The summer training survival guide - Stick to your schedule and get in those workouts

Summer break is just on the horizon and that means hopefully many will be able to do their runs or workout routines under the sun. What it also generally means is that you may have to take your fitness program on the go, fit in workouts while on vacation, or do the majority of your training alone. This is often the case for those who are runners for their school's team and it is sometimes tricky to meet up due to the required 'dead period' where you aren't 'officially' allowed to hold practice. (Still, we were able to sort of get around this in that as long as the coach wasn't the one who set the time and place (in some states they can't be there at all), it wasn't mandatory, and it was organized by the kids, things were okay...who's to say a nice group of friends who just happened to be on the cross-country team didn't just 'happen' to come to the same place at the same time to get in a run??!!)

At any rate, summer training can be difficult in that there are usually lots of other things going on, motivation can wane, and let's be honest sometimes laying under the sun on the beach could be more appealing that logging those miles or hitting the gym for a workout. Still, because consistency is key for any fitness program it is important to maintain a certain level of fitness so that when it does come time to resume training with the team for the next season you aren't too far behind.

Summer training, or off season training, is usually a period of building up your base. That means the focus is more on cardiovascular conditioning and building your endurance and strength. This usually means a bit more miles and less structured intensity; you may do some workouts but they are usually more relaxed like fartlecks that go more off of perceived effort than having to hit certain times. Building up your base is going to set you up to be stronger come the next season and once you do start hitting the track or integrating speed work you will naturally come back faster than the last year.

But the major hurdle for most is getting in those runs. For most athletes there will be a summer training schedule and it helps to have a concrete plan written in black in white to keep you accountable. In the same line of thought that a training log will help you progress, having a calendar with your workouts already planned for the week is going to make it more likely you'll do them. Here are a few tips on how to survive summer training (and this can be applied to anyone hoping to stay fit on vacation) and come back stronger, fitter, and ready to rock in your races.

* Summer training log: Get a notebook or hang up a calendar and ink in exactly what you'll be doing each day. This is also smart because you can plan to gradually increase your miles (don't add more than 10% more miles each week is a standard rule of thumb) so you will build endurance but not risk an injury. Then, as you do each run or workout every day check it off and note how you felt and any other details you like.

* Meet up:
Whether you rope in a friend who is on the team or not, setting appointments to workout are going to keep you on track and it also makes the runs more fun. Again, if a few of your teammates are in town you can plan some meetings just be careful of the rules in your area regarding the 'dead period'.

* Get your workout in early: If you're on vacation you are much more likely to stick to your planned workout or run if you do it first thing. You may not know exactly what the plans are for the rest of the day and if something unexpectedly pops up that you really want to do you won't have to be tempted to ditch you run. If you are traveling with others you can ask if they want to workout with you; but if you are with a group who thinks you are a bit 'crazy' for still wanting to workout you may be going solo. It also may be worth getting up a bit earlier so that when the others are up and ready to go you will be too.

* Find a race:
In-season training is usually easier to stick to because you've always got an upcoming race that you are shooting for and that keeps you motivated. Going months without that can cause your competitive fire to lull and you may be not all that amped to get in your runs. There are usually tons of summer road races or even track meets so find one in your area and sign up. It may not be so much a matter of hitting a certain time in the race (although it is always nice to get a status check of where you are) but rather to keep your accountable to your training.

* Set goals: Map out what you hope to achieve come the next season and write down some specific goals. These are usually times for a distance or on certain courses, but it may be to make a scoring spot on your team; whatever it is write it down. It may sound dorky but you could hang it up on your wall next to your training calendar; that way any time you feel like skipping a workout think of your goals and use that as the extra push to get out the door.

Getting in the summer training is usually a major factor in how well you are able to do come cross country season.
Yes, you may be able to race yourself back into shape but jumping back into structured workouts after a full summer off is usually a pretty harsh punishment in itself. Finally, if the aim is to better your times from last year you want to build on the fitness you've already achieved so that you reach those targets. Then you can be one of people breezing through workouts and doling out the punishment to those who decided to skip their summer runs. ;)

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Let's get isometric with it! Strength training without the gym
When we think about weight training and the strength workouts that we do one often thinks of traditional free weights or machines at the gym. It is true that all of these things, along with other fun toys like resistance bands and kettleballs, can all be integrated into an effective weight training routine but sometimes there are instances in which we are unable to get ahold of the equipment or are for whatever reason not able to use them. For example in my own most recent circumstances because my leg is broken I can't put any weight on the lower extremity making it impossible for me to do a leg press, a hamstring curl, or even a lunge. That is where isometric exercises can come into play.

In essence isometric exercises are just holding a specific muscle contraction for a period of time; an example would be that you would be doing isometrics if you were to hold a squatting position. These types of exercises rely on tiring the muscle out over time versus a amount of weight and number of reps and this method a common basis for yoga and pilates moves. Being that you don't need anything else but your own body to do them they are also convenient for those unable to get to the gym.

push-upYou can build muscle strength with isometric exercises but because you will not be doing any dynamic action often times they are not the first choice of athletes in which they are more concerned with functionable muscle growth. (Exceptions may be doing squats or planks in addition to traditional weights.) Still, these are easily adaptable to retain muscle loss if you have an injury and they will still grant you tone if that's you major concern. Many core exercises are isometric in nature and that is where they are used a great deal. Here are a few isometric exercises that you can integrate into your current routine or do on the go being that with summer comes plenty of vacations. Actually, people that are busy or crunched for time have often used isometrics to 'sneak' in their workouts; you can always contract your abs and hold it for ten to fifteen seconds, relax, and do a few sets while you are typing away at work. You could squeeze those glutes while you are stuck in traffic, and you could hold a squatting position between commercial breaks.

1) Squat Sit: lower yourself into a deep squat until your thighs are about parallel to the floor and be careful to put your weight back on your heels so that your knees aren't in front of your toes; keep your back straight and hold this position for 10-30 seconds. Stand back up, rest and do a set of two or three.

(Variation: Because I can't stand I lay on the ground and squeeze my quads, hold, and then repeat.)

2) Glute Squeeze:
Clench your tush and hold it for 10-15 seconds; relax, and repeat two to three times. This you can do sitting, standing, or lying down.

3) Plank Pose: Support yourself on your elbows and toes facing the ground. Work to keep your core tight, suck your stomach in, and keep your back flat. (Make sure that booty isn't sticking straight up in the air!) Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and do a set of two to three.

4) Half Push-Up:
Get into the push-up position and lower yourself down as you normally would; hold yourself hovering just above the ground and stay there for 10-15 seconds before returning to the starting position. Rest and repeat two to three times.

5) Side Plank: Turn onto your right side and support your weight on your elbow and the side of your right foot. Keep your body in a straight line, suck in your gutt and keep your butt from poking out behind you. Look forward and hold this stance for 10-20 seconds, rest, and repeat two to three times. Don't forget to do your other side! ;)

You can then do this circuit two tho three times to get in a total body strength routine no matter where you happen to be.

These are just a few examples of isometric exercises you can do and there are many more with slight variations. The key is to contract the muscle you intend to target and hold it tight until it tires; from there you can devise a few poses of your own and will be firmer yourself!

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About to run a marathon? Do this workout to set your goal finishing time!

Q: I am training to run a marathon but am not sure about what kind of goal pace I should set for myself. I have seen race projection charts for 5k's and 10k's based on certain workouts but not one for the marathon. Is there a workout I could do to give me an idea for a goal finishing time I should shoot for in my race?

A: That's a great question as an important part of any race is to go in with a concrete goal; that may be a certain time, a finishing place, or to execute a strategy like making each mile get progressively faster. By setting a specific purpose for each race you will be more likely to push yourself harder than if you just went in without one.

In getting back to the marathon specifically, it is a different kind of beast than a mile, 5k, or 10k race for the reason that it is so long and there are many variables to take into account. Of course training for the longer distance will require getting used to running for prolonged periods of time (your long runs will be longer) but you still have to balance in some speed work and tempo runs to maintain the pace you want. Also, everyone's body handles the distance differently and being that you will no doubt need to rehydrate and refuel during the actual race, experimenting with the best sports drinks, energy gels, or foods will come into play. You can't always be certain just how your body will feel on any given day, and this is true for any other race, but in marathon training there are more factors to take into account.

Still, there is actually a nice workout you can do that can give you a projection time to set for in your marathon. In training for the shorter distances it's usually easier to gauge what you should be capable of running in your race because in practice you can generally run the same distance, or near to it, before the actual date of the competition; there are also a myriad of race calculation charts for them. That isn't the case for the marathon being that you usually aren't going to be running 26.2 miles in practice at or near the pace you ultimately want to run.

Yet a common workout that has been proven to be a fairly accurate marker for what you should be able to accomplish come race day is to do 10 x 800 meter repeats on a track. (You could also do it on a marked course.) You will do a 400 meter recovery jog between each repeat and make sure to take that recovery easy, the aim is to just keep moving. Just as with any other interval workout you want to run each 800 at an intense effort but pace yourself so that you are able to finish all the repeats; if anything it's always better to start the first ones a bit conservative and pick it up as you progress to make the last ones your fastest. After you have finished all of the 800's take your overall average for the repeats and that average will then be your projected marathon time; only instead of minutes to seconds it will be hours to minutes. For example if you were to average 3 minutes and 15 seconds for the ten repeats your projected marathon time would be 3 hours and 15 minutes.

Good luck with your upcoming marathon and then with your goal time in place you can work backwards to figure out your pace per mile. Have confidence in knowing you've put in plenty of hard work to get to the starting line and from there give it your best effort!

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The fitness routine bias - Are you a cardio junkie or a weight lifting maven?

A funny thing about those who exercise regularly (if not a tad obsessively if training for a specific race or event! hehe) and their fitness routines is that the world is sort of divided into two categories: the cardio lovers and the weight lifting buffs. I say this only in that everyone tends to enjoy one particular training aspect over the other; but once we recognize that it takes both components to be successful in our sport or to achieve the best overall fitness level we must sort of suck it up and make sure we get enough of both cardio and strength training.

What happens if we rely solely on only one of these training aspects is that we only limit ourselves.
If you only do cardio, yes you will burn calories during the activity, build muscle mass to a certain degree depending on what your particular activity is (for instance if you are running lots of miles you will naturally build muscles tissue up in your legs), and your endurance will improve. What you will be lacking is power and added strength which would make you faster; you will also have weaknesses in your core and other muscles not worked which could lead to poor form. Finally as we age we naturally lose muscle mass and if that isn't negated with resistance training you could wind up being what is coined 'skinny fat' where you aren't overweight or even large but you are just a bit soft.

On the flip side, those who only workout in the gym lifting weights are going to have a hard time getting those hard muscles to be visible without some cardio to up their caloric burn and shed body fat. Yes, lifting weights will increase muscle tissue and that will rev up your metabolism but without regular intervals of cardio activity which gets your heart pumping and lungs working you may not see the results you want; fat tissue lies over those muscles and no amount of crunches are going to give you a six pack if there is a roll on top. Lastly, you will not be building up that endurance and cardiovascular fitness which is imperative for a healthy heart.

My background is in running, and to be honest that's where my passion lies and getting to the gym to lift those weights is not my favorite past time but I recognize that it is good for not only overall health but also it will translate into faster times. Like previously noted by gaining more muscle mass in your legs you will have more power which is going to mean you will be able to more forcefully push off the ground and propel yourself forward; doing squats, plyometrics, and other resistance moves will help your speed. By building muscles in your arms and core you will be able to maintain your form as you tire, remain upright, and that will make you more efficient and able to get to that finish line faster. So even if you are a cardio junkie getting in at least two to three days of weight lifting is going to make you leaner, fitter, and faster.

If you are trying to lose weight or get 'cut' and have been relying solely on the bench press to do it you will speed up the process by getting in four to five sessions on the bike, on the treadmill, or in the pool. You could even split up the time by doing half before you start lifting as a warm-up (it is good to do at least five minutes of cardio before lifting regardless as it gets the blood moving) and then the other half as a cool down.

However you incorporate both cradio and strength training into your fitness routine, know that it is okay to be partial to one just so long as you show some exercising love to the other! If you are pressed for time you could actually combine both in a fast paced workout that will keep your heart rate elevated while cycling through some strength moves.

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The truth about spot toning and addressing those 'trouble zones'

We all have parts of our body that we wish we could change or that we are particularly conscious of; we could call them our 'trouble zones.' For women it is usually the thighs, butt, and abs and for men it is the chest and abs. Spot toning is something that is a bit up for debate in the fitness world in that some people will say it doesn't really even exist and others are touting the miracles of the Ab Roller, Thigh Master, and the rest. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle, as with most other things, but that by obsessing over only one area on your body you are not only going to limit your fitness level (actually you could wind up injured when one muscle group is at such and imbalance to that of others) but it is also not healthy mentally and potentially only setting you up for added angst.

Yes, the reality is every body is different and we are predisposed to get firmer in certain areas and store fat in others. That doesn't mean that by exercising you can't improve your overall muscle tone, reduce body fat levels, and get leaner but it does mean that one person may have to work infinity harder to get flatter abs when another person may never do a crunch and have a six pack. (The same can be said for why one person will naturally excel in one sport over another.) It may not seem fair, we can all throw tantrums and whine, but that's not going to change it; what we can change is our outlook and our fitness routines.

In terms of your workouts the best way to go is to address all the major muscle groups when strength training and then do regular amounts of cardio.
Cardio activity will burn calories and reduce your body fat levels; no one will see those muscles if there is a layer of fat over them. At the same time cardio alone will not get you the firmness resistance training will. When in the weight room, or anywhere else if you are using your own body weight for the exercises, you want a total body routine. We've all seen the guys who only do the bench press and focus solely on their massive pecs or biceps but they almost look comical when strutting around on toothpick legs. The same thing can happen on a less drastic level for women who only do sit ups but abstain from any other weight training for fear of bulking up. (This is actually a myth and will be addressed in a later post.)

As with anything else balance is the key and that is how your body will best work and respond. When one muscle group is much stronger than the others the body will overcompensate and that can mean that other muscles will grow even weaker, your stride while running may become offset along with during other activities, and you can end up straining or pulling something. If you make sure to do a total body strength training routine along with ample amounts of cardio you will see the best results; of course you can altar your fitness routine to add more weight or reps to certain exercises which will give your muscles more bulk and could translate into a particularly tight tushie but it doesn't mean that you should neglect your arms or core muscles.

Mentally then, instead of obsessing over your trouble zones' look at what positives there are about your body. This can be a specific body part like that your arms have not a single jiggle or instead what your body can do for you like achieving a faster time in your last race or being able to complete a certain amount of time on the elliptical. It is human nature to compare ourselves to others and to be hypercritical of ourselves; but the next time you see someone with the abs you would kill for remember that perhaps that person would die to be able to have your long, lean, and fast legs.

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What fires you up?

What really gets you going when you workout? What puts you in the zone or fills you with the urge to just hammer that workout? I'll tell you for me it has to be the feeling that comes from the momentum of a workout not yet done but in which you are hitting pace, you feel 'on' for whatever reason, and you want to test the limits, really push yourself to see just how far you can go. That would be when perhaps I'm in the middle of a tough track session, or a key workout, and that sense of already being on a great run and wanting to finish strong. My favorite workouts are actually tempo runs; I think I like those so much because they mimic a race situation, and as the workout progresses and you try to keep increasing the pace, my competitiveness kicks in and I want to continue negative splitting to see just how fast I can go.

To go one step further I think there is a difference between what fires you up for workouts and then what sets you up mentally for a race.
The situations are usually quite different; on race day you usually have the added boost of adrenaline simply from excitement and the energy already present and it's more a matter of channeling that into a positive direction. You don't want to psyche yourself out, but instead psyche yourself up. Picturing yourself in the race and going through your game plan is one way to do it, as imagery is one excellent tool, listening to high energy music is another common method, and there is also the focus on your competitors. Once that gun goes off it seems like all outside things slip away and the key is to hone that focus on staying relaxed, keeping your stride, and then when you start to tire to look at the person ahead of you, maintain form, and dig to not let yourself get gapped. It then becomes a matter of not only physical power and endurance but them mental strength too.

But when it comes to workouts you usually don't have the added boost from the hype of race day and that is often where people fall into the temptation to ease up or never get it in at all. Training is ongoing, it can be tedious at times, and everyone suffers from a lull in motivation at one point or another; though the difference between the people who win races or hit their goals from those who don't comes down to consistent training and being able to keep up their fire for the next run or hard workout. Now, not everyone is 'in training' for a particular event but you are in an ongoing race of life (okay, yes it sounds corny but we should all strive to live an active lifestyle); while it may not be necessary to hit certain target times or paces you still combat the days when you'd rather throw in the towel or skip a trip to the gym. And to be honest, even if you aren't aiming to set a record or win a race it can be fun to test your limits, see how far or fast you can go, and get competitive with yourself.

So in getting back to the original question; what fires you up? It has been proven that listening to loud music actually spurs people to workout harder and to be able to go longer. Taking the focus off of the discomfort is the aim there and a pulsing beat does that; not only does it ease the pain but it sort of almost helps you to embrace it and really dig down. Another thing that can do this is a healthy amount. Many people find immense relief from a hard day at work or particular frustration by 'sweating it out'...taking that pent up mental angst you feel and making it physical is actually a healthy outlet to dispel anger and stress. You'll end up feeling better even if you aren't able to change the situation at all; that mood lift is also due in part to the release of endorphins while you were exercising.

However you get your competitive juices flowing and whatever gets you out the door, or to the gym, keep it up and also experiment with different techniques. It's been found that working out with a partner also helps combat a lack of motivation; conversely there are people who prefer to be alone with only their thoughts. Something that always help me whether I am not really feeling up to working out or even am midway through a tough workout and start to question if I can continue and am tempted to ease up is to remember how great I will feel once I am done and have completed what I set out to do. If it's a hurdle to just get started I remember that generally once I get past the first few minutes those endorphins will kick in and I'll be more than motivated to get through to the end. If it's on the track I think about finishing and giving it my very best effort; you can't always change if you are having a bad day but if I finish knowing I at least gave it all I had that day I can take something positive away from the workout; however I know that I would be upset with myself if I just instead gave up.

So I now turn to you, what fires you up?

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Big weekend in distance running...and a little cartoon for chuckles

Just a quick post today as I wanted to put out the second installment of the "Top 10 signs you know guys have taken over the house" (you can check out the first if you missed it!) and this one is "When the Front Room Stairs Become Shelves." Obviously once all the available floorspace as been covered there is no other place to house items but the stairs?!?! hehe. At any rate, I did want to let anyone who is interested in seeing the continuation of this series and other cartoon/art related material know that I will actually be moving it over to my Writing and Art Blog as I try to move back into the swing of things since my accident and use this Fitness Stop blog for the fun workout, sports, and health related tips and news.

So for all of those track junkies out there last night was another big step forward for American Distance running in that Chris Solinksy smashed the American Record in the 10,000 meter event down at Stanford. The race was stacked, pacers enlisted, and there was plenty talk of the potential falling of Meb Keflezighi's nine year old record of 27:13.98; but much of the attention was put on Galen Rupp as being the one to do it. This was in fact Solinsky's debut 10k and while he was fit one never really knows what to expect in their first attempt at a distance, especially among such a high caliber field. So when he did take the lead with 800 meters to go I'm sure many a track fans were surprised, cheering him on, but maybe still expecting him to fade or ultimately be overtaken in the end. But the very opposite was the case in he blazed home to win in 26:59.6, which not only established the new AR but crossed the elusive 27 minute threshold making him the fastest 10k harrier ever not of African descent. Not too shabby. :)

The race was so fast that Galen did still eclipse the previous American Record mark in finishing in fourth with 27:10.74. Just ahead of him in third was Sam Chelanga of Liberty who set the new NCAA record with 27:08.39. Also, one of Solinsky's training partners, Simon Bairu, represented Canadians well and with his 27:23.69 for fifth set the bar in the Canadian Record.

In the rest of the meet Shannon Rowbury drew some attention herself in winning the women's 5,000 meters, in which she is still relatively new to the event at usually sticking to the 1,500, as she upset current American Record holder Shalane Flanagan with 150 meters to go and finishing time of 15:00.51. Shalane came in at 15:04.23 and Amy Begley placed third by setting a PR for herself in 15:05.69. So it was quite an exciting night for distance running, and it actually comes off of a thrilling weekend being that the Oregon Relays in Eugene were the night before and Andrew Wheating had an amazing kick to win the 1,500 in 3:37.8.

All of this is quite inspiring and hopefully pumps everyone else up to set and achieve their own fitness goals whether it be in running or even just getting in a certain number of workouts a week. Seeing others achieve their own goals is something we can all look to as motivation. So on that note I hope you all had a great weekend, busted your own sweat even if it wasn't in a record setting attempt, and are looking forward to the start of another week!

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