Tag Archives: Interval Training

Day 45 update: Running Workout

15 Feb

It is now the 45th day since I began my transformation, lifestyle change, health & fitness journey, or whatever you want to call it. For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may recall that I also started my 28-day workout plan on February 1st and that while it got off to a rocky start, I’ve dragged myself back on track over the past week or so. I almost derailed my entire effort of the past week this morning when I woke up and realised that my plan required that I go running for my workout today.

I’ve never really enjoyed running. It’s always left me feeling really short of breath, sweating profusely, with ankle pains, foot pains, calf pains, back pains, and that was when I was younger and fitter. After I had gained a lot of weight in my 20’s and 30’s I had tried many times to “get fit”, and whenever I started running, all of my fat bits wobbled uncomfortably and added to the discomfort. Needless to say that I’ve grown somewhat wary of running over the years, and in some ways, it has become my biggest challenge in terms of motivation and effort from a fitness perspective.

I’ll admit that when my 28-day plan called for me to go running last time, given I had already messed my plan up, it was simply easier to decide to not do it, and to find another workout to do instead. Yeah, I know, these are not the words you want to hear from a person who is planning on becoming the world’s greatest Personal Trainer – which by the way is a goal of mine so that I can get the mug to match the World’s greatest Dad mug my kids got me!

Today however, something was different. For a start, I realised that I was procrastinating again, and I remembered all of my advice to others about focussing on my goals and making them more important than anything else. Since I know these particular goals are a big priority in my life, I decided to simply get on with it, do the running workout and to just get it over and done with. In the end however there were a lot of other factors that came into play today that made the workout both surprisingly enjoyable, and surprisingly easier than I had anticipated, even though my heart wasn’t really into it at first.

Back in early January, I read Barefoot Bob‘s book: Barefoot Running Step By Step which I had borrowed from my local library. It has a lot of information about running technique, how “jogging” in shoes is generally bad because shoes encourage heel strikes which can result in knee and ankle injuries. It also describes how a barefoot runner leans with a body-forward position with shorter steps whereas a shod runner has a more upright body position with legs forward and a much wider striding gait. It was an interesting read which I filed away in my brain for future consideration.

At about the same time as I read this book, my wife had purchased a new pair of running shoes for me, which are a minimalist running shoe design by Sketchers called Go Run. These shoes break just about every rule that I thought I understood about footwear design, yet as it turns out I really love wearing them because they give me much of the tactile feedback that I enjoy when walking around barefoot, but without the risk of getting thorns or broken glass stuck in my feet. I decided to run in these shoes today rather than wear the New Balance running shoes that I’ve worn for years. As I started my run, I found myself automatically leaning forward, running more on the balls of my feet and with shorter strides. For the duration of the run, I probably struck my heel only 3 or 4 times and found the difference in the sensations in my feet to be comparatively uncomfortable. Now whether it was the shoe design, or that I might have been subconsciously channelling the information from Barefoot Bob’s book I can’t really say. What I did notice was that running today was easier than I had remembered it to be, and I didn’t get any of the usual foot or leg pain that I have always had in the past whenever I’ve been running for more than a couple of minutes.

My course started behind a nearby school, where I ran northward along the river on the footpath for a while before going “off-road” and enjoying the dirt tracks along the edge of the river. I returned to the paved area on my way back and stopped not too far from where I live. Now when I say that I “ran”, I must admit that I didn’t run continuously for the entire workout. My course was about 3.5km with about 1/4 of that over uneven terrain. Given I haven’t yet developed the endurance to run continuously and also because I prefer training in intervals, I alternated running and walking for 2 minute intervals in the beginning, yet by the end of the workout I found myself running for 2 minutes with 1 minute walking intervals. Yes, I actually started to improve over the duration of the workout!

After my first couple of intervals I was feeling so good that I decided to get a little experimental with my breathing. For several intervals at first, I’d allow myself to react naturally at the end of each running interval, letting my self bend forward and breathing in the short gasping upper chest breaths that people use when they have just run hard. However, by the end of each of the walk intervals I felt tired, and the next run interval seemed to be harder and really couldn’t end quickly enough for my liking.

I then switched for the rest of the workout to consciously lifting my chest, exhaling quickly through the mouth but inhaling through the nose more slowly and deeply, right into the belly. I found that while it went against my instincts to breathe in this way, my heart rate dropped more quickly and my breath became easier faster. Realising that I had just figured out how I should breathe to recover more quickly after running, I wanted to figure out how to make my breathing easier while running. It turns out that as I ran, I was allowing my body to bend slightly forward as I ran, and I would breath more shallowly as the effort became more pronounced.

Realising all of this, I determined to do three things. I firstly concentrated on stabilising my core – yes, the middle aged guy sucked in his belly again! – while secondly at the same time arching my back slightly backward and lifting my chest. The third thing was to focus on breathing  in through the nose more deeply and slowly for 3-4 paces, and breathing out hard via the mouth for 2-3 paces. Rather than trying for a “perfect” 3-2 breathing cadence, I simply went with whatever breathing cadence offered me the least discomfort.

As the workout progressed I found myself feeling more energetic as a ran than I did at the beginning. I was running in minimalist shoes with a barefoot technique over uneven terrain, up and down hills, and found my breathing, pace, and stamina improving with every step. I found myself walking less and running more, and I didn’t feel the need to resort to mouth breathing. When the run ended, I had been out for about 25-30 minutes. I felt a little tired yet not so enervated that I couldn’t continue to function physically. I also noticed that as the run progressed, my heart rate went from being in the high aerobic zone with each run interval, to barely able to reach an aerobic heart rate at the same pace. I actually needed to start running faster in order to increase my heart rate!

After my run I noticed that I hadn’t really been sweating heavily as I ran, yet once I had stopped I suddenly found my body heat was incredibly high, and I found my sweat started catching up with me!! I spent some time rehydrating, and then hit the shower to get nice and clean and to reflect on the workout that I had just completed. What I believe I have learned is that my experiences of the past had coloured all of my perceptions about this particular form of exercise, and yet I would not have learned that I actually can enjoy running had I not learned to run in a low impact way and with footwear that is more appropriate to this particular running technique. I would even go so far as to say that the barefooters have it right that this really is the correct way to run and to do so with the least risk of harm to the body.

I tried a short jog outside a few minutes ago, wearing the old shoes and in the classic joggers wide stride heel strike manner, and comparing the two styles, I noticed that the barefoot style doesn’t cause any sort of a jarring sensation at the hip, knee, or mid to lower back, as does the other style. The leaning – almost falling forward – barefoot running positions the body so that you move your legs in shorter strides, and use the entire foot efficiently, with much less arm and shoulder movement and a greater spring in the stride that I believe uses a great deal less energy than running with a wider stride. Bending the knees more really does help as Barefoot Bob says it does, and increasing pace seems to result in longer more bounding strides rather than merely pumping the arms and legs faster. The other thing that I noticed was a great improvement in my balance as I ran. I could go over obstacles and around corners faster than I would have done with a heel striking stride, and dust and other slippery surfaces were no cause for concern whereas I would have otherwise risked slipping and straining hamstrings and ankles.

I learned more this morning about running than I had in my entire 43 years, and I’ve discovered that I don’t mind running. While I don’t plan to become any sort of long distance athlete, I will continue to enjoy running as an occasional variation in my workout plans in the future, and I’m even thinking I might enter a a couple of fun runs once I’ve increased my endurance and my breathing. I’ve also started to think that this could be an exercise that might help me to increase my SCUBA air time, but I will need to research this idea a little more before I can say for certain whether running or some other cardio work would be better suited to helping me achieve my scuba goal.

The thing that I will take away from today’s experience however, is that I need to listen to my own advice more. The stuff I always tell my kids about trying something regardless of how I might feel about it. Had I simply given into my urge to quit before I started, I would have justified it based on my years of negative experience, and not enjoyed the opportunity to learn so much about both running and how my perceptions of it can have changed so much for the better.

It really is true that you need to keep an open mind, even when you believe you have all of the answers already. Once again I return to my saying that you need to change how you see yourself in order to change the way you see the world. I’ve realised today that I really do need to open myself up to letting go of the things that I think I have learned about myself over the years in order to really discover the person I truly am capable of becoming, and that I would lose something profound if I don’t give myself every opportunity to continue on that journey of self discovery.


Working out using the Tabata Method

13 Feb

I have always been a believer in the benefits of Interval Training having found in the past that it proved to be a better way for me personally to improve my fitness over the shortest possible time. In recent years I modified that belief to embrace to concept of High Intensity Interval Training, and in the last few months I’ve become quite interested in the Tabata Method of HIIT in particular.

The Tabata method is named after Professor Izumi Tabata who along with his colleagues released a study in 1996 that involved olympic speed skaters who trained intensively for 4 minutes, 4 times per week, with an extra day of the more traditional “steady state” training. Tabata called this the IE1 protocol, and his research found that the the athletes who trained in this way were training so efficiently that they were getting the same results as compared to the control group who were doing all of their training in the more traditional manner.

So what’s the catch? Surely you can’t get a good workout in only 4 minutes? Well, it turns out that you can, but you have to really increase the intensity of your workout. So much so that instead of working to the 90% of VO2 Max that is expected during a hard workout, the Tabata method calls for 8 x 20 second intervals at 170% of VO2 Max. So you basically push as hard and as fast as you possibly can for the entire 20 second period… basically to the point where most people would be breathing so hard that they would want to vomit, and then you do it again 7 more times with an ever so generous 10 second “rest” in between sets!!!

That’s a seriously intense workout, no matter what exercises you choose to do. I have a few problems with the Tabata method however:

  • The study was done using olympic athletes, and not everyone can claim to be anywhere near as physically capable as a well trained athlete in peak condition.
  • It’s impossible to know if you are working at an intensity that is anywhere near the 170% mark of your own personal VO2 Max.
  • Not all exercises are created equal, and some movements and exercises can be dangerous if rushed.
  • Strain injuries are likely if the participant is not sufficiently warmed-up prior to a Tabata session.
  • The intensity required has the potential to induce respiratory and cardiac difficulties in people who are susceptible to such conditions.

Even with the problems, I think that the Tabata method is a complimentary training method when used as a part of a wider training regimen. It is great for anaerobic training which gives your fast-twitch muscle fibres a targeted workout, and which are the muscles involved in explosive speed and strength that consume large amounts of oxygen in a very short space of time. Another benefit of Tabata training is that it can increase your VO2 max, providing you with a greater capacity for oxygen uptake, allowing you to use your aerobic metabolism for longer.

Tabata is no replacement for aerobic exercise however, as the slow-twitch muscles are the ones which are made for slow and/or repetitive activity over a sustained period of time, so you will still need some form of aerobic exercise in order to build the stamina needed for activities which require endurance over strength.

Today’s Workout

For today, I decided to stick with the Tabata workouts. I chose 8 exercises which I could do safely either very quickly, or which I could do slowly yet loaded such that it would require greater effort even though I would end up doing only a few reps in the time available. I’ve also added a hip-flexor stretch and a thoracic mobility exercise to my warm-up routine to increase the overall safety of the workouts that I do. Oh yeah, and because I’m getting addicted to working out, I did this lot twice!!


  • TVA Vacuum
  • Yoga Diaphragmatic Breathing
  • Joint Circles
  • Hip-Flexor Stretch
  • Thoracic Mobility Exercise
  • 100 Star Jumps

Tabata Sequence:

  1. Mountain Climbers
  2. Plank to Push-up
  3. Skater Jumps
  4. Push-up Jacks
  5. Tricep Dips
  6. Bicycle Crunch
  7. Hammer Curls (10kg Dumbells)
  8. Plank


I did the first 6 exercises as hard and as fast as I could push myself, and by the end of the Bicycle Crunches I was feeling ready to quit. I pushed on however, but executed the Hammer Curls using a standard 1 second up and 4 seconds down pattern, because I’d rather lift weights with perfect form than rush it and injure myself. I chose 10kg weights because with the extra weight training I’ve been sneaking in lately, I felt yesterday that 7kg dumbells were starting to feel lighter than I imagined they would. So today I ended up lifting dumbell weights at a record weight for me. The plank seemed kind of a lame finisher when I wrote it down, but by the end of each sequence, I was glad to have that little breather. It wasn’t all easy though, because at least 5 of the exercises I did heavily engaged my core, and the lifts and dips didn’t let my core relax much either, so at the end of the plank my belly was starting to beg for mercy, especially at the end of the second sequence.

Working to the higher intensity was tougher than I imagined, and a couple of hours later and I was still sucking down water like a whale. It’s been about 4 hours now, and I have a lovely comfortable ache in all of my muscles which tells me that I had a pretty good workout, so I’m really pleased with how the workout was balanced, and how well I committed myself to it.

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