devolving into uber-competitive, crazy complicated, ultra-technical, totally unrealistic ridiculousness. It's only worth keeping up this blog and the social-media accounts if it's relevant to you guys.

I guess my challenge is this: Can I relay ideas that hit home for everyone -- or at least most of us -- while pushing myself further and further in my own fitness journey? Or will I just get too caught up in the minutiae of what I'm doing to have a basic, simple conversation? 

And not for nothing, but can I do it without being a jerk? This whole piece has an obvious undercurrent of "yeah, I'm in better shape than you are." Just because I'm at a certain point on my journey doesn't make it any better or worse than where you are on yours. We all have our own lives and our own priorities, and no matter how good the information and ideas in this blog are, you're not going to read it if you think the author's an asshole. After all, there are things in life that you're way better at than I am, too.

So my pledge to all you Regular Guys: I will do my best to keep doing what drew you to this blog in the first place. I'll work to relate my experiences and my reading to what works in your lives. And I'll try to remain humble while I do it. 

Because at heart, I really am a Regular Guy, too.


Me and some of my best tailgating buddies. (courtesy Lou Matino)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Walk to Believe: 5K for Eric LeGrand


Folks have a lot of reasons for running 5Ks. It's a challenge to get off the couch. It's a way to test your fitness without the grueling aspect of a marathon. It's just flat-out fun to be part of a race. But the best reason to run a 5K is for a cause that's near and dear to your heart.

As you probably know, I am a Rutgers alum and a die-hard fan of the Scarlet Knights football team. I've been with them through some down, down times. There was a winless season. There was a year we lost to the worst team in the country and then a lower-level team in successive weeks. There've been at least two heartbreaking losses with major bowl games on the line. But the most gut-wrenching day for every Loyal Son and Daughter I know was on October 16th, 2010.

That Saturday, Rutgers took on Army at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It was a close game in which Rutgers mounted a late comeback. On an RU kickoff late in the game, Eric LeGrand raced down the field and made a jarring hit on Army returner Malcolm Brown. A hit so jarring, in fact, that it left Eric paralyzed.

But since that day, Eric has been a source of inspiration not just for Rutgers, but for the entire country. He refuses to let his injury keep him from his goals. He's been working hard at rehab for more than five years now. He's part of the radio announcer team at home football games. He graduated in 2014 and addressed his fellow classmates. He's written two books and is a constant presence on campus. He's won the Jimmy V Award for perseverance at the Espys, and he's the only Rutgers football player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And just this month, during his commencement speech at Rutgers, President Obama said that Eric inspires him.

Eric is such a special and important part of the Rutgers community that it's only right that we do what we can for the cause most important to him. And so that's why I'll be running the 5K on June 5th at A Walk to Believe: One Step Closer for Eric LeGrand.

This year's event is the sixth annual walk, and the second year that it's been a USATF-certified 5K. Last year, runners and walkers raised $82,000 for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to benefit spinal cord research. In 2016, Eric has challenged us to clear $100,000 -- and we can do it with your help.

The course begins and ends at High Point Solutions Stadium on the Rutgers campus. It wends around the school's golf course and affords some pretty views -- and it's flat and fast. There are festivities before and after the race, and there are always past and present football stars who are more than happy to take a photo with you. And you'll surely get a chance to meet and talk to Eric himself.

You can sponsor my run by contacting me through Twitter or Facebook, or you can donate directly at AWalkToBelieve.org. And if you can come out on June 5th, please sign up. It's a great race and a great day.

So come on out and and RUn to bELieve!


Monday, May 9, 2016

Marathon Is Over... Now What? 6 Strategies to Keep Up My Momentum


So you might have heard: I had a successful 2016 New Jersey Marathon.

Training for the race, thinking about the race, writing about the race, boring all my friends and loved ones with my obsession over the race -- that's dominated my life for the past four months. And now it's done. So now what?


Time to Evaluate

I haven't really had enough time to evaluate my long-term goals. But the first choice I have to make is pretty simple: How much of my fitness regimen do I want to direct toward running?

Last year, I wrote about the benefits of being a generalist as opposed to a sport-specific specialist. Unless you have very defined goals, I think you're better off trying to mix up your fitness regimen to work on all aspects of your fitness -- strength, flexibility, mobility, speed, endurance, etc. After all, the rest of your life doesn't specialize, does it?

There is no question in my mind that, before this training cycle, I was in better overall shape. I know for sure that my upper body was stronger, and I definitely had better muscle definition. So I absolutely want to regain some of that.

At the same time, I've made positive strides (pun intended) in my running, and I don't want to regress. I do plan to run another marathon in 2017, and I'd like to maintain my running-specific and aerobic fitness levels, rather than have to start building from close to scratch next time around.

So I think the answer is the same one I had in January: and. Now comes the tough question: How do I ramp up my routine and I find the time and energy to accomplish everything I want to? And what about, you know, life?


6 Strategies to Keep Up My Momentum

Scheduling: Training for a marathon makes scheduling easy: You just follow your training plan. But a big key to keeping consistent in your fitness regimen is to have a routine. Now that I'm not on a specific training plan, I'm going to have to create my own schedule, to be sure that I accomplish what I want every week.

Maintain Successful Strategies: I wrote in a recent Facebook post that I'd like to stick with my new level of alcohol intake, without being a stick in the mud. That's going to mean leaving the beer to the weekends and limiting nights out to two or three drinks. Also, I need to do my best to get to bed on time, to maximize sleep, and to focus on my diet -- stuff I did well the past four months.

Keep the Mindset: After my first marathon in 2014, I got off a regimented schedule. And that led me to ease off the throttle a bit. I ran a fall half-marathon with sporadic training and an early spring half with basically no training. I also had about nine months where I didn't belong to a gym. What happened? I allowed myself to feel that three or four days a week with any exercise -- even just a 20-minute bodyweight session -- was OK. I gained weight, lost endurance and lost muscle definition. Last June, I started to fix things,being sure to do some kind of workout at least five days a week. And now: My goal is to bring purpose to every workout session, just like in marathon training.

Diversify: My wife has been bugging me to try yoga for a while. I think now is the time, concentrating on hip mobility, core stability and glute activation. I also want to work on plyometrics; the simplest plyos for runners is jumping rope. And I plan to keep weekly interval training on the schedule to work on getting faster.

Take Advantage of Vacation: I tend to concentrate my vacation days in the summer. Those days are a great time to ramp up on exercise, when you don't have the time pressure of commuting and work.

Keep Learning: I am certainly no noob on the roads, at the track or in the gym. But I'm no expert, either. I have lots to learn about pacing for various running workouts. And there is seriously no end to the number of strength exercises I could and should be doing -- not the least of which is the deadlift. I won't get better than I am now if I just keep doing the same old stuff.


Walking the Walk

If I can hit all these marks, I believe I'll be in much better shape to embark on another marathon-training cycle in the beginning of 2017, and I'll improve on my time. Now comes the hard part: Putting the plan into action.

And really, that's what being a Regular Guy is all about: Getting stuff done. Figuring out your fitness priorities and doing what it takes to reach your goals.

It kind of feels like New Year's Resolution time. So let's get to it!

What do you do after you've reached a big goal or milestone? What are your next steps? How do you avoid settling for good enough? Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.