Avoiding Injury While Power Lifting

You don’t have to lift extremely heavy weights to get benefits out of strength training. If you want to start looking like a body builder, though, power lifting is a must. This is the practice of lifting weights heavy enough to put you at failure within four to six repetitions. It’s not for everybody, and those who try it need to take extra care to avoid injury.

Learn Proper Technique

If you do a light lift with poor technique, you risk not getting the best results. When power lifting with bad technique, tiny mistakes in your form can put immense pressure on your joints and major muscles, and you risk getting badly injured.

People new to weightlifting should avoid power lifting for the first year of training to accustom their muscles to the workout and learn the basics of training with weights. Even if you’re an experienced lifter, it’s a good idea to consult with a personal trainer before taking on a power lifting regime. These professionals will help you spot small errors in your form and show you how best to correct them.

Use a Spotter

Power lifting involves putting heavy metal objects above some of the most important parts of your anatomy. Although you might perform a thousand lifts without an issue, something going badly wrong just once can mean serious injury or even death.

A spotter takes position and watches you lift, standing ready to help you hold up the weight if you start having trouble. She can also help you correct your form, or add a little upward pressure while you’re failing on your last reps. Each lift has its own best practices for spotting, which you can learn during the same personal training sessions you used to learn proper lifting form.

Some gyms have self-spotting equipment, like squat cages, that take care of this part of lifting safety without requiring a partner. As with all other aspects of power lifting, you need to learn how to use this gear. Even when it is available, you should lift with a partner whenever possible.

Understand the Safety Equipment

Power lifting challenges the largest muscles of your body, such as your quads, glutes and pectorals. As you become capable of lifting truly heavy weights, it can be rough on the joints and smaller muscles. To help alleviate this stress, you can use a variety of straps, belts and support garments.

Learn how to use any safety equipment you consider using. Worn correctly, they can help you develop to a new level while protecting the weakest parts of your anatomy. Worn wrong, they do nothing — and can even increase your chances of injury. You should check with your doctor before using any safety equipment in your workout, as the pain that indicates you might want the gear could also be a symptom of a more serious problem. For example, a twinge in your knee that a brace can alleviate could be the beginning of a meniscal tear that leg lifts — even with the brace — will only make worse.

Quit Early and Often

Power lifting will “burn,” often more than other lifting workouts you’ve tried. However, if it hurts you should discontinue the workout immediately. When using lighter weights, it’s reasonable to push through a minor ding, but the weights involved with power lifting can escalate those small problems into serious injuries.

The same goes for your power lifting regimen in general. If going above a certain weight causes acute pain, or pain that lasts for days afterward, reduce the weight and increase your reps. Be patient with your progress and focus on good form.





How to Choose a Martial Arts School

Whether your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, relieve stress or learn a new skill, martial arts lessons may be the answer for you. Most classes provide a full-spectrum wellness experience. The only trouble is, for most parts of the Western world, you have so many options it’s hard to know where to take lessons. Narrow it down to the area’s best by keeping a few things in mind.

Choosing a Style

Although many people think this is the first thing you should consider, it’s better to leave this alone unless you’re already passionately interested in a specific kind of martial art. The overwhelming majority of styles teach the same concepts, just with different techniques and drills to express them. There is no such thing as a “superior” style, just superior instructors. By limiting which kind of martial art you’re willing to study, you might eliminate the best program in your area before beginning your search.

Three Kinds of School

Martial arts programs come in all shapes and sizes, but typically fall into three broad categories.

Individual classes, such as those offered through a community college, at a church, or in a parks and recreation department. These are typically run by a single instructor with a full-time job who teaches for the love of teaching. Individual classes tend to be cheaper than other options, but have a more restricted schedule.

Mom and pop dojos are in a single storefront, typically have just one space for classes, and focus on a single style. This is what most people picture when they imagine taking classes. They usually have a schedule of classes in the evenings, and some limited weekend classes. They’re more expensive than individual classes.

Superschools have hundreds of students, multiple training rooms, and frequently host a large staff of instructors and administrative help. Schedules tend to be wide and accessible, and the facilities often boast other features like a pro shop or even a coffee bar. These are usually the most expensive option, but some will have inexpensive options for people willing to accept a limited schedule. A few even host individual class-style options from outside teachers.

As with the style of martial art, no category is better or worse than the others. It’s more a matter of which kind of program fits your schedule, and which kind of training community works best with how you like to learn.

The Intro Program

The overwhelming majority of schools offer some kind of introductory offer. It’s often structured as a small number of lessons at a low price, free lessons with purchase of a training uniform, or a free uniform with purchase of some lessons. Regardless of how it’s structured, you should take the intro offer at two or three schools in your area to determine which you like best. While in the intro program, pay close attention to a few specifics:

Safety – learn the school’s culture about safety. Is there a visible first aid kit? Are instructors certified in first aid? Do they wear the proper equipment, or “wing it?” Proper equipment may include head gear, sparring gloves, groin guards and mouth gear. Additional safety gear can be found with a quick Internet search.

Cleanliness – a dojo that smells of sweat with a nasty restroom doesn’t mean the instructor is incompetent, but it does mean they don’t pay attention to the details.

Other Students – take time to chat with other students, and parents of child students. See if they rave about the program, or have complaints. Listen to the complaints and decide if they’re important to you.

Follow-Through — ask for information about something staff can’t get you right away, such as pricing on a training video. Find out how long it takes for them to get back to you with the information.

If a school doesn’t offer an introductory program, be wary. If they insist you sign a long-term contract without an intro, run away.

Final Decision

After you’ve tried the intros at a few schools, simply go with the program where you feel the most at home. To the extent you can afford it, try not to let tuition make the final decision here. If you stick with your lessons, you’re in for a life-long relationship with the teachers at that school. It’s well worth the difference in price.

Revive Your Workout with Plyometrics

Do you want to revive a tired workout regimen? Get a sleeker physique? Challenge your body in a new way?

Sticking with a regular workout routine is great for your mind and body. But after weeks or months of doing the same exercise routine day in and day out, it’s common to stop seeing results, get bored, lose motivation and want to try something new. That’s where plyometric exercises come in.

The Lowdown on Plyometrics

Plyometrics, or “jump training” exercises, are explosive bounding exercises. Plyometrics mimic the motions used in sports such as skiing, football, volleyball, tennis and boxing. Plyometrics were first used by Eastern European Olympic athletes in the 1970s, and nowadays professional athletes and gym rats alike do plyometrics to get more out of their workouts.

Plyometrics involves rapidly stretching a muscle and then quickly shortening it. Moves focus on controlled impact and maximum power. Experts say regularly doing plyometrics can improve leg strength, balance, agility, acceleration, vertical jump performance and bone density.

So how does this help the everyday exerciser? Plyometric exercises push you out of your comfort zone and make your workout more challenging. This can lead to:

·         Weight loss. Plyometric exercises get your heart rate way up, and then it comes back down between sets. This type of training is known to torch calories and burn fat.

·         Improved muscle tone. These powerful movements strengthen and tone your muscles.

·         Better athletic performance. Plyometrics can help competitive runners, cyclists and tennis players gain speed.

What’s more, experts say muscles adapt to more challenging workouts quickly, which means you’ll see results of plyometric training in no time.

Examples of Plyometric Exercises

A major perk of plyometrics is that you don’t need much equipment, if any. You can do most moves using your own bodyweight. Try these plyometric exercises:

·         Burpees. Stand up straight, then bend your knees and touch your hands flat to the ground. Pop your legs back and get into a push-up position. Then shoot your feet back in by your hands and do a vertical jump with your arms extended. Repeat.

·         Skier jumps. Stand up straight with your knees slightly bent. Jump as far as you can to the left, then as far as you can back to the right, and repeat. Be mindful to land softly with your knees bent to reduce your risk of injury.

·         Mountain climbers. Get into a push-up position with your arms extended (be careful not to lock your elbows). Keep your neck, back, and hips straight and then alternate bringing your knees into your chest quickly.

·         Jumpees. Stand in a squat position with your feet hip-width apart. Jump up as high as you can, land softly, return to the squat position, and repeat.

·         Box jumps. Find a sturdy box or bench that is about two feet off the ground. Jump from the ground up onto the box, landing with both feet together. Step carefully back down and repeat.

Add plyometrics to your exercise routine two to three times per week for maximum results.

Since plyometric exercises are so intense, it’s important to know that they aren’t for everyone. If you’re new to exercise, have bone or joint problems, or are prone to athletic injuries, plyometrics may not be for you.





Barefoot Running and Marathon Training

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: Is starting barefoot running training a bad idea when combined with marathon training with existing trainers?

A: It’s not that it’s a bad idea as much as it is an aggressive one. When training for a marathon, the training plan consistently builds in mileage, intensity and volume through the season.   Traditional marathon plans cut back every two to three weeks to allow the body and mind time to recover and adapt to the demands of the training progression. The balance of the building and cutback weeks balance the stress on the body and optimally prepare you to tackle 26.2 miles.

When you transition to barefoot running or minimalist shoes, it is very much like an entirely new sport in that it uses different muscles to move you forward. It also takes a considerable amount of time to build up the strength, flexibility and the skin’s resistance to running without shoes.

If you’re like most, your feet have been living the high life in your supportive shoes. That makes life convenient in that we don’t need to focus all that much on where we step nor do we need to have strength and mobility to walk or run. The shoes do much of the work for us.   Going from a supportive shoe environment to barefoot running is a significant change and challenge for your body. It requires the time and patience to build the strength, flexibility and sensory skills to move with less under foot. This can be easily demonstrated by taking the one-legged stance test.

Kick off your shoes and socks and stand on one foot for one minute. Unless you’ve been living barefoot, you’ll begin to feel muscles you never knew you had firing to stabilize your body. It’s not about weakness – it’s about our body adapting to its natural shoe habitat.

If I were coaching you, I’d encourage you to wear your go-to running shoes while marathoning and use the season to supplement with foot strengthening exercises that will help you make the transition post season. Here are three such exercises:

Single Leg Stance:

  • Stand up with your feet hip width apart.
  • Keep your arms out to your sides for balance.
  •  Lift your left leg a few inches off the floor and hold for 30-60 seconds.
  • Engage your hip muscles to create a long, neutral line up your body. If this is confusing – try letting your hip relax out to the side and then tighten and contract it to align it under your shoulders – this is also another great exercise called hip huggers.
  • Repeat two to four times on each side. You will feel all the muscles in your foot, ankle and hip fatiguing in seconds!
  • When this is easy, progress to performing barefoot. When that gets easy, stand barefoot on a towel, pillow or pad to further challenge the muscles and balance. If you get to SuperStar status, close your eyes (very hard).

Toe Lifts:

  • Stand barefoot with your feet shoulder width apart. Stand in a tall neutral position, toes facing forward and look down at your piggies (toes). Balance your weight across the ball of your foot and heel.
  • Lift all ten toes up and then slowly lower one toe at a time from pinky (the one that went “wee wee wee” all the way home) to big toe. If this is a challenge, sit and use your fingers to assist until you gain the dexterity.
  • Repeat 10-15 times per foot once and progress in time to two to three sets of 15.
  • When this gets easy, progress to lifting each toe up and then down one at a time.

Heel and Toe Raise:

  • Stand barefoot with your feet hip width apart and your weight evenly distributed over feet.
  • Raise up on your balls of your feet and hold for one to two seconds and lower.
  • Raise up your toes and hold for one to two seconds and lower.
  • Repeat heel and toe raises for 30 seconds.
  • Newbies begin with one set and as your feet grow stronger increase to two to three sets at 45-60 seconds.
  • When that becomes easy, brag about it to your family and friends and up the ante by performing this exercise on a stability pad, folded towel or pillow.

You can also build up your foot and lower leg strength along the way without going barefoot quite yet. For instance, once you’ve built up your foot strength and mobility with the exercises above, you can weave in the following activities to continue to transition towards running with less underfoot.

  • Walk around your house barefoot for short periods of time (five to 10 minutes) every other day. This builds your sensory skills as well as foot strength and is a great first step in going barefoot. As you gain strength, build on the amount of time by five to 10 minutes every two weeks and then do so daily. Let your body be your guide as everyone’s tolerance varies.
  • If you’re a gym person, use the elliptical machine with minimalist shoes or socks (if the gym allows). This will further improve your foot strength but without the impact of running.
  • Walk before you run – continue your journey to less by walking in short periods of time (one to two minutes) on a treadmill before or after your training runs.

Going barefoot doesn’t necessarily have to be all or nothing, and the truth is – a little goes a long way in improving your running form and strength and decreasing the risk for injuries. As you build into this slowly, you may find that supplementing barefoot exercises and drills to be the perfect complement to your running program. You may also want to experiment with more in running drills or workouts. The important thing is that you go especially slowly, avoid doing much of this during your marathon training, build and dedicate the time and effort it requires to make the change to running with less.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

Exercise for Better Grades

The myriad physical benefits of exercise are far from breaking news. What is surprising to many people, however, are the equally numerous mental benefits. In addition to the well-documented improvements in mood and stress reduction related to a decent workout, new research is beginning to reveal just how exercise can improve overall brain function. This is specifically useful information if you have school-aged children or are still in school yourself. Honestly, though, who couldn’t use a boost in brain power?

The Research

Brain function, referred to as cognitive function in more clinical circles, is the collective result of several factors. Memory, alertness, focus, comprehension and ability to execute motor commands are all involved. Incredibly, studies have shown that even moderate exercise can improve all of these aspects of brain function.

A review of the research in the journal Trends in Neurosciences, found that regular exercise affects the physical health of the brain. The levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and other hormones that control brain growth, are increased enough by exercise to have a measurable improvement on learning capacity and mental performance. Exercise also activates genes that control brain plasticity, or your ability to retain information and adapt to new situations. These findings have led to extensive research showing that exercise later in life can slow mental decline related to aging.

But the true test of these findings came from the real-world proving grounds of the public school system. At Naperville Central High School in Illinois, students who struggled with math and reading were scheduled for physical education class first thing in the morning. Bikes and balls are scattered throughout the classrooms and teachers plan physical activity into the lessons. When the school implemented these changes in 2010, reading scores drastically improved and math scores increased by 20 percent.

These results have been duplicated in other schools and colleges. In the adult world, offices that make room for exercise throughout the day experience an increase in productivity.

Helping Children With ADHD

There are over 2.5 million school-aged children in America diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to Science Daily. Although medication has proven to be effective in most cases of ADHD, many of these treatments are fairly new, leaving parents and doctors worrying about long-term side effects. Cost is also a concern when it comes to medication.

A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics offers exercise as a potential non-medical intervention, though. Children with ADHD, as well as those without the condition, scored better results on standardized tests and in games designed to test their ability to focus after exercising for 20 minutes.

Putting it into Practice

It’s interesting to note that, in the study discussed above, the children were only asked to walk at a brisk pace for 20 minutes. Long bouts of vigorous exercise aren’t necessary to achieve better brain function.

Most studies experimented with exercise in the mornings or immediately before academic testing, but this may not be possible for everyone all the time. A more workable idea may be to exercise when you can, but stick to your schedule. The regularity will also help you build self-discipline as a byproduct, which can be an important cognitive skill in many situations.

Be careful to start slowly and keep the activity to a moderate intensity, since working out too intensely can exhaust you mentally and be counterproductive.

Have you or your children experienced the mental benefits of regular exercise? Please share your experiences in the comments.







7 Tips for Running and Biking in Winter Weather

When it’s cold out, running and biking are less pleasant and more dangerous. One solution is to get your cardio on stationary machines all winter long. Another is to quit cardio altogether until the weather warms up. But nothing beats the burn of some good, old-fashioned roadwork. Here are seven tips to help you get on the road even when the weather outside is frightful.

1. Do Some Research

Check the weather report online the night before you exercise, and an hour or so before you go out, so you can dress appropriately for what’s outside. Most smart phones come with a weather app that gives updated weather conditions for your area. If you don’t have an app phone, www.weather.com is an easy-to-remember Internet resource with the same information.  It’s also a good idea to research routes and tracks, so you can work the safest one possible given the conditions.

2. Dress in Layers

You’ll feel colder at the beginning of your run than in the middle or at the end. Wear multiple layers so you can adjust your insulation over the course of your session. Gloves and a hat are absolute musts when cycling in the cold, and a good idea for runners. For your lowest layer, use fibers that wick moisture away from your skin, such as Coolmax or Drymax. Compression garments make good under layers, but not all are made of breathable fabrics, so are less suitable for cold-weather exercise.

3. Run Laps

Hypothermia is a real risk when exercising in the cold, especially after you sweat and take off those first few layers. If you’re doing an “out-and-back” route, you risk getting chilled a long way from the warmth of your home. Running a shorter track multiple times brings you back to “base camp” more often.

4. See to Traction

Whether it’s rain, snow, or ice, traction becomes a problem in winter months. If you’re cycling, swap your street slicks for traction tires. If running, wear shoes with excellent traction, or consider shoe traction devices, which are essentially snow chains for your feet. Choose routes with fewer hills on snowy or icy days. Be especially cautious of black ice, which can be practically invisible and just as slick as any other nasty patch of road.

5. Emphasize Visibility

You won’t be the only person on the road with traction problems. Cars will similarly need extra time to stop or turn, meaning you need to let them know you’re there earlier than during the summer months. Wear brighter colors, and consider a headlamp and reflector vest even during daylight hours. Choose routes with a sidewalk or bike lane, rather than just a shoulder.

6. Eat First

Your body stays warm by burning calories, meaning extra calories are important in avoiding hypothermia. A light, calorie-dense, snack just before going out can make the whole experience more pleasant and in some cases safer. A banana, energy bar or cup of soup are all great options.

7. Keep Going

Perhaps the most important tip for outdoor cardio in wintertime is to keep doing it. When things get cold and drizzly, it’s easy to give in to temptation and stay inside with the TV instead. Ignore that temptation and get out there. Having a workout buddy, or committing to your workout on social media, can help you find motivation when the winter cold tries to suck it away.

Readers, do you have any success stories or tales of terror from getting out in the winter wet? Tell us about them in the comments. 





Active in the Snow: Cross Country Skiing

Cross-Country Skis in SnowWhen snow covers the ground, your activity level could decrease dramatically, and understandably so. Not only can it be difficult just to move in all that snow and slush, but it can be equally hard to find the motivation to do so. The problem is further complicated if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s important, then, to find some winter activity that can keep you active, in shape and possibly even give you reason to be excited about all that snow.

Although many people enjoy downhill skiing and snowboarding during the winter months, these are rarely a substitute for your normal workout since they do not provide the level of exertion or type of exercise you would usually get from your routine. Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, provides a safe, accessible and effective workout in the snow.

The Basics

What is now the sport of cross-country, or Nordic, skiing originated as a mode of transportation over snowy landscapes. It can be done in a wide variety of locations. This means that you don’t necessarily have to travel long distances just to ski, as is often the case with downhill skiing. In fact, many state parks are open during the winter for cross-country skiing.

Cross-country skiing uses a complex and challenging motion to propel you forward that involves a number of major muscle groups. One of the most noticeable features of cross-country skis is that the skier’s heels are not fixed to the ski. This allows the motion of skiing to very closely resemble walking and involves your calves in the movement.

Two ski poles are also used, for both balance and forward momentum. This upper-body involvement means that cross-country skiing also works your arms, shoulders and back.

A new variation of cross-country skiing has emerged, called skate skiing, with the creation of lighter, stronger materials that allows the skier to travel much faster. As opposed to the traditional forward-and-back motion, skate skiing uses an outwards kick similar to skating. The pole plants are also larger and faster to help you cover more ground with each repetition.

An Effective Winter Workout

As mentioned, both variations of cross-country skiing engage multiple large muscle groups, not just those of the legs. Because the back and shoulders are also involved, cross-country skiing is an effective way to improve strength while increasing cardiovascular fitness.

Cross-country skiing is also easy on your joints since the movement requires little-to-no impact, reducing the risk of injury.

And, let’s be honest, it’s also a very pleasant way to enjoy the great outdoors on a sunny winter’s day and see the sights with friends — all while getting a good workout in.

Both traditional and skate skiing can be a great way for runners to get outside and stay in racing shape during the winter, but skate skiing offers an added challenge. As is true of most challenging activities, though, the risk of injury is increased because of the increased speed at which you would be moving and the complexity of the movement.

For beginners, start out with traditional cross-country skiing until you become comfortable with the pole plants and basic foot motions. If you feel like you need to increase the difficulty of your workout at that point, then consider switching to skate skiing.

Potential Injuries

Even low-impact sports like cross-country skiing can come with some risk of injury and you should always use caution when starting a new sport. Cross-country skiing requires a large range of motion and considerable strength in your quadriceps and calves to keep you moving forward.

It’s recommended that you follow a basic strength training routine for at least a month before hitting the trail to make sure that your legs are up to the challenge. This can consist of just a few body weight exercises and is simply intended to acclimate your legs so that you can maintain proper form to prevent injury and soreness from skiing.

Have you been able to stay active despite the snow with cross-country skiing? Please share your experience with us in the comments.





How to Optimize your Pre-run Nutrition

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I am an afternoon runner and find it challenging to know what to eat before my runs.  I often have stomach upset but I don’t want to skip lunch either.  How should I eat during the day to avoid stomach problems?  Thanks.  ~John

A: That is no fun, John, but the good news is that making just a few changes in your fueling regimen can avoid the pitfalls of stomach upset on the run.

It’s all in the timing

Because running is a high impact activity, anything you have in your stomach will get tossed and turned with each stride. Schedule your larger meals in the morning and evening, and go with a lighter meal for lunch at least two hours before you plan to run. If that is 2 p.m., eat at noon to allow for proper digestion.

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing

The quantity of food also makes a difference. If you eat a large meal too close to the start of your run, all that food sits in your gut during the entire run – playing havoc on your gastrointestinal system. When you run or workout, the blood that normally goes to your stomach for digestion is diverted to the working muscles to help you move down the road (or tread). In essence, normal digestion rates are slowed while you run, which emphasizes the importance of timing and quantity of food eaten.

Find your personal recipe

What you eat is just as important as when and how much. Everyone is different and for that reason I highly recommend keeping a fuel log for at least three to four weeks. In it, you can enter what you eat, when you eat it and how many calories you expend during the day. The value is in being able to determine your best menu for your afternoon running schedule. From there, you can mix and match types of foods during the day.

For instance, you could go with a higher fat, protein and carbohydrate breakfast so it stays with you longer and for lunch go with low fat, fiber and protein and higher in carbohydrates. Fat, fiber and protein foods all take longer to digest, which is great for satiety, but not great for running. Sticking with a higher carbohydrate lunch that is lighter in calories will digest more quickly before your run. And finally you can finish with a post-run snack (fruit and nuts) and a larger, more balanced dinner.

The key is to write it all down or use a fuel log online, time your meals based on your workout, tweak the portions pre-run and modify the types of foods you eat during the day. Here is one example of a menu you could start with:

Breakfast (6 hours Pre-Run):  Eggs with vegetables, cheese and toast

Mid-morning Snack (4 hours Pre-Run): Yogurt

Lunch (2 hours Pre-Run): Small salad with protein (chicken)

Post-Run Snack (Eat Within 20 min of Run): Piece of fruit and a handful of almonds

Dinner (2-3 Hours Post Run):  Fish, rice and vegetables

Give food monitoring a try, not only to help you avoid those stomach troubles during your run, but to keep you fueled all day long. Hopefully you’ll see positive short- and long-term results.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

Resolution to Run this Spring

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I had a wonderful holiday season but really let my fitness go to the wayside. I’m not one for setting resolutions, but do you have any tips for where to start and how to get moving again? I was running four times per week for 4-6 miles and I’d like to run a few 10K’s this spring and lose the five pounds I put on during the holiday season.  Thanks,  ~Jana

A: Hi, Jana. I’m glad you had a wonderful holiday season. Although taking a break from fitness may seem unhealthy, sometimes it can refresh your motivation to get moving again. As you start back up, the secret is to avoid the number one mistake most people make this time of year with fitness goals: doing too much too soon. Your mind will want to quickly return to what your body used to be able to do. If you take that road, it can lead to burnout, frustration and injury.

Here are tips for getting back into your running regimen efficiently and without the risk of injury along the way.

1. Start from where you are. A 25-30 minute workout may not seem like much, but if you’ve been off activity for a while it will be plenty of stress for your body. Start back with a realistic schedule of shorter 25-30 minute workouts at an easy effort where you can have a conversation. Save the high-intensity workouts until you’re back in the swing of things. Here is how your first three weeks should look:

Weeks 1-3: Three running workouts of 25-30 minutes + 3-minute walking warm-up and cool-down.

If you were off running more than a month, I’d recommend alternating run-walk intervals during this phase (ex. 4-min. run, 2-min. walk, repeat for the duration of the 25-30 minutes).

Fill in with low-impact cross training (cycling, swimming, elliptical) or strengthening workouts (yoga, strength, Pilates) one or two times per week. It will be tempting to increase the time or intensity, but hold yourself back, as this phase is just like building the foundation of a house – it takes time. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel at the end of this phase. (I promise.)

2. Build slowly. Once you’ve successfully worked yourself back into the regular habit of running and exercise, your body is ready to build slowly back to your regular routine. Here is one strategy to do this:

Weeks 4-6: Run three times per week for 35-40 minutes at an easy effort level and include one or two cross-training workouts in between (strength or low-impact cardio as mentioned above).

Weeks 7-8: Run four times per week for 40 minutes at an easy effort level and include one or two cross-training workouts in between.

Weeks 9-11: Run four times per week, twice for 40-45 minutes and twice for 45-60 minutes. Slowly increase the longer distance workouts by five minutes each week (50, 55, 60).

Weeks 12-16: Run four times per week for 45-70 minutes with two workouts shorter and easier effort (45 minutes), one faster for speed work and one long endurance workout.

This may seem like a long progression time, however, I guarantee you’ll have a solid base from which you can build, race and perform at your best come springtime.

3. Inventory your fuel. Weight loss should follow the same principles as your training. That is, if you lose too much too soon by hypo-caloric diets, you’ll set yourself up for low energy levels, decreased performance and storing fat. An easy way to lose weight is to be mindful of your diet and take inventory of what you’re eating day to day. Write down or log your foods for two weeks on a site like LIVESTRONG.com’s MyPlate. This will give you a good idea of what you’re burning each day and what you’re taking in.

Create a small deficit between your caloric intake and expenditure by reducing your calories by no more than 15 percent. If you are eating 3,000 calories per day, that would mean eating 450 fewer calories per day. The combination of exercise and caloric reduction will help you safely lose weight and keep it off. As you begin to decrease calories, eliminate the wasted fuel as well (processed easy food, white food, fried food) and replace with clean options (fruits, veggies, lean meat). Again, three weeks of modified eating and you’ll feel a great deal better and create the momentum to making better dietary choices.

4. Be accountable. Finally,create an accountability system for yourself. That could be running with a buddy or a group, or posting your goals on social media. Research shows that people that exercise socially stick with it longer and perform stronger as well. Getting back to your running program is easier than you think if you take your time and enjoy the ride along the way. Happy New Year!

What are your running goals for this year? Share with us in the comments.

Perceived Effort a Better Way to Train than “Race Pace”

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do you find your ‘marathon pace’ or ‘race pace’ (5k, 10K pace)? I know my usual pace for training runs, and have done a couple of half-marathons, but I’m not sure what is meant by those terms for training purposes?  ~Pam

A: There’s nothing more confusing than to be a first time marathoner being guided to run long runs at your ‘marathon pace’ or better yet, one to two minutes slower than your planned marathon pace. First, you haven’t acquired a marathon pace yet, and second, this is about as accurate as my chances of picking the winning lottery numbers.

Okay, I’m stepping off my soapbox. Sorry, this gets me a bit riled up as I spent the better part of 20 years coaching runners to avoid this training myth. Training by a race pace will teach you only to run at that pace, and depending on the day, that could be way too fast or slow based on your fitness. It’s a great way to get injured, as we all want to run fast and we naturally plug in faster than we should be running paces.

The most effective way to train isn’t all that technical. It doesn’t have to include lots of hard-to-pronounce words or calculations. In fact, it’s quite easy. Train based on your body – by effort or how your body is feeling – and for a specific purpose on that day.

When you’re running for fitness, you can afford to play with the intensity of running workouts or even run harder more often because the program you’re on is horizontal in nature (you’re not building mileage weekly). When you’re training for a race, specifically a long distance race, you’re building mileage and – for seasoned runners – intensity until you peak and then taper to the race start.

All this is to say, replace the word “pace” with “effort” and you’ll always train at the right place on the given day. For example, you’re training plan calls for a six-mile workout with four of the middle miles at planned marathon pace. You could guess what your pace will be in several months, or you can replace the word “pace” with “effort.” So you’re now running a one-mile warm up at an easy, conversational effort followed by four miles at marathon effort and then finish with an easy-effort mile.  Marathon effort for newbies will be one notch above an easy effort run and for seasoned marathoners it will be at a moderate to hard effort (where you can talk but only in one word answers).

Training by focusing on “effort” vs. “pace” on any particular day will be more beneficial to your training overall. For instance, you’re still tired from this last weekend’s long run and you’ve got an easy run planned for Monday and a tempo run on Tuesday. If you run at a pace you think is easy on Monday, it is likely too hard if you’re still tired. Therefore, you end up running hard on an easy day and delaying the time it takes to recover. This carries over to the tempo run, which you run by pace, and is too hard of an effort, taking more out of your body and further delaying your recovery. This can lead to overtraining, fatigue and injuries.

Training by effort makes all things as easy as using a tablet device. Think of it in three zones: the easy effort (yellow), the moderate effort (orange) and the hard effort (red).

Yellow Zone: This is the effort level where you can’t hear your breathing, you’re able to easily talk and you can run here for a very long time.

Orange Zone: This is the effort level where you start to hear your breathing, but you’re not gasping for air. You can talk, but it is more challenging to get out sentences, so you use one- or two-word answers.

Red Zone: This is the effort level where your breathing is vigorous. You can’t talk, you’re reaching for air and counting the minutes until it ends.

The point at which you go from the orange to the red zone is called “the redline,” or the threshold at which your body begins to burn glycogen more rapidly. This is important to know because you can train to increase the point at which you hit the redline, and therefore run faster at easier efforts. I’ll cover this in another blog post.

Long story short, the goal is to make every workout purposeful and on target. Our performance varies based on the day, sleep, nutrition, training demands, age and more. By training by how you’re feeling on the day and by what you’re body is telling you – you’re dialing in the exact effort that will maximize performance and recovery rates, which translates to improvement.

As you gain experience, you’ll begin to gain a sense of pace based on performances and can predict to a closer degree what you may run on race day. But even then, training for a specific finish time both puts you at risk for injury and limits your performance. Break out of the usual pattern of go-to paces, and tune into your body.  Before you know it, you’ll be running faster, longer and stronger and using pace only as the outcome of the performance.

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