The winter months always make me think of running. When I lived in California, “winters” were spent running through miles and miles of trails, through the lush foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I’d travel back to Utah during the Holidays where most days I would wear cold weather running gear, throw Yaak Trax on my trail shoes for added traction, and head out in the snow for an hour or two of frosty solitude. Now that I’m in DC, I don’t make it back to UT or CA as much, but I still focus on running during the winter months. As such, I’m a bit more observant of other runners- be it outside or on the treadmills at the gym. As I engage with other runners,I am reminded of some essential keys that every runner should understand. At the same time, I see the pitfalls that MOST runners commit in the quest to become faster or fitter. Hopefully, you don’t fall into the trap others do. See if you’re guilty of doing any of these 5 Pitfalls Runners Make:
1) Running too far, too fast, too soon. Ever been injured? Most runners - 70% in fact- get hurt every year and more often than not, it’s because they ran either too far or too fast before their body was able to handle the added intensity or duration. To safely improve as a runner (or as an athlete in most disciplines), the body has to adhere to the SAID principle: Systematic Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Basically, it means your body needs time to slowly adapt to greater demands (speeds and/or duration). If runners try to increase the demands without adequate adaptation, injury is usually the result. However, most runners can gradually build speed and distance by simply using the ‘10% rule’, in which runners increase the time of their long run by 10% per week (if running an hour one week, the next week would be running 1:06, etc.)
2) Running the same pace every run. Albert Einstein is credited with coining the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again but expecting a different result.” I know virtually nothing about astrophysics, but I can tell you from a running perspective, that if you run the same pace over and over and over, you won’t get much faster. And THAT’S insanity to me. To overcome the dreaded plateaus that all runners face, the ‘imposed demands’ (remember that from earlier) have to be varied. For example, novice marathon runners tend to run most of their runs at one pace. They might add a tempo run here, or speed work there, but by and large, there isn’t enough variety in their workouts to challenge their bodies and force adaptation to faster speeds. One simple way to vary runs is by using the ‘sandwich’ principle. If a runner runs 5 days a week, 2 days are significantly slower than goal race pace, 2 days are significantly faster than goal race pace, and one day is at race pace (the “race-pace” day is sandwiched by two faster run days and two slower run days).
3) Running the ‘fast runs’ too slow, and the ‘slow runs’ too fast. I see this all across the board- from the novice runners I coach all the way up to my sub-elite athletes. Most runners don’t have problem pushing the pace, but they DO have a problem with running slow on the recovery days. The discipline to go slow is a critical part of training- as it allows the body to recover fully for the next high intensity (or ‘fast’) workout. With the body fully recovered (having run the ‘slow/recovery’ run at the right pace), the speed workouts (hard tempos, dedicated speed work, or race pace intervals built into long runs) can be run at the proper paces. Over time, the body adjusts to the demands and the runner can go longer and/or faster. However, if the runner fails to fully recover by running slow, residual fatigue builds up and limits the athlete’s potential in hard, long, or even race-day efforts.
4) Improper strength training or avoiding it all together. I get it- by nature, runners would rather be outdoors running than inside a dank, musty, gym competing against body builders for time on the squat rack. However, that time goes a LONG way to preventing injury (Remember that 70% stat from earlier?) Because running is a repetitive, anterior-based exercise, we naturally develop muscle imbalances that if not corrected will lead to watching that next 5k or Marathon from the sidelines. I know far too many runners that head to the weight room, do some bench presses, arm curls, some sit ups, and a few triceps extensions, and call it strength training. Not so. An effective strength routine uses compound lifts involving the posterior-chain (think deadlifts, heavy squats, hang cleans, etc.), engages the core muscles, and focuses on single-leg stability and strength. It also focuses on lifting moderate to heavy weight at different times of the year based on a periodized training schedule. Not only will this lead to injury-free runs, but the leg power acquired from lifting correctly will allow for quicker accelerations up hills, help lessen fatigue later in the race, and enable a faster kick down the finishing chute.
6) Neglecting technique work. Even the most elite runners in the world still practice run technique. In college, I trained alongside several Olympians, and I still remember seeing Frankie Fredericks doing drill after drill every single day. (He won the Silver medal in the 100m and the 200m in BOTH the 1992 and 1996 Olympics) And it’s not just the sprinters that practice run technique - it’s even more important for distance runners, as we’re so much more concerned with running economy, especially as races get in the the later stages. Yet how many of us dedicate time each week to doing specific running drills? Do we practice on improving run cadence, carriage (posture), and footfall? Are we working on the flexibility required to open our hips and allow for quicker trail-leg recoil? If not, we sure should! As I’ve told every runner (and triathlete) I’ve ever coached, it’s almost always a better use of time to do 10 minutes of running drills as a warm up, run a purposeful 40 minutes, then do 10 minutes of stability/mobility/flexibility work, than to simply run straight for 60 minutes.
So, as you run this Winter (and into the Spring season) be sure not to succumb to these 5 pitfalls so many fellow runners do. Avoid them and you'll be well on your way to a successful season. Ease into your training, vary your run intensities, run the slow runs slower, put in your time in the gym, and work on those run mechanics and watch those race times fall.
With the New Year upon us, and the Christmas season just concluding, it's a great time to reflect on 2018 and all the positive changes made during the calendar year. For me, my business grew by almost 15%, I posted a PR returning to Ironman triathlon after a 4 year hiatus, and qualified for the Boston Marathon on a last-minute whim. I had clients get into wedding-shape, runners that completed life-long race goals, and triathletes who became first-time Ironmen. And while all those accomplishments are incredible in their own right, nothing compares to the birth of my son. With the arrival of this 7 pound little wonder, my entire outlook on life has shifted in an almost indescribable way. Everyone said that would happen. That I’d see the world just a little bit differently. From how I would spend my time, to my goals in life, to my triathlon training, etc. They said it would all change. And they were right!
It’s interesting how our perspective changes. Sometimes our viewpoint changes due to something expected, that you try to prepare for, but that still permanently alters your world in a way you never thought it would- like having a child. At times, a shift in perspective is brought about by something unexpectedly life-altering, such as a sudden accident or illness. At times these shifts are short-term and quick, such as during a race when adjustments have to be made due to weather, fueling, or hydration issues. And sometimes these shifts are instigated by a slow burning desire to change contemplated over years. Whatever path we are on, or whatever the course we need to alter, it’s critical we keep the right perspective during the process. A loss in perspective can be tough to overcome, especially when things go poorly, leading to lots of frustration and difficulty, be it on race day, in the gym, or in life.
To help keep the right perspective in the fitness world (or outside of it for that matter), I find it helpful to remember 2 key principles:
Remember the big picture. So many times, we lose perspective simply because we take our eye off the ball. We don’t focus on the big picture and allow ourselves to be caught up in the minutia of the moment, failing to take a step back and recognize that trajectory is more important that perfection. A while ago, I read a book on personal improvement called, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”, which talked about not becoming preoccupied with minor setbacks, and how not to let the small things take us off track. Yet so many times I see clients fall into that trap.
After several months of slow but steady progress, one client was absolutely despondent after returning from an family emergency that took her out of town for several weeks. Due to the circumstances, she was unable to maintain her fitness and nutrition regimen while attending to family, and backslid into poor habits while on the trip. Upon her return she was frustrated with herself, becoming discouraged at her loss of immediate progress. For several weeks, she struggled with getting back into her routine, and her workouts and nutrition continued to suffer. She'd lost sight of the big picture; she’d forgotten that this process was about long-term, fundamental lifestyle change, not being perfect week in and week out. She focused on those few weeks when her fitness took a backseat to her family’s needs, not on the several months of fitness success prior. Her trajectory was still headed in the right direction, even if she had a few bad weeks.
So, in those low moments when you’re off track, and struggling, step back and asses your trajectory- are you trending in the right direction? Are the majority of your decisions trying to take you toward your goals? If so, then you’re on track. And that’s the big picture. Remember it!
The second principle to help you keep perspective may seem somewhat contradictory to the last;
The little things matter. Remembering the big picture is paramount, but the ‘little things’ matter. I once heard a saying that goes, “Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character, character leads to destiny”. I’ve always loved that quote, because it underscores the point that small things (a thought) leads to great things (our destiny). Keeping the right perspective involves doing the little things daily to get us to our goals.
Recently, I listened to a podcast in which an elite marathon runner was talking about his training leading up to a major event. I was struck by a few of his points in referring to his preparation for the race. The host asked if he was unsure he would be able to achieve his race goal, and he responded ‘no’, because he had done the work. He had put in the time, day in and day out which enabled him to get to the starting line healthy. He took his rest days, slow runs, and strength training just as seriously as he took his speed work, tempo runs, and marathon pace runs. He stuck with prescribed paces, and rested when he was supposed to and did the work every day that was going to get him to his goal. That process allowed him to maintain perspective about the importance of the process as a whole, and how each day fit into that.
Sometimes, as athletes we don’t look at how the pieces fit- we misfire on race day because we skip our recovery days or strength training and we come to the start line injured or overtrained. So, to help maintain that critical perspective that the ‘little things matter’, remember each day to focus why you are doing the work. Are you doing a recovery run, speed work, burning as many calories in the gym as possible, or strengthening a specific muscle group? Remember why you are doing these specific things. Consistent, daily adherence to workouts drives results. Pay attention to the “Little things’, because they matter!
So, with the upcoming New Year ahead, remember to keep perspective. To help do that, ‘remember the big picture’, and that ‘little things matter’. Whether it be on the track, out on the road, in the gym, or in life, don’t lose perspective on what matters most.
If I had to choose one topic as the most common source of client questions, it would have to be nutrition. It seems we are always looking for the fastest way to achieve our health and fitness goals- and nutrition plays a huge part in achieving them. Some people want to just lose weight; others want to gain weight. There are some looking for championship-level race performances; others just want to finish a 5k. Whatever your goal, what you eat plays a significant role in your progress.
In the world of nutrition, there is so much information floating around regarding everything from extreme diets to trendy performance products to plant-based meal planning. Keto, whole 30, intermittent fasting, Paleo, Veganism...it’s easy to become inundated by so much information and simply throw up the hands in frustration. So what’s the right starting point for you? That depends on your goals, of course. But what if your goal isn’t to lose half your bodyweight or race the Ironman in Kona? What if your goals are just be healthy - maybe drop a few lbs, have a bit more energy, and tone up a bit? What is best nutritional advice for the average person?
For most people, it’s a good idea to start with the basics and go from there. Remember, the basics are a starting point. Some people may have different situations that warrant adaptations to these tips. But for the grand majority out there, following these guidelines help ensure you’ll be able to get off the dietary roller coaster, master some good habits, have more energy, and even drop a few pounds.
So, I’ve distilled down my best nutritional advice to 7 tips for the average Joe or Jill:
Contrary to popular belief, for most people adherence to the basics consistently over time can help bring about the health and fitness goals we want. Start by using these tip as a guide and see how you feel. Good luck and enjoy the process!
Recently I saw a news story which cited an interesting study. Researchers found that taking vacations increases life expectancy by 37%. While many of you may think that’s a no-brainer, many still struggle to maintain that coveted work-life balance. Here in the DC is ground zero for type-A go getters. These high achievers excel in their professional lives, working 60, 70, and 80 hour work weeks and thrive in the process. In fact, I know several people that forgo that vacation time each year due to their hectic jobs. They trade in time at the beach for a few more hours at at the office, a last-minute lunch meeting with a potential client, or a chance to catch up on paperwork, proposals, or emails.
At times, clients of mine who fall into this category have complained about how busy their lives are. Some say they couldn’t possibly meet the minimum standard of exercise of 30 min per day; others state how it would be utterly impossible to give up the alcohol or decadent meals that simply “come with the territory”. I’ve heard the same story from family members, friends, and acquaintances that claim they cannot devote any more time to achieving a healthier, more balanced life because they are “just too busy”.
On the flip side, I know of dedicated triathletes, who won’t take a rest day. The idea of resting one day a week instead of going for a ride, swim, or a run sounds like a crazy idea to them, even given all the research that champions the benefits of recovery and rest. There is just something inside them that says, “more is better”. So they continue to train, even when sick, injured, or burnt out.
However I get it. I get all of it. I get those who push too hard on the fitness end of the spectrum, and I get those that are so devoted to work and professional pursuits that there is no time for a healthy lifestyle. What both groups have in common is a lack of balance. And just as a muscular imbalance will lead to muscular breakdown over time, and ‘imbalanced life’ will lead to a breakdown as well.
So, how do you create that balance? How do you find a way to ‘have your cake and eat it too?’ Just like anything else worthwhile, it takes work. There are literally hundreds of books dedicated to helping find balance in life, achieving worthy goals, and becoming a ‘better you’. My assumption is that they are all good and have meaningful insights to offer- yet my guess is that if you can’t find an hour to exercise, reading a dozen books on balance is probably not in the cards for you either. So I’ve distilled down 3 keys that can help you start to bring a bit of balance back into your world- Recognize, Refocus, and be Consistent.
July the middle of the race season, as you’d expect, I’ve recently had numerous conversations with clients about race nutrition. Everyone wants to know, “What should I eat before and during a race.” Many times, that question is followed up with a personal experience involving cramping, GI issues, bonking, or other nutrition-related breakdowns. Nutrition is a critical element in endurance events- if you’ve ever got it wrong, you certainly know what it means to have your nutrition off. When nutrition and hydration is on point, athletes enjoy sustained energy throughout their event, with limited if any stomach issues. Yet so many fail to get this critical piece right.
So, what SHOULD you eat when undertaking an endurance event? There is no perfect solution- with multiple factors to consider, what works for one may not work for another. Yet there are a few basic tips that can be extremely helpful to ensuring a positive race experience. Here are 6 things you can do to master your race nutrition and crush your next race:
Know your caloric and hydration needs (calorie, carbohydrate, and sodium intake). Because everyone’s body chemistry is different, no one’s caloric needs are exactly the same. But there are some benchmark ranges to determine if you’re getting the essential nutrients needed for extended periods of racing. Calories, carbohydrates, fluids, and sodium are critical nutritional elements vital to endurance efforts. Understanding how much your body can process is vital to managing your nutritional efforts. As a general rule, the body can process between 200-350 calories per hour, depending on your weight, race intensity, heat, and humidity. Consume 25 g of carbohydrates (the body’s preferred fuel source) every 30-45 minutes, based on body weight. Heavier athletes require more fuel as they race. Athletes that are under fueled or don’t take in enough carbohydrates are subject to the dreaded ‘bonking’ effect when glycogen stores are depleted. Sodium needs can vary greatly based on the athlete’s sweat rate (hence the need for a sweat test), but in general, most require anywhere between 600-1800 mg of sodium per hour during a race. No surprise that low sodium levels can also be a major cause of GI issues during races- most people fail to get enough sodium during hard efforts.
Know the race course. Understanding the demand on the body during different parts of the race, and the locations of aid stations on course is a much- overlooked part of race nutrition planning. Athletes that know where they need and have access to nutrition can better manage their race effort. They have a huge advantage in not having to carry excess fluids/nutrition, yet are able to fuel up at critical times during the race. Knowing challenging parts of the race, which may require nuanced fueling (ex., long, hard climbs on a bike course, or open exposed sections of flat run courses may require more hydration), can be a smart way to ensure an athlete doesn’t suffer a serious nutrition setback.
Plan and practice beforehand. It goes without saying, but plan your race-day nutrition just like you would your race-day pacing. Use your training as a time not only to test your body but to test your nutrition, allowing your gut to acclimate to what you plan to ingest on race day. Most races will tell you (either on the web page or by emailing the race director several weeks in advance of the race) what they plan on using to stock the aid stations on race-day. Find out and then use the several weeks leading up to that race as an opportunity to acclimate your system to what will be on course. This reduces the need to carry your own fueling and hydration (a significant effort if racing an Ironman or even a marathon).
Race hydration starts several days prior to the event. Most endurance athletes have heard the ominous statistic that being dehydrated by just 5% is enough to drastically affect performance. Yet, drinking lots of water the day before a race isn’t enough to be sufficiently hydrated prior to a significant endurance event. Air travel to races, daily influxes of heat and humidity, changes in elevation, and multiple other factors affect hydration. Keep on top of your hydration needs by sipping water AND electrolyte-rich fluids several days prior to the event. Urine color is the easiest way the know if you’re hydrated sufficiently- light yellow is best, dark yellow means you’re under hydrated. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium are the critical electrolytes that are needed for you to execute on race day, so make sure daily fluid intake includes these essentials. Nuun tabs, G2 or other ‘light’ sports drinks can be a simple way to help supplement water intake with the essentials.
Reduce fiber and fat 1-2 days before. Depending on the duration of the race, you’ll want to reduce fat and fiber content prior to the event. Why? Just imagine going for a 3 hr run after eating a large bean burrito :) Enough said. Fiber, while healthy for daily intake, can spell disaster for race efforts. For events lasting longer than 5-6 hrs (Ultra running, Ironman, half Ironman, etc.), start to reduce fibrous fruits and veggies and substitute them with grains or other simple carbohydrates (bananas, rice, bagels, pretzels, plain pasta, etc.) Be careful to also avoid butter, nuts, nut butters, and other heavy fats, as they can slow down the digestive system.
Have a go-to breakfast option. It’s great to have an easy, pre-race breakfast option that is low fiber, high carbohydrate, and most importantly, portable. This one should be be tested over time on your long-run days. I’ve adapted Jesse Kropelnicki’s “Applesauce breakfast’, and recommend it to almost all of my clients. This high-carbohydrate breakfast has almost zero fat and fiber, and just enough protein for long-race fueling, but doesn’t bog down the digestive tract. Depending on your weight and the distance/duration of the event, consume 2-4 cups unsweetened applesauce, 1x24oz. Sports drink (high in sodium and other electrolytes), a banana, and a scoop of whey protein powder (mixed in w water or into the sports drink). I may also add a mini plain bagel as well. As you may note, this breakfast will top off your glycogen stores as the simple and complex carbohydrate quickly break down into glucose in your body. Stored as glycogen, this is fuel is ready to burn as soon as the gun goes off.
With these tips, you'll be able to navigate your nutrition effectively, whether it's just the local 10k, a half Ironman triathlon, or a 50 mile ultra marathon. Try this your next race and my bet is you'll have consistent energy throughout, and minimal stomach issues!
As many of you know, I’ve been sidelined the past few years with various injuries which have made it difficult for me to run at full strength for quite some time. While I have a track background, distance running has not always been my passion. However, It’s interesting how much more we desire to do things when we are temporarily restricted from doing them- and running has been no different. The past few years, I’ve craved being able to run again pain free (and sometimes simply to run at all).
So as a result, these past several months I’ve been thinking alot about running- and why it’s such a great ‘go-to’ exercise. For all you runners out there, I may be preaching to the choir. But for those of you may be considering lacing up that pair of Nikes collecting dust in the closet and going out for a mile or two, let me give you some added incentive. Check out these 10 reasons to run:
1- Running is low maintenance. All it takes is a pair of shoes and off you go. Regardless of whether you travel for work every week to a different city or are a stay-at-home parent on carpool duty, you can run. Most gyms, hotels, and even apartment communities have treadmills so even if you’re not up for braving the elements, you can get in a great workout without all the fuss.
2- Running is effective. The average number of calories burned per hour running varies on the runner, but it is higher than swimming, cycling, walking, and many other aerobic activities. The factors involved include weight of the runner, intensity of the run (speed and terrain relative to fitness level), and a host of other factors. However, at 170 lbs I burn close to 1,000 calories per hour when I’m running at a moderate (tempo) pace. That’s a lot of calories!
3- Running actually FEELS good. Experienced runners often describe a runner’s “high” they perceive when running for longer distances. Because of the methodical nature of running, it produces a euphoric feeling associated with long, rhythmic, repetitive movements, according to Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. In an article on WebMd, Bryant says that the methodical nature (not endorphin levels) are key to the runners “feeling good” while they run. Whatever the cause, you runners can all relate!
4- Running is a great way to enjoy your surroundings. Back in a former lifetime, I worked in sales which required me to spend lots of time on the road. While it was taxing in some ways, I love pulling out my running shoes and touring a new area via running trails, sidewalks, and city streets. It was very different than simply driving around a city - it was slower, easier to feel connected. When I decided to purchase a home, I picked potential neighborhoods and would run through them, checking out the schools, the traffic, and the other homes in the area. It was a great way to get the ‘feel’ of the community. Not to mention, running is an INCREDIBLE way to see the beauty of nature. Nothing beats running by the river as the sun slowly rises and mist lifts off into the air. It’s simply breathtaking!
5- Running gives variety to a workout. Contrary to popular belief, running isn’t all the same. I love to add variety to my workouts by adding trail runs, hill sprints, running drills, track work, and even running the stairs to my training (as well as my clients’). This provides a way to alleviate any boredom that may be associated with simply placing one foot in front of the other over and over again. Changing the speed, location, intensity, duration, frequency, and other variables provides endless possibilities for a good workout, especially when combined with strength training, body weight circuits, or stretching sessions.
6- Running is a springboard to other sports. Learning to run (properly) is a great way to build an athletic foundation. Almost all land sports involve at least a marginal amount of running. Learning proper running mechanics helps provide dexterity, coordination, stability, speed, and endurance which lays the groundwork for countless other sports. Whether running has a direct correlation in a sport (such as triathlon or soccer) or simply provide a ground work (think softball or wrestling), it’s a great way to hone skills that can pay dividends down the road.
7- Running helps clear the head. This may be more anecdotal that scientific, but when I’m stressed, have a lot on my mind, or am deliberating over a problem, I like to lace up and hit the road. It provides uninterrupted ‘me’ time when I can turn inward and either focus on the problem at hand, or simply clear my head and not think at all. Many times, when struggling to find the answer to a complex problem or issue, I take a run break and choose to focus on something completely different (the beautiful scenery, or a particular podcast or playlist, or simply meditate with no distractions) and upon returning my mind is ready to tackle the problem, and I find the solution much quicker.
8- Running is the a great way to commute. DC is the home arguably the greatest number of multitaskers in the country. And it is the undisputed home of the worst commute in America, according to the US Department of Transportation. So, some help alleviate the stress of the morning commute by running to work. With a little planning, commuters can both get in their exercise for the day as well as taking a chunk out of their commute time. While many consider their commute is too long to run, consider taking the bus, Uber, metro, or carpool only part way to work then run the rest of the way (which is usually the most traffic-laden) to the office.
9- Running is a great social outlet. In a big city, running groups are a dime a dozen. Whether they are large training groups organized by the local running store, or small informal groups of a few fitness-minded friends, running can be a great way to be social with a purpose. While running is many times a solitary endeavor, having a group or friend to keep you accountable can help ensure you meet your goals, whether that’s to finish a marathon, or simply get out and move a few days a week.
10- Running is healthy. No surprise here- sustained cardiovascular exercise has almost unlimited benefits - namely a longer life. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, “compared with non-runners, runners had 30% and 45% lower adjusted risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality”. And that’s not all. Because of the impact force of running, runners are shown to have increased bone density which can be valuable to stave off bone-related issues like osteopenia and osteoporosis. Combine all that with the fact that runners have lower incidence of strokes and other heart issues may have you considering digging out those Nikes after all!
If that doesn’t at least get you THINKING about those Nikes in the closet, I don’t know what will! Give it a shot- take a few laps around the block and see how you feel. If nothing else, you’ll have got your heart rate up and taken a few steps closer to a happier, healthier you!
With increasing demands on our time, our gym time, pool time, or ride time suffers. And while some fitness stalwarts are able to adapt their schedules to still get in that all important workout, there are those who adopt the ‘all or nothing approach,” choosing to forego ANY workout if they can’t get their intended hour of gym time, or 8 mile run, or 20 mi ride in.
For example, I recently learned of the husband of a client, who really needs to get back into shape. A former athlete, he didn’t feel like the ‘time was right’ for him to start working out again because he “couldn’t give it 100%.” While the desire to give everything you have to an exercise routine is noble, at times it’s simply not practical.
If we adopt the “100%” rule 100% of the time, there may not be much exercise going on. Adapting a more measured approach can help us bridge the gap between doing nothing and going all out. That measured approach starts by remembering that something is better than nothing.
I’m not saying that all workouts should be replaced with abbreviated ones; to see results we all have to put in the time. Yet shorter workouts have some particular advantages when time is short. Here’s three reasons ‘something is better than nothing’ when it comes to fitness:
So, the next time time gets away from you, sharpen your focus, up the intensity, or simply just do what you can in the time you have. You’ll work up a good sweat AND check your fitness box for the day- both of which make you feel like you’ve accomplished something… which is always better than nothing!
“So, what’s the rule about exercise when you’re sick?” I can’t count the number of times I’m asked this question during the winter, when colds and flu abounds. Die hard runners are wanting to push through coughing fits to get in training mileage for upcoming races, triathletes have been know to swim a 50, then hang on the edge of the pool trying to recover as they suffer from the flu. And everyone gets a little grossed out by that one guy in the gym who seems to be coughing all over every piece of equipment he touches.
The same can be said for injury, and I hear this question all the time: “I’m hurt but still want to train- can I run anyway?” Just think of the runner who still has that high ankle sprain, yet insists she’s “Ok to tough out a recovery run” while literally limping along the trail. Or the triathlete trying to push through yet another bout of plantar fasciitis grimacing with every step.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a hard and fast rule. The answer to both questions really is, “It depends.” Not the answer that most want to hear. This conundrum is real: take too much time off, and risk loosing fitness you’ve worked so hard to gain. Take little (or NO) time off, continuing to train and risk the injury or illness taking too long to heal, and loosing fitness anyway. It’s not an easy answer. However, there are a few things to help narrow it down and ensure you’re able to keep maximum fitness, while allowing the body to fully recover.
But before working out the first questions I ask myself is “WHERE do I feel ill?” Ask yourself, “Does it hurt in just my head, or is it anywhere below?” Head colds, sinus pressure, etc. are usually ok to work though according to _______. In fact, getting the body moving helps to improve circulation and help to break up some sinus pressure. In addition, exercise releases ‘feel good’ endorphins, which contributes to feeling better after a workout when you’re feeling under the weather. However, major chest congestion, persistent sore throat, stomach pain, etc. signals that something more serious is going on and rest should probably be the right call.
My second questions is : “Do I have a fever?” Most times, a fever indicates the body is already working overtime to fight against an illness of some nature. Overly taxing it with an additional expenditure of energy will almost certainly end poorly. Don’t risk even a “light” workout when you’re running a fever.
Finally, I ask If I’ve got a cough. Coughing usually indicates that the respiratory system is compromised in some way. It could just be mild sinus drainage, or something more severe such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Either way, If I’m coughing, I don’t want to do anything that will tax my cardiorespiratory system in any way. I may switch the workout to some some very light traditional strength training, without any high-intensity bouts. However, more often than not, I choose the rest option.
Let’s say you’re ship shape with the immune system, but you rolled your ankle recently. Or have some IT band issues flaring up. Or you’re super sore from the weekend bootcamp, crossfit workout, or long run. Or maybe you’ve got some tennis elbow or plantar fasciitis. When do you lay off the workouts and when do you suck it up and push through? Again, the answer is the same as with illness: It depends.
For me, the injury question boils down to origin of the pain: If I can answer the questions, “How did this happen” and “where do I hurt”, I usually know what to do. If the condition is chronic, meaning this is something that flares up on a regular basis, such as nagging knee pain or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), then I usually continue with my workout regimen, but alter subsequent workouts as to allow for minimal impact on the affected area. For example, If my legs are super sore from a strength session, I will change my planned long run to a swim workout which engages the body aerobically, but limits direct impact on the legs. The increased circulation from the full-body movement helps pump oxygenated blood into the legs and helps remove toxins from the sore area. Usually in a day or two, I should be fine to resume my original training schedule.
However, if the injury is acute, rest (and an apt with my PT or sports chiro) is usually the first course of action. For example, if while doing some speed work on the track, I feel a twinge in the hamstring followed by acute pain that does not abate, this is an signal telling me to stop as there is something acutely wrong, probably a muscle strain (pull or tear). Typically, an acute injury needs time to heal, in addition to rehab, so refraining from regular training impact on that particular area is best initially. In this example, I might stop running for 2-3 weeks, but under the supervision of a good PT, continue rehab work and continue cycling.
As a general rule, anytime I exercise when I’m hurting or feeling sick, I always modify the workout, changing up duration, intensity, and/or volume to make the workout easier. If you’re going to train when you’re not feeling well, make sure to treat it like a recovery day. Sometimes that means taking the day off, and sometimes it just means slowing down a bit.
Have you ever had an important fitness goal you discovered you just weren’t going to reach? One TFE athlete made that discovery last weekend. By exercising 3 important principles - focus on what you can control, adapt your goal, focus on small victories - she turned what might be called a failure into an unexpected success.
Long-time TFE runner Theresa Helsel had planned the perfect race for a marathon PR. Her fitness was at peak levels. She’d chosen a flat race and fast course at the perfect location. The weather was to be cool and overcast. She’d prepared diligently, doing every workout in her training plan. Her form, fitness, and nutrition were dialed in. Her training runs indicated that she was on track not only to beat her PR, but to smash it.
A few days prior to the event, she saw the weather was going to be hot and she knew that her PR could be in jeopardy. She would have to alter her pacing and slow considerably to manage the effort in the heat. However, she came up with a plan to have her spectator friends provide additional bottles of fluids for her at certain places on the course. She couldn’t change the weather, but instead focused on what she could control - her hydration.
As she raced, she knew it wouldn’t be a PR day. Her splits started out a bit too fast for the conditions and she had to modify her pacing to adjust. The heat intensified, necessitating further adjustments to her pace. She kicked a curb while moving up onto a sidewalk and fell, skinning her hands and knees and tearing her race bib from her top. She had to stop to assess the damage to herself as well as reattach the bib (imagine trying to open and close tiny safety pins with sweaty, bloody hands). A PR was now out of the question. So, she changed her goal. She could have dropped out and saved her legs for another race. Many people would. However, she instead decided to keep moving forward and focused on racing strong for that particular day.
In the waning miles of the race, she ran steadily but was passed by several other women. Theresa reflected back on her training and the workouts she’d done in preparation for the event. While watching her competition pull further ahead, she drew strength from her past workouts, remembering those small mental and physical wins accomplished during training and up to that point in the race. She focused on those victories, which allowed her to find another gear, knowing that her legs were up to the task. She knew her training had conditioned her mind and body to push hard on tired legs. So that’s what she did. She dialed up the pace, and pushed hard to ultimately pass the pack of women just before the finish. Yet another small victory.
While the PR didn’t happen, Theresa managed to run her 4th fastest marathon ever. She ended up finishing as the 4th fastest woman overall and the top Master’s finisher. It was an epic day, but for different reasons than she’d hoped. Of the 22 marathons she’s run, including Boston and New York, she considers this race one of her best achievements. Buy focusing on what she could control, adapting her end goal, and staying motivated by small efforts, Theresa turned a struggling effort into into an incredibly rewarding one.
Maybe you haven’t run a marathon this year but you’ve lost a little steam on your health and fitness goals. A 2016 study by the University of Scranton show that 92% of people who set New Year’s goals don’t achieve them. Chances are you’ll fall into that 92% at some point in life. Too many people get sucked into a downward spiral of self doubt and demotivation once they decide they cannot reach their original goal. Like the friend who sticks with the super-restrictive fad diet for 23 days, then binges on pot stickers, Twinkies, and M&M’s after they realized they have inadvertently been eating something containing gluten. Or a pro athlete who drops out during the race after falling off the lead pack due to a mysterious ‘injury’. Your goal fail may be less extreme but no less demotivating.
If you want to stay motivated and engaged after a serious setback that put your original goal in serious jeopardy think of Theresa’s example. Focus on what you can control. Adapt your goal. Find your small victories to keep you going.
1) Focus on what you can control. Give it your best for the circumstances. Theresa’s bad weather race day is the perfect running example- If the weather for your ‘A’ race turns out to be terrible, do the best you can with what you’ve got and run as best you can for that day. If you walk away from the race having done your best for that particular day under those conditions, then mission accomplished.
2) Change the goal to keep moving forward. If your goal is to run the entire 10k, but you’ve started way too fast and are out of gas early on, change the goal to run in between every aid station. If your New Year’s resolution of daily workouts has gone off the rails, try shifting your objective to exercising twice on the weekend and once during the week. The real-world advice Rocky gave his son holds true here: “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward!” Keep moving forward with your goals. Alter them, stretch them, move them. But keep moving forward.
3) Stay motivated by small victories. While quitting is sometimes the right thing to do (check out a post about quitting here) it is usually better to reevaluate what has gotten you to this point. Take an inventory of what you’ve already accomplished in the process of striving to meet your goal is a great way to stay motivated. Remember your victories and reframe your perspective from a negative one into a positive one. A positive shift in mindset can help keep your engine firing: the five pounds lost or the energy gained even with an imperfect gym attendance can remind you not to give up.
Most of us have ambitious goals that we don’t achieve quite as we envision them. Using these three principles, we can keep ourselves motivated and keep getting faster and stronger and healthier.
I just returned from a long Thanksgiving Holiday, replete with an overabundance of long flights, friends and family, and of course FOOD. Even for me, it was tough to keep up a healthy nutrition regimen. Speaking of nutrition, the’ holiday calorie carousel’ is starting to spin. Work parties, family dinners, holiday happy hours, and sweet treats can pose a serious threat to our waistlines. In fact, most Americans gain 1-2 lbs over the Holiday season. That may not sound like a lot, until you factor in 1-2 lbs EVERY holiday season- for LIFE! And remember, 1-2 lbs is an average- there are many that put on far more than just a few pounds. Regardless of where you fall in the range, no one wants to add on any extra around the middle.
Over the last several days I’ve talked to several clients about this very thing- trying to avoid weight gain during the Holidays. So, to avoid repeating myself every time, I’ve listed out a few ideas on how to avoid packing on the pounds when you’re out at parties, get togethers, and holiday work events. Here’s 5 tips that can help tip the scales in your favor when it comes to avoiding the Holiday bulge:
1) Eat before you go out. Never show up to a holiday soiree on an empty stomach! Having a healthy snack, high in protein, will help curb the desire to munch on whatever gets presented to you at the party. Eating at home will allow you to control exactly what you take in, allowing you to know how much wiggle room you’ve got when it comes to party sacks.
2) Drink only water. Juices, soda, and alcohol all pack a high-calorie punch. Alcohol has a whopping 7 calories per gram (.03 oz.) per serving, and juices and soda contain up to 48 grams of sugar. Even diet soda contains artificial chemicals that can indirectly add on the pounds. The kidneys and liver have a hard time metabolizing these artificial chemicals, which tricks the body into storing the unrecognizable substance as fat. Drinking water is by far your best bet, but if you absolutely need a drink, one a? night is a good target.
3) Be careful with the hors d'oeuvres. Those tasty treats are often high in calories (think fried calamari, bacon wrapped dates, or cocktail meatballs swimming in BBQ sauce.) Take a look before you dive right in. Plan out which ones are worth the calories and then stick to just one or two. If you're going to indulge, make sure you have a few items from the veggie tray as well- veggies contain fiber, which both aids in digestion and helps slow sugar absorption.
4) Partner up. Both Hillary Clinton and Benito Mussolini used the slogan, “Stronger Together”. Well, that saying is relevant during political campaigns, fascist dictatorships, AND holiday parties. Before holiday hitting the party circuit, make a pact with your plus one to stick to the game plan. Having someone to be accountable to goes a long way in helping you stay motivated and on track. Your significant other will also appreciate you helping them avoid the bulge as well.
5) Don’t be obsessive. After all, it is the Holidays. The occasional sugar cookie, cup of eggnog, or glass of champagne should not derail your efforts to stay healthy during the holiday season. Give yourself a break, and remember this is a time for celebration. So celebrate. Don’t get so preoccupied with your nutrition game plan that you forget the reason for the season. If you fall off the bandwagon (or hayride;) all isn’t lost. Just get back on- reset and refocus and you’ll be fine.
There you have it. Not rocket science by any stretch, but good reminders to help you keep that waistline in check during the next several weeks of Holiday festivities. Eat before leaving, water only, watch the hors d'oeuvres, partner up, and don’t obsess. Enjoy this wonderful time of year! Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, stay well this Holiday Season!