Health Nut: Train hard, not horribly

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October 26, 2010

12:21 AM

This past weekend I ran the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C. with some of my family members. Every year, tens of thousands of athletes and fitness advocates gather to support the U.S. military forces by competing in one of the most popular race events in the world. Perusing the participant field, I immediately noticed just how many different levels of talent and skill were on display that day. I found myself wondering exactly what kind of preparation had gone into this moment. I realized that for me, the most important and salient aspect of marathons is not the race itself, but the training in the months leading up to the big day.
Having been raised in a society that places so much emphasis on the visual, we are naturally obsessed with our image as individuals in this material culture. Life seems to revolve around how others appear to us and how others perceive the way we look — and everything in between. Regardless of where you stand on this controversial issue of self-appearance, the bottom line is that people want to look and feel healthy.

Adopting a lifestyle that incorporates elements from both resistance and endurance training is essential in order to achieve this goal. One of the most difficult challenges of this active lifestyle, however, is optimizing the benefits from each type of training without actually doing more harm than good to yourself.

Resistance training, or strength training, is well documented as having extraordinary health benefits. It can maintain or build muscle mass, maximize power and increase bone density for the enhancement of functional capacity. A great example of this benefit is physical therapy, since the foundation of any program designed to rapidly correct muscular imbalances is resistance training. In terms of biological mechanisms, strength training also improves the efficiency of both the endocrine (hormonal) and the immune (anti-pathogenic) systems. In other words, it stabilizes your mental state and augments your ability to fight disease.

Likewise, the variety of health benefits granted through endurance training are also well-understood. First and foremost, stamina strength promotes powerful cardiovascular and respiratory machinery. As the heart develops the power to beat harder and pump more blood through the veins to vital organs, the lungs provide more oxygen to enhance the functionality of these destinations. Often overlooked is the significant improvement in flexibility, which allows for increased joint protection. Ligaments become more limber and stable with endurance training, so the likelihood of sustaining joint injury is reduced.

It is very important to note that, aside from the overlap of primary advantages, the aforementioned health benefits are compromised to a degree by isolating the training method. Focusing on one approach will degrade the efficacy of what is gained by the other.

A general rule of thumb for dual-training beginners is to never combine sessions. Warming up with a run or getting in a few sprints at the end of a lift is absolutely fine, but the most effective initial approach is to create a strict schedule, and then keep to it. Assign specific training to certain days — elastic or hydraulic resistance training on Monday, Wednesday, Friday; high-intensity interval training on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday; rest on Sunday. If you want to develop more muscle mass, focus on more powerful lifts with lighter runs. Consider coupling power-lifting with steady runs in order to add muscle size. On the other hand, if what you really want is to improve stamina, concentrate on distance runs with lighter lifts.

Depending on what you ultimately want to achieve, you should gradually work your way up to somewhere within the range of five to seven miles per endurance training day with high repetitions (like 10 to 15) of relatively light weight on the strength training days.

Above everything else, always remember to pace yourself and listen to your body. Pay attention to all of the physical cues associated with your personalized exercise routine. Injury prevention is a preemptive means of activity. Do everything in moderation — and have fun.

__Dylan Scarton is a health nut columnist. He believes in consistent training before all rigorous athletic events.__

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