Is running + yoga + swimming enough?
January 20, 2012 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I want to lose weight and improve my running speed. Is running + yoga + swimming enough?

I just can't make up my mind about what direction I want to take my exercise regime in this new year. Looking for advice. Apologies that this is somewhat convoluted, but I am considering a lot of different factors.

I ran my first marathon last weekend. Yay! But at 160 lbs, I am also the heaviest I have ever been. I am a 31-year-old female, 5'8". My family is all skinny and I have always been effortlessly slender my whole life. I didn't take up exercise until I was in my mid-20s, and only then I did so for fitness, not weight loss.

I have been running seriously for about four years. I have run three half marathons and now, one marathon. My time has gotten progressively worse, in spite of the fact that I have become more dedicated to my training. My first half in January 2012 was 2:27. My last half (in December) and my marathon were 3 hours and 6 hours respectively.

The healthiest I've ever been in my life was when I lived in Korea and took tae kwon do, which consisted mostly of body-weight exercises and cardio. About a year ago I started an outdoor Crossfit boot camp, where instead of Olympic lifting we used kettle bells and body exercises. I went 3x a week. It was challenging but gave me that good "I worked out hard" feeling that I missed so much from TKD, though I was often sore.

In that year, I did not see a major change in my weight, thought I did see slight changes in my muscle mass.

Around November, I stopped going to boot camp, partially because of travel for the holidays, and partly because of time constraints. I sometimes have to work late or work events, and work combined with my marathon training (30-40 miles a week) was taking up much of my free time, plus I was often so sore after boot camp that running speed work or long runs was daunting. Doing the marathon was my primary fitness goal for the last quarter of 2011, so it took priority.

Now I can easily bust out 10 miles without thinking about it. My only bummer was my time. I would like to maintain the endurance I've built up, plus improve my time to get below a 9-minute mile. I know this will take time, but I'm positive I can do it.

While training for my first half I was in a running training program that met 3x a week. My best race time ever was a 4-mile race during that time where I averaged a 9:45 mile. I miss those glory days! With the marathon achievement bolstering me, I'd like to re-enroll in that training program. But there are two complications: it meets the same time as my XF boot camp, and the program is now two days a week with the group instead of three — hills on Monday, supported long runs on Saturday, with provided do-it-yourself speed training on Wednesdays. Cost for this program is $100 for 10-weeks.

For the last two years I've been using downloadable training programs from Runner's World on my Garmin for speed work and tempo runs, and a part of me thinks that it's a waste to pay $100 for training when I could keep using the Garmin. Then again, I've been getting slower, not faster, training on my own, even though my endurance has greatly improved. (I used to not be able to run 3 miles without walking.) I do not know if the slowness is due to a lack of training, or due to overtraining with XF.

There is one more complicating factor. I have a membership to the YMCA heavily subsidized through my work. $16 a month, taken straight from my paycheck. And the Y is a brand new facility, with a huge weight room, swimming pool, classes, etc. It's also a mile from my house, and literally right next door to my work building. I can't believe I haven't taken more advantage of it, but I am the kind of person who does best in an environment where I'm led and not so self-dependent. The old Y had an awesome weight-lifting class, but the instructor left when the new Y was built, and most of their classes cater to beginners or the elderly, with the exception of their yoga and pilates classes, which areAWESOME and challenging.

I've done yoga off and on through the years. I love the way it makes me feel and I love the serenity benefits, but I've never done it regularly enough to see any physiological changes. Between boot camp and running I often lamented the lack of time to take in yoga. I also love to swim and want to work up to swimming a mile using this 6-week program.

My boot camp is $150 a month, meets at 5:30 p.m., which is often hard for me to make right after work, and is a bit of a drive away. So it seems like a natural solution to just drop the boot camp, go to the Y for swimming and yoga, and either run on my own or pay $50 a month for the run training, right?

Except I also really need to lose 15 lbs, and I'm not sure I can do it with just swimming, running and yoga (ashtanga/vinyasa/power) alone. I am worried that I need the kind of hard-core muscle confusion of XF WODs to get the job done, but I'm also worried that's hurting my running.

FWIW, I'm also cutting down on calories, starting a South Beach-style and drinking less alcohol. I am thinking maybe the best solution is to do the running training through April and see if it helps, then decide if I want to go back to XF, and maybe join a gym closer to me. Money is not a HUGE issue but it would be nice to save some, especially since I already have one gym membership essentially free.

So my questions are:

A) are running, yoga and swimming (three exercises I very much LOVE) enough to help me lose 15 lbs, or do I also need to do strength-training beyond body weight exercises?

B) Is running a sub-9-minute mile a realistic goal to embark on alone, or is it worth it/necessary to pay for run training 2x a week to get there?
posted by Brittanie to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I'm also cutting down on calories

This is where you need to focus. Weight loss is all about your diet. Exercise can help, but it won't do anything by itself.

People who exercise a lot can lose weight by eating less. People who exercise a lot can GAIN weight -- both fat and muscle -- by eating more.

You're WAY too focused on exercise.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:07 PM on January 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

I (5'11" male, was 25 or 26 years old at the time) dropped from 205 to 175 with nothing but diet changes and bicycling. It's demonstrably possible. It depends on how well you stick to your diet/exercise regimen. If hiring a coach helps you do more exercise and eat less food, then it will be beneficial. If it doesn't, my guess is that is will be less so.

I believe that fitness is a lot simpler (which is to say, less complex, not less difficult) than people make it out to be. If you exercise and eat less, you will lose weight. If you want to get good at a particular activity, practice, practice, practice. A coach may help make your practice more effective, but no amount of coaching is going to make up for a lack of practice.

I am currently 30 years old, 170lbs, and regularly surf and cycle for exercise. I am fairly decent but not competitive at both activities (although I've never had any notion to compete at either), and I have clearly watched my skill in both improve over time, most quickly when I'm practicing most often.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:09 PM on January 20, 2012

I lost weight pretty much without exercising, all on diet (counting carbs, not calories, though it basically amounted to the same thing). So, yes, look to your food, not necessarily to your exercise. YMMV.
posted by rtha at 12:10 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


A) For weight loss, ditch the alcohol entirely, put strong focus on your diet (consider paleo-type eating for a month or whatever), and add weights. I don't think swimming is going to help much in this area.

B) I think you can run a sub-9-minute mile, but it requires you to push yourself, and I find a group or coached environment helps a lot in this respect.

Maybe consider breaking up your goals a bit into more time-related frames? It seems like you're trying to get too much done all at once. Like, take the next three months to clean up your diet, then spend the spring focusing on speed, then spend the summer and into the fall focusing on half or marathon training, then fool around with bootcamp and Crossfit in the winter?
posted by sillymama at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2012

Does your Y have a masters swim team? If so, I do think joining can help you learn the toughness required to get faster. It is clear you aren't pushing yourself adequately if training alone is making you slower. Getting faster is hard and uncomfortable. Swimming will also help boost cardio while mixing things up, but you may need a coach as a lot of people find it easy to swim without pushing themselves. Getting in and doing 25 laps at a moderate speed won't do much.

It also sounds like you have an issue with recovery. Do you get a lot of sleep? I know when I was swimming 6 days a week and running 3 days I needed 10 hours pretty much all the time, plus naps after epic workouts. Are you doing any recovery nutrition? It can be as simple as chocolate milk and a banana right after you finish, but I found I preferred taking L-glutamine.

I will defer to everyone else on the questions about weight though.
posted by dame at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

What were you eating in Korea?

Exercise is usually the smaller part of the issue.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:33 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

A) are running, yoga and swimming (three exercises I very much LOVE) enough to help me lose 15 lbs, or do I also need to do strength-training beyond body weight exercises?
For weight loss, I second watching your diet. Your body tries to eat more to compensate for exercise, so you have to focus on the eating. I lost 150 pounds in 2010, and last year ran my first marathon, but it was eating that got my weight down, not the running.

B) Is running a sub-9-minute mile a realistic goal to embark on alone, or is it worth it/necessary to pay for run training 2x a week to get there?
Is it worth it is a question only you can answer. For some it is, for others it is not.

You can do it alone - Olympian Ryan Hall is self coached - but it takes effort and discipline. I was able to run my marathon at a 9:11 pace (well, at an 8:30 for the first 16 miles, then steadily downhill after that, but average of 9:11). However, your mileage is certainly high enough that you should be seeing gains in your times. I am guessing that you aren't running fast enough. To get faster, you have to run faster during your training. Are you doing sprints? Intervals? Those help with speed.

You can also use a calculator to find out what speeds you should be running during each of your long runs.

Alternatively, you can look up Heart Rate Zones and do your training by that instead of speed. The increased intensity will translate to faster times.

Good luck. Memail me if you need any help.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:35 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

If your usual diet is anywhere near the US mainstream, sticking with a South Beach-style low-carb diet will, over months, change your metabolism, your food preferences and maybe even your basic body shape. Diet-wise it's the exact right thing to do if you're looking to lean out a little. It should enhance the results of your workouts, and your entire outlook on how you train might change as well. For the optimal workout regimen I defer to more knowledgeable MeFites.
posted by tigrrrlily at 12:37 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, congratulations on the marathon. That's a big accomplishment, and you are right to be proud of it.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:38 PM on January 20, 2012

the only thing that works to lose weight is to take in less calories then you expend. period.

that said, the most successful combination i had was restricting calories, something aerobic (for me it was running) plus weight training. the weights made losing the weight go much faster than when i was trying to lose weight with just restricting calories and running.
posted by violetk at 12:59 PM on January 20, 2012

Response by poster: In Korea I was eating a lot of delicious, delicious Korean food. Almost no Western food. Mostly fresh ingredients, but a lot of rice. In Houston I am eating a lot of delicious, delicious Mexican food. South Beach Diet is a very realistic diet for me because I love seafood and the access to fresh, high-quality seafood is awesome here.

Funny, I didn't even think of that. I get stuck in the mindest that because I weighed 120 lbs when I was 18 I should weigh 120 lbs forever. Rationally I know that's not the case.

I am doing speed training but clearly not enough. My focus was more on distance — if I was ever to skip a run it would have been the speed workout and not the long run. But this year I plan to focus on 10K and halves so I can worry more about my speed.

Looks like most of you are saying my three favorite exercises will be fine as long as I focus on diet. Thanks for helping direct my focus.
posted by Brittanie at 1:00 PM on January 20, 2012

My initial response to your first question is yes, swimming/yoga/running will absolutely get you to your goals.

BUT, I do have reservations that regular tempo runs are helping you lose weight at this point, given that your body is so used to long-distance runs. If you don't already, you may want to spice things up with hill repeats (run fast up the hill/stairs, then jog down, repeat), push runs (run a certain distance, say .1 or .25 miles, then stop and do push ups, jumping jacks, crunches, etc., then repeat), and intervals (run fast for a set amount of time or distance, then slow, then fast again). These will all get your body out of its normal zone of a slow, steady pace. They will also tremendously improve your running times. Oh, and also, they will hurt, so have fun with it.

On the other hand, if you are new or new-ish to swimming, you are going to find that engaging in a regular pool workout is going to make you drop pounds quickly. when I first took up two weekly swim workouts after a decade-long hiatus from swimming, I lost 10 pounds basically instantly. You will feel ravenous after each workout until your body gets used to it and your form gets a bit more efficient. I have also found that swimming brought me to a new level of cardio shape that I couldn't bring myself to push to with running alone. Something about having to time my breathing with strokes did this, I think. YMMV.

Finaly, yoga...YAY! Can't say enough about it. I never really considered it to be a weight-loss/fitness tool, but recently for a whole bunch of reasons I've switched to doing much more yoga than any other workout. And I can honestly say it has enhanced my running SO much. The looseness, the core strength, and the mental endurance it teaches have totally made me a better, dare I say faster, runner.

So yes, those three will certainly help you achieve your goals! But just keep in mind that strength training/weight bearing exercises, even if it's just some pushups and triceps dips, are very important for women as they age! Still, those are exercises that could easily be done on your own, without paying $150 and rushing out to boot camp after work.

With enough self-motivation and research on your part, I think your goals are easily achievable, even without paid assistance. Go girl!
posted by angab at 1:01 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

The one aspect that I see missing from your exercise plan is some kind of weights/resistance training. This will really help prevent injury as you engage in the other activities, as well as helping with weight loss. I've had excellent results just using hand weights/resistance band/my own body weight.

Also, I'd encourage you to go in for a physical, if that's not something you do on a regular basis, just to make sure that there are no underlying medical reasons for your weight gain (i.e. thyroid).
posted by purlgurly at 1:08 PM on January 20, 2012

Best answer: You wanna run faster? You know about tempo runs. You can also cut your distance down 20% and just flat *book* the last mile of your runs a couple times a week. Run like you have to take a masssssssive shit.

You wanna lose weight? Watch your calories. I find that Clif bars kill my appetite. Drink a lot of water.

Swimming is a great way to get in exercise on days you're sore from running (or the days before a long run, so you don't pre-wear yourself out). Once you get into it - and it takes about a month if it's been more than a year - you can just swim and swim for an hour or more at 800 cal/hr or more. (so four sessions= 1 lb loss). You will notice, even with minimal weight loss, that you'll look better - your fat moves to a thin layer under your skin instead of pooling..wherever it pools. You'll also put on five lb in your shoulders, which will make the rest of you look skinnier. Just watch out - you won't realize just how dehydrated you are after a swim, and you'll think that's hunger. Drink a quart (!) of water the instant you get out of the pool to stave off the munchies.

Losing weight is doable, fer shure. I lost 35 in 6 months just by either swimming, biking, or running every goddamn day for the first four months, then doing at least two of those a day, then the last month doing all three, at least a little, five fuckin' days a week. I ate like a championship eater and dropped weight like nobody's business. ( I do not recommend this method; I didn't learn portion control.)
posted by notsnot at 1:09 PM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

Another vote for increasing focus on what you eat - for life, not just till you lose weight - rather than exercise, though the latter is of course not going to hurt.

To lose weight, not only do you need to eat right (eat whole foods, not processed, drastically reduce carbs including whole grains, don't eliminate fats - you need that to feel full), but above all reduce your portions. You will need to do this gradually. Your goal is to shrink your stomach capacity.

I speak from experience: I went from 127 to 108 lbs two years ago and I'm still holding steady and without difficulty, because I've changed how I eat for life.
posted by Dragonness at 1:24 PM on January 20, 2012

I lost 150 pounds in 2010

Sorry for the small derail, but Christ, this is awesome. Congratulations.
posted by downing street memo at 2:08 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I lost 35 pounds over 8 years ago and kept most of it off since -- I have gained five pounds slowly and am currently working them off again -- by concentrating on diet. I did Weight Watchers, personally, but the reason I think it worked for me is because I totally was out of wack in terms of what I thought a reasonable portion of food was. I had to get used to eating, like, a half cup of whole wheat pasta and not three.

I also worked out, but mostly because I didn't want to be flabby and for general health and longevity, not weight loss.

Cutting out booze is going to help a LOT. I am quite sure the fact that I spent a lot of this last summer and fall being a wino is why my pants stopped fitting quite right around Christmas. Everything in moderation -- I have cut way down, but not OUT -- but alcohol is tragically caloric.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:37 PM on January 20, 2012

For me, re running faster? Hills. Lots of em. Makes your leg muscles strong! Hills!!
posted by atomicstone at 3:16 PM on January 20, 2012

Oh, damn, I forgot to mention hills! Or, if you have a high school track nearby, do the stadium stairs - up one, down the next, etc, then around the track and repeat, maybe do a little sprint on the back side of the track.
posted by notsnot at 5:38 PM on January 20, 2012

If you're getting slower despite training, three possible causes occur to me:

(1) You changed something in your training in the last year--e.g., cut out speedwork that you used to do, and that is slowing you down.

(2) You've put on enough weight in the last year that it is slowing you down.

(3) You're overtraining.

Based on your description of what you do, I'd vote for no. 3. It doesn't look as if you've built enough rest into your schedule. If Crossfit often leaves you feeling so sore that distance runs or speedwork are daunting, I'd say you have your culprit right there. And your proposed solution sounds like it might be a recipe for further overtraining. Swimming is a great exercise, but it can be just as intense as running if you let it be. Meanwhile, the forms of yoga you mention are pretty intense too. I'd advise doing a less intense form of yoga, with an emphasis on calmness and flexibility.

I just read Joe Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible, which has a good discussion of the principles of training. Even if you're not interested in cycling, you might take a look at the version he wrote for triathletes (called, not surprisingly, the Triathlete's Training Bible) and review the principles of periodization there. The current edition of Tim Noakes's Lore of Running, from which I learned a lot back in my running days, would also be worth reading. In 2010, I trained for a 200K ride by doing increasingly long, steady rides at a pace that I could sustain. I was able to complete 200K, but it was at a steady pace that wasn't any faster than my training rides. Now I'm adding some speed and power workouts to my routine so that my next 200K will be faster.

As for losing weight: Like everyone has said, that takes cutting back on calories. Possibly for the rest of your life, depending on how long you've had the extra weight. In my 20s I lost about 50 lbs. over three years by adding about 20 miles of walking and 3 hours of more intense aerobic exercise (first swimming, then running) to my weekly schedule. But I also started cooking and eating more whole grains and vegetables, and less refined flour and red meat. Now that I'm in my 40s, I find that to lose any weight, I need to be very strict with what I eat, regardless of how much I exercise.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:49 AM on January 21, 2012

I can't recommend masters swim group enough - please see if there's a group at your Y! I swim twice a week at my Y with the masters group, and it is fantastic. I hadn't swam for exercise more than a couple times in the 12 years my high school swim team (I am similarly un-self-motivated), and within a month I was swimming 2400 meters in our hour-long practices. I love the people I swim with, and it's so nice to have a coach plan the workout and keep things interesting. I am the absolute slowest person there, but everyone is so nice. I haven't been running this winter, so I can't tell you if it improved my running speed.

I lost almost 15 pounds in the past couple months through cutting out carbs, most dairy, most of the booze, and going off hormonal birth control. I was in fantastic shape in the summer, but even adding swimming and pilates to my normal bike commute and jogging didn't make a dent in the scale. Some of the pounds lost may be due to winter shrinking my muscular bicycle thighs - I stopped biking for the season around the time I changed my diet. Some of it may be due to going off the pill. But honesty, I wouldn't have made the diet changes had I not developed serious acid reflux issues. I fixed that through paleo-ish eating, and the pounds melted off.

Good luck to you!
posted by Maarika at 10:08 AM on January 21, 2012

also, workout before you eat in the early morning.

and, to fix your eating habits, focus only on one meal at a time. fix them permanently and avoid diets. change what you eat.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:26 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older On-the-job skills that translate to freelance...   |   How can Consumer reports keep companies from... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.