Need a reason to put on the running shorts.
May 18, 2011 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Need help setting and measuring new fitness goals, but don't want to train for a marathon or similar long race. Any other ideas?

26 year old male here. Over the course of the past three years I have got to the point where I can run comfortably for 3-4 miles at a go at a moderate pace. As much I appreciate these runs and recognize they have helped me achieve a decent level of fitness, I am concerned I have basically plateaued in terms of fitness benefits and as an overall challenge. For a number of different reasons I am not especially interested in adding mileage to my runs or training for a long race. I would however like to have something to work towards in measuring an overall improvement to my fitness. I have begun incorporating new methods such as Fartlek, hill running, jump rope and body weight exercises, which has helped mix it up, but still does not solve my original problem of having a specific measurable goal.

I am basically looking for some sort of program or fitness challenge that does not revolve around distance or long endurance training, with more of an emphasis on gaining muscle, speed and power. Ideally I would be able to measure my progress over the course of a year, like I do all my other non-fitness goals. I would ideally like to avoid gyms and a lot of equipment. I have easy access to fields and running trails, and could pursue this anywhere from 5-6 days per week.

Any suggestions? Thanks.
posted by the foreground to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You might take a look at the simple fitness ladder laid out in The Hacker's Diet.
posted by maxim0512 at 8:17 AM on May 18, 2011

Best answer: You could try the Martial Arts. I've done it basically my whole life. There are always new challenges...both mental and physical. You can set goals of obtaining higher ranks. Maybe even someday become a blackbelt. This is not to say that I think it's all about getting a "rank"...not at all. But it gives you something to shoot for and a way to measure your progress. I've done weight lifting, tennis, jogging, hiking, swimming...and I don't feel that any exercise is more beneficial then the Martial Arts for so many reasons.. And it doesn't take a lot of equipment. You can practice it almost anywhere at any time. It's fun, challenging, and rewarding.
posted by ljs30 at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2011

Best answer: There are no magical shortcuts: muscle is gained by lifting, pushing or pulling strenuously heavy objects repetitively.

I've personally made significant (life-changing) gains using P90X, which uses either a pullup bar ('iron gym' brand is great and inexpensive), and resistance bands looped over a door, or dumbbells (with changeable weight plates; best purchased at a used sporting goods store or via craigslist). P90X is mostly bodyweight exercises but incorporates lifting for arm exercises. There are a trillion 'P90X results' videos on youtube if you want to see what sort of actual returns people have seen.

Many others have significantly improved their muscle tone with the brother to P90X, "Insanity." Insanity has a much higher cardio/interval focus and is pretty tough as well. A new version of Insanity ("Asylum") just came out, so there's more fuel to avoid the boredom curse.

The ever-popular answer to this question is the book 'Starting Strength' by Mark Rippetoe. Mark is a famous coach who has coached many weightlifting champions, and he really knows his stuff. However, the program he advocates involves barbell lifting, which requires a lot more equipment and/or a spotter and/or a gym, which might be out of your requirement zone.

Another popular option is the 'CrossFit' system, which also has a high equipment (or gym) requirement but which is designed to fit your specific case: a younger guy in moderate fitness who wants to amp it up and get challenged.

As far as recording your results, every strength program suggests that you do it, none of them will be any better than others at making you do it. If you make it a habit to bring your workout record book to your workout area, and write down your results after every set, then it will eventually be ingrained in you. There are several iphone apps (none that I've found that are amazing) which can help you in this regard if you find a book too cumbersome and/or want digital tracking and/or would be listening to music anyway.

Good luck!
posted by felix at 8:22 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Instead of training for those long races, why not run 5 or 10k races? How about playing soccer or ultimate frisbee?

By making your running part of a directly competitive activity, you may be able to push yourself harder.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:46 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: These have probably occured to you but:

- Measure your imrovement in a shorter distance: 400 meter, 1 mile, 5k, etc. The shorter the distance, the more it will emphasize speed/power and the less it will emphasize endurance.

- Improvement in bodyweight exercises. E.g., increase your max pushup or pullup by 20 percent.

Also, for specific gynastic-type skills which are good goals, check out Beast Skills.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:09 AM on May 18, 2011

Best answer: Can you do a hundred pushups?
posted by mareli at 9:11 AM on May 18, 2011

half, 3/4, .... bodyweight should press
Bodyweight bench press
2x bodyweight deadlift and squat
10, 15, 20, ... pullups (make sure they're to full extension)
40, 50, 60, .... push ups (again, full range of motion)

Get to the high end of the weight/reps that I listed and you'll be doing very well in terms of strength. If you've got some room and a bit of cash, get a barbell set. It'll last you a lifetime if you take care of it, and you won't have to keep shelling out cash for a gym membership.
posted by Homo economicus at 10:11 AM on May 18, 2011

*edit - shoulder press
posted by Homo economicus at 10:13 AM on May 18, 2011

Along the lines of Homo economicus's suggestion, here are the weightlifting performance (strength) standards by height and weight from Rippetoe's Starting Strength.
posted by AceRock at 10:42 AM on May 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I think I'm going to try the hundred push-ups challenge as I feel pretty far behind in strength training and then move on to more advanced bodyweight and/or dumbbell exercises. I also took a look at the training for a 5k race, which seems to incorporate more speed work then I imagined, so will start working towards that program as well.
posted by the foreground at 12:47 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

5K and 10K races are awesome. They are short enough that you don't have to train for them (assuming you are running regularly, that is), but they can be very, very hard. One of the most brutal races I ran was a 5K. I finished the first mile about 15s over my mile PR. I kept that pace for the second mile, which I did not enjoy. The third mile was run slightly faster and my legs and lungs were on fire.

Finishing a 5K isn't the same sort of transcendent experience that finishing a marathon is, but running a 5K hard (whatever "hard" is for you) is, well, hard. Fun too.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:42 PM on May 18, 2011

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