Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Getting back into weights

Yesterday I didn't do much of anything exercise-wise. In part that was because a snow squall was lulling me to stay indoors. I walked home through the snow, which takes about 25 minutes, and spent the night reading instead of heading to gym. On the bright side, coming off the heels of a good sleep the day left me time for some interesting new chemistry project ideas. Not sure if they'll see the light of day, but I enjoy a good thought experiment now and then.
Photo from serious running

All fine to rationalize, but because of all that sitting around I had a crummy night's sleep compared to yesterday. As important as it is to rest, too much of anything can be too much (duh). Right now I'm at a point where my nerves need a stimulus of some kind, and more than 45 minutes of walking. I vowed to pool run, though it seems today fate had other plans.

Following up on my vow, this morning I got dressed in my running stuff, ran to the McGill Currie gym (only 10 min jog away so not hard on Achilles), showered, then walked on to the deck only to be told the pool will be closed in 4 minutes. Say what? Sure enough a P.E. class was starting at 9 am. My bad. Always check the schedule.

But the silver lining is I had time to do something I had been avoiding for months: weights. Proportional to how much sedentary folk overvalue strength work, the endurance types view it with suspicion. I've tried proper gym work a few times, but never quite got the hang of it. My on/off-again relationship lies partly in my tendency to avoid things I'm bad at (the list includes playing musical instruments). Also I knew my achilles would be fine as squats don't require use of your forefoot (else you're doing it wrong).

To keep the calculated risks in my favor, I made the it simple by doing two exercises (sit-ups and squats) with five reps, six sets. One trick is to do weights effectively you have to lift heavy. By heavy I mean be close to your 100%RM = 100% max effort. Ideally you should build to around 8-10 squats at 80RM in 6-8 sets. [Note: I'm not pulling these numbers out of a hat; they come from Tudor Bompa's book Periodization Training in Sports, which I admire save for a few quibbles. Steve Magness and Brad Hudson advocate the same idea with hill bounds, i.e. 10 second sprints with 3-5 minutes rest]. But the workout itself is not quite why I started this post; doing the reps are the easy part (not counting the ongoing work on form ). The trick for me was concerning the rest intervals.

Given that legitimate experts keep reminding everyone to take an extended rest between sets and we endurance types keep ignoring them, I knew I needed to consistently bide my time. Then I remembered the newspaper I had brought from the gym entrance and of course the answer was to read a few articles between sets. Thereafter the minutes flew by and I did six sets of five squats, enough for a first-round message to my legs to 'get stronger'. Legs also felt like jelly afterward, confirming the rest was well worth the wait (alliteration...). Here's how my renewed image of a weight session looked:
To repeat: to do multiple reps effectively, you need about several minutes of space between them. Cut the rest, lose the benefits (Note: the benefits of weights for endurance types is to better concentrate your driving force, or so I understand). Five or so minutes is not a very long time to wait, but when you're alone in the gym there's usually not much else to do besides stare at the wall. Ergo the temptation is to rush, which I have was previously guilty of doing. Alternatively you can do other exercises in the meanwhile, but that of course compromises your rest. Oddly enough, densely packing your exercise program still seems to be the 'solution' for endurance weight programs as I think back to my days with the XC ski team at Carleton U. More typically weight programs  don't emphasize the sheer importance of the rest.

Seldom do elite runners rest properly between sets of weights, being more used to a steady effort; rarely does anyone take the time to sit in a gym and just wait while their bodies recover. Sprinters have mastered this art for quite a while, which is why they appear to be doing nothing most of the time. In fact they are recovering, or waiting. Just like lazy cats, but boy do cats move when they do.

Finally, to tie this into the big picture, I thought how endurance runners ought to see rest as a natural part of their training already as they only spend about 8% of their time running (recall this equals 115 min/day). Below is what a (24-hour) day looks like for someone who runs two 60 min sessions with a 25 minute bout of speed:

So we're all spending most our lives just sitting around, even us 'active' ones. That's probably why marathon runners can still hold down a full-time job (though working, even at a desk, isn't exactly resting, but I won't get sidetracked). 

To wrap up, long story short I found a better way to rest between weights. I wrote this to help remind myself of the space between workouts. Along with this interview with Trent Stellingwerff that helped inspire my entry:

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