Two of the newspapers I read regularly run a weekly profile featuring a person, the person's primary way to work out, and the positives the person reaps from exercise. The profiles present both ends of the exercise spectrum.
This year, I've read about how a man worked out to qualify for and compete in Paris-Brest-Paris, a 90-hour, 1200-kilometer bicycling event and how a woman went from not being able to jog a full block to finishing a 5k running race. Years ago, I read how a long-time cyclist competes against and often beats the top local riders half his age and how first-time runner found peace and the willpower to lose 40 pounds.
These four examples attest to the adaptability of exercise, but also its Achilles' heel. Because exercise can do so many positive things, exercisers tend to attempt too much at once.
Like increase exercise intensity and the number of weekly workouts. Or attempt to lose body fat and add muscle mass.
Worse, too many see exercise as such an effective elixir that they don't give individual workouts and the good that they generate much thought. I once had a reader ask me, for instance, why he hurt his back moving furniture when he regularly walked for a full hour and fast! five times a week.
While that question simply sounds like a non-sequitur, it shows the faith some people place in their workouts. It also shows the need to do some serious consideration well before you break a sweat.
After all, if you're going to spend the five hours a week that that wounded walker does or 10 or the 15 or so I do you need to understand a bit about yourself and clearly define your goals. If not, your efforts won't be nearly as effective as they could be. So today's column will share some of the elements of my recent workouts to expound upon three things you should do each day before you don the workout gear.
Know your objective
Once a week, I ride so slowly it's embarrassing which is one of the reasons I do it inside on a stationary trainer. But the objective of an off-season Thursday morning workout is to use one-legged pedaling and the blood flow brought on by easy exercise to allow my legs to recover.
And do they ever need recovery.
The workout the day before is nothing but weightlifting for the upper legs at least 10 sets for the quadriceps and 10 sets for the hamstrings along with some stretching, all crammed into 55 minutes. In the four days before that, I generally ride between 10 and 11 hours and much of it is the cycling equivalent to weightlifting.
I use a gear far bigger than I would for optimal pedaling, force myself to stay seated, and bull my way up small hills.
Working harder than I do on a Thursday would certainly burn more calories and produce a more productive workout for that single day, but it would sabotage the master plan.
Create a plan
For about six weeks in 2009, I experienced what every serious older athlete dreams about. Hard work had seemingly turned back the hands of time.
At 48, I was riding better than I did at 43 when my season-long results led to me being named Pennsylvania's Best 40+ All-Around Rider. I had won two of the first three races, finished second in the other, and was one mile away from winning a third when my back tire rolled off the rim in a turn.
The result: a break in my right femur that was so long it required two x-rays.
The recovery was supposed to take 12 months, and even though I was racing again in four, I still don't feel fully recovered yet. I still experience discomfort on certain days when I go 100 percent especially in aerodynamic position needed to race a time trial.
As a result, the goal this off-season is to get rid of that discomfort while adding power. Much of my riding and all the lifting with my legs is done with that in mind.
The benefit to having a plan like this beyond possibly improving future performance is that I'm almost always motivated to get up at 4:05 on weekdays to workout or ride eight-plus hours over a chilly and windy weekend.
Accept that exercise is both
an art and a science
Using elements of science to guide your workouts, whether it be through a prescribed training formula, a diet plan, or technology incorporated into exercise machinery, is great if you use it as a guide and not gospel.
Before every bicycle ride, for example, I can tell you much of the ride I'd like to do with my heart rate above 140 beats a minute. But heart rate is affected by so many things, cumulative fatigue, heat and humidity, the terrain of the ride, and gear selection, that I often alter the number in the middle of the ride.
Although you need to incorporate science to create the most effective workouts, you must never forget that performing the workout itself is more akin to art than science. If something feels right, far more often than it is not, it is right for your body.