When to take a day off

Runners and fitness enthusiasts, in general, are overachievers and type-A personalities. After all, these road and trail warriors sign up for races months in advance and stick religiously to a training schedule. Freezing cold? They’ll bundle up. Raining cats and dogs? They’ll embrace the soggy shoes and enjoy skipping through puddles. Gym crowded after work? They’ll come back and 10pm to get  that quality arm day in.

This dedication is what makes these overachiever type-A’s successful at achieving their goals – whatever they may be.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

The downside to this driven, dedicated personality is that often that person doesn’t know when all signs point toward a rest day. Often the scheduled workout on the calendar trumps an achy knee, a head cold, or a sleepless night.

When should we suck it up and power through and when should we take some quality time off? The answer isn’t always simple. There are lots of factors, like how close are you to race day, a fitness competition, etc.

Things you can probably power through: sore muscles (not INJURED, but sore), lack of sleep, less than ideal weather. Being sore is part of the process while getting in shape, so you cannot take time off every time something hurts. Having a “easy” workout the day after a hard one is best. Lack of sleep makes motivation hard, but as soon as you get moving, your body and mind will wake up. Just budget some time to catch up on sleep. The weather on race day is completely unpredictable, so you need to get your body and mind used to the demands different climates offer. Unless there is thunder and lightning, lace up.

Things you should NOT power through: a nagging injury (unless you have seen a Doctor and been given the okay), serious illness (stomach flu, high fever, strep throat, etc.). Unless you have seen a doctor (a SPORTS DOCTOR), you do not know what is wrong with you. Yes, the internet has a ton of information out there, but how can you assume your self-diagnosis is accurate? Once you see a doctor, you will be told whether or not you can continue training or need to take time off. LISTEN to your doctor. If you are ill, you may want to push through. Most often, this is a TERRIBLE idea. Why would you power through a workout with a high fever or stomach flu? What benefit will come from this training? Another way to think of it, what damage could this workout do? You’ll recover best while resting, and powering through a workout today, while ill, may mean having to take off more days in the future.

The tricky area: when you feel a cold coming on, or are on the road to recovery from being sick, or have a strange pain that is new and not too bad, etc. If you choose to train on one of these days, don’t do a hard workout – even if your training plan says otherwise. Switch out that hard tempo run with an easy “recovery” pace run, or don’t move up the weights at the gym if you were planning on doing so. Go into the workout with the acceptance that you may need to bail out of the workout early, and that’s okay.

At the end of the day, you need to remember to be smart. Your training calendar is created assuming everyday you are in optimal health, and working under optimal conditions. Life isn’t always optimal.

Remember, by the time you toe the line for a race, or hit that goal beach vacation, missing a few workouts here or there are not going to hurt your potential on race day. Showing up to the race under the weather, injured, or simply burnt out certainly will.

Burned Vs. Consumed

_MG_9291_finalIn our own delusional world, we’ll say an hour at the gym equals the ability to eat whatever we want for the rest of the day and we’ll end up calorically at zero. Ah, our foolish delusions. If you are still clinging onto those delusions, your coach is going to give you a reality check.

Folks, as I have mentioned before, gym equipment lie about your calories burned. Ignore that lovely, delusional number and know your own stats and calories burned. Refueling (also a previous blog topic) is important, but refuel with a purpose: to replenish and aid those muscles.

Personally, when I trained for my first marathon, I gained weight. Why? Well, part of it was a delusional mentality. I wanted to be fueled for my next workout, and had no concept of what was necessary instead of excess. Another reason I gained weight was that my appetite seemed out of control, and I kept feeding the beast. The last reason was my work environment. At the time I was working on the set of “Blue Bloods” full time, and the dreaded Craft Services was a constant temptation for my out-of-control appetite. The long hours, and unpredictable running schedule left me shoveling trail mix, pasta, and bagels into my mouth.

Yes, while training for a marathon you will need to eat more than before you started training. (HOORAY!!!!) However, if you use that as an excuse to eat everything, you will be in the same boat as the gym rat who decides an hour on the elliptical equals indulging on 2000 calories out at the local pub. Folks, it’s a matter of calories consumed versus calories burned.

Here’s a secret: If you love to workout and/or run, and you love food, you get the best of both worlds. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love a juicy cheeseburger with fries and a few pints, or a large piece of cake as much as the next person. I LOVE FOOD. I love to cook. I love to bake. I love to eat. HOWEVER, I have learned since that first marathon season how to fuel, refuel and train without gaining any weight while savoring those indulgences too.

Do you need help balancing your food versus exercise? I’m pretty sure you know a coach who can help.

Lying Machine

_MG_9072_finalIf you have been watching your calories, sweating hard at the gym, and left scratching your head because of little improvements, here’s something to consider: the machines at the gyms are lying.

Cardio equipment make us feel good as we see how many calories we have burned as we sweat away and watch tv at the gym. Here’s the problem: cardio equipment doesn’t give you an accurate count of calories burned. If you are taking the number on the machine as your factual calories burned, I have bad news.

When hopping on cardio equipment, you can enter your age and weight on the machine. Here’s the problem: there are a lot of factors that machine ISN’T asking you. Your sex, hight, body fat, fitness level – those are factors that the machine doesn’t consider. Even the heart rate monitor can be wrong.

Don’t lose faith. You can find tools to more accurately calculate your cardio burn. Remember, knowledge is power. If you don’t know your numbers, you may be consuming more calories than desired. Still confused? Contact your coach or personal trainer.

Weight Loss Rut

Liz Corkum 516We’ve all been there. You’ve gained 10 lbs., or 40 lbs, or whatever – and you freak out and look for the “easy” way to shed those extra pounds. You look into quick solutions, which include diet pills, cleanses, delivery food plans, fad diets, etc. You are miserable on said “easy” diet plan, and within a few weeks gain any weight you lost on your “quick fix” back, and are exactly where you started – only even more frustrated.

Let’s stop that cycle, for once and for all. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, there is no quick fix, and fad diets should be avoided at all cost. Personally, I probably tried a dozen of them (maybe 2 dozen!), and I know first-hand how that cycle can continue.

if you take anything away from this blog, consider this: You need to be honest with yourself about how many calories you need to consume in a day to maintain your current weight, and what would be a healthy amount to consume for weight loss. Most people I know are SHOCKED when they find out how many calories they consume in a day, or what a serving size actually looks like.

For example, as a 5’7″, 20-something athlete, calculating my body fat, BMI, etc – on days I am stationary (not training), I only need 1500-1800 calories per day. PER DAY. Most people eat 1500-1800 calories in ONE MEAL. This is why Americans are so obese.

The good news: the more you exercise, the higher that number of necessary calories.

Know your body, your lifestyle, your needs – and you will begin to have the tools to take control of the scale, your abilities and your body fat.