Exercise Data

peh5214I have been tracking my exercise data since I started up again as an adult.  Yesterday I collected all the upper body records and entered them into Excel.  Well, I didn’t enter them all. Continue reading

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100 Push Ups

Have you ever been able to do 100 push ups in a row?  I didn’t think so.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could?  What if I told you there was a simple 15-minute program that could take you from lump to push up master?

A friend of mine went from being able to do just a few (maybe none) to 100 in a row on her toes in just a few weeks.  She said the secret was the free program at www.hundredpushups.com.

I looked over the schedule at hundredpushups.com and was impressed.  It meets you at whatever level of fitness you have and builds you up from there.  If you can’t even do one push up it has other exercises you can do until you can.  From there it tests you and puts you into a specific track for training.

So far I’ve found it to be just about a perfect balance.  When you finish you don’t feel injured but later that day your muscles feel worked.  I’ve read and been told that optimal exercise wears you out but doesn’t break you down.  It is tricky to balance an optimal work out against one that is damaging but if you can strike that balance your body is supposed to respond the quickest.

Because you are focusing on only one exercise, it would be easy for anyone to fit this program into any schedule because an entire day’s workout can’t take more than 15 minutes.  Admittedly I’m starting in better shape than the average person who might undertake this program, but so far I’ve found that I don’t even really breathe that hard and have yet to break a sweat doing it.  My point is that I think just about anyone that has the desire can successfully follow this program.

They have a rudimentary program to track and share progress on the site but I have not been able to get it to work for two people on the same computer so I’m just tracking our results on a spreadsheet.  They have a smart phone app but I don’t have a smart phone so I can’t speak to that.

I mentioned on Facebook that we were starting the program and invited anyone interested to join us.  Several people have taken up the challenge and we tested this past weekend and started on Monday (1/9/12).  If you are interested in tracking your progress and want the subtle accountability and inspiration of publishing your results online, please feel free to use the comments section below for that purpose.

When you finish this program, start mixing in some of the other programs.  They have plans for squats, dips, pull ups and more.

Do something good for your body!

How to Train for the Mud Run

I have run the MS Society Mud Run in both of its Jacksonville locations and this guide will be based on those experiences.  From what I’ve seen of other course layouts, it should also be useful for other courses around the country.

Can I make it?  Yes, you can.  People of all shapes and sizes have finished this race.  Because there are competitive and non-competitive heats, most people can complete the Mud Run.  If you are capable of walking seven miles and playing around on a kid’s playground, you can probably do it.  If this is all you can do, you will probably be very tired at the end of the race though.  Training will make race day much more enjoyable and safer.  People get hurt on the course every year.  Some injuries can be attributed to  accidents and goofing around but others occur when folks aren’t physically prepared.  Of course, before you start any type of exercise, you should see your doctor and talk with him or her about what you plan to do.

What is the most important thing I can add to my training for a fast time?  Run.  It is that simple.  While the obstacles get the spotlight, most of this race is running.  The obstacles are pretty quick so the difference between a fast obstacle time and a slow one is easily overcome with a faster running pace.  Because this is a roughly 10k race, I’d recommend getting your long runs up to at least seven miles by race day – nine miles would be even better.  If you want to contend for a top place finish, add in speed work and tempo runs.  If you are unfamiliar with setting a running schedule, a good basic place to start is this free online running schedule/calendar generator.  Click on the link and then select “Smart Coach” from the middle of the page.

Here are some more tips for first-time runners:
1.  Enter the for-fun division instead of the trophy division.
2.  Expect to wait at obstacles (because a lot more people do the for-fun division).
3.  You will probably not be running the entire time so don’t worry if you can’t run a 10k before the race.  If you want to enjoy the race, plan on being able to run at least three miles or be ok with walking much of the course.  For these reasons, when you train you should consider focusing on running more often instead of running longer.
4.  You might consider a run/walk training program like Jeff Galloway’s.  You’ll be able to run with a group of people at your same level of fitness this way too.

I’m already a runner.  What else can I do?  Run hills.  I got this tip from a team that finished 3rd one year and it is the single best piece of advice I’ve gotten on training for this event.  They are tough to find in Jacksonville, but be creative.  You can run bridges or stairs (stadiums, buildings, parking garages, etc.).  As a substitute, you could climb a Stairmaster or use a treadmill set on its steepest incline.  I don’t believe either of these options is as good as bridges or stairs though.  They get your heart rate up quickly and build many of the non-running muscles you’ll be using on several of the obstacles too.  If you lay out your course right, you can even simulate the actual event by having stretches of flat runs peppered with stairs to get your body used to the bursts of exertion mixed in with continuous running.

What about upper body training?  This really is very secondary.  It is a huge help to do pull-ups because you will be required to lift yourself over various obstacles.  If you are running in a non-competitive heat, you’ll have three tries at an obstacle then you move on.  If you can’t do an obstacle, you can still finish the course.  If you are running competitively, you will be disqualified if you can’t finish an obstacle so having some upper body strength is necessary.

Yeah, but what about upper body if I want a fast time?  This past year we added in a bunch of body weight exercises and it really seemed to help us.  We could recover from the obstacles quicker and, because they were easier for us, we had a more fun time during the race too.  Here are some of our favorites (click on the bold name for a link with detailed info on each):

Pull-ups  As mentioned above, many of the obstacles require you to lift yourself over something.  These are touted by many as the best overall upper body exercise you can do.  If I was only going to do one upper body exercise for the Mud Run, this would be it.  If you don’t have a gym membership, I recommend this cheap-o piece of equipment.  It is what Melanie and I use and it really works.

Chin-ups  Just like pull-ups but your palms face toward you when you grip the bar.  These are a little easier and work your biceps more.

Dips Work those triceps and chest.  These are good for pushing yourself up onto platforms during the race.  We just use a couple of sawhorses.  This allows us to space them so they are in tight to our bodies and keep ourselves as upright as possible so we focus more on our triceps than chest.

Push-ups For chest, arms and shoulders.  You’ll spend a little bit of time on a couple of obstacles crawling on your hands and knees or shimmying underneath stuff.  Using the Iron Gym on the floor to do push-ups really saves our wrists.  You could substitute a couple of octagonal or square dumbbells placed on the floor for wrist-saving hand grips.

You’ve talked about legs and upper body.  What about the stuff that connects them?  Core exercises are a great idea.  A stronger core makes everything else easier (including running) and helps you avoid injury.  It is amazing how much faster I could run once I started doing core exercises.  Just as in the case of the upper body stuff, there are lots of things you can be doing, but here are my favorite core exercises:

Crunches  Works your abs.  In my case, because I put my hands beside instead of behind my head, it also strengthens my neck.

Lifted-Leg Crunches  A college soccer buddy showed me these.  You’d think they would work the same muscles as crunches, but try ‘em and feel the difference.  Maybe it is the same muscle groups but they are definitely harder.  Just do the same crunch exercise with your legs mostly straight and lifted off the ground.

Twisty Leg Kicky Thingy of Death (Bicycle Crunches) The toughest by far and probably the best for you.  The link takes you to a video of three core exercises and bicycle crunches are one of them.  I love them.  I hate them.  Melanie enjoys listening to me struggle through them.

Side Planks  Everyone thinks about the front muscles of the core when they work out.  Don’t forget all those other ones that wrap your waist and make up your “internal weight belt.”

Back Extensions  Strengthen your lower back.  We don’t do them exactly as shown in this video but they cover a lot of good info so I included it.  We keep our hands at the side of our head and just lift our upper body.  I’m not sure my midsection could take lifting my legs and my back at the same time.  :/

Anything else?  There are obstacles that require balance.  You could practice crossing a balance beam quickly or set up a rope bridge and practice that.  If you have a park with a playground nearby, they might have something you could use – preferably at a time when kids aren’t there so you can avoid funny looks from the parents.

Great, but how do I put it all together into one routine?  Well, if you are a fit person who already runs a lot, I’d plan on doing upper body and core M, W, F and running T, Th, S.  This gives you at least a day of rest in between each type of workout.  Remember, you don’t get stronger when you exercise.  You get stronger while you rest after exercise.

If you are new to running, I’d focus on that.  Once you get to the point that you can run three miles without extreme effort, you could start mixing in core and upper body where your schedule allows.  Don’t forget to run hills and/or stairs.  If this is going to be your first organized race, don’t plan on setting any records (or training like you plan to).  Focus mostly on the running prep and enter with the intention of having fun.

Look for an article about what to wear for the Mud Run and another article with some miscellaneous tips in the coming weeks.  You can also sign up for email, Twitter or Facebook notification on the right-hand side of the screen.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

Feats of Strength

In order to prepare for the Mud Run this year, we are running and doing some upper body stuff.  When you run and don’t exercise your upper half, you notice that your body says “Hey, I’m not carrying around all this extra weight that you are not using”  and promptly begins to slough it off.  Great for fat.  For muscle, not so much.

Calisthenics have worked well for the military and PE classes since time began, but I know push ups really hurt my wrists or knuckles depending on how they are done.  Enter the Iron Gym.  This TV-tastic infomercial explains it all in a much more extreme adrenaline-packed way that I am capable (unless Chuck Norris or Hulk Hogan got my back).

We chose The Iron Gym Extreme which includes the wide grip pull up bar (the exercise I wanted the most anyway).  I know what you’re thinking.  How stupid to fall for the latest Abulator 9000 but I’m here to tell you this thing works and it is good.  You can do great push-ups, chin-ups and pull-ups with it.  It advertises dips.  I call them diplettes because of the limited range of motion (they still work your triceps though).  I’ve never used it for sit-ups.  That seems goofy and unnecessary.

Overall, I think it was $40 very well spent and I recommend this product.  I am seeing results as my t-shirts fit tighter in the right places and I can do more reps.  It is extremely easy to assemble and place in a doorway.  It is compact enough and light enough to store easily.  You don’t have to permanently attach anything or make holes in anything to use it.  I did screw a piece of plywood and stop blocks on our doorway just to make set up a one second instead of two second operation.  Of course ours is in our garage so I don’t mind.

I don’t highly recommend the product because the dips could work better and the center/main bar of the system is actually two parts.  I know this is done to keep the shipping cube down but it does allow a small amount of flex in the system.  They rate it with a 225 lb max and I’m sure this is one of the big reasons.  I weigh 195 lbs and have no problems.

I also wanted more padding for push-ups so I duct-taped on some of our close cell exercise mat foam to those handles.

The biggest issue that could easily be fixed is putting some hard plastic pads on the part of the IG that touches the floor.  As is, the painted steel tube touches the floor and the paint is scraped off if the floor is a hard surface.  I fixed this with more mat foam and duct tape.

If you decide to purchase one, you should definitely check the doorway you plan to use first.  The foam padded part of the system that rests against the door molding is 33.5″ on center.  You’ll want to make sure this hits the molding.  I believe the manufacturer gives a wide range of door sizes you can use but I would recommend finding a 32″ opening like the one we use to make sure you get good contact.  Also, if you have extremely wide door molding, this system probably will not attach properly.  Of course, if there is any doubt you can buy the thing locally like we did and return it if it doesn’t fit.  Assembly is a piece of cake so just keep the box in good shape until you try it out.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.