Something new…Exercise

I posted last week about how I recently changed my diet.  I also mixed up my exercise routine. I’ve been running and cycling pretty consistently for the past 18 months, at least.  I wasn’t going to be confused with a triathlete, but I was still out there, at least 3 times per week, 30+ minutes each time.  Usually cycling was on the order of an hour or more, with longer rides on the weekends in the 20-30 mile range.  Again, not elite distances, but certainly not a lack of effort.  I also would try to get a couple of strength and/or flexibility sessions in per week, but those got skipped pretty frequently. So that was my routine up until early-mid February of this year, when I changed things up.

While I was researching my diet, I was also reading up on some exercise information.  It wasn’t something I really set out to do, but quite a few of the nutrition sources I checked out also linked to some exercise sources, which led me down several of those internet rabbit holes we’ve all been through.  I’ve been reading about the theory that exercise that is much lower in intensity may actually be better for us than higher intensity workouts.  By that I’m talking about the idea that sustained workouts at a lower heart rate may increase your fitness level better than sustained higher heart rate exercises.  In order to to try this out, I’ve adopted Phil Maffetone‘s idea of a Maximum Aerobic Function heart rate.  He has a simple formula that he’s developed after monitoring boatloads of endurance athletes, which is basically 180 – your age.  The resulting number give you the heart rate that you should never go above in your training.  That’s not to be confused with your maximum heart rate that you may have gotten from a formula like 220 – your age.  For me, that number is 132, which very low and very hard to maintain.  I find myself having to walk a lot, especially up hills, to maintain that level.  I’m trying to be more disciplined to stay at or below that rate, but I still find my heart rate getting up well over 140 and into the 150’s at times.  But, that is far from the 170 and above that I used to see on a regular basis.  And, I don’t get out running as much any more, either.  Combined, I cycle and run at most 3 days per week, where I used to be doing 3-5.  The duration each time is slightly more, but definitely less intense.

I try to do some sort of strength training a few times per week, which I was also doing before.  And, much like the food, I’m trying to direct my exercise to higher quality exercise.  Currently, I’m translating higher quality strength/flexibility training to mean more basic, compound exercises that exercise my core and multiple muscles at once rather than muscle isolating movements.  But, I do spend some (as little as possible) time in the gym doing some circuit training.  And while I do schedule time to do a strength workout, this is something that I often do as part of another workout (ie, stopping at the gym during a bike ride or doing box jumps on a park bench during a run).  Or, sometimes I even just do a bunch of body weight exercises and yoga-type stretches while I binge watch something on tv.

I’m a big fan of body weight and simple compound exercises that mimic something I may actually need or want to do.  Squats, pushups, planks, pull-ups, box jumps (up and down), etc.  I read some books and websites focusing on body weight-only exercises and learned a lot about using furniture, stairs, playgrounds, trees, etc. as workout equipment. Really good stuff for when you’re traveling or binge watching tv.  I have to confess that I have a long way to go before I hit my goals, but I do what I can when I can.

So, what has all this done for, or to, me?  As I said in my earlier post, in two weeks, I lost about ten pounds.  I’m currently about 15 pounds down from my early February weight.  Weight aside, I’ve increased my longest running mileage to a little over 6 miles on a run rather than the 2.5-3.5 that I was stuck on before.  I used to finish a 3 mile run and be DONE.  D-O-N-E!  Now, trying to keep my heart rate down, I can go much further.  I still have to walk a lot, but my personal records for the mile and 5k are improving at a faster rate than they were in the previous 18 months.   At least that is what Garmin Connect and Strava tell me.  And my legs don’t feel nearly as fatigued, even if I do a lot of climbing.  I’m also enjoying the runs more.  I wish I could run longer between walking sessions, but that is slowly getting better.  The best part, though, is that when my runs are finished, I feel like I could keep going.  Maybe not for the same distance again, but lately I always feel like I could add on another mile or two.

Strength and flexibility-wise, I also see improvement.  I’m still embarrassingly weak in the pull-up and pushup area, but between losing weight and getting stronger, I am improving my technique and number of reps.  I think that I need to focus more in this area, maybe add one or two dedicated workouts or a combined run/strength workout.