Can I keep doing my outdoor 🏋🏻♂️ workouts as the seasons turn? Through November the answer is yes!
Yesterday was workout A: prisoner squats, pull ups, wall sits, push ups, hollowbody holds.
Can I keep doing my outdoor 🏋🏻♂️ workouts as the seasons turn? Through November the answer is yes!
Yesterday was workout A: prisoner squats, pull ups, wall sits, push ups, hollowbody holds.
It used to be that I was pretty casual about warming up before exercise. If the weather was nice, I’d go for a 20-minute walk. If the weather was crappy, I’d spend 5 minutes on the treadmill or an exercise bike. I’d do just enough to get my heart rate a little bit elevated, and raise my body temperature a degree or two.
That worked okay for years, but at some point I started having injury problems. I’d hurt my feet when I ran. I’d hurt my wrists when I tried to do pushups. I’d hurt my shoulders when I tried to do pull-ups. Each new injury taught me to warm up that body part a little more carefully.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that it is very much worth the time and effort to do a long, slow warm-up.
I wrote a little while ago about taking some time to check-in with my body and with my exercise venue, but I didn’t talk much about specific warm-up activities. This post is an attempt to capture my current somewhat maximalist warm-up, primarily as a checklist to use myself. (Without one I tend to forget activities, and then only remember them later, when some body part twinges. “Oh, yeah, I forgot to do the shank rotations!”)
Just as a note: If I don’t mention some other rep count, I do most of these for 12 reps. If it’s a bilateral motion, I often do just 6–8 on each side.
I used to start with the neck and work my way down, but I’ve switched to do my feet and ankles up front (because it’s there that I’ve had the most persistent injuries), and then go back to the neck. Here’s what I do:
I don’t do any of those as strengthening exercises, I do them as range-of-motion exercises. At the end of the warm-up (or the end of the workout) I sometimes come back to the calf raises and do a few sets of one-footed calf raises, which can be intense enough to be a calf-strengthening exercise.
The thing I do not do for my neck is head circles. I tell my taiji students that you should never let your head loll around at the end of your neck. (Exception: If you are the heroine in a romance novel and have fainted into the arms of the bare-chested hero. Then your head can loll around at the end of your neck.)
What I do instead is this, an exercise I call “motivated looking”:
I don’t do any of these as a stretch; I keep within my comfortable range of motion at all times. I also don’t close my eyes; the point here is to actually look in those directions, as if to see what’s there. That’s why I call it motivated looking.
I just do about 4 of these in each direction.
Since the pandemic started I’ve been largely focusing on upper-body strength, mostly exercises with gymnastic rings, which hit the shoulders pretty hard. I have found that spending several minutes just warming up my shoulders helps a lot.
I like to go straight from elbow drills to rhomboid pushups to squat prep #1, because they all start from about the same position.
I usually do my wrist exercises in the middle of my shoulder exercises, typically right after my shoulder circles, but there’s a bunch of them, so I wanted to pull them out into their own section.
Let me take just a moment to acknowledge that this is insane. On days that I do a full workout (which was running 4–5 days a week over the summer), I do very nearly this entire set of warm-up exercises. (Up to now I’ve often forgotten several, since until now I haven’t had a list to follow.)
This can easily take me 40 minutes, which is a pretty large chunk of the day to dedicate just to warming up.
Even then I’m not done—I go ahead and do “straight-elbow” versions of push-ups, pull-ups, or inverted rows (to match the full version of any of those exercises that are in my plan for the workout).
I also do a subset of this warm-up even on days that I’m not going to exercise.
The reason I do all this is simply that I feel better when I do. It’s not just my workouts that go better when I’ve gotten in a proper warm-up. Everyday activities go better as well—bending over to pick something up off the floor, standing up from having sat down on the floor, getting something down off a high shelf, etc. Everything I do for the rest of the day is easier and more comfortable, once I’ve gotten properly warmed up.
So, there you go. Feel free to take any or all of these activities to include in your own warm-up routines. If there’s one that isn’t clear, let me know—I could tweak the text, take a photo or even make a video, if that would make it clearer.
For some time now I’ve been aiming to do my endurance training at my MAF heart rate. MAF stands for Maximum Aerobic Function, and it’s the heart rate where you’re producing the maximum output without having to use anaerobic systems. Although the MAF formula just produces an estimate, there’s quite a bit of data to back it up.
If you do almost all your training at MAF, you’ll get better (run faster) at that heart rate. The idea is that you first do that, and only when your performance plateaus do you need to start doing any sort of speed work (and then not much of it).
As I say, for some time I’ve been aiming to train at my MAF heart rate, but it’s a low enough level of intensity that I’ve persistently had trouble not running too fast. I have a heart rate monitor, but it’s not very useful during a run, because my heart rate is displayed on my phone, and I don’t want to run around carrying my phone where I can see the screen. The upshot has been that I’ve inadvertently done a great deal of my training somewhat above my MAF heart rate, which rather defeats the purpose.
To get a better grip on my MAF training, I finally broke down and bought another heart rate monitor, which displays my heart rate on my wrist so I can check it while I’m running. It also has an alert function, so I can set it to vibrate if my heart rate goes above some value. After looking around a bit, I settled on the Mi Band 4 (which is available for cheap because the Mi Band 5 is now out). It does the thing I want well enough. (It also does a bunch of other stuff that I don’t care about, and some things that I do care about (sleep tracking), but that I do some other way, such as with my Oura ring.)
After a shakedown run a few days ago, where I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to use the device the way I wanted, today I went out for a run where I tried to use it for some proper MAF training, and I think I was very successful. I probably only spent two or three minutes (out of a 51-minute run) with my heart rate above my target.
This very easy run was nice and gentle. Sitting here at my computer maybe an hour after I got home, my heart rate is already back down to just 64 bpm, which amounts to a surprisingly complete recover. After a run only a little bit faster, I’d expect to see my heart rate stuck in the 70s for several hours.
Now to see if regular training this way produces the speed gains it is reputed to.
Objectively speaking, autumn is probably the best season. Not cold like winter, stormy like spring, or hot like summer, autumn has great weather—totally aside from the pretty colors and Halloween (arguably the best holiday, albeit in a near tie with Groundhog’s Day).
For pretty much my entire adult life I’ve dreaded the cold dark days of winter, and among the many ways that Seasonal Affect Disorder affected my life in a negative way was that it ruined autumn. I could usually get past the summer solstice okay (although in the back of my head, I knew that the best day of the year had come and gone), and I could keep it together through July and August. But by the beginning of September I knew that winter was coming, and I’d spend the last months of nice weather steeling myself against the dark days to come.
It was the dark that bothered me, more than the cold. It’s easy to armor yourself against the cold—flannel, moleskin, fleece, wool, down—there are many ways to deal with cold. But even a Verilux light therapy lamp (which does help) does not solve the problem of the dark days of winter.
All of which is merely an introduction to saying: Last winter I did not suffer from SAD!
I had meant to write something at the time, but I didn’t want to speak too soon, and then once it was spring, it didn’t seem like the most important thing.
I don’t want to jinx anything, and I’m sure the right combination of stressors on top of the cold and dark could once again put me in a bad place, but something more important has changed than just a good year: I’m no longer afraid of the dark days. Maybe I’ll suffer from SAD again, and maybe I won’t, but at least the mere knowledge that the cold and dark is coming is not ruining my fall! In the back of my head I seem to have turned a corner and developed some confidence that I’ll be okay despite the season.
So what has helped?
First, not having to work a regular job. I’m sorry that I can’t recommend something more generally available, but that was the biggest thing that made a difference. Because I don’t have to be productive on a day-to-day basis, I avoid the depression-spiral that used to result from realizing that I wasn’t getting anything done, which made me anxious about losing my job and being unable to support my family, having the anxiety make me more depressed, and the depression making me even less productive. That used to be a killer. On top of that, because I don’t have to be in the office during any particular hours, I’m able to spend a few of the few non-dark hours of the day outdoors, taking advantage of what daylight there is (and making some outdoorphins).
Second, exercise. I always knew it was important, but I took things up a notch each of the last few years, and each new tick up turned out to provide an enormous improvement in my mood. In my experience, all kinds of exercise are good. Endurance exercise is good. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is good. Skill-based training—ballet, parkour, animal moves, taiji—is good. Resistance exercise (lifting) is perhaps best of all. Letting the dark days of winter compress you down into a lump that seeks (but never finds) cozy because you’re unable to move? That’s the worst.
Third, community. Granted this is not so easy during a pandemic, but even people that you only see on-line are still people you can have a connection with, and having connections is good.
Fourth, something to look forward to. It can be almost anything. Last year I was looking forward to having my family visit. Other years I’ve looked forward to taking a vacation somewhere warm. Even little things help me—ordering some fountain pen ink or cold-weather workout clothes and then looking forward to the package being delivered, and then looking forward to using the newly acquired item.
Fifth, a project that you can make progress on. Ideally something without a deadline—at least, no deadline during the dark days of winter—but a project that you care about. Something that you can spend a few minutes on every day and see some headway that brings you closer to completing it. Creative projects are good, but creativity isn’t as important as just having a thing that you’re working on, and making steady headway.
Not suffering from SAD, even if just for one year, has been wonderful. Having some confidence that things will be okay-enough this winter that I’m not spending all fall dreading it is even more wonderful-er.
Went out a little fast at the start, partially because it’s chilly and I was cold, but mostly because it felt so good to run a little fast. 🏃🏻♂️ Photo from about the mid-point, where I managed to ease it back down a little.
Jackie attended the annual Illinois Master Naturalist’s conference last week, and came away with any number of interesting tidbits, but one in particular stuck with me: Forest bathing is like ergonomics.
Both Jackie and I have had our understanding of ergonomics informed by Katy Bowman, who points out:
Modern ergonomics is not the scientific pursuit of what is best for the human body, but the scientific pursuit of how the human body can be positioned (in one position, for eight or more hours at a time) for the purpose of returning to work the next day, and then the next and the next and the next.Don’t Just Sit There by Katy Bowman; excerpt.
What Jackie learned at her conference was that the Japanese concept of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) has roots in the same idea. When Japanese salarymen started dying from overwork, a lack of exposure to nature was put forward as a partial explanation.
If the problem is a lack of exposure to nature, then immersing yourself in nature is an obvious solution. But, of course, actually immersing yourself in nature would take too much time out of the workday. Hence the research into forest bathing is all about finding the minimum effective dose. There is little or no research into figuring out the optimum time for humans to spend in nature.
Keep that in mind when you read yet another article about how just looking at a forest scene for 20 minutes reduces salivary cortisol 13.4%, or walking in the woods for just 40 minutes improves mood and boosts feelings of health and robustness.
I’m not so much interested in the answer to the question, “What’s the least number of minutes I can spend in nature and not die early from overwork?”
I’m more interested in questions like:
I have my own tentative answers to many of these questions, but very little data.
During a pandemic it didn’t seem safe to teach taiji indoors. But we missed the practice and the camaraderie. So we moved to the park, put on masks, and carried on.
I did an experiment a couple of days ago: I tested a combined workout that doubled up two pairs of exercises that I’d been doing separately. Up to now I’ve been doing four sessions each week: two where I do pull ups & pushups, and then two where I do dips & inverted rows. (Together with a leg exercise and a core exercise each workout.)
That was working very well, but it meant 4 upper-body strength sessions each week, which is a lot. Throw in a couple of lower-body strength sessions as well (such as hill sprints or kettlebell swings), plus a rest day, and I didn’t have a day to do anything else. This sort of volume has been well for me so far, but I think I may have reached a limit, and would benefit from a cycle of deeper recovery than just a week of lighter workouts: Except for “de-load” weeks in mid-March and mid-June, I’ve been averaging close to 5 workouts a week since the end of January. I’m thinking I want to take it down a notch.
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about how I want to structure my training through the fall and winter. One obvious change was to go from four days of upper-body strength training per week to just three. The problem was that I didn’t see an easy way to evenly cover the range of pushing and pulling exercises at a reasonable volume with just three workouts a week, except by doing both pairs in each workout.
Hence my experiment, in which I did just that.
It was not a complete success. I managed to crank my way through the workout, but it was very long and tough. I don’t think I could keep it up three times a week for months.
Happily, while describing my difficulties to my friend Chuck, I had a brainstorm: I could do threes workouts per week—two of them just like what I’ve been doing (one with pull-ups & push-ups, and then another with inverted rows & dips), and then do just one combined workout. That keeps my workouts even, as far as covering all four exercises twice each week, without being quite so overwhelming as trying to do the combined workout three times a week.
With just three upper-body strength workouts per week, I have four days for other stuff, and I can mix and match as I choose. I can do the hill sprints that Anthony Arvanitakis recommends, or I can do kettlebell swings. (Either of those makes a good HIIT workout.) I can go for a run. I can go for a hike. I can do my animal moves. In particular, I can do two rest days, if that seems like a good idea. (Which I think it probably does. At least my Oura ring thinks so.)
This all got started back in February, when I figured out that I was lacking in consistency. (Previously I’d imagined that the problem was a lack of intensity.) Targeting 5 workouts a week has meant that, even when I miss one, I get in more than when I was targeting 3 workouts a week—even if I didn‘t miss one.
I don’t want to give up the consistency, I just want to take the volume down a notch. Hence the struggle. But I think now I’ve got a plan.
I experimented with animal moves a while back, but for various reasons ended up not getting them added to my broader movement practice. Just recently I’ve been trying them again, and this time they seem to be sticking.
Most of the credit goes to Julie Angel and specifically to her free Move More course, which I highly recommend.
I’ve looked at a lot of free movement courses on the web, and most of them don’t suit me. (A class can work great in person, but a video of that class pretty rarely hits the spot as well, and that’s what a lot of free movement classes tend to be.) Julie’s class is different—better.
Half of this, I suspect, comes down to her being a filmmaker as much as she is a movement coach, so she knows how to use the language of moving images to tell a story (and telling a story is often the best way to teach something). Besides that, this particular class—especially the “animal moves” segment—happened to be just exactly the right level for me.
The animal moves themselves are just names given to perfectly ordinary sorts of quadrupedal ground movement—prone crawling (bear crawl), supine crawling (crab crawl), moving forward or laterally from a squat (frog or ape respectively). Those are mostly useful movements. (Prone crawling for going under something. Supine crawling for going down a steep or slippery slope. I’m not sure how useful frog hopping is by itself, but it’s a progression toward doing kong vaults, so useful for that at least.) Giving them animal names is possibly useful as a memory aid if nothing else. But the whole thing can be taken up a notch by coming up with some transition moves that let you go from one animal move to another, and thereby put them together into a flow, which takes it above just being a useful move and turns it into something more like a dance. An opportunity for self-expression, at any rate.
Various people have come up with such transitions, but until I came across the Animal Moves segment of Julie’s Move More class, I hadn’t found an introduction at the right level for me—everything was either too basic, or else too complex, so I either didn’t learn anything, or else I couldn’t make the jump to actually including the moves as part of my practice.
The three or so animal moves, together with the three or so transitions that Julie teaches come out exactly right. Not too much to learn from a video, but enough that I could go ahead and put together a flow—which means that my training session can be much more interesting than just doing one crawl followed by another followed by another.
Just as an aside, I should mention that the transitions are also useful moves in their own right. They’re not just useful for transitioning from prone to supine crawling, but also useful for things like transitioning from sitting on the ground to standing (and vice versa), or transitioning from one seated position to another.
Since spring I’ve been using some workout plans put together by Anthony Arvanitakis. For eight weeks from late May to early July I did his Superhero Bodyweight Workout, and since then I’ve been following along with bodyweight workouts he’s been sharing for the summer.
One limitation that I’ve had all this time is that I haven’t been able to do the hill or stair sprint workouts that he suggests, due to a lingering foot injury. After repeatedly resting my sore foot until it was nearly all better, and then trying to get back into running, only to have my foot start hurting again, I finally took a full month off. That was enough for my foot to finally feel entirely better, so last week I went for a 3-mile run as a test. My foot didn’t hurt during the run, but was sore again that evening and the next day.
I took another week off from running, and then today decided to try a different tack: Those hill-sprint workouts.
Three things about this make it make sense to me:
Putting those things together makes me think that maybe hill sprints will let me run at least a little without aggravating my foot injury.
Another thing I’m doing is extending my warmup quite a bit. I did my full dynamic stretching routine before heading to the workout location. Once I got there I scrupulously followed the prescribed warmup routine, jogging up the hill at 50%, 60%, 70% and 80% intensity (I actually did 5 preliminary jogs up the hill, at gradually increasing intensity). After each of the last two warmup jogs I did a set of 12 straight-elbow push ups (what I call rhomboid pushups) as preparation for the pushup part of the workout.
The main workout then was 4 sets of sprinting up the hill at 90% intensity, walking down, and then doing as many pushups as I could do with perfect form (I did 10, 10, 8 and 8 pushups).
I also did something I’ve always resisted in the past: I drove to my hill. (This being central Illinois, hills are few and far between. My hill is at Colbert Park.) Usually I don’t like to drive somewhere to get exercise—why not walk or run and thereby get more exercise? But with my sore foot, that much extra running would definitely aggravate the injury. Even walking that far might be an issue.
One thing I need to be careful of is to be sure to get in my full wrist warmup. I’m pretty good about that ahead of a rings workout, but perhaps wasn’t as scrupulous as I should have been this time. But the pushups put enough stress on the wrists that it’s good to get them fully warmed up even before the rhomboid pushups.
I’m pretty pleased with my workout. My foot (really my ankle) is a bit tender this evening. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow. On the schedule I’m (tentatively) following, I’ll be doing hill sprints again Monday. If my foot is completely pain-free at least several days ahead of that, I’ll proceed with that plan.