Saturday, August 20, 2011

natural training

Usually, I train with some goal and set intermediate goals along the way. For example, in running, one simply increases mileage a little each week. That way, the body is given time to adapt and injuries are less likely. Then at the end of a few months, run that goal event: usually a marathon. Magazine training plans are usually like that.

However, one doesn't necessarily need to be a slave to a pre-planned training regime. While it is true one must continually push a bit in order not to stagnate, one could also let it happen naturally, i.e let your body set the ramp factor.

For example, consider the above graph. I do a short workout twice a week at the gym (Mondays and Thursdays) immediately after work. I try to keep the total workout to a modest 1000-1200 kcal. Any more than that, it's not a short workout because I may not be fresh the next day.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Weekend
short run #1 ping pong ping pong short run #2 rest long

(Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I need to hop around the table for ping pong, so my legs can't be heavy or trashed. Actually, I could do a heavy workout on Thursday since Friday is my rest day.)

Anyway, here's the theory: you run as much as you feel you can comfortably do twice a week. The difference is this: under my old training regime, I'd finish the planned distance no matter what: I'd use a bit of mental willpower and gut it out if necessary. Sounds a bit old-fashioned. With this new scheme, I do the same total workout (in terms of kcal) so I don't need to feel guilty I'm slacking off.

I simply just move the workout to the spinning bike (to burn off the remaining required kcal) as soon as I feel I'm having to utilize willpower to stay on the treadmill. (And since I used to be a serious ultra-distance cyclist, the spin bike portion takes zero willpower and is always easy to complete - after all, I'm mostly sitting down.)

"The treadmills: the blue zone"

"The spinning bikes: the red zone"

So the blue bits on the graph are from my treadmill, and the red zones are from the spin bike. Together, the kcal stack up as shown on the y-axis. For example, you can see I only ran for 310 kcal (for 20 minutes) for the first workout on the graph, but then topped it up with 420 kcal on the spin bike. By session #7 (last Thursday) I burnt 740 kcal on the treadmill (I ran a bit over 10 km), and I only did 310 kcal on the spin bike: total just over 1000 kcal. Since I am getting progressively fitter on the run, so it takes up a progressively larger slice of the workout. The key is that the ramp up is dictated by how I feel rather than sticking to some formula.

So in 7 sessions, I'm up from lasting 20 minutes comfortably on the treadmill to over 50 minutes (at the same speed). All well and good, but how do you know when to get off that treadmill? Obviously, it's easy to decide if you are running flat out. You get off because you can't hold the pace anymore. But what if you are running at an easier pace? Well, I use my heart rate (HR) and perceived exertion (RPE) to decide.

As documented in a previous entry (see iPod Nano 6G), I use an iPod Nano with the Nike+ kit. Not only do I get to listen to my specially-prepared run music playlist, it also records the pace and my heart rate. For example, here's session #7 (from last Thursday).

As you can see, it reports an (effective) flat line for the pace as expected since I set the treadmill to an easy 7.0 mph and never touch the controls during the workout. (Small variations are probably due to momentary changes in stride as I grab some water or due to limitations of the Nike+ transmitter.) The HR graph is more interesting though:

As you can see, my HR ramps up fast and then settles down, averaging 161 beats per minute (bpm). This is an aerobically sustainable level for me. There is some tilt upwards to the graph (as I slowly dehydrate and retain body heat). I think I end up around the 164 bpm level.

I could have kept it going but I had completed the target 10K (6.2 miles).

In addition, my left ankle was dripping with blood (see left) from chafing. My running was so relaxed muscle-wise, occasionally the right heel would scrape the left ankle. I have to control that right heel movement a bit more in future. But it's good my center of gravity was tightly localized.

If my HR keeps rising, it will eventually move into the anaerobic zone (unsustainable). So we can use a HR limit (e.g. 165 bpm) plus RPE (e.g. "damn, I feel terrible!") to decide when to stop. Otherwise, I'd push myself deep into the red zone - which would be a pyrrhic victory of sorts. In other words, unworthwhile and actually counterproductive since I won't be able to recover fresh for the next day.

A quick word on the spinning bikes. I really like the latest generation.

The spinning bikes are a pleasure to use. These newest ones have a large touch screen. I can follow the very cool (recorded) video of the guy. If he gets out of the saddle, I follow his lead. If he jumps, I jump. I subconsciously follow his pedaling cadence. And at the end, when he stretches, I just follow him. The electronics provide a suggested HR zone. However, since it's a spinning bike, I get to set the resistance knob.

Here is an example of a workout. I rode for 42 minutes and burnt off 530 kcal. I spun at an average cadence of 91 (no mashing). And my average HR is 130 bpm - much lower than on the run, an indicator that it was an easy 530 kcal for me.

Now that I've gotten up to my 10K the comfortable way, what's next? After all, as I mentioned at the beginning, one must continually push a bit in order not to stagnate.

Since I do this workout twice a week, the key then is to bifurcate my efforts.
  • For workout one, I can bump the speed up to 7.5 mph or 8.0 mph and start from 20 minutes again (or until my HR goes in the red zone) to build speed.
  • And I can simply run for longer for workout two. For example, back in May before I lost my fitness, I tapped out a 1 hour 45 minute run at 7.0 mph (see A half marathon). Alternatively, it's better to do the longer run outside (as soon as it dips below 95-100F in the afternoons in Tucson).
Curiously enough, I was not particularly happy with that half marathon run back then. At this point, I'd be ecstatic to be able to nail that down. It's all relative... :)

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