How Often, how Hard, how Long – do you exercise?

How often do you exercise?  Personally, I strive to get some physical activity 5-7 days each week.  Exercise is my coffee, I need it to function properly.  Without my daily dose I become irritable, unfocused, and a great night’s sleep isn’t guaranteed.  As I mentioned in my recent No Excuses article, beginning November 1st, I restarted my daily workout routine.  In conjunction with my running and cycling, I decided to add some body-weight strength and plyometric exercises.

Upper body and core strength helps with posture and maintaining proper form during my normal endurance activities.  While plyometrics increase power, my stride length, and ground contact force when running, while also increasing my power to weight ratio on the bike.  In simple terms, I should get faster by becoming more efficient with each stride or pedal stroke.

As a father who enjoys spending time with his children I now faced a problem.  How would I complete my daily runs or rides along with a daily strength training regimen.  Time is a scare commodity.  Thus I created a unique solution.  I would perform my body-weight workouts with my elementary students.  I’d model the proper technique, lead them by example, and perform up to seven, ten minute workouts per day.  We do each exercise for 30 seconds, and I model the expected technique along with modifications in order to make the exercise easier.  Win win.

My excercise frequency went from nearly zero in October, to up to 9 workouts per day totaling over 3 hours (2 bike rides if I commute plus 7, ten minutes sessions with the kids).  Surely this is nuts, and will lead to certain injury you may think.  Alas, now 8 weeks later I’m faster, stronger, and can jump higher.  I do not have an ache or pain.  How?

The key to my progress, has been a keen respect for the intensity of my workouts.  By limiting each body-weight exercise to 30 seconds, I never push myself to failure, allowing for quicker recovery.  All my cycling has consisted of bike commutes to and from work which are all done at an easy to moderate intensity (except for 1 day when I left late, and had to churn the gears in order to arrive on time).  My runs have all also been run at a comfortable pace, and have only recently, within the last two weeks begun to incorporate some track speed work.

As an athlete and coach, it seems to me that we spend so much time focusing on the intensity of our workouts along with the mileage or time allotted, that we forget that the frequency of our workouts can also be adjusted.  Sure, the days in which I have seven classes can be mentally challenging but the gains I’ve experienced in strength (and if I allow myself some vanity, in the mirror) provide ample motivation.

Increasing workout frequency can be especially effective when starting a new program or building on a weakness.  If you are a beginning runner, two miles per day can feel exhausting, but 2 or 3 fifteen minute sessions each day could be more manageable while providing the added benefit of avoiding complete exhaustion during an individual workout session.  Personally, 8 weeks ago, I struggled to perform 20 push-ups in 30 seconds with each class throughout the day.  Less then 8 weeks later, I’m now able to occasionally hit 30 push-ups in 30 seconds, my form is better, as is my ability to repeat the effort.

The key to a high frequency program is to avoid exercising to failure.  Your intensity must be managed and controled, this is what allows the effort to be repeated multiple times per day.

Eventually, I will need to adjust my frequency to allow for more intense runs or my speed will never develop, but during the next two months or so, I plan to use this strategy to build my volume and hopefully lay the foundation for a fast spring.

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