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!