Fitness Friday: Seven reasons why your training is failing, and how to fix it

A lot of folks started their year with the “new year, new me” vibe, and a good percentage of those people had their eye on fitness. Six weeks into the year, it’s a safe bet that a good chunk of them are already losing steam.

It happens every year. People get excited about transforming themselves. The join a gym. Hire a trainer. Change their eating. Try things like running, CrossFit or something else. And when the initial excitement wears off, they find themselves disappointed in what they’ve achieved.

For most people, there are plenty of reasons why they peter out. The good news is that almost all of them are fixable. Let’s go through it.

You get out of it what you put in… or not

Anyone can move some weights around or lazily move on an exercise machine for a few minutes. Workouts aren’t about checking a box or collecting a participation trophy. A half-hearted attempt at fitness only results in wasted time.

The solution: Challenge yourself. If something you were lifting becomes easy, add weight next time. A 3-mile run no longer taxes you? Pick up the pace. Intensity is rewarded by results. The term “progressive overload” is used to describe gradually adding difficulty in your exercises over time. If you don’t, your body will adapt to what you’re doing, and you’ll actually regress. Don’t let that happen. Put a little more weight on the bar next workout. Increase your speed on your run, on your elliptical session or on the Stairmaster. Added stimulus equals improved performance.

Your phone owns you

By this time, cellphones are ubiquitous. We don’t leave home without them. We don’t leave anywhere without them. We take pics, make videos, check social media and read notifications. They suck us in and exercise our thumbs in endless scrolling. Even at the gym. Between sets, you reply to just this one text. Then check your Twitter. Or Facebook. Again. And again. And again. The next thing you know, it’s been five minutes between your last set and the latest TikTok you just had to watch. And before you know it, it’s time to go. Oh well. There’s always tomorrow to get them gainz. First, lemme take a selfie…

The solution: Leave your phone in your locker. Or in your car. Or at home. With the exception of a few fitness apps, or maybe as a source of music, the phone serves no purpose during your workout, and if the distractions from, say, EVERYTHING ELSE on your phone add up, the benefit of the fitness apps/music is outweighed by what you lost in terms of time and productivity. Trust me. Whatever your phone is trying to tell you, it can wait an hour while you get your work done.

Speaking of time-sucks, you’ve got a bad case of the chit-chats

You meet some cool people at the gym. When you see them, you talk about training. And your kids. Or maybe last weekend’s hot Tinder date. Or the latest serial killer show that’s now streaming. And as the babbling rolls on, the time between sets grows. Productivity? Gone, like a fart in the wind.

The solution: It starts before you walk in the door. Make up your mind that you are there to train. There’s nothing wrong with a little chit-chat but keep it short and get to business. If a longer conversation is to be had, catch up with your buds afterward. If someone keeps talking to you, acknowledge them, but go on to your next set. And if you’re the person holding someone else up, apply a little self-awareness and let them do their work.

Your diet sucks

You’re working hard. Sticking to the plan. But dude, those cookies aren’t going to eat themselves. Or that pizza. And lemme have a couple more beers before I turn in for the night. But will someone please tell me why the scale isn’t moving, and why I don’t have a six-pack?

The solution: You can’t outwork a bad diet. Do you really want to change your body composition? Athletic performance? Overall health? Eat foods that are better for you. Eat what you need to stay fueled and build, but don’t let that be an excuse to order the richest item on the menu at Cheesecake Factory. And while I dig a beer every now and then, alcoholic drinks are empty calories. They don’t call it a beer gut for nuthin’. Be smart about what you put into your body.

You’re grinding down

Sleep? I’ll sleep when I’m dead! Coffee will keep me going. Or a Red Bull. And I’m doing a 90-day runstreak! And a 30-day challenge! And if this amount of working out is good, then more is better! CrossFit 6 days a week! Yeah baby! But… <CRASH>

The solution: This ain’t hard. Get your sleep. Take a weekly rest day. And remember that more isn’t necessarily better. Work hard but work smart. Understand that as you accumulate fatigue over time, your body will eventually grind down, you’ll get injured, you may get sick, and your gains will cease. Recovery is just as important as the training. Don’t be a bonehead. Learn when to let off the gas.

When it comes to training plans, you’re all “Squirrel!”

Yeah, your training plan is cool, but then you saw this guy’s article in Musclehead Mag. And then there was this super-hot Insta-gal and her take on some sort of squat challenge (I mean, she’s got 100,000 followers!). Mr. Olympia does this! Hafthor Bjornsson does that! I’ll try it all! And then you go… nowhere.

The solution: Identify your goal. Find a plan that will help you achieve that goal. And then, with monkish resolve, stick to the plan. What’s that? You didn’t hear me? STICK. TO. THE. PLAN. Bouncing around from one idea to the next is a ticket to mediocrity. See your plan through, ya knucklehead.

You can’t find motivation, and you need an inspiration fix

You’re scrolling through Instagram looking for your daily dose of fitspo. “Please, someone give me a meme! Or I’ll never make it to the gym!” And on and on it goes as you hunt for the next thing to jolt you into action. Every damn day. But just like a drug, the effects weaken over time until eventually you become one with the couch. Netflix binge, engage!

The solution: Inspiration and motivation are basically the sugar rushes of fitness. The occasional kick in the pants will get you going, but you can’t rely on either for the long term. Instead, you must build discipline. Discipline takes time. It’s boring. It requires (gasp!) compliance with your training plan. But if you commit to being disciplined in your training, guess what it builds? Strength. Endurance. Form. Muscle memory. Habits. Add those together, and what do you get? Results. Comply with your plan over the long haul and leave the fitspo memes behind. You’ll be better for it.

That should cover the bulk of it. Cut the crap, keep your eyes on the prize and achieve your goals. Let’s get to work.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: A 3-day strength training plan for those pressed for time

Lift hard/run hard? Sure, to an extent. And the truth is, some people don’t have the time to be Superman or Wonder Woman.

Funny thing about fitness: Not everyone’s goals are the same.

It runs the gamut: Weight loss, getting that beach body, improving strength, boosting endurance. Some folks are training for a competition of some sort, be it in physique sports or some sort of race.

In January, I wrote a couple of posts about strength training. In those posts, there was one prediction (if you do this, you will get stronger) and one assumption, and it was a biggie: that you will be able to commit to lifting six days a week for 45-60 minutes.

I think it’s a doable proposition. But for some people, it’s not. Whether you’re time-crunched or you have other fitness goals that make such a schedule impossible to keep, some folks can’t hit the iron that often. But that doesn’t mean you should chuck the idea of strength training entirely. You just must change things up and properly scale your expectations.

Every fall for the past eight years, I’ve trained for longer-distance goal races ranging from half marathon to full marathon length. As training plans for these races progressed, the mileage and time commitment grew. There was no way I could do a heavy deadlift day right before embarking on a 13-mile training run. Even shorter runs (in the 5- to 8-mile range) were incompatible with the rigors of an intensive weight training schedule. So I made a compromise: During race training, I jacked up the miles and eased back on the weights.

I still wanted to focus on the big lifts and compound movements, though. But during race training, running was first priority.

What I came up with was a plan to lift three times a week, using a total body format. So, that meant that each workout used the same movement patterns I described in the first week’s Friday Fitness post: Squat, press, pull and hip hinge. Furthermore, each day started with one of the bigger lifts being the emphasized exercise of that workout, with other lifts coming behind it in priority and difficulty. Here’s what that looked like:

Monday (squat emphasized)

Barbell back squat: Warmup, then sets of 10, 7 and 5, increasing weight

Incline dumbbell presses (3 sets of 8)

Lunges (3 sets of 8)

Pull-ups (3 sets of 6-12, depending on ability)

Wednesday (press emphasized)

Bench press: Warmup, then sets of 10, 7 and 5, increasing weight

Goblet squat (3 sets of 12)

Kettlebell swings (3 sets of 12)

Barbell rows (3 sets of 8)

Friday (hip hinge emphasized)

Deadlift (warmup, then sets of 8, 6 and 4, increasing weight)

Overhead press (3 sets of 8-10)

Chin-ups (3 sets of 8-12)

Leg press (3 sets of 12)

You’ll notice that each workout has some sort of pulling movement (pull-ups, chin-ups or rows), and that’s by design. And you can always adjust the exercises you do depending on your preferences or limitations (machine lat-pulls can sub in for pull-ups or chin-ups, for example). But the lift portion of your workout should be no more than 40 minutes long. That way you’ll have time to do your run, ride, swim or other endurance session without having to cut it short.

How did that look for me? The last three years, I’ve used this plan alongside half marathon training workouts. Days where I had longer runs, I didn’t lift. And I didn’t lift on planned rest days. My schedule looked something like this:

Half marathon training workout schedule

Sunday: Cross train (bike for 30-60 minutes)

Monday: Lift, 5-mile run

Tuesday: 8-mile run

Wednesday: Lift, speed workout run

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Lift, 5-mile run

Saturday: 12-mile run

Obviously, this will look different for each person. You may not want to run that much, or you need to run more. Tailor it to your own needs.

But if you’re an endurance athlete, you should do some form of strength training, and this is a good blueprint to get it in a way that dovetails nicely in your endurance training.

And what if you’re not an endurance athlete, you’re pressed for time, and three workouts a week is all you can get? The lifting schedule still holds. If you can give it 2 hours a week spread out over three days, you can work on your strength needs on this plan. Tack on 20 minutes of some sort of conditioning (check out the interval training ideas I had two weeks ago), and you’re spending 3 hours a week getting the strength and conditioning you need.

Last thing: While this sort of plan can be beneficial, you’ll want to manage your expectations. Three workouts a week is not going to get you looking like Mr. Universe or The World’s Fittest Woman. Your strength gains will be in proportion to the work you put in. And you’ll want to make sure your caloric intake matches the amount of work you’re doing (too little and you’ll break down; too much and you’ll gain fat). But if you can give yourself 3 hours a week spread out over three days; you’ll be far better off than skipping it altogether with the thought that you don’t have time to exercise.

Next week: We’ll look at the things that can undermine your fitness goals, and ways you can fix that.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: 5 things you need to do for proper recovery

When you’re working hard to get in shape, don’t overlook the need for recovery.

There comes a time in any sort of training where you’re dragging. Things start to hurt more. Soreness lingers longer than it should. And your energy levels aren’t there.

These are tell-tale signs that your recovery habits aren’t cutting it, and if you don’t do something fast your progress is going to grind to a halt. Even worse, you might get injured. And none of us have time for that.

With all the information I’ve given you in the previous four weeks, this might be the most important thing you’ll read to date. You must give yourself proper recovery. So, let’s look at the various ways you can do this.

You need proper sleep: Getting a good night’s rest is critical. I know this is a major issue for a lot of people, but it is something you must work on. The more you push yourself, the more time you need to snooze.

Sleep is when the body goes into overdrive to repair and strengthen your muscles. You can train hard and eat well, but it will all be hamstrung if you don’t sleep right. The winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon, Des Linden, said in one interview that she gets between 9-10 hours of sleep a day. Given the number of miles she runs and the intensity in which she trains, you can bet that she needs it. And in getting it, Linden continues to perform at an elite level. Same goes for any athlete. Try to get 8-9 hours a night.

You need proper nutrition: I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician, but what I can tell you is if you’re training hard, you need to give your body what it needs for recovery. Don’t short-change yourself on protein; try to eat about 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. And what I like to tell people, “eat your colors.” If your diet is primarily shades of brown and white, you need to change that. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and so forth all need to be in your diet. And don’t think you can eat junk if you’re popping multivitamin pills and drinking protein shakes. Get those 6-10 servings of fruits and veggies daily and lean toward healthy carbs like white rice. Good fuel equals good performance – and good recovery.

If you’re a runner and you’re training hard, you need a periodic “step-back” week: In any decent marathon or half-marathon training program, you’ll notice a couple of weeks on the schedule where your mileage goes down instead of up. That’s by design. Every month or so, dial back your miles by about 10 percent, and shorten your weekend long run. You’ll go into the next week fresher.

If you’re hitting the weights hard, you need a periodic deload week: This is a lot like the step-back week for running. Successful strength training includes progressive overload over time, but every so often you need to have a week where you dial back the reps, sets and weight. Yeah, go ahead and lift. But take the weight down in all your main lifts. Multiple hard weeks of training tend to tax your joints and fry your central nervous system (symptoms of this include low energy). How often you do a deload is somewhat subjective, but most people do it once every 6-8 weeks. I’m getting a little older, so I’ll train hard for four weeks, then do a deload on the fifth. Trust me, you’ll bounce back fresh and strong.

Take your rest day weekly: Once a week, take a day where you don’t train. At all. No weights, no running, no cross-training. Go for a mellow walk if you want. But don’t train. You need that day to recover. But what about all those 30-day challenges and run streaks, you say? Dump ‘em in the trash if you’re serious about your training. They’ll only get in your way.

Next week: Some people don’t have time to hit the weights six days a week. And some athletes, such as runners, can’t afford to lift that much and still get the miles they need. I’ve got a solution for that.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: More ways to use interval training for conditioning

Go to any commercial gym and there is a good chance you’ll have a lot of tools you can use for interval training conditioning.

I’m a fan of interval training. It’s a way to get a lot of work done in a compressed amount of time. And the method works: Performing intervals will build cardiovascular capacity and help burn excess body fat.

But going back to last week’s post, I knew that I’d need to follow it up with some ideas that do not involve running longer distances. Not everyone is a runner, either by choice or from physical limitations. What I want to do here is give you some ideas for interval training that do not involve “running” workouts.

As a refresher, let’s talk about different forms of cardio. The type you see when someone plows ahead on some machine for 30-60 minutes at the same speed is called steady state cardio. The same is true of someone out for a run or on their bike who travels at pretty much the same pace the entire way.

Intervals involve an activity where you switch speeds from a slower, easy pace to progressively higher speeds, then drop back down to the original slower pace. Another version of this involves working at a high, intense speed (think sprint), then slowing way down to a recovery pace and doing that for multiple rounds. This is sometimes referred to as high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The up-and-down nature of intervals tends to have greater fat-burning qualities than steady state. And you can generally get that benefit in a shorter amount of time with intervals than you can with steady state workouts. The latter has its place, but for most of us, interval training has more value.

So let’s get to it. I’ll break it down into inside and outside forms of interval training you can do.

INSIDE

If you have access to a gym, there is a good chance it has a variety of machines like treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, stair climbers and rowing machines. Although I’d much rather get my work done outside, there is a benefit to having these tools at your disposal.

One of my favorite machines is the stairmill. One of my friends calls it the “stairway to hell,” and I know why. It’s not pleasant. But it can give you a great workout. And it is very interval-friendly. I’ll start out at an easy speed, and then every minute, go up one level for four minutes, then drop it back down to the speed where I started. Five founds of this and I can climb 1,000 feet in 20 minutes and burn a few hundred calories:

Minute 1: Speed level 8

Minute 2: 9

Minute 3: 10

Minute 4: 11

And than back down to 8 to start the next round.

Ellipticals have the same feature: a speed level, or in some cases, speed is measured in RPMs. In that case, the intervals would look like this:

Minute 1: 55 RPMs

Minute 2: 65 RPMs

Minute 3: 75 RPMs

Minute 4: 85-95 RPMs

And then back down to 55 to start the next round.

A similar path could be forged on an exercise bike using miles per hour as your guide. And so on. Do five rounds of this, and make sure that hardest interval (minute 4) is one in which you are really working hard. You need to be gassed when you take it back down to the slow interval on the next round.

You may have a couple of machines that are more conducive to sprint intervals. Two that I can think of are the spin bike and the rowing machine.

In this case, the goal is to work as hard as you can for a minute, then take a two-minute break before doing the next sprint. Do this for 6-10 rounds. It’s important to remember that your sprint pace is going to feel rough. You’ll need those rest breaks. And when you’re done, you’ll be trashed.

If you’re lucky enough to have a place where you can push a prowler sled, you can do sprints with those, too. Load the sled with a weight you could push at a walk pace fairly easily. Get behind it and sprint behind it as hard as you can. Do 6-10 rounds with a 1-2 minute break between sprints.

As with any form of cardio, I recommend doing your conditioning after you lift and not before.

This grassy pitch is small, but if you run up and down it enough you will get one tough workout.

OUTSIDE

If the idea of indoor exercise is a no-go for you, then you still have options. Probably not as many, and you may need to go back to running a bit. But the distances will be short, so it won’t be anything like longer steady state runs or cross-country style workouts.

Hills on the bike: Find a hill that has a moderately steep grade and is long enough that you can get a 30-60 second ride uphill. Ride as hard as you can up the hill, coast back downhill to recover. Repeat for 10 rounds.

Hills on foot: Find a moderately steep hill that is at least 50-100 yards to the top. From the bottom, run hard uphill, turn around, jog slowly back downhill. Repeat this for 10 rounds.

Wind sprints on foot: Depending on your fitness level, find a stretch of level ground anywhere from 50-100 yards. From a full stop, explode at full speed for the distance you choose. Walk back to the start line, and give yourself a 1-2 minute break between sprints. Do this for 6-10 rounds. Word of caution: I wouldn’t do wind sprints if you are just starting out in your exercise journey. The potential for injury is higher for an untrained person, and if that’s you, build up to sprints by doing other forms of conditioning first.

What I hope you get out of this is your toolbox for conditioning is fairly extensive, especially if you have access to the tools or the places that have the tools to get you there. Not every conditioning workout has to involve running for miles and miles. And if you use intervals and work hard, you’ll see results.

Coming up next week: We’ll take a look at one of the most important (and undervalued) part of training: Recovery.

See you then.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: Running intervals to build speed, torch fat

Good-ole running is a solid way to work on your conditioning goals.

The last couple of Fitness Fridays have been heavy on the weight training side of things, so I wanted to go in a different direction this week. Let’s talk conditioning, and then go over a couple of run-based plans that will definitely up your fitness game.

Fitness is basically two things: strength and conditioning. Strength is the ability to produce force. Conditioning is the ability to produce work capacity. If that sounds nebulous, let’s get down to brass tacks. A strong person can lift and move heavy things. A conditioned person can carry out rigorous physical activity for prolonged periods of time. A good athlete is a person who exhibits high performance in both areas.

And this even includes people in very specialized areas. Strongman champion Eddie Hall, who set a world record deadlift at 1,100 pounds, used swimming to make him better in competitions. Elite marathoner Jordan Hasay can deadlift twice her body weight. The two are nothing alike as athletes, but respective to their fields they are both strong and well-conditioned.

And they set a good example for you. It doesn’t matter if you want to be strong as a bull or able to run long distances at a good clip. If you have a good balance between strength and conditioning, you will be better at what you choose to do, and healthier overall. I went through some basics of strength last week. Now it’s time to talk conditioning.

Let me say at the outset that running is both the default exercise of choice for conditioning (or “cardio,” as you’ve probably come to know it) and a much-maligned activity in some fitness circles. It’s the default because it’s a natural human movement. You ran around as a kid. You ran laps in PE class or for whatever sports program you were in. Aside from running form techniques, running is about as intuitive as it gets.

It’s maligned because some folks see it as a way to get hurt (I think that’s overblown) or believe that other forms of conditioning are superior. Run too much, they say, and it will inhibit strength gains. There are grains of truth to all of this, but generally speaking, a good running program with moderate distances and different types of workouts offers a lot of bang for the buck, and without nearly as much downside as detractors would have you believe. Yes, it will be hard to build strength if you’re running 30, 40, or 60 miles a week. But we’re not going there, at least not in this post.

One last note before I get into the meat of it. The workout ideas I’m going to throw out there in this post will be for people who are already doing some running. If you’re a beginner, you’ll need to start slower and much more modestly and build up your running base before trying what I’m going to present here. A solid Couch to 5K program is going to be right up your alley. Tackle that and you’ll be ready to go to the next level.

Now for the rest of us. You can get fit running 15 to 20 miles a week. But your body will eventually adapt, and when it does, you’ll find your fitness levels stagnate or even regress. Adaptation is a bummer. So that’s why we must challenge ourselves by making things hard.

And that’s where intervals come in. What are intervals? For running, intervals are when you run at a challenging pace for a specific distance or time, then slow down to an easy recovery pace for a short time. Once that recovery period is over, you ramp up the intensity again.

A basic interval run might look like a “race pace” 400-meter interval, followed by a 200-meter slow jog or walk, and repeating this process for about eight rounds. That will give you about three miles of movement. A “race pace” speed should be a hard effort, akin to running but not being able to hold conversation during the effort. Your rewards: torching excess body fat, improving your cardiovascular capacity and gaining experience running at challenging paces that might have made you pause. Try it and see what you think.

400-meter warmup

400-meter race pace 200-meter recovery walk or slow jog, x8

400-meter cooldown (light jog)

As you get accustomed to this, try kicking up the speed on the race pace intervals.

Here’s a place where you can work on some speed.

Too easy? Let’s kick it up a notch. But I’ll just warn you right now:  It’s hard. It’s called a ladder, and it’s a whole lot of no-fun work with big rewards.

How it works: After a moderate warmup, you’ll run a certain distance at a challenging pace, or maybe a desired race pace. Then you’ll slow down to a light jog for 400 meters. When that recovery interval is over, you do a longer race-pace run, then slow down to the light jog. And the next interval has you go at an even longer race pace interval. When you reach a peak distance on the “fast” intervals, you’ll then shrink their distance until you reach the “fast” interval distance that you started with.

If you’ve never done this before, start with a “baby ladder.” It looks like this:

400-meter warmup

400-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

400-meter race pace

400-meter cool-down

The first time I did this, it trashed me. And this isn’t even the full monty!

Here’s the full ladder:

400-meter warmup

400-meter, race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1600-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

400-meter race pace

400-meter cool-down

That’s a lot of work, a lot of intensity, and a decent amount of mileage, to boot. It’s important to remember that during this workout, you never stop for a water break, never stop to walk. You’re always running. As you adapt, increase the speed on your race pace intervals.

The best places to do this is either on a track (one lap is 400-meters, so it’s easy to keep track of distances) or on a treadmill (distances are going to be on the control panel). It will be a little harder to track your speed on the track, though most sports watches can help. On a treadmill, you can set precise speeds.

Do this speed workout once a week, mixed in with your regular runs or other conditioning routines.

Your weekly run schedule might look something like this:

Monday: 3-mile-run

Tuesday: 5-mile run

Wednesday: Speed work (ladders or other form of speed interval)

Thursday: Rest

Friday: 3-mile run

Saturday: Long run

Sunday: 30-minute cross train (bike, swim or some other form of conditioning)

Next week: I’ll get into some other ideas for conditioning, and not all of them will involve running.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: Basic strength, work capacity, and a blueprint for continued strength gains in the squat, deadlift and bench press

Getting stronger in the big lifts has huge benefits. And it can improve over time if you do it the right way.

I’ve done some research over the years to find things that work in terms of strength training. Two methods come to mind: the 5-by-5 rep scheme, and the importance of volume training. The former is something promoted by the well-regarded author of the book “Starting Strength,” Mark Rippetoe, and the latter is something I picked up from listening to Westside Barbell founder Louie Simmons.

Let’s look at that 5-by-5 first. What it has you do: Using the “big lifts” – bench press, squat and deadlift — you’re going to start by selecting a weight you can comfortably do for five reps. Do the set, then add some weight for the next set, and do five more. You keep doing this until you’ve completed five sets of five, and that last set should be a struggle – one where you’re probably not going to get all five reps. Once you get to the point where you can complete all 25 reps, it’s time to move up the weight in all the work sets. Repeat this cycle for 12 weeks, and you’ll pack on some strength on those lifts.

Now for a curveball: When you’re working with rep ranges like five or less, your body will tend to grind down. You’ll keep progressing, but it will slow and eventually stall. That’s my experience, anyway.

Enter Louie Simmons.

If you don’t know who Simmons is, here’s the short of it: He founded the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio, and using what he learned from American and Eastern Bloc strength coaches, he came up with a system that helped his gym produce more world-record powerlifters than just about anybody. Simmons knows his stuff.

One of the things he said he discovered is that when his athletes would get to the end of a training cycle, they’d grind down and, to paraphrase his words, walk into a meet with a lack of conditioning.

What he meant by that is they’d be stronger at the end of the cycle, but not as strong as they should or could be. As their lifts got heavier, their total reps per workout got fewer. Sometimes, they’d miss their lifts at the meet – a fate no competitor wants. So, he split his lifters’ workouts: One day would be heavier weight/lower reps, and the following workout with the same lift would include lower weight, but a lot more reps.

And that’s how the legend of Westside Barbell was born.

So how would that look for you? Let’s set up some squat workouts combining these two methods. Say your leg day workouts are Mondays and Thursdays. I’m sure you’ll have other leg exercises besides squats, but I’ll let you figure out what those are (I provided some examples in last week’s post). You’ll be doing them after you squat anyway. All weights I’ve listed below are used only as an example. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you/challenges you and go from there, but remember, that last set of five should be at a level where you won’t get all five, and when you do, it’s time to move up in weight on all of your work sets.

Monday squats (5-by-5)

Warm up:  Empty bar, 10 reps; 135, eight reps.

Work sets (5 reps each) 185, 205, 225, 245, 265

Then do the rest of your accessory leg work.

Your Thursday routine will look at lot different. Lighter weights, more reps. It’s volume all the way, baby. How I’ve been doing this for leg day is a deal I call “death by squats.” In this routine, you’re going to pick a weight that is light for you. You’re going to do 10 sets of 10 reps, and you’re going to rest precisely one minute between each set. Use a timer to keep yourself honest. Again, the work set weight is just an example. You’ll need to figure out what’s “light” but doable for you.

Thursday squats (Death by Squats)

Warm up: 10 reps, empty bar.

Work sets: 10×10, 135 pounds, 1-minute rest between sets.

Now catch your breath, get a drink of water, go find your spleen, and continue with your leg day accessory lifts.

Why does this combo work? For starters, you’re getting good volume on both days. You’re getting 25 reps of work set weight on Mondays, and a whopping 100 reps on your high-volume day. That’s a lot of squats! But importantly, you’re getting a good combination of reps with heavier weights AND a bunch of volume with the lighter weights. The variation will boost strength AND work capacity (a term Crossfitters know, and a trait all of us should emulate, even if you have an aversion to Crossfit).

You can do similar plans on your bench day (I call it a “press” day) and on your deadlift day (my “pull” day). I’m not sure I’d do “death by bench” or “death by deadlifts,” but you can find a way to use lighter weights with high rep ranges to give you a similar effect. On my volume bench day, I’ll do a couple of warm-up sets, and then do four sets of 15, adding 10 pounds to the bar with each set. On my deadlift day, my volume workout has been doing 3-4 sets of Romanian deadlifts at 12 reps a pop. And if Death by Squats sounds a little too extreme, feel free to use a different combination of sets with lighter weights and higher reps. In the squat, I’d advise something like four sets of 15-20 reps with lighter weights on your high volume day. In any  case, I’m using much lighter weights than what I use in my work sets during my 5-by-5 days.

Bottom line: Get some good volume with heavier, challenging weights. And then in your next workout, dial back the weight and jack up your volume.  And let the gains begin.

Next week: We’ll get into the weeds of running, and a form of speed training that will blast you into shape.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: A basic workout plan to kickstart your fitness goals

It’s the new year, so let’s stop screwing around with our fitness and have some fun, shall we?

Something I wanted to do at the start of the new year was a series of posts about fitness. January 1 seems to bring about a desire for change in that area of life for a lot of people, so I figured it would be worth spending some time on.

This week, I want to talk weight training. Strength is always useful, and maintaining strength is a major component to living a longer, healthier life. If you follow me on Twitter or have read some of this site’s older posts, you know what a big proponent I am of strength training. That’s what I want to go into here.

Too many people go into the gym with no real plan. Or maybe they’re rehashing something their high school coach did. Or mimicking something they read in a fitness mag. My idea: Forget all that, keep it simple, and put together some workouts that will help you do something useful, like building strength and conditioning.

I’m a big fan of what are often called “splits,” or workouts that focus on a particular area. Now I’m not talking about “arm day” or “shoulder day” or any of that. Instead, I like my splits to follow three basic movement patterns: The squat, the press, and the pull.

So, what the heck are these? Quick explainer…

SQUAT: This you know. From a standing position, break at your hips and knees, descend to at least to the point where the tops of your thighs are parallel to the ground, and stand back up. So, this could be a squat with a bar on your back, or a front squat, a goblet squat, or even bodyweight squats.

PRESS: This is an upper body movement where you are pushing against the resistance of a weight. Think bench press, military press, seated dumbbell presses, and standing barbell or dumbbell presses.

PULL: This is broader. But it’s basically what happens when your body’s musculature is contracting to pull a weight. The pull family can be divided into two parts: the hip hinge and the upper body pull. The hip hinge includes all deadlift variations and things like hip thrusters and kettlebell swings. The upper body pull includes pull-ups/chin-ups, barbell and dumbbell rows, cable rows (standing or seated), face pulls and lat pulls.

You might be asking, “Where are things like curls, flies, and tricep presses?” They’re going to be tacked on as accessories. But the truth is, if you major in the three main movements, you’ll get strong arms, shoulders, and so forth. We’ll get to accessory lifts in a bit. The reason I like movement splits better than body part splits is that if you focus on movement patterns, you’ll be doing compound movement exercises. That means instead of focusing on a couple isolated muscles, you’re working a whole bunch of muscles all at once. More bang for the buck, more calorie burn, and better response in terms of gaining muscle and getting stronger.

So, when you’re planning a workout, I’d advise programming two squat, two press and two pull workouts a week. So yeah, you’re going to be working out six days a week. Make your lifting sessions last about an hour or less. At the end, take care of your conditioning, like running, bike work, stair climbing, swimming and so forth. If you can keep your conditioning to 20-30 minutes (and make sure those are INTENSE minutes, not just playing around on an exercise machine), you can be done with the whole workout in 90 minutes or less.

About those accessory lifts: Too many people major in the minors and spend way too much time in isolating exercises. You know the types, the dudes who will spend 30 minutes doing curls or whatever. Piece of advice: Fewer curls, more pull-ups. Trust me. But accessory lifts can be a good way to round out a weight training session.

A basic weekly workout might look like this, with some of the exercises listed here added to the foundational lifts (italicized):

MONDAY: Squat (Squats, lunges, leg extensions, leg presses, hamstring curls, calf presses).

TUESDAY: Press (Bench press, overhead press, tricep extensions, dumbbell lateral delt raises, push-ups, dips)

WEDNESDAY: Pull (Deadlift, pull-ups, barbell rows, loaded carries, bicep curls)

THURSDAY: Squat

FRIDAY: Press

SATURDAY: Pull

SUNDAY: Rest.

Play around with this but be sure each day is anchored by a squat, a press, and a deadlift of some form. I’d also say that some form of a pull-up needs to be included, and if you can’t do a pull-up, there are variations and substitutionary exercises that can help you get there (future post topic!). These compound exercises build strength and are bricks in the foundation of any fit person. Tack on the other lifts, plus some quality conditioning, and you’ll be well on your way toward reaching your fitness goals.

In terms of weight used and reps performed, that’s all dependent on where you’re at physically, and what your goals are. Lower reps with heavier weights build strength. Lighter weights with higher reps tend to build size. But those are generalities; sometimes strength athletes will use both methods to reach their performance goals. We’ll get to that in due time.

Next week: We’ll examine some more detailed ways to make the most of the exercises that are at the heart of the squat, press and pull movement patterns.

Bob Doucette

The trails were busy on Christmas, and that’s a good thing

I wasn’t alone on the trails on Christmas Day. This cyclist, a hiker in the background, and scores of others were there, too.

This has been a strange holiday season for me, mostly because I worked through both Christmas and New Year’s. It’s hard to get the holiday spirit when it’s just another workday.

But I did have time on Christmas Day to get on the trails. The weather was sunny and mild, and I had time to kill before my shift started. I figured most people would be at home with relatives, soaking in the holiday largesse, and maybe watching “Elf” or something.

I’d have the trails to myself!

Uh, wrong. I showed up to a mostly full overflow parking lot. People on mountain bikes, couples walking dogs, parents herding children… you get the idea. I’d be sharing the trails that day in a big way.

I dig the solitude of trail running. It’s a stark contrast to my city routes, where I’m dodging people, looking out for cars and otherwise surrounded by all the sights and sounds of a busy urban center. Don’t get me wrong, I like my city runs. But trail runs have their place, too. So, I might have been somewhat put off that my trail miles would have to be shared.

But as I thought about it, I changed my mind. As it turns out, the trail system I visited was working exactly as planned. And that’s a good thing.

When I moved to Tulsa in 2011, I’d heard a little about Turkey Mountain, but didn’t know much about it. I spent the next couple of years exploring its trails, and in terms of health, fitness, friendships and quality of life, I can say that the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness changed my life for the better. I’ve been advocating on its behalf for more than five years now.

Why it’s so important to my city has a lot to do with where Tulsa is, the health problems the community has, and the opportunity these trails provide. It’s a sorely needed venue for folks to get active. Oklahoma is smack in the middle of America’s Stroke Alley, so you understand the importance of things that help combat the increasingly sedentary nature of the society we live in.

When you think about it, the folks that set aside this land as a wild space decades ago were visionary. They saw the possibilities of what such a landscape could provide the city, other than being a tract for commercial or residential development. There is plenty of that to go around, but not much in the way of a true natural woodlands that people in the city could enjoy.

What’s encouraging is that many communities across the country are seeing the wisdom in setting aside land for human-powered recreation. I’ve seen it in the Denver metro area, and in a big state park south of Nashville. And so many more places. We need it, and folks are recognizing that fact – and acting on it.

So, what the heck. I didn’t get that solitary trail experience, but I got my run, nonetheless. And a bunch of people were out there with me, enjoying the woods, and getting some fresh air outside. I’ll call it a win.

Bob Doucette

2019 Route 66 Marathon half: Not a victory, not a defeat, just a race that… went

Not my fastest, not my slowest. Somewhere in between.

I’m a firm believer when it comes to accountability. When you write about running, and particularly about how you’re training for a race, I think you owe it to folks to say how that race went. Even if it’s not filled with PRs and awesome, glorious race photos. So here goes.

In terms of training for half marathons, I’m not sure I’ve had a season go this well. A couple of years ago I was doing well but got sick two weeks before the race and didn’t fully recover by race day. As you might guess, the results left me wanting.

This year, I seemed to be on track to improve on last year’s performance. Everything was coming together. I dropped weight, nailed my workouts and really pushed the speed work. My times were coming down and I went into race day at the Route 66 Marathon half healthy and feeling dang good.

Maybe deceptively good.

The first three miles flew by. I was running ahead of my goal pace, but not feeling the strain. I had to stop at a Porta-John at that point but was in and out quickly and still under my goal pace. Six miles in, I’d run my third-fastest 10K, and considering the hilliness of that part of the course, I figured I was on my way to a good finish. All I had to do was relax in the flats, regain my breath and coast to the hardest part of the course, those hilly Miles 11 and 12.

There was only a slight southern breeze, in this case, a tailwind. The temps were cool, skies were blue. Miles 7-10 were mostly flat. No problem, right?

Wrong. I never recovered after those first six miles and found myself struggling with my cardio at Mile 10, something that didn’t let up until it was over. There would be no PR, and by the time I’d crossed, I’d broken a three-year streak of cutting my finish times. I clocked in at 2:15:11, not my slowest and not my fastest, just somewhere right in between.

Folks will tell me that it’s impressive enough to train for and finish that half marathon, a sentiment I’d echoed in the last blog post I wrote. But it didn’t feel that way to me. Instead, I was left wondering what went wrong, why the fitness I felt I’d gained abandoned me, and so forth. Well, I know why. Like a rookie runner, I came out too fast and it bit me.

But that’s OK. Live and learn. I know where I need to improve. In any case, I got to run on a ridiculously beautiful day, enjoy some seriously good finish line brews at the end and hang out with a fellow runner and friend who placed 50th overall in the half marathon. Yeah, he’s fast. And while the results on the clock didn’t move the meter for me, I did gain from what I did over the past three months. Now the goal is not to lose that hard-earned conditioning.

How do you deal with a race that didn’t go as planned? Gimme a shout and let me know. I’d love to hear your story.

The look of a guy who is just glad to be done. This was a race to learn from.

Bob Doucette

Looking back on a season of race training

Race day is coming.

Right around the time when people are set to run their goal race, there’s a lot of looking ahead. And I’m doing that, too. I have expectations that I hope I’ll meet Sunday morning.

But what I really want to do, at least in the moment, is look back.

This has been an interesting training season. I run year-around, but the miles go up significantly in the fall. That’s just how I roll. Spring and summer races aren’t for me. So here are some random thoughts of what the last 16 or so weeks have looked like.

I remember the heat – and the humidity – of August and September. Lots of slow running, the sun baking me dry, and the most disgusting piles of dirty laundry you can imagine. Heat training pays off, but it’s no meadow of rainbow-farting unicorns, let me tell ya.

I remember seeing progress on 5Ks. A slow one in September. As faster one in October that actually earned me a second-place finish in my age group. That doesn’t happen often with me. By the way, I’m still not fast.

I remember seeing progress and disappointment at the Tulsa Run 15K. Progress in that I ran it faster than the year before. But I expected better.

I remember seeing an eagle soaring above me on a midweek training run, riding the air currents looking for some fresh fish in the river below. That NEVER gets old.

I remember runs in which I heard the beat from African drums and the strains of Mexican folk music. That also NEVER gets old.

I remember getting confronted by a mama pit bull last week. She backed off when I looked at her, but my guess is she had puppies nearby. I don’t fault her one bit.

I remember betting a college cross country runner I could beat him to the top of a hill, saying I’d give him all the cash on me if he won. He asked, “How much ya got?” I confessed, “Not a dime.” Levity, people. It matters in the midst of the grind.

I remember a bunch of cross-training bike rides on Sundays, and how all of them seemed more like play than training. And I’m good with that.

I remember the grueling weekly speed workouts. Oh man, those sucked. But they work.

I remember when my running went from zombie shuffle to a respectable clip, that moment when the switch gets flipped and my conditioning says, “I’m back!” Always a good feeling.

I remember what dinners were like after my weekend long run. Dude. All the calories were mine.

I remember going out for a 5-mile run when the winds were blowing out of the north at 25 mph, and the wind chill was 14 degrees, and noting that it was the best training run I had all fall. Funny how that works.

Lastly, I remember one really important fact. I don’t have to do this. I GET to do this. Health and fitness is a privilege, and it’s a privilege that’s earned. But never to be taken for granted. There are times when I’ve been sore, wiped out, and just over it. But in the end, I’m grateful that another year has passed and I can still run.

I don’t know how Sunday’s race will turn out. I’ve put the work in, and I think it should go well. The weather forecast looks good. I’m hoping for a happy finish line crossing.

But looking back, I see a lot of good already earned. Most of the hundreds of miles I ran were time spent outside. I dropped some junk pounds. I ran with friends, and I ran alone. I laughed at myself a lot, for putting myself through this, for lumbering along at my midpack pace, and generally looking like anything but an athlete. But when you hit that sweet spot, those training runs where you feel like you’re gliding through the air, flying over the pavement, slicing through the wind – ain’t that just the best? A PR would be sweet, but really, the feeling of being a runner is what makes it worth it.

Bob Doucette