My body jolts to life as my alarm clock blares on the nightstand beside me. I slowly open one eye, then the other, and peer at the glowing red light. The clock reads 4:00am. Doesn’t it feel like your alarm always goes off just seconds after you finally fall asleep?
Most people hate Mondays. They coin phrases like “Monday Blues,” and “Case of the Mondays.” I, on the other hand, love Mondays. To me, Mondays represent a brand new week; A fresh start and an opportunity to leave all of last week’s woes and stresses behind me. Mondays also follow Sundays, which are days for recovery and relaxation for me. My body is strongest on Mondays. I wake up feeling well rested, focused and ready conquer. Like Mondays, most people also hate leg days… squats and deadlifts and lunges, oh my. Like Mondays, I love leg days. I get high off of pushing my body to levels beyond what I thought was possible just days before. Today is Monday and today is leg day. I give my alarm clock a whack and jump out of bed, ready to begin my pre-workout routine.
My pre-workout routine always begins with a nutrient dense meal. Food for fuel.. that’s my motto. I throw some oatmeal into a pot of boiling water and watch as it absorbs every last drop. I do not fear the carb, and neither should you! I down my oatmeal like it is the first time I have eaten in weeks, guzzle a protein shake, grab my water and my X3 Bluetooth headphones and run out the door like a kid on Christmas morning. My blood is pumping and my heart is racing as I cruise to the gym, anxiously anticipating the taxing 90-minute workout that lies ahead. I can literally hear my mind giving my body a pep talk as the neurons from my brain engage the nerve endings of every one of my muscles. This may sound insane to most people but I live for this.
I wrap my headphones around my head and position each bud in each ear. It is the music that fuels me. The moment I hit play I enter a new dimension; a world in which only I and the bar before me exist. Sweat is dripping down my face, my neck, my chest, my arms and my legs. My whole body is shaking, unsure as to whether or not it will survive one last set. It does. It always does…
Building up your endurance so you can push yourself a little further or a little faster is a common goal among runners. There are some effective ways to reach these higher levels of stamina, and many of them go far beyond the standard “just keep running a little further every day” idea.
The thing is, like many exercises, it’s important to working on increasing your running endurance while minimizing the risk of injuries. If you end up running too far or too fast before your body is ready for it, you could end up doing more harm than good.
So, what’s the trick? How can you strike this balance of pushing yourself without harming yourself?
Try to incorporate some of these suggestions and see how they affect your run.
Never Forget Strength Training
Strength training is a major component of the endurance equation, even though many runners focus strictly on cardio. A cardio-only workout may not be able to get you to the levels you’d like to reach, and may even lead to chronic aches and pains throughout the body.
There have even been some studies that show how strength and endurance training have a beneficial effect on the running economy. Most notably, the increased leg muscles help absorb the impact of your stride, and with more strength you can propel yourself further with every step.
On top of that, the right strength training can help improve oxygen uptake, increase coordination, and help you run more efficiently.
What kind of strength training will help your run? Generally speaking, anything involves compound movements – exercises that activate more than one joint. This could be anything from squats and lunges to pushups and deadlifts.
Just 10 minutes of strength training after every run can make a huge difference. This is a key factor for increased endurance right here. Do your strength training right after your run. Not before, and not on alternate days. If you work out before the run, you might use up all the glycogen stores in your muscles, making it harder to complete your run. If you alternate strength training and cardio days, you may end up building muscle rather than endurance.
Consistency is the foundation of running endurance. And it’s not just about running every day, but always pushing yourself a little further.
And when we say a little further, we mean it. A gradual increase in mileage will help your body adapt and increase its stamina. However, you need to make sure you’re doing enough of the strength training mentioned above to handle even these gradual increases in distance.
It’s okay to take some time between distance increases. You don’t want to force yourself to do something you’re not ready for, but you do want to keep at it until you can reach your next milestone.
… But Not Routine
A routine can be the enemy of endurance. If you keep doing the exact same thing every day, your body is going to adapt and become comfortable at that level.
Switching up your workouts, especially the strength training aspects, will prevent your body from plateauing. Move your muscles in different ways. It’s more motivating, more invigorating, and more efficient.
Find Your Rhythm
Do you ever feel your energy increase when you’re listening to your favorite music? There’s a reason for that. We know that music helps improve a runner’s cadence and builds positive associations with working out, but now we even have some studies that suggest that certain types of music can increase exercise endurance by 15%.
There’s just something about putting in the earbuds and blocking out the distractions that makes it easier for many runners to find those hidden reserves of energy and get a little more out of every run.
The Best Uphill Battle Ever
There’s nothing quite like a big hill for building running endurance. Sure, it looks a little daunting. Yes, running uphill goes against most of our natural inclinations. (“Inclinations.” Get it? These are the jokes, friends.) But it really is a great way to develop the muscles you need for better endurance.
Begin by walking up the hill. Then, as you feel your calf muscles start to compensate and grow stronger, you can switch to jogging the hill. Eventually, you’ll be running up this supposedly insurmountable hill with stronger lungs and legs and feeling great when you reach the top.
(Go ahead, hum the Rocky theme song and pump your fists in the air. Trust me, you’ll want to.)
The Running Endurance Equation
Like most equations, this one needs to be balanced. Too much weight on one side could throw everything else out of order. When you want to start increasing your endurance, make sure you’re getting enough cardio, strength training, variety, and rhythm to gradually and safely take your next run a little longer and a little faster.
How Music Affects Your Brain
We’ve all experienced it. We’re just sitting there, minding our own business, and then that one song comes over the speakers and suddenly our heads start bobbing along in time with the music. Our feet start tapping to the beat, and we know we’ll be humming the words the rest of the day.
Music has an amazing ability to sneak into our minds and begin playing around with the wiring there. Without even trying, it can improve our moods, increase our energy, and get us motivated to do more.
It turns out, though, that there’s more to it than just a catchy tune.
There is a lot of evidence that connects music to brain health and function. In fact, a lot of the most recent studies are suggesting that:
Music Can Be a Real Rush
Scientists have observed that certain parts of the brain produce physical reactions to your favorite music. One group of scientists carried out an experiment in which they examined the amount of dopamine that was released when the subjects heard music they deemed pleasurable. (Dopamine being the stuff that the brain releases in response to pleasure-related stimuli and is involved with different functions, including movement, motivation, and reward.)
The study showed that at a certain point in the music, when the listeners were experiencing the most pleasure, a part of the brain called the ventral striatum released dopamine. However, about 10 to 15 seconds before that moment, a different part of the brain, called the dorsal striatum, also released some dopamine.
In other words, even the anticipation of the best parts of our favorite music can give us a real, physiological rush.
Music Can Improve Your Mood
When that dopamine is released, it immediately helps improve our moods.
Surprisingly, some studies even found that it wasn’t just upbeat music that could do this. They suggested that even sad music could help when you’re feeling down.
Now, this is a bit of a tricky one to talk about, because other studies warn that sad music can cause negative feelings or serious grief.
In this case, however, the authors of the study suggested that sad music provided a substitute for a lost relationship. It became a stand-in for an empathetic friend who understand what you’re going through.
And sometimes, the feeling that someone else – anyone else – understands you is enough to make you feel better.
But let’s go back to more positive, upbeat music. This is where you’re more likely to get that shot of dopamine that can immediately improve your mood.
Music Can Make You More Productive
It turns out that music can also affect workplace performance.
Now, to be clear about, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support both sides of this argument. One says that music is beneficial while the other says it can be too distracting.
However, in one study involving IT specialists, it appeared that those who listened to music while they worked were able to complete their tasks more quickly and even came up with better ideas throughout the process.
Why? The simple answer is because they were in a better mood.
You should never discount the power of a positive mood.
When you’re stressed, you tend to make hasty decisions and your focus becomes very narrow. When you’re in a better mood, your perspective opens a little bit and you can see a wider range of options.
Music Has Health Benefits
So far, we’ve talked about the psychological and neurological benefits of music. What about the rest of your body? Are there any physiological benefits connected to music?
In one study, researchers looked at patients who were about to undergo surgery. Half of the patients were assigned to listen to music before the surgery while the others took anti-anxiety drugs. Right before the surgery, they examined the patients’ levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
The results showed that the music listeners went into the surgery with much less anxiety and lower cortisol levels than those who took the drugs.
So, while this was just one study, it does hint that there may be some medicinal value to music.
Two Things to Remember When Choosing Brain Music
1. Age is NOT an Issue
Most of these studies have shown that age is not much of a factor when it comes to the brain boosting effects of music. There are benefits that can be felt at all ages, from the very young to the very ol… very experienced in years.
2. Personal Choice IS
One common thread in these studies was that participants could choose their own music. This is important because, over the years, our brains literally become wired to appreciate certain types of music.
As we’re exposed to different genres of music over a lifetime, a part of the brain, called the superior temporal gyrus, starts to store certain musical templates. This makes it so you tend to appreciate the nuances of similar music in the future.
So, pick the music that means the most to you and discover what kind of impact it can have on your mind, mood, and health.
A lot of us really want to work out more. Then again, a lot of us would be happy if we could start working out at all.
Motivation is tough. We know that working out will be good for us. We know that it will make us healthier and give us more energy, but it’s just so easy to “let it slide” one more day. (And then “one more day” turns into “one more week” and so on.)
Workouts are hard. They’re supposed to be. And that means that any speedbumps along the way can quickly derail our motivation.
There are a lot of things that can hold you back (including yourself), but a few simple workout motivation hacks can keep you right on track.
Use Positive Thinking AND Positive Feeling
We often hear the words “positive thinking” associated with any discussion of motivation, but the truth is that simply knowing that workouts are good for you and knowing that you want to be more active isn’t enough to get motivated.
Motivation is fueled by your feelings and emotions.
There was a great article in TIME Magazine that talked about this, and it can be summarized in one quote: “We need to think to plan but we need to feel to act.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can just decide to feel positive about your workout. There are too many outside factors that can impact how we’re feeling at any given time, and if we’ve got too much on our plate, putting us in a bad mood, we’re far more likely to procrastinate the next workout.
But we all have some things that put us in a better mood and let us block out all the negativity. And this motivational hack requires us to hang on tightly to those things.
We all have a much better chance of avoiding procrastination by planning ahead (positive thinking) and finding ways to improve your mood (positive feeling).
And what do you get when positive feeling and thinking come together?
And optimism is the foundation of motivation. Optimism is confidence that you will succeed because you’ve planned for it and you feel the results will be worth it.
Visualize Your Obstacles
Everyone faces different challenges, so, no matter how much we talk about positive thinking and planning, it’s important to remember that no plan turns out exactly like we imagined.
Sometimes, it just feels like something always – always – gets in our way.
If it happens once, it’s probably not a big deal. Twice… now you might start to feel your motivation slip. Three times, and most of us can assume we’ll be paying for a gym membership that won’t get used until next January.
The answer is to visualize your obstacles right along with your goals. Imagine all the things that could get in your way. Then, imagine how you will ignore/overcome/defeat each and every one of them. Then, when they happen, you’ll know exactly what to do.
Reward Yourself for Real
It’s easy to say that better health, more energy, and a better outlook on life are your rewards for sticking to a workout routine.
But for a lot of us, that is a little too intangible and way too far in the future.
A “real” reward is more tangible and more immediate.
Go to that movie, enjoy that amazing (and healthy) smoothie, buy that special thing you’ve been saving for. Give yourself something nice because you deserve it for this accomplishment.
Eventually, as our minds and bodies adjust to the workout routine, you’ll start to be more motivated by internal rewards – those endorphins that release when you complete a workout or push yourself to the next level. That’s the point when the workout itself becomes the reward.
Until then, it’s the external rewards that will increase your motivation levels.
Sometimes, one of the most effective forms of motivation is a little friendly peer pressure.
Yes, you’ve been told how bad peer pressure is, but you’re a little older now. You know how to have fun and where to draw the line.
So, use this competitive spirit to stay motivated. There are a couple benefits to this strategy.
One, you’ll be trying to accomplish your workout goals with others – which always makes it easier to stay motivated.
Two, the thought of the other people working out while you’re still curled up in bed is often enough to get you up and moving.
A little give and take, keeping things a little competitive, may be all you need to stick with your routine.
Use the Right Soundtrack
We’ve talked about the importance of using the right music to improve your run, but the same can be said for almost any kind of workout.
The right music at the right tempo can improve your overall enjoyment of the workout, reduce exertion levels, and make the time pass more quickly. That means your workout will be something you look forward to instead of something you’re forcing yourself to do.
Put Something on the Line
What will really happen if you don’t stick with your routine? For most people, the answer is “not much.” You’ll have to admit to your friends that you gave up, but beyond that, there isn’t much of a penalty.
On the other hand, if you give a friend $100 and tell them they can keep it if you don’t go to the gym at least 3 times a week, now you actually have something to lose.
When you have something very tangible to lose, you’ll be more motivated to see it through to the end.
Getting motivated to workout isn’t always easy, but it is always possible. You just need a good plan and a little optimism, and soon you’ll be maintaining your ideal workout program.
We all want to have a greater ability to enjoy the things in life that we are passionate about. Most of us have some level of passion for fitness, but more than just having a passion for fitness, being fit can enhance our ability to enjoy other areas of our life that we are passionate about.
I’ve seen people’s lives transform and improve dramatically as a result of becoming fit. Do you want to enjoy your family, friends, and community more? Then get fit!
One of the biggest benefits of becoming fit is confidence and a greater ability to handle our lives. Having a greater level of confidence in yourself and your abilities directly transfers to an increased ability to pursue the things we love in life. No one ever said I wish I wasn’t fit, but many have said they wished they were in better shape, and how they could do more if they were.
Having a passion for fitness doesn’t mean you have to be a professional athlete or even compete in a sport necessarily. It just means you are passionate about leading the best life that you can, and understanding that having the freedom to move your body brings greater ability to enjoy all the good things in life.
We are physical by nature. Our bodies are meant to move. By design our bodies are meant to be pushed, to create locomotion, to get stronger, and that physical strength enhances every other aspect of our lives.
The passion for fitness and how being fit and healthy improves our lives can be traced back to the time of the ancient Greeks and probably beyond that even. What was the first Olympics other than a display of the love for being fit.
The Greek philosopher Socrates said it perfectly when he said:
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
I couldn’t say it any better than that. “It’s a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the BEAUTY and STRENGTH of which his body is capable.” That’s passion right there!
Find a way to make becoming fit and strong a passion in your life. Get involved in something physically challenging. That could be going to the gym, running a 5k, or a marathon. Maybe you decided you are going to climb the highest mountain near you. There are countless ways to challenge yourself physically. Don’t sit on the sidelines. I challenge all of us to get up and move on a daily basis.
Find what powers your passion for fitness, and let that power drive you to achieve greater happiness in your life.
Working the abdominal area has many benefits: improves posture, balance and stability, prevents injuries, draws the tummy in, flattens the tummy and increases the endurance in our back and stomach muscles. It is always great to have challenges and workouts you are easily able to complete no matter where you are – the gym, a hotel, a park or in the comforts of your home. Below are two of my staple ab moves and a favorite ab circuit…
The “Double” Crunch
The double crunch works both the lower and upper abdominal muscles at the same time. It is important to work the core because we use it in our everyday lives.
- Grab a mat and lie on your back with hands behind your head and knees slightly bent as if you were in position to do a classic crunch.
- Curl your upper abs – by lifting your head and shoulder blades toward your knees. At the same time – slowly raise and curl your knees toward your chest.
- Exhale as you curl your body parts in and inhale as your return to the start position.
Tip: “In the beginning go slow, work on form, inhales and exhales. Really concentrate on curling the abs and breathing properly. After this becomes natural try some variations: straight leg double crunches or even try using a medicine ball in-between your legs as you complete the double crunch.
20 second/10second PLANK Challenge
The plank works the core from the inside out and the core impacts our everyday life. The challenge is a short goal and fun to complete – this is a must try!
- Grab a mat or a towel and have a clock or a stopwatch ready for use.
- Lie flat on the floor resting your body on your forearms with your palms flat on the floor. Ensure your shoulders are aligned with your elbows. Make sure your legs are straight behind and touching.
- In a push-up motion using your forearms, raise your body off the floor, supporting yourself using your forearms and toes. You should have a straight line from your feet to your head. You can clasp your palms together if needed. Make sure your back is flat (no arching or sagging) and the rest of your body is straight.
- Keep your abdominal muscles engaged and do not let your stomach drop or your back arch. Remember to breathe in and out the whole time while keeping your tummy nice and tight.
- Hold this for 20 seconds then drop to the floor and rest for 10 seconds and repeat until you reach 3 minutes.
- QUICK TIPS:
Tip: “Start with a 3 minute goal and work to increase it – also try different variations of the plank such as the rocking plank, up/down plank, plank jacks and hip-dip planks. You can increase the amount of time and the type of plank. With so many variations and challenges available this should be a staple on ab days.”
ABDOMINAL WORKOUT CHALLENGE
Try combining the following routine every other day for the next 3 months with a healthy fit nutrition plan. Be sure to take a before and after photo as well as a waist measurement to track your progress. Sometimes it can be hard to see a difference because we are so hard on ourselves and we see ourselves every day. One big piece of advice is to always remember that you will never out train a bad diet. I am not saying you have to be perfect when it comes to nutrition but remember 80% of your success will come from what you eat and drink and only 20% will come from training. It is important to find a balance with food and finding time to get moving.
Complete 3 rounds of the following:
*30 bicycle kicks
*30 “double” crunches
*3 minute Plank:
(20 sec plank/10 sec rest for a total of 3 minutes)
*1.5 minute rest and repeat
*for more of a challenge if this is too easy increase crunches to 50 and plank to 5 minutes