Monday May 16, 2005

Weights & Jogging

I read Scott Jolly's post on the question of lifting weights before or after running...

I have to agree that Regular Squats and Peak Running Performance are simply not compatible. However, I'm not pursuing competitive weight lifting nor competitive track results. So, if I can accept slower 5K times, I believe that strength training and running are in fact complimentary. I alternate days... therefore I lift weights before and after running, depending on your frame of reference :-)

But the reason for this post is that I have just discovered a new challenge that Scott didn't ponder... Weights WHILE running. I started with a pair of neoprene coated 2lb cast iron hand weights. That doesn't sound like much at all! Heck, I used to weigh 35 lbs more than I do now... But those four extra pounds really cranked up the running effort. I'm going to make that a regular component of my running from now on...

Scott... give it a try. It'll make running without the hand weights feel like you're floating across the track :-)

Thursday Apr 14, 2005

80 Mile River Ride

I visited one of our customers yesterday: Patrick Air Force Base. The drive over the causeway leading to the Atlantic Ocean reminded me of the regular weekend bike rides I use to enjoy years ago when I lived on the east coast of Florida. I had bought a Trek 1200 road bike and a group of us would meet at a friend's house in Indian Harbour Beach early on Saturday mornings near the southern tip of Merritt Island. We'd generally cross Mathers Bridge (a historic little scissors style bridge) and head up Merritt Island towards Satellite Beach and Cocoa. The ride offers stunning views of the Banana River and Indian River (part of the Intercoastal Waterway). We'd take various routes, but one time we made almost to the shadow of NASA's huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center. We'd sometimes head west across the river and begin the southern trek thru Rockledge and eventually we'd find our way back across one of the bridges to Merritt Island. Other times we'd head east to the ocean's edge and travel on A1A. We'd generally ride 60-80 miles. The route shown below was an 80 miler that took about 5 hours at an average rate of 17-20mph, along with a few short rest/hydration stops. That was my final prep ride before the "Sea Side Century" - a 100 mile bike ride/race event I completed one morning in 1990. Whew! That extra 20 miles was a killer. But all the rides were great fun and great exercise.

Thursday Mar 24, 2005

The Rat Race: Treadmills

I've really come to enjoy running on the StarTrac Pro Elite treadmills at LA Fitness. Their "Impact Absorption System" does seem to reduce shock to my knees and back (compared to running on the concrete golf cart paths in my neighborhood). Having a predictable climate (it doesn't get too hot, cold, wet, windy, etc) and extended hours of operation (5am until midnight) helps remove possible excuses. The treadmills even have built-in fans to keep me cool, and there are plenty of distractions to pass the time (TVs tuned to FM frequencies, a view of the racquetball courts, etc).

Over time I've settled on three different running programs to increase the variety and keep running challenging and interesting. As a side-effect, more serious runners tell me that these three types of running compliment each other in terms of achieving peak performance...

Heart Rate is a decent indicator of health and intensity. I've found three different HR metrics are useful to track. I wear a Polar HR Monitor chest strap while running - which the treadmill detects and displays.

  1. Resting HR - just as you wake up in the morning [I'm about 47 bpm]
  2. Peak HR - at the end of your run (or during the last intense interval) [I'm about 160 bpm]
  3. Recovery HR - during the 2 minutes immediately following intense exercise (while walking @ 2.5 mph) [I'm about -50 bpm]

Here are my three treadmill programs:

1. 5K Road Race
This one is easy to setup... Just set the speed (eg: 6.8mph) and incline (I keep it level) and go. Run for 3.12 miles, followed by a 2.5 mph recovery walk.

2. Dynamic HR Intervals
This program automatically adapts to real-time bio-feedback... I tell the treadmill I'm 20 years old so that it'll let me use more aggressive settings. I cycle between 142 and 160 bpm (HR), with a maximum speed of 7 mph, for 30 minutes. I'll increase the intensity and duration over time. The treadmill detects my HR from the chest strap and slowly ramps up to max seepd (currently 7 mph) and then increases the incline (to about 5% for me, at this speed) to get my HR up to 160 bpm. Then it slowly ramps down to 0% incline and a slower speed until I recover to 142 bpm. This repeats several times. The time seems to go by more quickly than running at a set pace.

3. Sprint Intervals
By using the CUSTOM interval program, I can do moderate wind sprints. Not flat out like you might do on a track, but fast enough to get anaerobic . I'm just starting these, so I'm starting easy. This is my current sprint routine, which I'll increase over time. I'll probably alternate adjusting sprint duration and speed, and/or incline. Or I might tweak the recovery phase.

Total Distance: 4.0 miles

  • Segment #1: 0.2 miles @ 3.5 mph  (warm up)
  • Segment #2: 0.4 miles @ 5.5 mph (warm up)
  • 8 Repeats (for i=1 to 8)
    • Segment #2i+1: 0.2 miles @ 4.5 mph (interval recovery)
    • Segment #2i+2: 0.2 miles @ 8.5 mph (sprint)
  • Segment #19: 0.2 miles @ 2.5 mph (cooldown)

Friday Jan 21, 2005

Strength Workout

In previous blog entries in my "Exercise" folder, I've talked about cardio/endurance exercise. In an overall fitness program you'll also want to work on flexibility (thru regular stretching) and speed (thru sprints, racquetball, etc). Nutrition and rest are also important. But today,  I'm going to describe the strength routine that I do twice per week. I know that everyone likes a different routine, but this one might give you some ideas if you haven't really put any thought into it and want to get started.

I bring the following chart with me to the gym, on which I list my current weights and rep counts for each exercise, and make notes as I go. Here's the chart, followed by some comments.

1/2: Abs and Obliques
A strong core is vital to overall health and performance. The first two listed in the chart are Ab exercises to work this area. I use "machines" for these exercises, to supply enough resistance for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. This is better than, say, 50 body weight crunches. The Oblique Twist machine really helps the golf and racquetball swing. Strong abs are central to just about any sport, and good for your back.

3: Squats: All Around Lower Body [Gluts/Quads/etc]
Almost everyone says that a Squat exercise is one of the best full body exercises there is. I like to use free weights for this one to also improve stabilizer muscles. You'll really feel it in the quads. Use a safety rack or a spotter.

4: Pushups: Chest and Triceps
Now that your legs are rubber, here's a classic upper body "body weight" exercise. Once I can do 50, maybe I'll switch to a bench press. For now, this is a great workout for the chest and triceps and stablizers.

5: Calves
Having given your legs a little break, this is a good focus exercise. It also gives you a few minutes before the intense upper body work that comes next. The Calf Heel Raise machine is a great way to build up the calf muscles. No, running really doesn't build leg strength.

6/7: Pullups/Dips: All Around Upper Body [Shoulders/Back/Lats/Chest/Arms/etc]
The assisted pullup and dip machines are great for you! You can set the assist weight pretty high to start with... enough to just get in 3 sets of 10 reps each. Again, being body weight exercises, the stablizers come into play. Eventually, you'll work up to not needing an assist.

8: Hamstrings
Now that your upper body is spent, go head over to the Leg Curl machine to do a little work on the hamstrings.

9: Biceps
You've fatigued the biceps already, so this focus exercise will really do the job. Arm Curl machines just don't do it for me. I pick up one of the pre-loaded freeweight curl bars for this one.

10: Lower Back
Finally, to round out the workout, do Back Extensions on a "roman chair". This'll work the lower back and balance out the abs. A strong lower back is important to prevent injury in many day-to-day activities.

Wednesday Jan 12, 2005

Making Progress

How do you double your capability? You've surely seen this described in economic analysis. But this concept applies to any form of progress measured in terms of percentage based increments. Say you have a desire to run twice as far as you can today, or you'd like to double your savings, or maybe bench press twice as much weight, etc. There is an easy formula to figure out your strategy and milestone goals...

Let's take an example. Say you want to perform a strength-based exercise at twice as much weight, in a year. A standard rule of thumb is that you should only add about 5-7% to the weight you use, and only once you can perform the exercise at the current weight with "ease" (read: in control, with proper form, for all the reps). Another rule of thumb in strength training is to workout twice per week, to provide enough recovery time. Another is to perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise, to muscle overload (can't do another rep). Another is to take reach rep slowly (exhale during a 2 count up, hold for 1, and inhale during a 4 count back). There is more to it, such as mixing up the type, intensity, speed, etc, to overcome the adaptation effect. But you get the picture.

Okay, given these heuristics, let's see how much weight we'd have to add each month to double our capability. Using the formula below, it works out to just under 6% per month, which falls right into the sweet spot of the "best practice" for strength training. The challenge, of course, is to work hard enough so that you're ready to add 6% at the end of each month. Which means you've built back up to doing 3 sets of 12 reps with perfect form. That might not be feasible unless you are just starting and have started light. But it's a rate you'll want to track if you intend on 2x in a year.

Here are the equations, and a spreadsheet that illustrates the milestones assuming a starting baseline of 100 lbs. This Java Calculator will help you determine your own increment, or number of months, or expected weight gain. http://www.fpsmith.com/calculator.htm

This reminds me of the old tale about the farmer who could lift his 85 lb new born Holstein calf. He figured that if he lifted the calf every morning, that by the time that cow turned one, he'd be lifting over 800 lbs!! Applying the formula above, that works out to be a 21% increment every month. Not recommended, for obvious reasons!

Which also reminds me of the exercise of reseting sales goals every year. Hmmm. :-)

I guess there are natural limits to exponential increases! The key is to set a reasonable (but challenging) goal, understand the milestones needed to check your progress along the way, and "resolve" to do what it takes to get there. And don't be too proud to reset your goals if you realize they were not feasible. Baby steps go a long way when you apply the power of the exponential.

Wednesday Jan 05, 2005

Getting in Shape: 2005!!

Many of you have set a goal for 2005 to get back into shape! Unfortunately, most of you will conveniently forget your well intentioned desire by mid-Feb or so. In case this might help motivate you, I'll share part of the Exercise Program I created for myself. I originally created this a year ago, and actually stuck with it in 2004. I focused on cardio work last year (after spending the last 9 years traveling every week, doing little exercise, and eating out much of the time). I've updated it for 2005 and am adding strength training to the mix. I use body weight exercises where possible, many of which I can do in my garage or on the road (crunches, pushups, pullups, dumbbell work, etc). Anyway, here is a sampling.

This is my call to arms...


I've studied exercise physiology and believe this is a great strategy.... two days per week on Endurance, Power, and Speed based training. I'm not trying to win a race or get into body building... just tone up to a healthy state and then maintain. Here is my weekly routine:

Here are a few more details. If my Racquetball partners can't play, I'll Sprint or Spin on those days. I've listed my starting values, which will improve over time. The key is making small incremetnal gains. For example, if I just increase my 5K speed 0.2 mph per month, I'll reach my 2005 goal of a 23 minute 5K. Trying to build too quickly is a sure path to injury and frustration.

I also have some goals, and a graph that I'll use to motivate and chart progress over the year. You can tell I haven't focused on strength yet. I expect to make fast progress over the first few months, and then settle into a more sustainable progress mode. Be sure to understand the importance of "periodization": http://www.fitrex.com/periodization.shtml

If you're interested in a StarOffice copy of these images, to modify for your own use, please just ask. And keep with it.... You'll feel great after you \*slowly\* build up to your goals. Good luck.

Sunday Jan 02, 2005

Treadmills & PDAs

Our local LA Fitness gym is stocked full of StarTrac cardio equip. The treadmills are the "Pro" model - $6000.00 units with many features. The staff at LA Fitness are pretty clueless about how to program these, so I downloaded the manual at http://support.startrac.com/documents/manual_protr.pdf. The 60-page manual explains how to enter "manager" and "maintenance" modes to set all kinds of parameters (which you probably shouldn't mess with). But it also explains how to use the "Personal Trainer Studio" to establish your own PIN number and save your custom programs. All the treadmills at my center are set to the factory Manager's PIN number.

But better yet, and not explained in the manual, is the ability of the Pro Treadmills to accept custom programs beamed from your Palm Pilot PDA!! StarTrac provides a free Palm Pilot app that you can download (see below) and create a library of custom programs. Just point your Palm Pilot at the left cup holder and you're all set. Here is the app: http://www.startrac.com/propartner/index.asp

Note that this only works on PalmOS 4.x devices. Meaning a Treo 600, for example, isn't compatible. I expect StarTrac will create a PalmOS 5.x version soon.

This app is useful for exercise programs like interval training (eg: 8 repeats of 1/4 mile sprints followed by slower recovery jogs). It's a pain to key this in every time (100+ key presses).

However, the Pro model has a nice interval feature that is built-in. If you have a Polar Heart Rate Monitor chest strap, then you can tell the treadmill to vary the exercise intensity between two HR levels. I often set it for a 3 mile run between 160 and 140 beats-per-minute. It slowly increases intensity (speed and incline) over the first 3-4 minutes until my HR is up to 160 bpm. Then it decreases intensity until I'm down to 140. I get about 5-6 cycles over the 3 miles, at about 5 minutes per cycle (after the first one). It's a great workout.

I'm sure I'll see a bunch of new faces in January... New Year's Resolutions that will quickly get shelved. But for those who love to run, a PDA and/or the built-in HR interval programs will make it easy. Well, at least the setup part :-)

Monday Dec 20, 2004

HeartRates & Health

So I recently played Racquetball, for the first time in 8 years! I have been jogging some, so my heart is in pretty good shape. But RB stresses muscles you probably forgot you had! At least for me, it was serious wind sprints :-)

Being the electronics gadget collector that I am, I wanted to plot my heart rate chart during the game, and compare it to a recent jog. So I wore my Polar HR monitor. Racquetball, it turns out, sustained an elevated HR that exceeds my jogging! And three games totaled 41 minutes, or almost twice my jogging time. So, from a cardio perspective, this is a really good exercise. But I knew that :-). I've included the chart from my Polar HR monitor below.

The following link is a 5-page scientific report on the statistics of Heart Rate Recovery and how it correlates to heart disease and death. It is pretty intense reading. But the bottom line is that it found that a HR recovery rate of less than 22 "beats per minute" during the 2 minutes following intense cardio exercise, is a bad thing. My 2 minute recovery was 34 bpm for racquetball, and closer to 50 for jogging.

http://www.cardiology.palo-alto.med.va.gov/recentpapers/AJCHRR.pdf

I'm guessing my jogging HR recovery is better than RB because my body is more acclimated to jogging (I've been doing that for a year now) than the wind sprints of racquetball. I stopped the watch before the 2 minute mark when I finished jogging, so I only show a 1-min recovery for jogging.

It is probably worth checking 2-minute HR Recovery every 6 months or so to see how the old ticker is doing.

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