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The couch potato marathoner
by on Thursday, October 31, 2013  (4 comments)

I often find myself talking about the problems with going from couch to marathon in too short of a time. Well, what to make of runners who are both couch potatoes and marathoners at the same time?

To sum up the study, researchers at the University of Texas in Austin sent surveys to participants of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon. 218 runners responded reporting peak training duration (total time training for their peak week) and average time spent sitting, as well as some other information such as anticipated finishing time.

The results found that, while the runners peaked at 6.5 hours (median) training in a week's time, median sitting time was 10 hours and 45 minutes on workdays and 8 hours on non-workdays.

We already know from prior studies that time spent seated is extremely bad for our health, potentially regardless of the amount of exercise we get (though those studies generally looked at people who didn't exercise nearly as much as these runners).

So what does this mean? Well, not a whole lot...yet. I'd like to see more. Small doses of exercise don't seem to counteract the negative effects of spending large amounts of time seated. Do larger doses? That is a question I'd like to see answered. In the meantime, no matter how much we exercise, maybe we should try to spend less time seated.

Sorry for the lack of long form posts this week and last. Some family matters kept me from being able to finalize anything I have in the works. I expect to be able to post one next week.

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4 comments
Andrew A.:

I would suggest that it is not even time spent exercising but what type of exercise is accomplished within that time. Is it essentially exclusively aerobic in nature throughout? Recent studies have shown that high-intensity interval training is what benefits cardiovascular health the most. We also know that one will not be able to carry out much of an amount (or proportion) of that type of training within the total time spent exercising without a significant dose of slower, aerobic volume filler as a prerequisite. So perhaps marathons aren't the automatic connotation of health that they were thought to be and we shouldn't be surprised when marathoners, even seasoned veterans of the distance, run into health issues (even life-threatening) on the race course if they have never embraced the level of training that would best enable significant H.I.T. volume plus given that volume of sitting time along with typical American dietary choices?

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Ryan:

Yes, there is something to that. I have noticed there is some talk of VO2max being a good measure of life expectancy and HIIT would, of course, boost one's VO2max. Of course, VO2max would also speak toward one's cardiovascular health as, in simple terms, it is a measure of the strength of your cardiovascular system.

You raise the point about HIIT that I don't often see addressed. Doing HIIT without a good base is going to break one down. Studies are often 8-12 weeks, which conveniently is just short enough to not result in too many problems. That said, there are benefits to it and I'm not totally surprised to see that something that is in many ways a cross between strides and a short interval workout has some nice benefits.

That said, no matter what we do 1 hour a day, the other 23 hours matter and that's the point I'm raising here. Being inactive 23 hours a day, regardless of what we do for that other 1 hour, is likely not the most healthy lifestyle possible.

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Andrew A.:
Ryan:You raise the point about HIIT that I don't often see addressed. Doing HIIT without a good base is going to break one down. Studies are often 8-12 weeks, which conveniently is just short enough to not result in too many problems. That said, there are benefits to it and I'm not totally surprised to see that something that is in many ways a cross between strides and a short interval workout has some nice benefits.

Well, giving it more thought, it shouldn't be difficult to concurrently grow (perhaps at differing rates) aerobic base and H.I.T., as in Scott Simmons's training style. If I were starting a runner off from scratch, I would schedule regular strength training -- something like Jay Johnson's strength and hip mobility routines, med. ball work, kettlebell work, etc. -- and key on that first, with some regular aerobic running and a little bit of H.I.T. Once the strength got up to a decent volume then add in more aerobic work and start gradually increasing the H.I.T. as well. But that's just some thoughts off the top of my head.

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Ryan:

I like to get some aerobic/strength work in place before adding a lot of speed but my general practice is to at least include strides, which are somewhat similar to HIIT, almost all the time. Only during post-season recovery phases is there no fast running. My issue with HIIT comes when it's applied like some sources I've seen such as Lifehacker do it. Literally nothing but HIIT. A couple minutes to warm up, maybe, then 5-10 minutes of HIIT, then maybe a couple minutes to cool down and your day's workout is over. See you tomorrow for your next HIIT session. In some cases, the warmup and cooldown are even skipped. No supplemental training, no additional aerobic component. In Lifehacker's defense, they cover almost every topic imaginable and offer useful tips for novices. I follow them for tips on various things. I just don't think their methodology of finding shortcuts to make life easier works in something like running/fitness where shortcuts generally don't work.

Anyway, as for how I would start if starting from scratch, it's much like you. Depending on the individual, I might put a little more focus on the aerobic work and a little less on the strength but I think it's a mistake to only focus on one thing at a time.

I'm actually planning to shoot a video (or, more likely, multiple) on my strength training, which I want to pass on to a few people I'm coaching. Pretty much a heavily abbreviated version of Johnson's lunge matrix and myrtl routines. I think it covers the bases pretty well as a good platform to start from. Then, depending on the runner, things could be added as needed. My goal is something you can complete in under 30 minutes if you don't waste time and can have you at least covering the bases for strength and mobility. I can get through my version in 15-20 minutes even as sets and reps increase so runner specific exercises to address individual concerns could be added and the routine could still be under 30 minutes. Then I have to sell the idea of 30 minutes or less 2-3 times a week to be a stronger, less injury prone runner. I think I can sell that.

Anyway, probably way off the initial topic but very interesting discussion as always.

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