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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.

48 days as a Caveman & my latest workouts

10 Feb

Eating Paleo/SANE

I keep thinking to myself that I really should take photo’s of my meals and post the recipe’s, yet the problem is that by the time I think of all of that I’m already eating and I almost never work to a recipe because I’m hopeless at organising my pantry enough so that I’ve always got the exact ingredients for any particular dish. So I cook entirely based on what we have on hand, and how fresh it is. I’ve also started to cook a little extra of certain foods to be used at later times. For example, I might cook up some extra sweet potato mash to make pancakes out of, or roast some extra vegetables so that I can throw them together with some leftover meat to make a hearty and nourishing soup.

The food has been amazing and I guess you’ll just have to take my word for that. I’ve been making my own fruit & nut bars, dabbling with making chocolate and mug cakes, but more importantly I’ve been eating lots and lots of food without feeling bloated, without being left unsatisfied, without a great urge to snack between meals, and without falling for the temptations that pop up from time to time. Even better, all the measurements and math I have done has shown me that I am burning off the excess fat and building muscle, all naturally and as my body demands in response to both diet and exercise.

Shopping has become much easier, and yes, I can now trust myself to shop when I am hungry. If it has a label and I don’t recognise any of the ingredients, or if the ingredients are on my Paleo “banned substances” list, I just don’t buy it. I am making sure that we have a few standard “staple” foods, such as broccoli and sweet potato and lots of other vegetables as they arrive either in season or as it takes our fancy. We always have meats and sea foods, loads of fruits, nuts, seeds and dates, and of course spices and other natural “flavour enhancers”. I’m really enjoying the flavours of each of the foods that we eat, and I haven’t missed bread at all.

Well, OK, the only concession I will make is that I do miss ordinary flour, but only because it makes things like cakes and pancakes so much easier to make. My wife is Russian, and whenever we used to make pancakes they have always been very large and very thin, and often used as a wrap for other food such as fish and potatoes. I have been struggling to come up with anything that would allow me to make Paleo pancakes in a more Russian style because all of the ingredients I have used so far have not bound together very well, forcing me to make them very small so that I can flip them without breaking them. This morning I made sweet potato pancakes which turned out to be very tasty and satisfying, but sadly small and not very useful for using as a wrap. Oh well, I’ll just keep trying until I can find something that works. Oh… and the only other concession is that I do miss indulging in the occasional pizza… but I haven’t been tempted at all! Really!!

Working out

I recently posted that I had made a rough workout plan for myself, and that my workouts had been a little disorganised up until now. Since I am working out using High Intensity Interval Training, I’ve decided that before each workout, I will choose 8 different exercises, mixing in both compound and isolating movements, and working to maximum intensity over a 20-minute period. I’m doing this by basically creating a kind of Tabata set and repeating it 5 times, starting with a slightly lower intensity for the first set just in case I haven’t warmed up enough, and increasing the intensity as I complete each set. Yesterday I focussed entirely on my core, and today I did a full body workout that left me in a heavy sweat after only a couple of minutes.

I begin and end every workout exactly the same using the same warm-up and cool down routines every single time.  This doesn’t tax my imagination too greatly, but also keeps things simple and familiar, and in a way it’s almost meditative so that I can be prepared mentally as well as physically.

  • The Warm Up
    • Deep Breathing for about 2 minutes
      • In through nose and raising arms to expand the chest and breathing in to both chest and belly for 6-10 seconds
      • Out through mouth , lowering arms, expelling all the air and sucking belly button into my spine over 10-15 seconds-
    • TVA Vacuum, twice
    • While breathing slowly and deeply, I do circles with all of my joints, bot clockwise and anti-clockwise, starting with my ankles and working up through all of the joints to end with my head and hands. I try to move as many joints in circles as I can at the same time to save time, and I get myself all nice and loosened up for;
    • 100 x Jumping Jacks
  • The cool down
    • Medium to Deep stretch of each muscle and joint group that I can easily target by myself.
    • If I have help nearby, I do an assisted deep Psoas stretch.
    • Laying down and resting for 1 minute reflecting on the workout that I have just completed. I think that this is important to review how the workout went and to see how I might improve it or do things differently another time.

Workout Schedule – Day 9

Instead of a HIIT set, I decided to try a slight variation of the Wednesday/weekend workout from Jay Cardeiello’s book Cardio Core 4×4.

1 Side Plank + Oblique Twist 20 reps x both sides
2 Side Plank + Hip Flexor Stretch 30 seconds x both sides
3 Plank with high knee side swing 20 reps x both legs
4 Tree Pose in the Push-up position 30 seconds x both legs
5 Circling knees in the Push-up position 15 reps x both directionsx both legs
6 1 legged push-up position, swinging raised knee underneath into an oblique twist 20 reps x both legs
7 Lie with back flat, legs fully extended vertically 30 seconds
8 Hug Knees to chest 30 seconds

As workouts go, it’s wasn’t particularly strenuous. It would not be good for someone with a shoulder injury and certainly put my own weakened shoulders into an area of discomfort, particularly when doing side planks.

On reflection,

  • Exercise 1 of the set. I have always enjoy doing the side stands with an oblique twist as this requires concentration and an effort to both complete the movement and to maintain a perfect plank. This is an exercise I have often incorporated into many of my HIIT sets.
  • Exercise 6 of the set is one that I will be varying and including in future HIIT workouts. Jay calls this exercise a pendulum in his book. I like that it is a compound movement, but I think I’ll spice it up a little, so that it becomes a Push-up + Alternating Oblique Twist. An Upper body and Core all-in-one compound movement!

Workout Schedule – Day 10

Since the core workout felt like a bit of a let down, I made this workout a little more core intensive than I might otherwise have done. I did this as a HIIT/Tabata-styled workout, with 5 sets for a total of 20-minutes.

1 Right Side Plank
2 5Kg Dumbell Hammer Curls
3 Burpees
4 6Kg Tricep Press (aka Skull Crusher)
5 Squats
6 Bicycle Crunch
7 Lat Pulldown
8 Left Side Plank

This has kind of been my go-to workout for those times when I couldn’t be bothered thinking of something new or different to do. I’ll be sure to vary my next full body workout so that I get a better variety of movements and exercises into my workout “diet”.

I’d thought about adding the oblique twist to the planks, however once I’d been through the second set I was grateful for the breather. The hammer curls were done slowly (1-second curl up (palm in), 4-second curl down (palm out), because I prefer form over speed – especially when lifting weight. On reflection, I would have got more out of the curls if I increase the dumbell weights by 0.5-1.0Kg (given I’m getting stronger every time I work out). I should have also used a heavier weight for the Tricep Press, although I found that by the last set I had slowed down because I was starting to really feel the weight on the bar.

Extra workout – Day 10

Worked some more on my “guns” (pew-pew!!).

Given I felt that I hadn’t worked my arms as hard as I had hoped, I added an extra kilo to my dumbells and did 3 sets of hammer curls to failure. I also added an extra 4 kg to the barbell and redid the tricep presses, just to really mess up my arms! 😛

Recovery

In 3 words… Water… Protein… Fibre. I ate a really nice piece of grass fed rump steak, a mixed salad, and drank down a bottle of water. I’m now going off to relax and at the same time I’ll be attempting to use “will power” to encourage my muscles to start soaking up all of that lovely protein I’ve eaten!

So I’m now suddenly back on track as far as my workouts are concerned, with a vengeance it seems and I’m sure I’ll be feeling today’s efforts in my arms and shoulders tomorrow. It will be a good ache though, earned with hard effort and by staying focussed on my goals. Tomorrow will be a nice and somewhat easier yoga session, with a few nice extension movements and a whole heap of balance poses thrown in. I expect that my yoga will be a little wobbly though, given I worked my core a little harder today. 🙂

My 28-Day Personal Workout Plan

8 Feb

I got this crazy idea into my head that I needed to get a little more organised in terms of my fitness, and in particular to get into a habit of working out. Now it must be some crazy idea that I have that I need to look the part of a personal trainer if I ever expect to be taken seriously by the people I end up training, and I figured that I’d need to put myself through some sort of process… the same sort of process that I would expect if a trainer came up to me and told me that I would need to do steps A, B, & C in order to achieve my physical fitness goals. So yes, I need to burn off the excess fat, and to be able to do the exercises I will expect of my intended future “victims”, but I also need to build a little muscle. Not your Mr. Universe type of muscle, but the real honest-hard-day’s-work kind of muscle that will show off nicely and yet unobtrusively whenever I am trying to convince a potential client why they should pick me out of the crowd of more experienced PT’s out there. Plus… I want the bonus points for making my wife smile smugly whenever I take off my shirt at the beach!  Yeah… I’m already starting to think with some serious “vanity”!  😛

So I made a rough plan which I have decided to follow. Actually, I’m already at day 8 of my plan… and I’m not sure I’m so good at following my own guidelines. Day one went off with a bang. It was a solid core workout that left me sweaty and feeling as if I had been punched repeatedly in the belly, so I guess that did something useful, right?! Days 2 and 3 on the other hand were kind of partly written off exercise wise. I had my boys back with me for the first time in a month, so I didn’t really focus on workouts as I’d planned to. Day 4 was meant to be a rest day, but I ended up working out quite hard to make up for the lost time the prior 2 days. Day 6 was scheduled for more core work, which I did, but day 7 was a very hot day and I kind of talked myself out of my planned High Intensity Interval Running as I sweated the heat out at home. As for today, it is a scheduled rest day, and only the second day of my workout plan that I’ve actually stuck to!

So this is not a great start in some ways, and not so bad in others.  I’ve needed to remind myself that this is a big routine change and that I should expect a few hiccoughs getting it all working for me. Not an excuse, just observing the reality.  I supposed I could have worked out today, but I decided that I’d already fallen of the horse, and rather than jumping back on and facing the wrong way, I chose to use today as my get back on the horse day, attempting to stick to the rest of my plan.

So the plan itself is just a rough guide. I know that my core is my weakest link, so I’ve made sure that I dedicate entire workouts to core specific training. To keep things a little mixed up, all of the other days are full body workout days, incorporating light core work as well as targeting muscle gaining exercise for arms and shoulders, and strengthening exercises throughout. The rest days are important for recovery, and my workouts are limited to 20-30 minutes each, with both HIIT and Endurance focussed sets.

So the plan looks something like this:

Day 1 Core
Day 2 Full Body
Day 3 Core
Day 4 Rest
Day 5 Full Body
Day 6 Core
Day 7 Running Intervals
Day 8 Rest
Day 9 Core
Day 10 Full Body
Day 11 Flexibility
Day 12 Rest
Day 13 Full Body
Day 14 Core
Day 15 Running Intervals
Day 16 Rest
Day 17 Core
Day 18 Full Body
Day 19 Flexibility
Day 20 Rest
Day 21 Core
Day 22 Cross Country Running
Day 23 Flexibility
Day 24 Rest
Day 25 60 second Press-up & Plank Tests + Core Workout
Day 26 20 meter Shuttle Run Test
Day 27 Rest
Day 28 Rest, Measure Resting Heart Rate, Weight, Waist, Hip, and Body Fat % (9 Point Calliper)
  • Core workouts are predominantly comprised compound movements targeting the inner core muscles, such as side planks with oblique twists, spider crawls etc. I also include agility and balance movements.
  • Full Body workouts are generally exercises focussing on strength with extra arm and shoulder isolating exercises, and compound strength movements using resistance bands or body weight exercises. Some agility and core  is thrown in for good measure.
  • Flexibility means a combination of movements I’ve learned through yoga and Feldenkrais ATM techniques.
  • The Shuttle Runs pretty much wipe me completely out, which is why I grant myself the extra rest day at the end of the sequence… as a “treat”! 😛

I’ve generally been making up my workouts as I go along, but this can make it a little harder to remember which movements I used in prior workouts, and I like to keep my body guessing by trying to avoid repeating exercises at the next workout. I figure that this is not too bad given I always include compound movements so that I use more muscle groups, so hopefully nothing gets missed from session to session. I think I’d prefer however to have a set sequence to follow from month to month, with contingencies just in case I face injuries or find myself at risk of over-training. Yeah… I know that’s probably unlikely at this stage, but I do like to plan carefully ahead, just in case. Well, whatever I come up with, I’ll post it all up here when I’ve got a better idea about what I’m doing, and about how to both pace myself and balance the workload over the entire 28 day period so that I reduce the risk of strain or injury.

Even though I’ve had a rocky start to my exercise regimen, the good news is that I remain fully committed to making this work, and I am definitely working out more now than I ever have. Things can only continue to improve as I continue to learn more about how to work my body effectively to get the most out of my workouts both to strengthen myself and to burn off the excess fat, and in the meantime, every fall from the horse simply means I need to get back up again and keep at it until I get it right.

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