Some Efficient Ways to Shorten Your Training Cycle


OK – let me be honest, that title is totally misleading – but it is pretty much something I was asked on my HP Houston Labs trip this week. I have been on more than a few work and press trips since I have become a ‘public runner’ (i.e. I talked about it) a couple years ago, and on every single one since I have sought out running trails people have taken note and discussed my running and at least one person has inquired about running with me.

But on this trip there was … nothing. Well, there was one guy who was a definite outdoorsman but more into climbing and biking and not interested in running. Most of the people were decently overweight, very few were active or had positive sentiments about exercise or my running, and the greatest discussion about running was when they found I ran 50+ miles per week one person said they wished they could look like me and just cram it all in a quick half-hour a week.

Sure that was a compliment, but what struck me was the desire for the quick fix, a no sweat, no effort, no cutting back on the booze and bad food. My thought as I listened to a couple of people (ok, I’ll say it – if I never end up meeting them again it will be just fine by me) was that with the approach THEY were talking about the only ‘quick’ thing would be an injury – and they could then blame it on the exercise and use it as an excuse to not exercise!

So I thought about it on the way back – what are some ways you could REALLY shorten your training cycle? In other words, how could you quickly end up hurt and not have to worry about fitting in time for exercise?

1. Overtraining

This is something I did when I first started back to running in April 2012 … when I realized I was basically running 2.25 miles per day, I ramped my running and within two weeks was averaging more than 6 miles per day. I was also working on improving my pace. Looking back I know that was stupid … and I’m lucky I didn’t get hurt!

Overtraining is such an easy thing to do – you know you’re supposed to ‘feel the burn’ and exertion should be hard … so just keep pushing until you think you’re going to drop and that should be the best of all, right? And get up the next day and do it again and again … right?

The best expression I have heard to describe this? Tighten the screw until the head breaks, then back off a half turn. When people hear this they ask ‘wait, once it is broken it is too late, right?’ Exactly!

2. Self-Sabotage

I’ll work out after dinner; I’ll do it on the weekend; I need new shoes … new outfit … a fitness watch … and THEN I’ll start. This is one quick and easy way to make sure you never see results.

Also, things like the ‘over-size snack’ where you bike a couple of miles and then have a full Gatorade and protein bar as a snack … if you are trying to control weight, you are going to be disappointed.

Another way to avoid self-sabotage is to surround yourself with like-minded individuals. I had two people who were trying to lose weight the winter after I ran my first marathon – they had seen me lose 100 lbs and become a marathoner, and wanted some of that for themselves, so they would talk to me. And as the winter rolled on I would stop by and check in, and try to help … but sadly one by one they dropped off. One was direct with me, the other avoided me. But the initial idea was good – studies show that success breeds success.

The opposite is also true – if you are with a group that doesn’t exercise, and you normally work out after work … prepare for a struggle!

3. Fear of Becoming ‘Arnold’

There is a concern – especially among women – that weight lifting leads to bulking up. As a result there are some who will simply not do any weight training … or cross training of any type. Being unbalanced in your strength is a very risky approach because it can lead to injury.

This type of thinking can also lead to being singularly focused – only abs, only legs, etc. The problem is that the concept of isolation really doesn’t work in the way we would like, and we need to develop ourselves to be balanced to maximize our chances of success. Here is a great quote: “By including varied activities in your exercise program, you will be using different muscles in different ways, and you will be less likely to be injured.”

4. Over-exertion (Keeping Up with others)

I remember the first day I used the exercise machine circuit when I joined the local Y, and a woman I work with – who is tiny – was using 120lbs on the shoulder machine, and when I got on after her … I could do it – but knew it wasn’t right, so I dropped to 80 and was much happier and more effective. I got a great workout with 30 reps and really toned myself up.

I saw that type of thing way too often at the gym, with people doing too much weight, too many reps or whatever in order to meet some sort of mental goal they think they SHOULD be doing. Or maybe what they did as a teen. Not surprisingly I know some people who ended up with injuries.

5. Who Needs Rest and Recovery?

If exercising three days is better than 2 and 5 days is better than three … then working out EVERY day as hard as possible must be the best, right?

The thing is – going for a run every day feels GREAT! I go for runs on about 95% of days. Looking across the first six months of the year I averaged a rest day once every two weeks. That is something that works for me, but probably not for most.

Rest and recovery are critical parts of any workout program – but because they are not ‘sexy’ no one talks about them. It is the type of thing most people learn the hard way.

A week or two ago I read a blog post where someone was talking about another runner who was ‘fine’ running pretty much every day … except when they were injured. Looking at that other runner I saw three injuries requiring multi-week recovery periods, missed goals and races and so on.

And here is the thing – when you look at that from a different viewpoint, they actually ran LESS than had they paced themselves with one day off per week. Because many doctors say not taking proper rest makes you significantly more prone to injury. And it lessens the positive impacts of your workouts.

6. Skip the Warmups and Get in More Workout!

If there is one great thing about using a Garmin, it is having a guaranteed minute of getting stretches and dynamic stretches done. When I use the Magellan Echo it is ready right away and I have to force myself to stretch. I also start running slower and use my neighborhood as my warm-up zone.

But again, I have seen people at the gym or at races who just hope out of the car and go at 100% … and many of them I have seen getting hurt, or by the side of the road stretching out. But not warming up properly ends up being one of those ‘silent limiters’ according to a couple of things I have read. People start a workout without research, and if it is running they just run … and quickly end up unable to continue. And they stop, and say they’re unable to run due to ‘bad joints’ or whatever. THAT is a very different thing.

7. The ‘Terrible Toos’

Too Much, Too Soon, Too Fast – whatever your goal, be it marathon, century ride, bench pressing your weight … you just push it push it push it.

This one – the Terrible Toos – is very much tied into several other items, but I see it reflected in the workouts of even people who should know better. I always go back to the ‘lies of the easy pace’ – but again this week I saw someone who posted their Garmin data two days in a row, with one called ‘easy’ and the other ‘tempo’ … and yet the average paces were within 20 seconds of each other! Obviously it is their choice, but they need to realize that CALLING it ‘easy’ for whatever reason doesn’t mean getting the benefits of ‘active rest’.

I have also talked to new runners at races who feel like they have to keep up – they don’t want to be beaten by people who are too old, too young, too fat, too thin … and even a guy who still has an issue with girls who run faster. As a result they push to run someone else’s race, and just like the guy at the gym with the beet-red face trying to impress everyone with his lifting … it backfires.

8. Rushing to Get More Done

When you are just starting out people will tell you to go slow, work on form, and all of that. But that stuff takes TIME – and if you can get in 20 reps of everything at a slow pace in a 30 minute workout, you can get 40 reps if you really rush it, right? Sounds legit! If you want an injury, that is.

That sort of thing applies across the range of exercise – the bottom line is you are trying to get months worth of results in weeks. Maybe you are doubling the number of laps you swim each week at the pool or miles you are biking, or whatever. You want that 16 week training plan to happen in 4 weeks – and you’re willing to work extra hard to make it happen! Enthusiasm won’t help here, you are still very likely to wind up hurt.

9. Ignoring Nutrition

There are two aspects of this: ‘dieting while working out’ and thinking your workout allows you to eat anything.

I have talked many times about how I was still dieting during my first half-marathon. I hadn’t yet started looking at food as fuel, and as a result I crashed hard during the second half of the race and was in really bad shape at the end. Looking back it was incredibly dangerous, but it was a reminder that our bodies need to be fueled for the things we do.

But I also had another bad habit before I got back to regularly running – I was running a few days and severely restricting calories … then by Thursday I was really hungry so I filled up on bad choices and let it roll all the way through the weekend. Ugh. The saying ‘no workout can overcome a poor diet’ is very, very true. It doesn’t mean you have to skip the wine and ice cream, just that you need to think about what and how much you are putting into your body.

10. Piling it ALL in the Workout

The expression ‘sitting is the new smoking’ doesn’t give a pass to runners or other fitness practitioners. So if you go for a workout but then do nothing else, you won’t reap all of the benefits of your workout – and those risk factors for other things will remain.

So what to do? Have a ‘mindset for motion’ – find the little things throughout the day that can keep you on your feet more than usual and moving around. Use a rest room further away, take the stairs when it is only one or two floors, don’t always find the very closest parking spot, and so on. When I was in the airport this week I was amazed at how empty the stairs were next to the escalator – normally there are at least SOME people using the stairs. Give it a try!

That is actually also a good reason to check out an activity tracker – they give you feedback on what you’re doing and set goals to achieve.

And ultimately it is not about winning a bodybuilding contest or road race or whatever … it is about being the best version of you and setting yourself up for the longest and healthiest life you can possibly have.

What Ways Can YOU think of to sabotage your workouts?

21 thoughts on “Some Efficient Ways to Shorten Your Training Cycle

  1. This was a really great and informative post! I know I am definitely guilty of some of the items on this list, and as I enter into half marathon training, over exertion and overtraining is a real concern of mine.

    You already named most of the ways I sabotage my workouts. #2 used to be a big problem, but I’m finally on a solid schedule now. The only other way I can think that I self sabotage is that I get in my own head too much and get down on myself. I’ve always been on the slower side of runners, and I can’t help but compare myself to much faster runners. So even when I PR, sometimes there’s a little evil voice in the back of mind that says “yeah, but that’s still not FAST” It’s something I’ve been working on a lot actually. Great post!

    • Thanks Sarah – and it is so true for all of us I think that we do this stuff to ourselves and sabotage and compare and all of that. That said – congrats on the PR! You rock! πŸ™‚

  2. This is a great list. My husband and I talk about this all the time. Last night I was with some girls on my marathon team and they were talking about trainers and losing weight. I finally had to say, “Look, you keep skipping your marathon practices. It is going to get you injured, you’re going to regret it come marathon day, and honestly if you stuck to the plan you would see results in your running and physically.” I really wanted to tell her to fire the trainer, who I have seen no results from, and just continue with her running. I keep sharing short workouts with the team that can be done while you watch the news morning or night. And honestly 80% of the weight is what you eat. But most people don’t want to be honest with you or themselves. I’ve been guilty of it, “I don’t know why I keep staying at my weight.” Well that large dinner and extra dessert were probably not helping any!

    • It is so true Sarah! I think Megan posted something last week or the one before about how we tend to over-estimate workouts, and also we underestimate our snacking. Bad combination!

  3. You make me laugh, but it’s SO true – if there was a way to look perfect in 30 minutes a day, don’t you think everyone would be doing it? I do think there are ways to make training more efficient (e.g. strategically placed speed / hill workouts vs. more and more junk miles … something I preach but definitely don’t practice as much as I “should”), but your points are very valid, as usual!!

    • Thanks Megan – the point was to be (more than) a bit facetious, but you are absolutely right that most of us CAN make our workouts more efficient if we chose to do so.

  4. I love your perspective in this post – and so agree with it. I think a lot of this can be summarized by the “Biggest Loser” complex – where we want to BE everything in the time the contestants are, but it is rarely sustainable, realistic and, dare I say it, healthy. It’s a balance between overreaching and overtraining that I talked about this week – and we have to listen to our bodies to figure out where that is. No one else can do it for us, and if we follow what others do, we’re bound to get hurt!

    • Thanks Laura – your post this week was excellent and so important, and I think everyone trying to push their running should read and remember it! This was much more along the lines of ‘stupid workout tricks to get hurt really fast!’

      But you are right around the ‘Biggest Loser’ complex – it isn’t something I think about (because it is reality TV and therefore gets about zero mind-space from me) … and it is the thing that has bugged me forever, that whole thought that there should be one pill, or workout or something that will make us all perfect. It never existed, and still doesn’t, and probably never will.

  5. As always, I love your perspective on things. Are you really a runner if you haven’t experienced most of these? If there are people out there that haven’t, who run seriously, I want to meet them. I wish someone had made this list for me when I started out and told me how much thought you really have to put into these things. Quality post, as usual.

    • Thanks Carson! I laugh because it is so true – we all do (or are tempted to do) pretty much all of these! I am glad I didn’t ever get hurt as a result!

  6. Mr. Anderson, your post was as always very interesting to read. Thank you! πŸ˜€

    PS. I can’t stand people who just talk. Once I remember, this girl at work (who is out of shape) pretty much told me off at our lunch break. According to her, I know nothing about nutrition because I’ve always been ‘skinny’ and I have no clue how it is to lose weight because I’ve never been overweight. Little does she know how much work it takes to stay in shape. But of course, it is easy for her to know because every single morning she drinks a large latte with a nice pastry every single morning… Ignorance at its best haha!

    • Thanks Olena – I had someone dismiss me similarly last year (I had said ‘no thanks’ to donuts) and a co-worker actually spoke up about how I had just lost 100lbs and trained to be a marathoner and so on … and that really shut -up the loudmouth! πŸ™‚

      All of those things tend to come from a lack of self-esteem, so rather than work on themselves they chose to cut down other people. Which is really sad.

  7. PREACH. BEEN THERE DONE THAT. The hardest thing sometimes is to realize what you are doing, though–sometimes you misinterpret things. My body tends to call bullshit a lot. Until recently, when I realized it wasn’t kidding. Now I’m pretty much a pansy about it hahah

    • haha – I think I have been ultra slow at learning these lessons because my body tends to say ‘that’s chill, bro’ instead of calling BS when perhaps it should πŸ™‚

  8. I think airport stairs are a bad idea and should generally get a pass (and I’m someone who fought with building management at work for months (futilely) to get access to the stairwell to get to my 9th floor office). At the airport, you often have a rolling bag, and if not that, then at least some kind of over the shoulder bag, making you off-balance and I think the risk of a fall (esp if you’re in heels) is greater than the risk of not getting the extra steps. But, yeah, everything else you said! πŸ˜‰

    • Good point on the stairs – for those who fit those descriptions – which is why I would expect only a few people on the stairs. But NONE? In Dallas AND Houston? I found that striking.

  9. Self-sabotage comes up at my WW meetings fairly regularly. Sometimes it is a person who just got off the couch and started walking, which is a great change in routine. But they think they’re hardcore working out and they eat way more thinking they’re burning it off. Other times it is someone who starts working with a trainer at a gym, again, a great change in routine. But they think they should replace meals with protein bars, and eat three times as much as their body needs.

    It takes a long time to convert from weight loss and management to “food as fuel”. Even after a year at a healthy BMI, and 6 months of trying to maintain weight rather than lose, and training for and running a marathon, it is still very hard to shed those demons of the past and view food exclusively as fuel. It is easier now than it was a year ago, but so much more learning/experience to go before it feels natural.

    • Absolutely agree – and I had hoped you would chime in, because when Lisa was in WW there was a lot of discussion around self-sabotage … and it is easy to do when you get exercise mixed in due to over-estimating impact. And totally agree that it takes a long time for it to normalize … I still keep a close eye on myself all the time!

  10. Pingback: Weekly Faves 7/3/14 | Running Southern

  11. Great post and all true. When I’m at the gym, I try to put my blinders on and ignore what everyone else is doing so I can focus on doing what I need to be doing. I see so many people jumping on the treadmill and going all out, only to be beat in a matter of seconds. Meanwhile, I do about twenty minutes at a granny pace so I can be properly warmed up for my work section. If I were “treadmill racing” like I’ve seen so many people do, I’d probably hurt myself or at least be less effective in my training.

    • ‘treadmill racing’ – good expression for it … and like you say it is a good way to end up hurt. I would be interested in seeing how I would do if I was in a gym now.

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