Working from home is the world in which I've been living most of the past 10 years with DCRC. I see that there are online articles floating around all over the place on "How to Adjust to a Work-From-Home Environment" and "6 Things You Can Do TODAY to Improve Your Productivity While Working From Home!" It's all practical advice, so I won't belabor the point here. Without having actually read those articles, my #1 tip is to find a place with the least amount of distractions, which might actually be outside your home. For me, I've found that the UMD library is where I am the most productive, with a specific section of the specific floor that I go to. With that shut down, I still have other backup options I've used over the years. Yes, I'm sitting at my home desk 80-90% of the time when I'm working these days, but I also know it can be beneficial to go outside for a while to get other type of work done, like reading and/or less-consuming work.
As it relates to training, some of you are now feeling "cooped up" because you don't have the separation of commute-work-gym-commute-home that you used to have. So now you might not always have the usual peppy enthusiasm to do ST because now instead of doing it at the gym, you're doing it where you work and eat. My advice on this is the same as it's always been, try doing your ST outside! There has to be some small park or patch of grass near your home in which you can take your bag of ST goodies and knock it out.
Either way, whether it's working at home or working-out at home, you have to flip a switch in your head that enables you to switch modes (see Link below). One tactic here is to change your clothes when it's time to workout. Maybe you've been lounging in workout clothes all day, and that's fine…you don't have to wear your business attire when working from home (I hope you don't!), but make it a point to change clothes, as in putting on a "uniform". Uniforms have a special connotation in that it allows us to make those small yet meaningful identity changes, which enables us to "get in the right zone" prior to the workout. Maybe you have a favorite workout T-shirt? …special tights/shorts? …headband!?
Whatever it is, now more than ever is when you can use that to your advantage. Switch clothes, put on your workout uniform and "go to work"…flip the switch in your head! Thank you, Sly!
Regarding the social distancing protocol that is in place, it certainly makes sense and is reasoned to be the 2nd best way to stop the spread of the pandemic, with the eventual mass vaccine/anecdote being 1st. As it relates to being outside and being the social creatures that we are, in the past week I've seen more runners out-and-about in DC than usual. DC is always crawling with runners, which I enjoy about my city, but I see more than usual these days, with people having extra time to workout if they're not at the office/commuting. I see some of them running in the outside lanes on Connecticut Ave to attempt to keep distance between the folks on the sidewalk (and since they're are relatively few cars on the road). The trail behind my apartment building is full of walkers and runners every time I peer out my window. Hopefully everyone maintains this level activity when the world gets a full green light again, right?
With people feeling "cooped up" and/or isolated after x-amount of days/weeks in their homes, it's sensible that they want to get outside and at least see other humans (we are social creatures by nature), as well as to importantly enjoy fresh air. I don't see any issue with doing workouts outside, just be smart and keep your distance. The efficacy of face masks is debatable at the time of this post, but use them if that's what your gut tells you to do. Bring hand sanitizer or thin gloves if you're using outdoor equipment, as it looks like most apartment/office gyms are shutting down too. ST videos on Youtube can definitely shake up your routine and keep it fun! There is no shortage of ST/PT vids online, have at it! Whatever you're doing outside, I don't believe that you have to feel guilty about it. If you know you have symptoms (fever, dry cough, abnormally low energy) then I assume you're self-quarantined already. I receive university emails daily regarding virus updates, and I also keep checking the CDC website, and here is the most basic info about corona that I will repeat here:
"People may be sick with the virus for 1 to 14 days before developing symptoms. The most common symptoms of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. More rarely, the disease can be serious and even fatal. Older people, and people with other medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), may be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill."
We’re all in the same boat right now in terms of canceled races/events…things that were very important to us are now completely off the radar until at least July at this point. Some of the bigger international races have postponed their date to the fall, in which it's nice to see that they're trying to salvage the experience for everyone involved. I always say that I'm optimistic, but not blindly. I'm hopeful for the miracle of modern science to put up a winning fight against Mother Nature with this new pandemic, but I obviously can't make any educated guesses beyond that of our true experts, to whom I've been listening as much as I can outside the usual news outlets. In the meantime, and to reiterate from above, you are not a selfish individual for being outside in the fresh spring air right now. You want to keep your momentum in terms of health/fitness, and there's a reason fit people are less affected by the virus. Your athletic goals and events are a part of your identity and your psychological well-being, so you have my support, just don't be overzealous about it in the face of others. One of the runners I coach was slated to run his first 50-miler this weekend, but it got canceled, yet he's possibly going to run 50M on his own this weekend and serve as his own support staff too. No qualms from me (as long as he protects his immune system afterward and takes a full recovery week, right?).
Personally, I am still symptom-free and I've been doing relatively short runs most days. Some people on the sidewalk appear to be almost jumping out of the way when they see me coming. No doubt, you too have at least once had a stranger "dodge you", as if you're a weapon or a zombie. I acknowledge that it's an eerie feeling to experience that, and despite how high our self-esteem might be, it can sting for a moment. Don't fret or take it personally. That's evolutionary psychology making it sting…the "need" to be accepted by the rest of the tribe, or to be affiliated with others (Maslow's hierarchy, see attached photo), or to at least not feel like an outcast, right? To that last point, we have sensitivity ("sensors") built into our animal/primate brains to sense danger, which is not just physical threat, but also disease, germs, and the sick people around us. Hence the great debate in psychology about whether altruism really exists, or if we help others merely to get rid of our own feelings of sympathy, pity, remorse, or disgust and/or to make ourselves feel good/noble for helping someone else (spoiler: altruism does exist).
I begin the psych courses I teach with a reminder that to ignore evolutionary psychology is to miss out on the understanding of almost all of our modern behaviors too (as a species). Everything is just more sophisticated now. There's a reason people might unknowingly exaggerate their movements to avoid you while you're running, for the very same reason you feel uneasy when they do it. The explanation is that we are, a) creatures designed for survival = "stay away from the bad stuff", and b) creatures designed to be social. You can make the same jokes I have about how social distancing already began in 2010 with the advent of smart phones (haha), but I empathize with any of you who think it's odd when parents warn their kids, "no, honey, wait!!!" as you walk into your building at the same time as a family (as I did last night…I chuckled to myself…it was so damn eerie to be a part of that moment). Or the one person I saw in the grocery store who nearly had a panic attack when someone walked past with a cart within 6 feet. Luckily that's been the exception and not the norm.
I tend to be the odd-ball anyway who waives and smiles at people when I run around the city, so there's one way to keep the normalcy…go ahead and waive/smile/head-nod at some people you see out there. Evolutionary psych tells us that one of the first "symbols" we recognize as newborns is a smiling face. Keep the sense of community/friendliness going, just as I say thank you on-the-fly as often as I can to the race volunteers at the aid stations during my races. Viva la happiness. Don't feel guilty, don't feel shame, don't feel like a mutant. Stay active, run outside, just don't annoy anyone. Check the CDC site occasionally, please (please) don't stay glued to the news stations or online headlines/clickbait (life is not horrible). Who knows when this will "flatten out". I'll be optimistic for at least local races to occur in the fall. Stay motivated…feed your momentum, your identity ("ego"), and keep me posted, I'm here to help you navigate.
I hope that your 2020 is off to a great start! My long-awaited video series on proper running form is now up on Youtube! The brainchild was ~6 years ago, but it's finally done, whew! Many of you reading this blog made a small investment in me when you signed-up for coaching. Otherwise, I hope you find the video series beneficial. Please feel free to share!
I'll eventually add more videos to my Youtube page, like a "Coach's Corner", as in a series of short 1-5 minute videos where I discuss various topics (e.g., sections of my book), so subscribing to the DCRC Youtube Channel also helps.
Here are the quick links to the videos in the series:
Video Intro A - General points and philosophies:
Video Intro B - Background info on Coach Mike:
Video #1 - Arm Swing:
Video #2 - Posture:
Video #3 - Stride Rate (cadence):
Video #4 - Stride Length:
Video #5 - Foot Strike:
Video #6 - Closing Thoughts:
Have a great 2020!
P.S. As you'll see, the main 3 videos (the "main beef") on stride rate + stride length + foot strike are loooong, and that is intentional, as these 3 topics are the "main beef". I elected not to break the longer videos up into even smaller ones because it would potentially scramble the order of them when someone was watching, so for simplicity's sake, I stacked the videos just as I present them during a Running 101 session.
Here is an advanced tip for how to stay technically attuned during your workouts, especially when you get fatigued, whether it’s running or strength training (ST). I hammer home this point in the ST chapter of my book when I discuss the priority of form/technique over mindlessly pushing yourself to simply do more reps ("more, more, more!"). There is an obvious connection here in how our form tends to break down when we go to the upper limits of our long runs and/or harder speed workouts. This is all in itself a healthy reminder, but I'll take it a step further.
As a coach, I want to make sure that my athletes and I have a similar definition of "pushing yourself", or at least have different ways of defining this phrase. Yes, in general, pushing yourself means stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the harder workouts, the jacked-up heart rate on occasion, the labored breathing, the muscle burn, etc; however, it can also mean choosing to do a workout vs.skipping it (I discuss this in more detail in a section of my book called "Aggressive Training"), and also maintaining proper focus when the going gets tough (i.e., composure and self-talk).
Another section of my book is titled "Mental Toughness is Overrated" and it's relevant here. How do you know when you're pushing yourself? Is it based on how many reps you do? …the #'s on your watch? Or is it a subjective feeling? …does it require extra mental effort in order to qualify as "pushing yourself"? No matter how you cut it, "pushing yourself" might sometimes get in the way of optimum/maximum performance. Wait, how is that possible, doesn't that sound counter-intuitive?
I was at a 3-day sport psych nerd conference in Baltimore this past weekend, with lots and lots of presentations on cognitive elements of performance, motor development, motor control, team dynamics, identity/personality, and a bunch of other relevant topics. Lots to learn. As I already had this topic in my head, I caught a few glimpses of presentations that showed that the specific focal points someone has during endurance tasks and/or high-intensity tasks helps determine actual performance, which is nothing new, nor earth-shattering, but it does lend credence to the importance of making sure we all understand what "pushing yourself" could mean and/or should mean.
For instance, there are internal focal points ("staying in your element" as I phrase it in my book), which are your breathing, technique/form, stride, perceived exertion, etc., and there are external focal points, such as the crowd, the competition, the trees, your pace, etc. Side note: Some of you are wondering if pace is actually internal…keep it as external, this is the difference between Pace vs. Intensity. Most studies show internal focus leads to better performance than external focus, and if you've read my book, then you understand the reasoning. There's obviously room to bounce back and forth between the two, especially in relatively long events (it's natural and needed), and that in itself is a skill, in knowing when to do each, but now I'll bring this back to the main point.
Precision is a better way to improve performance than simply grunting it out (pushing). In fact, you can all think of examples, either personally or observed, when someone was so determined to push hard that their technique suffered as a result and they missed whatever mark they were aiming for. This naturally is more evident in tasks with a cognitive component (running isn't very cognitive, or at least it's not supposed to be!), but it does apply to endurance sports too. For example, cyclists were studied while they either focused on their pedal stroke (i.e., "smoothness" = internal) or were focused on "keep going!" (external). The former group beat the latter group. This should be logical. If your pedal stroke remains smooth (i.e., efficient, just like running form) then you don't put as much strain/stress on your body (muscles, tendons, etc), thereby making it physically/physiologically easier to "keep going." This is the essence of why mental toughness is overrated.
Keep your precision when the going gets tough, it'll help you hit the target. Braveheart and the Kevin Kostner Robin Hood both have scenes about this type of precision under pressure, and I learned it first-hand back in the day when I was doing shot put and playing rugby. So, don't just close your eyes and plow through, you might screw up your form, and it's our form that carries us through!
I frequently use the word “consistency” in relation to winter off-season training. I encourage everyone not to overlook consistency as an important variable in your training program. The variables we usually think of are: distance, miles, pace, # of sets, # of reps, duration, rest intervals, and # of workouts in the week. However, if you’ve been doing all of the above for several weeks in a row (putting recovery weeks on hold for a second), then isn’t the number of weeks also its own variable? Yes, it is! And that is the main reason I give DCRC athletes proactive recovery weeks as preventive medicine.
The other more important point I wanted to make here is that you don’t always need to extend your weekend long runs, nor do more total miles or days per week as we progress along. The simple fact you’ve done it x-amount of weeks in a row is enough stress on the body already. This is why a chunk(s) of your program will often look similar over a few weeks at a time. And this is where a coach and an athlete might have different perspectives on training, right? Sometimes I’m controlling all the variables in a program (within reason) and allowing the fact that it’s being done week after week (after week) be the important variable in the mix.
This approach (and reminder) is especially important for those of you who are either getting back into running/training for the first time ever, or the first time in a long time, and/or if you’ve always had nagging injuries in the past, and/or been sidelined by injury. This approach does not mean your training is stagnant! No way! That is a fallacy that keeps the PT/chiro offices in business! If you’ve been training consistently for 6-8 weeks in a row then you better believe you’re putting in work. This level of commitment and consistency is new for some of you, either mentally or in terms of being injury-free.
Let your consistency be a variable in itself and be patient if your program doesn’t resemble cannon fire. Some of the programs I create for athletes accelerate faster than others, yet that is based on myriad factors. The above points also reinforce the notion, "Train smarter, not harder," and now you know another tactic to put that into action via your program.
We have 2 full weeks of January 2018 under our belts, and with that we should be clear of the lingering holiday bugs/illnesses, family time (family-in-law time, too), travel, and reasons and excuses (there’s a difference between those last two). Now it's time to start hammering!
Whatever transpired in 2017 (for better or worse) is behind us, and we’re moving forward. Like a dream catcher, take what you need to from 2017, filter out the rest, digest it, believe in what you digested (don’t lie to yourself), and move forward. Part of moving forward is to get your PT visits! PT will offer you much insight into new ST exercises, or where to focus your ST. We can’t use race schedules as an excuse right now because we don’t need to be racing Jan-Feb.
I’ve written many times that your off-season goal is to look and feel like a different athlete on March 1st, as compared to November 1st, so with 2 weeks of 2018 already gone by, keep hammering! Retool, rebuild, reload, repeat. Every week of Jan - Feb you should be focused on strengthening your body, changing your body, trying new things, and shaking up your routine. Signing on with DCRC is a huge first step for many athletes and so it’s happening naturally. Others who have been with me a while and/or long-time avid runners might have to dig a little deeper to see what new elements they can introduce, and perhaps that simply means pushing themselves more than they did last winter!
We have 6 weeks until March 1st (plus the St. Patty’s 5k on March 4th), so get moving! If you didn’t start hammering ST in November because that was still peak race month, then that’s fine, but if December was also a recovery period + busy time, then that’s behind us now.
“Be the change you want to see in yourself” —Ghandi’s personal trainer.
When considering how you feel about your last week of training (or life), be sure not to limit your vocabulary to simply “good or bad”. I understand that there is otherwise a potentially utility to keeping the language that simple, and I admit that I sometimes remind my athletes to think of their training program as keeping a scorecard for each week in terms of whether the week was a “win or a loss,” and so I recognize the potential contradiction I just offered. However, my point in encouraging athletes to think about their training in terms of a win-loss record is related to zooming out and looking at the week as a whole, instead of focusing on the one or two aspects that didn’t go 100% according to plan.
When you consider the entirety of the week, using both objective and subjective data points, then the overwhelming majority of your weeks should be "good weeks”…a win! You could even use a word other than “good,” as in reporting that the week went “great!” If you don’t believe that it was a great week, or even a good week, then why not? To take it a step further, just because it wasn’t a good week, does that automatically imply it was a bad week? Probably not.
Even if you don’t think it was a great/good week of training, expanding your vocabulary in that regard means you’ll have many more words to choose from that have a positive connotation from which you can label your week. The practical application of the bigger vocabulary is that you won’t be so quick to label a training week negatively, and then you get to score one in the Win category!
Our thoughts are framed by the exact words we use. “We think in terms of language”—George Carlin. Elite athletes who frequently use mental imagery and develop such “scripts” for races demonstrate this element of psychological skills training. Specifically, they practice the exact words/phrases (cue words) they want to say at various points in the game/race/course to keep the self-talk positive and task-specific. It is a skill that takes deliberate practice to develop. Bottom line: Develop a bigger vocabulary.