Here’s what happens when a non-crossfitter does Murph

I have a basic approach when it comes to fitness. Do some running. Hike. Get on your bike. Lift heavy things. Lift, run, bike, hike for short.

But I like taking on different challenges, even if they’re out of my wheelhouse.

On Memorial Day, a lot of people like to do a Crossfit workout called “Murph.” I’m not a crossfitter, and I’ve got no plans to be. But they do some things right in the Crossfit world (they’re getting more people into barbell training than anything else right now), and some of these workouts are definitely worth trying.

So on Monday, I decided I join the legions doing Murph. For all you curious non-crossfitters, this one’s for you.

FIRST OF ALL…

Lt. Michael Murphy, aka “Murph.” (U.S. Navy photo)

Let’s get this straight, because it’s important: What is “Murph?”

The more accurate question is not what, but who.

“Murph” is Lt. Michael Murphy, a U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2005. If you’ve read the book “Lone Survivor” or saw the movie of the same title, then you know his story and that of his team. If you don’t know it, look it up. A small group of SEALS fought like hell against huge numerical odds, even while gravely wounded.

Murphy invented this workout, which he called “body armor.” Following his death, the workout was named in his honor.

So what’s the workout? Glad you asked.

THE WORKOUT

It’s simple: Run one mile, do 100 pull-ups, do 200 push-ups, do 300 body-weight squats, then run another mile.

Simple, right?

Well, there’s also this: In its strictest form, you also do this with a weighted 20-pound vest.

The goal is to do it in less than an hour. Really fit people can do it in 45 minutes.

Here’s what I figured: I run plenty. I lift several times a week. And I’m getting decent at pull-ups. Why not give it a shot?

SOME CAVEATS

I’m also a realist. I don’t own a weighted vest and didn’t have access to one. Being the first time I tried this, I decided to skip the weighted part.

Crossfitters will kip their pull-ups. I refuse. I’ll do them as strict as I can as long as I can.

I doubt there are many people who can do 100 pull-ups in a row, even if they’re kipping. Same is probably true of the other exercises. I’d be breaking these up into manageable chunks, hoping to make good time.

WHERE I DID IT

I went to a high school track/football field. The track offered me an easy way to measure out a mile and stay close to some water I brought.

The track was a good idea, but this plan had its problems. For starters, it was 91 degrees and mostly sunny, with a heat index of 95. That sort of heat will elevate your heart rate far above what it would normally be indoors or, say, any other time of year. Since I’d be doing the non-running exercises on the field, it would feel even hotter.

Also, there was a lack of decent places to do pull-ups. I settled for a soccer goal crossbar. The steel tubing didn’t offer much grip; it was fat enough that I was more “palming” the bar than gripping it. So that was working against me.

But hey, who cares? If you’re going to do Murph, don’t bitch about your problems. The workout will be hard enough as it is.

HOW IT WENT

The first mile run was a breeze, mostly because I didn’t push too hard. Maybe a 9:30 pace, trying to conserve energy for the work to come.

Once that was done, it was time for the pull-ups. I started doing sets of 6 to 8 reps, taking short breaks. But soon, the sheer volume was killing me. So I scaled it by switching from overhand grip pull-ups to underhand grip chin-ups. I know, lame. But I needed to get reps to move on.

By the time I got to 52 reps, I realized I’d be out there forever unless I found ways to knock out reps in the other exercises. So at the point, I supersetted chins with pull-ups and squats. That helped.

But dang, if this isn’t a whole other kind of fitness. I do all sorts of conditioning drills when I run, but this is just different. The steady flow of work and the heat radiating off the artificial turf surface I was on spiked my heart rate something good. By the time I was done with all that mess, it was time for that second mile-long run.

A zombie shuffle ensued. Maybe one of the slowest miles I’ve ever “run.”

When I was finished, I missed that 60-minute goal. By a lot. I definitely was not physically up to the task of making that goal. I shuffled off the field and into my car a sweaty, beat-down mess. Lesson learned. Murph is legit.

AFTERMATH

The next day, I was sore in some expected places, mostly in my shoulders and upper back. But not in my legs (you’d think 300 squats would have done something, but nope). But I was surprisingly sore in my abs. I wasn’t expecting that. Perhaps I should do more core, eh? Anyway, it was a built-in excuse to not lift the following day. I ran three miles and called it good.

THE TAKEAWAY

What I’ve learned about fitness is that when you do something different, expect to suck at it. I’ve learned this many times over.

I used to play a lot of basketball, maybe three or four times a week. And not that half-court BS, either. We ran the court, fast breaks and all. I got to where I could handle that. But run more than a couple of miles? I might as well have been trying to climb Mount Everest. Two different types of fitness.

Another example: Back when I was doing jujitsu, we had a new guy come in. He told us he’d be fine in terms of conditioning: The dude ran six miles a day. When the workout was over, he was outside puking in the parking lot. Once again, a different kind of fitness.

The same is true here. I know Murph is not indicative of everything Crossfit, but it is a good example of the type of training crossfitters do. Murph is not a strength test; It’s a conditioning test with some elements of strength involved. So while I lift frequently and hard and do my fair share of conditioning drills (400-meter intervals and negative split workouts come to mind), what I do is not going to go that far with something like Murph.

Crossfit bills itself as preparing its trainees to be fit enough to do anything at any time – they pride themselves as fitness “generalists” and through their Crossfit Games, aim to crown the winners as “the fittest people on earth.” There’s some truth to that, although Crossfit programming seems to create a lot of people who need shoulder surgeries.

But there is value in trying new things, and finding your weaknesses. On Monday, on that steaming hot high school track, Murph helped me find a few of mine. I might have to try it again.

Bob Doucette

Advertisements

Eight awesome people at the gym

The gym can be cursed with d-bags, but it can also be populated by solid citizens.

I’ve written about the gym characters that annoy us. A couple times, actually.

But to be fair, most people who head to the weight room aren’t preeners, meatheads and creeps out to ruin our workouts. In fact, there are some pretty good souls out there who make those gym sessions great. So this one’s for them.

The good trainer: A decent gym is going to employ trainers. Some of them are OK. Some of them suck. But some of them are great at their jobs. They’re knowledgeable, helpful and encouraging. They’re good teachers who not only talk to the talk, but walk the walk. Working with these folks usually leads to positive results. Sometimes they’re pricey, but when it’s all said and done, they’re worth every dime.

The reliable workout buddy: If you’re the type of person who trains with others, you know the value of having a workout partner who shows up, works hard and pushes you. Accountability matters to these people. There may be a sense of competition, but not in a weird or negative way. Instead, it’s fuel that makes both of you better. Iron sharpening iron, as it were. Both of you benefit.

The real-deals: We’ve all seen them. The powerfully built dudes. The rock-hard gals. They’re the ones who aren’t just regulars. They’re mission-oriented, working hard to create the strongest, fittest, healthiest versions of themselves that they can. You can take them one of two ways: Be jealous or be inspired. A lot of times, the real-deals are friendly enough to talk training, nutrition and whatnot to help you on your way. It’s not a bad idea to get to know them. You might learn a thing or two.

The elliptical dudes: These guys/gals might also be on some other machine where you work out, but at my gym, it’s three fellas who meet at the same time, mount up on three neighboring ellipticals and watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” while they break a sweat for 40 minutes or so. They’re old friends, they’re always there, and they know everyone by name. I don’t know how fit they’re getting, but there’s nothing but positive vibes from this trio as they do their thing, day after day. Keep on keepin’ on, fellas.

The spotters-in-a-pinch: To me, these are they guys who are doing their own thing, but we all know each other, all talk to each other and generally keep each other motivated. Occasionally, when we’re working on the same thing, we’ll lift a few sets together. And when the bar is loaded at a challenging weight, they’ll gladly spot you when asked. We’d all be workout buddies if our schedules and goals were more in sync, but even so, these familiar faces are often the ones that push you to go a little harder and get a little better. In a pinch.

The treadmill grinders: Not everyone likes to run on pavement every day, but they like running as much as they can. So you’ll see the treadmill grinders pounding out six miles in one workout, or doing their 8x400s, or perhaps some other run-based workout as they gear up for the next big race. Why are they admirable? Because it takes a serious amount of dedication to mount that treadmill and run on it every day. Once or twice a week is about all I can handle. More often than not, they’re better runners than me.

The exceptional instructor: Spin class. Cardio kickboxing. Group strength training. Zumba. And a bunch of other variations of the group exercise classes designed to make you sweat and push your heart rate through the roof. Most of us have been to one or more of these, and you can tell when the instructors are on their game. Learning how to lead these classes is a bunch of work, and the fitness level to not just lead the class, but to talk folks through it as you go takes a high degree or conditioning most of us don’t have. The best of them challenge you, encourage you and make you want to go back. What’s that? You can lead us to the edge of cardio-induced  insanity and back, do it with a smile on your face and keep us coming back for more? Yes, please.

The old warhorses: Years have given these folks a wealth of wrinkles and gray hairs. No matter. Decades of their lives have gone by and they’re still showing up, working hard and living awesome lives because they refuse to give in to the couch. Guy or gal, it doesn’t matter. A lifetime of fitness has endowed them with knowledge, experience and a brighter future than most of the world. They may even outlive you. Hell, they might even outlift, outrun or otherwise outdo you altogether. If you’re lucky – and consistent – maybe you’ll be an old warhorse one day, deadlifting twice as much as the young buck in his early 20s two stations down.

If you work out at a place with a lot of these people, consider yourself blessed. Stick with that place, because you know there are others that are too often filled with folks who don’t know the Gym Rat Code..

Bob Doucette

The fellowship of the run

Sitting in the lobby of my gym, I wondered who might show. I quit scrolling through Twitter long enough to check the weather. Twenty-six degrees with an 8 mph north wind. It was close to sunset, and truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one showed up for the night’s planned group run. Besides, it was Friday night. Don’t people have anything better to do on a Friday night?

But a few minutes later, Jen showed up. Tall, lean, and every bit that you’d expect from a marathoner. Minutes later, here came Donald. In his youth, he ran cross-country to stay in shape during soccer’s offseason. A decade later, old habits gave him a new incentive to get back on the road. It would be just the three of us, stumbling out into the cold, ready to tackle a planned five-mile out-and-back.

We walk for a block, get the blood working, and take off out of downtown, chatting it up as the first mile got underway. We’re a small group. But given all the reasons not to be there, I’d call us small-but-mighty.

***

Years ago, I didn’t like running. It was time-consuming, uncomfortable, and far less fun than a game of hoops. But that changed over time, largely when I discovered some of the benefits that running imparts.

For starters, it’s a great way to blow off steam. Run yourself ragged for 30 minutes, or an hour, or four hours, and you’ll likely come back having exorcised a few of the daily demons. In their place is normally an endorphin rush most people call a “runner’s high.” Most of us feel it when we’re done; a lucky few enjoy it as they go. I usually fall into the former camp, but it’s good enough to keep me coming back.

Running is also great for people who need some time alone. You know who you are. People are great, but there are moments when they need to be held at bay. Pound out a few miles and you get just that.

Being the type of person who is comfortable in solitude, I usually run alone. This is not sad or otherwise detrimental. It just is. Fact is, most people run solo.

But there are merits to having a running buddy. Or buddies. You can learn from other runners, and push each other. I find that I usually run faster when in a group and get lazy when I’m on my own.

A few years back, I joined a weekly trail running group. I knew precisely none of the two-dozen or so people who were there. But I ran with them, got to know a few of them, and picked up a lot of knowledge about trail running and our local trails. When we were done, we’d all head to a burrito place, snag some tacos and down a beer or two. Some of that group became friends, folks I can still hang out with even though I can’t go to those group runs anymore.

The fast runners were the ones everyone looked up to. Or those who had a few hundred-mile ultras under their belts. Often, these were the ones leading the groups, usually broken down into different paces to suit whoever showed up. Whoever they were, there was a sense of accomplishment that followed them. It was understood. They were “qualified” to lead a group on those gnarly, twisty trails, regardless of pace.

Years later, one of the trainers at my gym, an ex-college track guy with the resume of a serious distance runner, asked me if I would like to lead a weekly run group. “Sure,” I said. “I’d love to.”

But keep in mind, I’m about as pedestrian as they get when it comes to running. No podium finishes. No hundo belt buckles. Just a smattering of mid-pack finishes in races between 5K and marathon distance. If anyone ran with me, I wouldn’t be shocked if they thought, “Lame” and never came back.

But we’re more than a month into it, and folks still come. It’s funny to me that anyone actually shows up. That is, they show up to run with me. But I’m glad they do. Running is great solo. But it’s also great with good company.

***

A few weeks back, Donald and I were on the back side of a five-miler when we got to discussing a mutual love of hiking. He started talking about a trip years back when he was ascending Mount Elbert in Colorado, the highest peak in that state and the second-highest in the Lower 48. It’s a mountain I summited many years ago, back in 2005. We groaned about the numerous false summits we encountered, and he went on to describe how he and his hiking partners had to high-tail it down the mountain on the account of an approaching storm.

Yup, I can recall similar instances in the Rockies.

A week later, when Jen joined us, she started talking about a recent four-day excursion she and her boyfriend took to the Grand Canyon. I marveled a little that three random people seemed to have an affinity for outdoor adventure. But I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Lots of runners also hike, climb, backpack and otherwise find themselves drawn toward the suffering and joy of pushing themselves outdoors, be it on the run or with a 50-pound pack on their backs.

More important, though, is the manner in which I’ve gotten to know people’s stories. I knew Jen as a runner, and know her now as a backpacker, but she’s also a mother of a daughter getting ready to graduate college. Donald was an Eagle Scout back in his younger days.

And there are others. Paige, one of our younger runners, competed in college cross-country and is a die-hard Patriots fan (I try not to hold that against her). Steve, our elder statesman, isn’t just an accomplished trail runner. He’s a Pikes Peak Marathon finisher.

I never would have known anything about these people had I not run with them. I wouldn’t know them at all if I wasn’t a runner.

***

The last run I led just a few days ago, another new runner joined us. Her name is Kathy, and like Jen, she’s been at this running thing for a while and can hold her own. And she’s also the mother of a soon-to-be college grad.

I promised the group a scenic run, which is code for “I’m going to make you run to the top of the biggest hills in Tulsa because I find this weirdly fun.”

I try to plan routes that I think people will enjoy, ones with some scenery, some history, or maybe both. Other times, I’ll take them on a route I use for training, with the idea that if this sort of route helped me in one of the local races, it might help them, too.

That night’s “scenic route” took us north out of downtown, toward a college campus, and then up a sizable rise called Standpipe Hill. It’s one of the highest points in the city, and once you top out, it has a spectacular view of downtown. The sun was going down, setting the clouds overhead afire with yellows, oranges and purples, a colorful background against the shiny glow of the skyscrapers a mile to our south. The city was putting on a visual show.

“I like to stop here and catch my breath and take in the view,” I told the group. “It never gets old.”

Everyone seemed to agree. In Kathy’s case, she saw parts of the city she’d heard of, but had never seen with her own eyes. It’s an all-new experience, and in this case, one you must earn. I know I earn it every time I run this route (the hill is steep), and it never disappoints.

A few moments later, we headed down the hill, climbed another, then dropped back down into downtown’s meandering streets. One steep overpass, then another hill, and finally a quick dash back to the gym and we’re done. High-fives were exchanged before the group broke up and headed out into our own lives. But not before everyone made a little pact.

“See you next week?”

Absolutely.

Bob Doucette

Eight rules to make your fitness resolutions stick

January means people hitting the gym to create that “new you.” But if you’re going to make that happen, there are some rules you need to follow.

On New Year’s Day, I popped into my local gym for a quick lift before work. Being a holiday, I didn’t expect to find many people there, but it was surprisingly busy.

It’s a sign of things to come as people spent time reflecting on 2017 and figuring out what they want to do differently in 2018. Invariably, that includes losing weight and getting in shape for a lot of people. (It doesn’t help that the Holiday Eating Season, which runs from Thanksgiving until News Year’s Day, makes most of us fluffier.)

Habitual gym-goers bemoan the onslaught of New Year’s resolutioners who will soon clog our gyms and fitness centers. I don’t. Kudos to anyone who tries to improve their health, and welcome to the tribe. If this is you, I’d like to offer a few pointers before you embark on that venerable January tradition of “getting back in shape.”

Make a plan: Something is better than nothing when it comes to exercise, but having a goal – and a plan to achieve it – is always better. I see people walk in and try out machines, aimlessly looking for a pump or a burn, then walk out having achieved little. Do you want to lose weight? Get stronger? Build more mass? There are specific ways to do this. Choose you goal, then find a plan that will achieve that goal.

Stick to that plan: Training programs can be great. I’ve used many, and they all have one common feature: They work when I stick to it. Most training plans work in eight-to-12-week cycles. Some may be more. But if you see incremental success and then quit because you’re not magically worthy of the cover of a fitness mag, then you deserve the results you got. See it through. No one has achieved a goal by quitting early.

Be consistent: This sounds like “stick to the plan,” but there’s some nuance here. Being healthy, fit and strong is not just a result from doing one fitness program. It’s something that’s built over time. It’s a habit. Someone who has made fitness a lifestyle will likely use several exercise plans over the course of years to meet evolving goals. But the real takeaway is this: You can have a great workout once, then slack off for a week and it will have done you no good. But string together a few months of “average” workouts and the transformation will happen. One great moment of glory – a race completed, a PR on your deadlift, or a rockin’ summer beach bod – is built on a foundation of many months’ worth of “average” days in the gym, on the pavement or on the trail.

Leave the cellphone in your locker: I know, I know, our phones have tunes and timers and fitness apps. But most of the time I see people in the gym with their phone, they’re texting. Or reading some article. Or checking Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or whatever else is pumping rapid-fire notifications their way. I’ve seen people sit on a bench for five to ten minutes texting between sets. I’ve seen gym selfies. I saw a guy last week eking out quarter-squats on a Smith Machine, one hand on the bar, one hand on his phone, face craned toward whatever it was that was so important that he couldn’t put the phone down and actually try a good lift. He’s a fixture at my gym, has maintained this behavior for years, and, not surprisingly, has never changed in physique or performance. He’s the same weak dude he’s always been. I’ve seen so much time wasted because people can’t free themselves from their phone for an hour. I never lift with my phone. It stays in the locker. There is no text or social media thingy that can’t wait. Need music? Get a music player. Need a timer? Buy one, or a watch. You came to work out, not to swipe right.

Be a good human: This entails a lot of things, but they’re easy to spell out. When at the gym, refrain from flirting or looking for dates. Put your weights away when you’re finished. Clean up the sweat you leave behind. Keep your advice to yourself unless asked (which almost never happens) and seek advice from trainers when you have questions. Don’t hog multiple stations. Don’t crowd other exercisers. Don’t stand right in front of the dumbbell rack. Don’t slam/drop weights. In general, do the things that are considerate of other exercisers and the gym staff. If you want more detail, check out these 11 rules of the Gym Rat Code.

Remember that you can’t out-train a bad diet: In body builder circles, it’s been said that success is 80 percent in the kitchen and 20 percent in the gym. I’d say that’s mostly true. Just because you’re exercising more doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want. Not if you want to succeed. Clean up that diet, watch your alcohol intake and give your body the nutrition it needs to make you healthier and stronger.

Don’t fret the scale: Use the mirror test instead. Too many people view the number on the scale as their only metric of fitness. Don’t fall into that trap. Your weight can fluctuate wildly from one day to the next. As you gain muscle, you might actually gain weight. But as time progresses, you’ll see a difference in how you look. The scale is one measure of progress, but a flighty one. There are others, like how much you can lift, how far/fast you can run, and how you look in the mirror.

And finally, get your rest: Proper sleep equals proper recovery. And recovery is where the magic happens. When you’re sleeping, your body is rebuilding your muscles to be stronger and better. If you short-change your rest, you’ll eventually short-circuit your fitness goals. Also, one day a week should be a rest day where you don’t train at all. Just chill, eat well, and recover. You don’t have to go full-blast every day. And yes, this means steering clear of those 30-day challenges and runstreaks. It might sound cool, but your rest is more important.

That’s the basics from me. Starting out on your fitness journey means taking that first step. But be sure to think beyond that and be in it for the long haul. These ideas will help you get there.

Bob Doucette

Seen on the run: Reminders from the past of why I run

We have these, right here in town. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

I remember the first time I saw an eagle in the wild.

No, it wasn’t on some adventure deep in the Rockies, or some other rugged mountain landscape. It was about six miles from home, in the middle of a city, and not far from the river that splits my community two.

Not 30 feet from the paved path I was running on, and overlooking the Arkansas River, there it was: A big, bald eagle, surveying the waters flowing by and likely looking for lunch swimming under the surface. It was one of the coolest and most random things I’d ever seen on a run, and to see it smack in the middle of Tulsa’s southern reaches made it that much more unreal. And yet there it was, in all of its regal glory, presiding over its domain. As it turns out, bald eagles have become a fixture along the river. You just have to know where to look.

More importantly, you have to be out there in the first place. If I hadn’t been on my weekly long run, I’d never have seen it at all.

***

I remember when I first started running more seriously, and how enamored I became with the little details I saw during even the shortest, simplest runs. I made a point to take my phone with me not to provide music or capture my pace, but to snap photos of how the downtown Tulsa skyline looked from a certain angle, or the way the glow of a sunset bathed the buildings in warm, fading light.

I’d come home and write notes about interesting people I saw, weird things I smelled and small epiphanies I had while I ran. I learned a lot about my city. One park I run through commemorates the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, something that for many Tulsans was left out of their history lessons despite being the scene of the single worst outburst of racial violence in American history. Years later, I still run through that park, reminded that we’ve yet to get past racial divides.

Night running scene.

There were other details of the city to be gleaned from these runs, too. On a couple of occasions, I’d run at night. An urban landscape has an entirely different feel at night than it does during the day. Light from street lamps catches broken glass on the pavement and in alleys, making them glisten in a harsh sort of way. It’s harder to see people’s faces, thus more difficult to discern intent. But no one ever bothered me. A smoky bar served up whiskey shots next door to a private workshop where a bearded, tattooed fella in a plain white tank tinkered under the hood of a classic car. Nighttime in the city, away from the “safer” venues, is just as alive as it is in the day. It just feels more mysterious, if not risky.

And many times, I’d notice people. The suits and the slackers mixed at different paces, and transients often barely budged. On one street, I’d spot someone talking to himself while walking briskly, totally focused on whatever conversation was happening via Bluetooth. Around the corner, someone else, slumped against a wall, might be wallowing in his own puke, having drank too much bourbon the hour before. Down the street, a tattooed pizzeria worker sat out by the curb, getting one last smoke in before his break was over.

I see scenes like this every day when I run. It fascinated me for a long time, me being a guy who until that time had spent a lifetime living in suburbs and small towns, far from anything one might define as urban.

As the years have gone by, however, all of this has become normal. I still see cool stuff, but more often any run is more of me and the run itself, battling through fatigue, the elements, injuries and whatever else is motivating me or telling me to stop. And as I age, the chorus of inner voices telling me to bag it seems to get bigger. And louder.

***

Last week was one of the lousiest weeks of training I’ve had in a while. Fall is here, but Oklahoma rarely pays attention to the calendar. It was just another hot, humid week, and if you run much you know that heat and humidity sucks all the fun out of running. If I didn’t have a couple of races to train for, I’m not sure I’d even have bothered.

But we got a break this week. On Monday, cloud cover. Blessed cloud cover. Eighty-eight degrees in direct sun (plus humidity) is one thing. But 88 and cloudy is another. As in better.

I was out on a simple four-mile out-and-back run through a neighborhood that might be generously classified as “working class.” It’s on the upswing, but there is plenty of industrial desperation still waiting to be remedied here. Not that it bothers me – that sort of environment is way more interesting than any suburban scene I’ve ever trodden.

Anyway, I ran by a house where a fella was on the porch, working on some sort of machine, and he had his tunes on full blast: ‘80s funk and R&B. I ran past, reached my turnaround place and headed back. I’d pass his house again, this time from the same side of the street. On deck: Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching me,” featuring none other than the King of Pop. I’m not sure why, but when I got in earshot, it gave me an extra bounce, and I made sure to let the dude know that I wish I had his tunes with me the rest of the way. We both got a laugh out of that.

Getting some miles on the trails. I see cool stuff out here. (Clint Green photo)

A day later, on a six-miler, I was on trails close to the Arkansas River again. I didn’t see them, but I heard them: eagles. Somewhere close by, the master raptors were calling out, and would likely be on the hunt for more fish soon. It got me thinking about all the other wildlife I’ve seen, usually when trail running through nearby wooded hills. Squirrels and rabbits, hurrying away from the path. An armadillo ambling along, rooting through the leaves for bugs. And on one blessed run, a massive owl that was silently gliding below the canopy, then extending its wings to make a full stop just a few feet away from where I ran. One of the most majestic things I’ve ever seen.

That’s when I was reminded why I still do this. Races are fun, and great motivation to get in shape. But for me, there’s no finish line or medal worth the weeks and months of training that it takes to finish a long-distance race. Instead, it’s the things I encounter along the way.

The random faces that make a city live and breathe.

The myriad of colors of a cool evening sunset.

The smell of fall from decaying foliage on the forest floor.

And timely reminders from the past, be it the cry of a regal bird of prey, or the music pumping from the speakers owned by someone getting their funk on during a warm autumn afternoon. Any finish line glory is gravy after that.

Bob Doucette

Strength training: Go with the four-by-four program for gains

Literally getting ugly with the iron.

Many moons ago, when I was a college kid with a fascination for all things weight lifting, the dorm director where I was living threw a two-part opportunity toward the guys: Sign up for a campus wide powerlifting meet, and he’d show us some tricks about how to get stronger fast.

That may as well have been catnip to me. I attended a seminar he put on and learned about his “four-by-four” program and immediately signed up to compete.

I didn’t do that great at the meet, but I learned a lot. And that four-by-four program stuck with me. I went from pushing around weenie-weight to rattling some plates in a matter of a few months.

Many years later, I found myself looking for a good program to boost strength in the big lifts: deadlift, squat and bench press. And I remembered that program my dorm director wrote out on a chalk board when I was a scrawny little freshman stuck in the “curls for girls” mentality of strength training.

I’m glad I went back to it. As challenging as it can be, it’s also been rewarding. Over the spring and summer, I’ve tacked on 50 pounds to my squat.

So how does it work? I’ve modified it a little: the original program was heavily dependent on doing singles, right up to a one-rep max. Nothing wrong with singles, but I think that’s a thing you should do very occasionally.

First, you need to figure out what your one-rep max is in the lift you’re performing. And then you’ll calculate some percentages to build the workout. Here’s an example of it looks like:

Warm-up with an unloaded bar, 10-12 reps.

Continued warm-up, 135 pounds, 8 reps.

Six reps, 60 percent of your 1RM

Four sets of 4 reps, 90 percent of your 1RM.

Two sets of 5 reps, lighter weight with a variation of the lift you’re performing.

So let’s say you’re working on your bench press, and you know your 1RM is 200 pounds. The workout would look like this:

1×10, unloaded bar

1×8, 95 pounds

1×6, 120 pounds

4×4, 180 pounds

2×5, 115 pounds, close-grip bench press (or some other chest press variation)

Or, say you’re squatting, with a 1RM of 300 pounds. Here’s what that might look like:

1×10, unloaded bar

1×8, 135

1×6, 205

4×4, 270

2×5, 150, front squat (or some other squat variation)

Finally, here’s what this workout would look like if you were deadlifting with a 400-pound 1RM:

1×10, lightly loaded bar (light bumper plates)

1×8, 135

1×6, 240

4×4, 360

2×5, 225, Romanian deadlift (or some other variation of the deadlift)

They key with making this work is to progressively increase the weight you’re using over an 8 to 12-week span. Back in the day, we were taught to go for about 10 pounds per week. I’m more conservative – I shoot for 5 pounds a week, and if my body ain’t feeling it, I’ll stand pat if I must.

You’ll also want to scale up the 1×8 weight a little as you progress. You don’t have to make that weight challenging; just heavy enough to give you some resistance while warming up your muscles. A lot of times, a 135-pound bar is great for lifters who are in that “intermediate” stage of strength training development.

One other thing: Let’s say you’re lifting legs twice a week. If you’re going to do the four-by-four program, use it once a week. On your second leg day, do another type of workout. Maybe something with the same or similar exercises, but lighter weights with more reps (I currently do a 5×10 workout, increasing weight with each set, but not topping out at more than 75 percent of my 1RM). That way you can still get in quality work, but not fry yourself in the process. And don’t forget to program a deload week every 6-8 weeks.

Include supporting exercises for the back end of your workout (maybe some reverse lunges, calf presses, leg extensions and kettlebell swings, if you’re doing a leg day workout) to round things out.

This is one of those plans designed primarily for strength. It’s not a hypertrophy workout (though as you get stronger, you’ll probably pack on some size), nor is it designed to get you ripped (that happens in the kitchen, homie). But it will help build a good base of strength, and as we know, that can lead to a whole lot of other good things.

Bob Doucette

Six hot-weather training tips for runners

This guy will make your outdoor training a little tougher in the summer. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Summer is rapidly approaching, and it’s a time when a lot of us are thinking about vacations, backyard cookouts and time at the pool.

But for the running crowd, it’s also an opportunity to take advantage of extra daylight hours to get in our miles.

One problem: The heat. Most places will begin seeing temperatures rise significantly within the next couple of weeks, and things really get cooking in July and August. Fun in the sun is great and all, but when you’re training, heat can wreck you. It can beat you and your workouts into submission, and if you’re not careful, cause serious health problems.

But if we only went out in perfect conditions, there is a good chance we’d achieve almost nothing. So my advice is to make peace with summer and learn a few things about hot-weather training to get by, at least until things cool off in the fall.

So here are six tips for training in the heat:

Hydrate. A lot. Before you go to bed, drink some water. When you get up, drink some more. And throughout the day, be drinking more water. Bring some with you (hand-held water bottle, hip belt or hydration pack) or be sure your route has drinking fountains available. Don’t wait till you crash to stop for a water break. Heat-related illnesses and dehydration are no joke. Is a gallon a day excessive? Not if it’s summer and you’re outside training.

Shade your face. A ball cap will help you keep a little shade on your face and direct sun off your head. If it’s a moisture-wicking cap, it will help you stay cool.

If you can, pick routes with trees. I love trail running, and many of my trails are in wooded areas. You’ll lose some of the breeze in the woods, but the shade will help keep you cooler.

Pace yourself. Your body will not be able to maintain the same intensity at 98 degrees as it does at 78 degrees or 58 degrees. But you will still be working hard, and that’s what you’re going for — putting in some hard work. Which leads me to the next point…

Watch your heart rate. Whether it’s just listening to your body or wearing a heart-rate monitor, those beats-per-minute will be very telling in terms of how hard your body is working. In the winter, you burn more calories because your body is trying hard to keep your core temperature up. But in the summer, it’s fighting — and losing — the battle to keep you cool. If your pulse is pounding in your temples at 180 bpm or more, maybe it’s time to slow down and walk a couple of blocks. No shame in that.

And finally, and this might go without saying, pick a cooler time of day to run. This means running pre-dawn or after sunset during the summer, but those hours will be cooler and easier to manage.

So there you have it. Use these ideas during the hot months. Or succumb to the treadmill. Your choice.

Bob Doucette