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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rider Fitness - for real this time!

There should be a special term that is used for that moment, 30 minutes into lecture, when you realize that you cannot possibly make it through the last 20 minutes without a hot cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant.

I'm not sure what to call that moment, but I know what to do after returning to lecture with said cup of coffee and croissant - blog!

Most (OK - like ALL) of the tips about my rider fitness program come from that 20 minute fitness book. (amazon link:

And like I *might* have mentioned before, I'm quite fond of bulleted lists, especially when my brain is preoccupied with the physics and calculations associated with respiration (so full of cardiorespiratory physics in fact, that I"m not sure where this post is coming from. Probably that primal reptile part of my brain, based purely on instinct, that somehow understands that for me to be sane, I must blog!).

However, in contrast to a simple ride story....this list will have far more than 10 bullet points. I think. Haven't quite thought it through all the way.

First, a quick summary of my work outs. I'll go through the details, probably over several posts, so this will be helpful if you get lost in the details.

-Run about 3-4 times a week, approximately everyother day (alternating days are riding days)

-Typical run is a high intensity interval run that lasts about 30 minutes

-I do a 1 mile timed test about once a month

-I do about 1 long run a month - of about 10 miles or so

-If I miss a run in the morning, I swim in the afternoons

-runs (except long runs and 1 mile tests) are followed by strength training session

- pay careful attention to my body and do not work through soreness or any kind of pain

-I sacrifice workouts if I can't get 8 hours of sleep - for example, I don't get up early to run if I went to bed late at night and can't get up early enough to get in a run before leaving for school and get enough sleep. Sleep is a priority.

-I exercise for my health, I eat for my weight. I do not exercise to lose weight, or to "pay" for a treat. There are many many good reasons to exercise and very few of those reasons have anything to do with weight and everything to do with mental health, stress reduction, ageing gracefully, and staying sharp cognitively.

By following the guidelines above, I've lost over 10 pounds since June, feel better than I have in a couple of years, and have worked out more regularly and had more fun doing so than I have for a long time. Let's get to the specifics!

1. I don't exercise through soreness. If I'm sore, I take the day off from whatever activity. If I'm sore from riding, I do something else with my horse, like lunge work. If I'm sore from running, I don't run that day. I also don't "make up" for not running on my designated run day by running before my next scheduled run (usually run every other day). Same with strength training. What was especially enlightening about DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) research is how ineffective all our "cures" and "remedies" are for it. Taking NSAIDs prophylactically doesn't work. Ice baths don't work. Massage doesn't work. Exercising through it doesn't work. Therefore, I'm choosing to listen to my body, and if it's sore from a workout, it means it is still recovering. Therefore, I'm choosing not to work through the discomfort and perhaps get injuired while doing so, since soreness is my body repairing and getting stronger from the last work out!

***Note - my chosen cardio activity that I enjoy is running. Feel free to sub something else like biking, swimming, running, etc for the running mentioned here!

2. I keep my workout schedule flexible. There are a couple of reasons that might mean me missing a morning pre-breakfast run - not being able to get 8 hours of sleep and get up early enough to run before going to school, having class very early, bad weather. On those days, my "make up" is going to the school pool at 5pm and swimming laps. This happens about once a week that a swim gets substituted for a run. It's important for a routine to have built in flexibility for it to work long term. If for some reason I miss a run/swim day entirely, I don't make it up the next day --> I go see Farley as planned.

3. I run before breakfast. This has a couple of benefits - since running is paired with both getting up AND breakfast, it makes it very likely to happen, since both getting up and breakfast are guarennteed to happen. In addition, the book said that there is *some evidence that running after a fast (like what happens when you don't eat while sleeping for 8 hours or so) that it helps train your body to use stored fuel, rather than energy floating around in your blood stream from your last meal. I've had some problem with nausea with my runs, however for the most part I've gotten used to it, and it helps me learn techniques to keep going through nausea - breathing techniques etc. This will come in handy since the nausea in the mornings during hard runs is EXACTLY the kind of nausea I have at the end of 100's. If I can find out how to deal with during runs (and whether food is in my stomach is only a small part of the equation), I'll have a head start on dealing with it during my next 100. The other benefit of running first thing in the morning is mental. Exercise stabilizes my appetite and makes me actually eat better. If I exercise in the afternoon, I only get that benefit during the end of the day. I also tend to not eat as well in the morning, knowing that I'm running in the afternoon to "make up for it". If I am in a snacky mood in the late evening, I tend to choose more "healthy" snacks because I know it is the last thing I'm going to be able to eat before my fast (sleep).....and that's what is going to be fueling my run.

4. I run harder, less often. The book stated that I could run for 20 minutes daily (or some combination of days/times that would average to 20 minutes daily), OR I could do hard intervals 30min 3x/week for the same effect. Being the time starved vet student, I chose the hard intervals. I've never ever ever trained fast. The base of my running pyramid has ALWAYS been slow, steady runs. I've been able to compare the effects of training more time slower, versus intervals because I'm doing a routine/plan that I've done every other year or so since I was 17. First, get totally out of shape. Then, in July/August start training for a December marathon. Do a 10 mile race in September, a half marathon in October, a 20 mile race in November, in preperation for the December marathon. Immediately take an extended break from running after the marathon until I get so fat, out and shape, and guilt filled that I start running again. Repeat. This year I won't be doing the marathon (too much money, too close to finals, too much planning/logistics). Compared to previous years, here's what I've noticed about putting intervals as my base run instead of slow easy runs.

***Note: High intensity intervals = 1 min of running as hard as I can, followed by 75 seconds of jogging (in the beginning it was walking) recovery. Repeat 8-12 times (in the beginning I managed only 5 repeats...). Lasts approximately 30 minutes

a. I'm getting fitter faster. Without injury. Not even a twinge of anything, including my injuries that were caused by running and are chronic. I'm doing 1 mile tests in times faster than I've seen since I was a teenager. However, I can easily go out and do a 10 mile long run without a problem too. I'm not sure whether the decrease in injury is because I'm mixing up the speed and therefore not subjecting joints/muscles to the same, continuous strain, or if its' the reduced time on my feet? I hadn't done a 10 mile run in a LONG time, and after only doing 3 interval works a week for a couple of weeks, I went out and did a 10 mile run with zero issues. Really impressive.

b. I haven't gotten sick. Invariably a week or two into starting a new running/work out program I get a cold or the flu. I have yet to get sick!!!

c. There's something very empowering about running hard, fast, flying above the ground. Speed workouts were always reserved for "advanced runners" or "racers". To be "allowed" to go fast and feel strong and sexy while pounding down the pavement, Tess in full race mode in front of me is the PERFECT way to start the day.

5. Sometimes I go out and time myself doing 1 mile. The 20 minute book talked a lot about the importance of the 1 mile test in predicting all sorts of health related things. I think the 1 mile test is a good touch point for me - no matter how much or how little I've been running, I try to do this at least once a month. I'm motivated to do this workout, because the days I do a 1 mile test, I only have to run for about 8 minutes, AND I don't have to do any additional work like weight training afterwards!

6. Sometimes I run long and slow. Usually on a Saturday or Sunday 1-2x a month I go out for a double digit run, or a run that lasts at least an hour.

7. I refuel. 1 cup of chocolate milk after every run, 200-300 calories of easily digestable energy for runs lasting longer than 1 hour. Remember me stating that exercise is not for weight loss? By replacing most of the calories burned during the run right after the run, I'm doing 2 things. First, your muscles are uniquely able to take up carbs and proteins in a window of time after the run. I'm taking advantage of that with the chocolate milk (which contains the ideal ratio of protein to carbs) and thus preparing my body for my next run, even as I finish my next run. Secondly by replacing most of the calories burned, I prevent my body from doing a reflex response that says "OH CRAP - we are really calorie deficient and must make up for it!!!!!!!!" and thus have a tendancy to over eat......This is why exercise is not an efficient way to lose weight. Your body is very tuned to make up for calorie deficits, especially those that come from exercise. Better for me to have a daily calorie goal that is set up for me to lose about 1 pound a week and then replace any additional calorie deficits that occur because of exercise so that I still make that daily calorie goal.

8. After a "typical run" (ie - not a 1 mile test or a long run), I do a strength training workout. If there was one weakness over the years with my work outs, it's the lack of strength training. The 20 minute book does a good job of explaining why it's important to include strength training (yes, pilates and yoga counts), and some suggestions for setting up a routine, including doing at least 10 reps of the chosen weight, importance of continually challenging your body, and doing exercises that utilize your body weight.

I've taken weight training classes and the traditional formulas and calculations were overwelming and complicated. The thought that high reps for endurance and low reps for building strength meant that I was always doing really high reps with realitively low weight. Now we know that women especially are not going to build bulk, even if are are doing relatively high weight and low reps. In fact, to increase performance we WANT that strength. Thank goodness. One thing I couldn't stand about weight training was the boredom and prolonged discomfort that came with doing 3x40 reps of whatever exercise was mandated by the teacher. In a nutshell, weight training increases the coordination and recruitment of muscle fibers that are "commandeered" for a specific purpose. At least 10 reps of whatever weight/exercise are being performed are suggested to experience this benefit. In a study cited in the book, two groups of cyclists were monitored, each with identical cycling routines, with one group adding a strength training workout after their cycling workout. The ones that included the strength training work out didn't have a decrease in performance/endurance/cardio etc., but WERE able to generate a lot more power, that therotically translated to better performance.

I can get behind that! Increased coordination and recruitment of muscle bundles? Minimum of 10 reps? Lift something heavy and not have to struggle through the boredom and high reps? Count me in! Since the most effective exercises mentioned were those that integrated body weight, I chose squats (activates most lower body muscles) and pushups (activates most arm/chest/upper body muscles) as the 2 exercises that I could stick with. Here's my guidelines for my strength work out:

Chose a weight or pushup position that I can do at least 10 reps at, but not more than 20.

Complete 3 sets of 10 reps each. On the third set, max out. The number that you max out on becomes your number of reps for the next work out.

Once you can do 3 sets of 20 reps, and max out on the last set above 20, then it's time to increase the weight or difficulty of the exercise.

Example: I do squats with a 30 pound weight and do 3 sets of 12 reps. On my last set, I'm able to do 15 reps! (12 reps, 12 reps, 15 reps). On my next work out, I repeat the 30 pound weight and do 3 sets of 15 reps, maxing out the last set at 20 reps (15, 15, 20). On the next work out my number of reps is now 20. If I can exceed 20 reps on the last set, I increase the weight I use and return to 10 reps per set and repeat the process.

Your body adapts very quickly to exercise and one of my top issues is not increasing the challenge to my body in an incremental and appropriate way. The system I use for the weight training makes sure that I'm continually challenging my body to get stronger.

9. Stretching. When I talk about my work out routine, this is the subject that meets the most resistance. Read the chapter in the book. It explains what stretching does and does not do, and what flexibility of the body really means. I've never been real good at stretching for exercise. However, I've always been flexible and passed the "flexibility tests" with ease. I'm glad I listened to my body all these years because the most current research is that being super flexible, or following the "traditional" stretching programs do not necessarily improve performance. Also, flexibility does not make you a better athlete, and actually may decrease performance in certain sports like running. Stretching and what's appropriate or not seems to has a "cult" like following that no amount of research or data can change. My feeling is that most people will read this chapter and either reject it based on it not matching up to what their belief of streching does, or like me, reinforce an opinion that they already had.

What I have done based on what I read in the book is incorporate "dynamic" stretching into my running routine. I run slowly for 5-10 minutes and then spend about 5 minutes skipping forward and backwards, doing "toy soldier" walking, and butt kicking sprints. I feel that this routine of stretching is useful and actually does my running some good, which is in contrast to other stretching routines I've done in the past.

10. Listen to your body. Suprise to suprise. You don't need fancy little gadgets and formulas to gauge your heart rate, effort, whether the weight your lifting is enough, or whether you need a rest day instead of your scheduled run. This is incredibly freeing --> you are the expert on your body, and if you listen to it, you will be able to accomplish 90% of what you need to accomplish for your fitness. Run your intervals with "percieved effort" instead of a heart rate monitor. Don't bother calculating your max lift weight and sets and reps based on it. Pick a weight that you can do at least 10 reps of, but not more than 20. Listen to your thirst and drink when you are thirsty. If you are sore, take a day off. If you are having a hard time getting up for your morning run, sleep in and get another hour of sleep (and then go to bed an hour earlier....). If your workout schedule can't accomodate this kind of flexibility, then I think that's sad :)


  1. Substitute running for running, huh? ;)

  2. Yeah yeah yeah. Yeesh - my readers are so picky..l. :)

  3. Squee! I'm so excited to read this book and get started ... and then likely bombard you with a few questions! This really sounds like something I can keep up with and do; that, and my motivation due to other life changes tells me now is the time to do the damn thing.

    Thanks for sharing about all this stuff. I reckon I ought to chronicle my progress via blogging, too, to help be more accountable for keeping up with it all - I've been so prone to copping out of things in the past! But not working through soreness, sleeping if its what I need, and then fixing the issue by going to bed sooner the next day...this sounds perfect.

  4. LOL - my sister says "squee" all the time. Love it.

    If you start a blog be sure to post something in the comments with the link so I can check it out!!!!!

    I've mentioned this before, but keep in mind that this is not a book that is going to give you your workout schedule or tell you exactly what to do. What it IS going to do is give you a summary of the research, even if it sometimes contridicts itself, give some broad recommendations based on the authors interpretation, and then leave the details up to you. What I've outlined here is how *I* interpret the research and have applied it. Likely, you will come to slightly different conclusions and may structure your program a bit differently. Whether or not you decide to start a blog, I would LOVE to see what "program" you develop for yourself after reading the book and what's different and what's the same as mine. Please email me and keep me posted!!!!!

  5. is my current blog that started as "oh crap I graduated college and I don't know what I'm doing but I like being outside" and has turned into "oh hey now I have these two cool horses and one is rockin' at endurance" and may develop into "oh hey, I have horses and i like to be outside and now I'm in shape!"

    Annnnnddd chances are good that I'll follow your routine as it sounds brilliant.

  6. This is super interesting - thank you for sharing. I'm gonna have to meditate on your statement "I exercise for health, I eat for my weight" since my approach has been the opposite.


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