Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Endurance training, with and without kettlebells

Usually I like my workouts quick. For those of you who've been following this blog for a while, you know that my basic workout philosophy is that unless you're training for an endurance event such as a marathon, it's unnecessary and even counter-productive to spend more than seven percent of your waking hours working out. For basic fitness and fat loss, 30-60 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week, combined with good nutrition, will give most people excellent results.

But, hey, every now and then it's not the worst thing in the world to mix things up a little with some endurance training, especially if you participate in sports or activities such as hiking or mountain biking that require sustained effort. If the weather permits, of course, you can simply do your sport, gradually increasing the length and/or intensity of your sessions until you're where you want to be. But if that's not possible there are alternatives, and this weekend I explored two of them.

The first involved kettlebells, and consisted of a 1-arm swing/breathing ladder, following a protocol of 2 swings to 1 breath. So my first set consisted of 1 swing per arm, followed by a single breath. Then I did 2 swings per arm followed by 2 breaths, and so on. The idea here is to draw the workout out for as long as possible by controlling your breathing. Deep breaths and deeper exhalations are key. I laddered up to 21 swings per arm, followed by 21 breaths, and then worked my way back down the ladder, without ever feeling smoked. Really, it was about as relaxing and zen-like as a kettlebell training session can ever be.

The second involved a spinning bike. Normally I would not spend 3 hours on a spinning bike, and I certainly wouldn't recommend that anyone else do so. But it was a fundraiser for the YMCA where I do much of my training, so I sucked it up and cycled for 3 hours, pacing myself and again using breath control to keep myself from ever getting smoked. Honestly, the biggest challenges for me were (1) insufficient padding in my bike shorts; and (2) the music choices of my fellow instructors, which ranged from "And So This Is Christmas" to "Cum On Feel The Noize."

If you want to use cardio machines for your endurance training I recommend cross training on a few different machines, varying your intensity and maybe throwing in some timed sets of bodyweight exercises as well, but never going all out the way you would during HIIT training. Remember: your goal is sustained effort, not maximal effort. Here's an example of something I might do:

5 minutes on the treadmill
20 bodyweight squats
5 minutes on the treadmill
20 pushups
5 minutes on the treadmill
20 lunges
5 minutes on the treadmill
20 mountain climbers

Repeat 2 more times, substituting the ARC trainer and the stationary bike for the treadmill.

Of course it's not necessary to break it up like this, but I find that when I do I am less likely to want to stick a fork in my eye 20 minutes in.

Have I mentioned that machine cardio is not my thing?