Total Workout Volume
Your doctor and I both want your HR to get up around 70% of maximum (or higher) for at least 30 minutes, three times per week. That’s basically three jogs per week. For beginners, I refer to this short-term goal of running three days per week for 30 minutes as the “doctor’s orders program.” The runners I coach ask me on occasion if yard work or mowing the lawn counts as cross-training (XT), or if hiking counts as strength training (ST). My answer is that it depends on whether or not the HR increases. Meaning, it depends on who is asking and the nature of the hike or yard work. For some folks, a hike is a blistering workout (no pun intended), so if the hike drives up the HR then of course it’s XT. However, if the hike was equivalent to “a walk through the woods,” then no, in a technical sense, it wasn’t a workout.
If hiking is going to count as ST, then the individual most likely needs to take “the path less traveled” so that the leg muscles are working to overcome rocks and/or steep hills. This ensures that elements of the hike are equivalent to elements of ST. This same rationale applies to yard work. Someone’s HR while in a kneeling position is probably no different than when washing dishes (hardly XT). However, depending on other elements of the yard work, it may be a good hamstring workout, especially if bending and lifting movements are done with flawless form, as in not overusing the back muscles. So in this instance, yes, yard work may be ST, the same way shoveling snow may count as ST.
As it relates to total work, yes, I want my runners to be as active as possible without the risk of overuse injuries. ST and XT have a very low likelihood for causing any injury, so when I talk about increasing the total volume (work) in a program, it is these two elements that can get more attention off the bat. The off-season is typically where total training volume (all elements of training combined) is, or should be, at its highest in order to change body composition and prepare the body for the increased RV that lies ahead. At any local gym, the body builders (whether professional or just a pseudo body builder) do longer workouts than everyone else. Their ST sessions may be 60 - 90 minutes from start to finish. That’s a great deal of total work. I’ll ignore the dietary and psychological aspects of their approach for now (it’s not important to the main point), but their bodies show the results of their high-volume training. Similarly, elite Ironman triathletes do lots of workouts during the week, are active all day, every day, and they’re as fit as fit can be.
Recalling the expression “Sweat once per day,” I allow runners to choose any activities that make them sweat—it could be hiking, yard work, or a Zumba class. Open days are the days for my athletes to explore this option. The total time spent moving around each day is what is meant by total work. It doesn’t have to be run-specific all the time. Make time each day to be energetic. A body in motion will stay in motion. The more someone trains, workouts, or exercises, then the more he/she will want to do so in the future. Fitness is invigorating and it perpetuates itself, and there is much scientific evidence to support this claim. A workout does not have to cause one to be tired for the rest of the day (long runs might be the exception). On the contrary, training typically increases energy levels for the rest of the day and the next day. Walk around at the office, take the stairs, bike commute, try a group exercise class—the list is endless. Fluffy words like “dedication” and “motivation” can be measured by the ability to make the time for physical activity, even with a busy work schedule.
Personally, I rarely (if ever) had any motivational issues in all my years of sports. I was like the 10-year old kid my whole life, where sports, ST, nighttime jogs, etc were all fun! I need to be in motion, I enjoy it way too much, I enjoy feeling alive. I don't train for Ironman tris anymore, but guess what? I'm just as active. The total work now vs. then may be slightly lower now, but I'm still in motion all the time. The nature of my work sets me up for an active day, whereas your job may not. Point taken. So, if you're in this category where you feel you don't have 20-30 minutes per day to dedicate to yourself, then let's explore options together. That is also the nature of my work.