2012-03-04

When It's Time To Change


For the better part of the last week, I have been trying to avoid admitting to myself that I am suffering all the symptoms of over-training. As of yesterday, though, the truth was too obvious to continue denying.

How Did It Happen?
A major part of my disbelief came from the fact that my workouts haven't been particularly intense lately. As usual, I get up early every morning and work through an A-Day/B-Day regimen consisting of arm-and-shoulder exercises one morning and back-and-core exercises the next. In the evenings, I do cardio - straight, vanilla cardio. I have been mixing up my cardio. Because it is still quite slippery and snowy outside, I run when I can, and otherwise head to the gym and choose from one of the many cardio machines available to me. I try never to do the same machine twice in a row, because I don't want to hurt my muscles, joints, or running form.

So, I have been doing modest levels of daily exercise while giving care to the amount of variety in my workouts. How is it that I became over-trained?

Less Variety In The Morning
Contributing factor #1 is the fact that my morning workouts haven't changed since Autumn 2011. I have increased the resistance and intensity, but the core motions I have been performing essentially haven't changed for I'm not sure how many months now, possibly as many as six.

Now, my muscles are starting to feel it. While I wake up fully alert every morning and rise easily, my muscles groan and burn. The key sign is the fact that I just feel mentally bored by the whole thing, which is quite uncharacteristic of myself. I need a change.

Inconsistent Running/High Ambition
Spring seemed to arrive early in Ottawa this year, and yet no sooner had I purchased a new pair of running shoes and started out on regular evening runs that the snow returned, preventing me from building up a mileage base. For a hardcore runner like myself, this has been pretty disheartening. I crave a nightly run.

Instead, I've been stuck indoors at the gym. I have hazarded quite a few runs on the treadmill, with pretty good success, actually. I've kept my pace up and managed to build up quite easily to 40-45 minutes of treadmill running. But not wanting to completely destroy my good running form - having hard-won it last year in the wake of an entire Winter spent on elliptical machines - I have forced myself onto the various other machines. This has been good for keeping up my endurance without threatening my form, but it has a surprising and unfortunate side-effect: When I find myself back on the treadmill, I push very hard because I am so excited to run again.

That means, my muscles fill with acid that persists for a good two days, further exacerbating the burning in my muscles caused by the morning workouts.

The Result: Something Kind of Like Over-Training
The result of all this has been something that feels like over-training without the injury and fatigue that typically accompanies it.

No doubt about it, I need a change. Fortunately for me, the weather continues to improve and Spring will eventually return to Canada's National Capitol Region. In the meantime, I need options.

The Way Out
The simplest and most immediate way to improve my situation is to get outside and running again. To a certain extent, I am a plaything of the local weather systems, but I have greatly improved my tolerance to cold conditions over the years and, so long as I have an ice-free surface outside the onslaught of oncoming traffic, I can run outside. I may have to summon a bit of extra will-power, but that's doable.

(In general, I find one can easily trick oneself into having will-power by placing oneself in situations where failure is no longer an option. In this case, I know that so long as I can get running out of sight of my comfy home, I'll be able to successfully complete the run.)

Then comes the morning workout. As I have mentioned again and again, I find these workouts absolutely indispensable with respect to glycemic control and an overall feeling of good health. So maintaining them is important. What needs to happen is that they change.

Moreover, they have to change in a significant way if I'm going to overcome this dragging, sagging feeling. As my experience with Hyperfitness taught me, plyometrics are a great way to get over a plateau. No need to reinvent the wheel if I already know what works.

The Workouts
From tomorrow, I'll start a new A-Day/B-Day morning regimen that emphasizes combined movements and plyometrics. Here's how it will all play out:

A-Day
  1. One-legged push-up with jump to switch legs. I don't really know what to call this one. I picked it up from Sean Burch's Hyperfitness. Burch does these while holding his hands on an upside-down Bosu, but I don't own a Bosu. The idea is, you do a push up with one leg in the air. When you reach the "up" position, you jump your legs up and land on the other leg, then repeat.
  2. Jumping Lunges. That's what I call them anyway. They're just like lunges, only instead of just going "up," you jump and switch to the opposite foreleg.
  3. Squats with dumbbells in mid-curl. This combined motion should make the squat more difficult by weighting it, while at the same time requiring effort from both the biceps - to maintain the curl position - and stabilizing back muscles, to maintain a balanced posture. I expect these will be pretty difficult.
  4. Side planks. My abs have not gotten much of a workout for a good two or three years. I have very strong abdominal muscles, but that's no excuse not to push them a bit.
As you can see, the focus of A-Day will be core muscles and stabilizers.

B-Day
  1. Isometric cross. Stand in one place, feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells out beside you with your arms straight, so that your body forms a cross. Hold that position until you can hold it no longer. This should work out a variety of arm, back, and shoulder muscles.
  2. One-arm pushups. While A-Day's push ups were core-centric, B-Day's push ups are all about arm strength. A couple of years ago, I was doing fifteen one-arm push ups at a time. I'd like to regain that ability.
  3. Tricep dips. I love these. I want to have at least one thing to look forward to in all of this.
  4. Jumping jacks. To shake the muscles out and get the blood flowing in the morning
For the evening workouts, I'll keep working on building a decent endurance base, but again placing extra focus on running, running, running. I really miss it.

Well, we'll see if that yields the necessary changes.