I’m very fortunate to be able to live in a place where doing outdoor activity is available all year around. And in particular, where I live, we’re surrounded by lush redwoods and mountains, so hiking, running and bike riding are very popular. My wife and I go for a walk/hike almost everyday in the woods. It’s really a way of life around here and it’s absolutely wonderful!
Being outside in the fresh air is something that I feel our body innately needs and allows us to function more optimally. In particular, I think walking is one of the best things you can do for your body. Doing low impact and low intensity activity for long periods of time is a great way to promote blood flow to your muscles so you can recover quicker. And it’s especially helpful if you’re doing other more intense activities. An added benefit is that walking also helps you burn fat…so it’s a win-win situation.
But what if you want to do more than walking? Walking is great but you may not feel that it’s enough. Walking feels like a prelude or a warm up to running or something more “active”...right?
I see people around here running the trials and biking everyday and who can blame them. The redwoods, the mountains, the fresh crisp air…it wouldn’t seem right, NOT to take advantage and go out for a long run or long bike ride. And that’s exactly what I did, when I first moved up here. I’d do out for a long ride or a trial run and soak up all the outdoor freshness I needed. And I have to admit for it felt great.
But then after a few weeks, I started to notice a difference in my energy levels. I started to feel lethargic and slow. I just didn’t have the kind of energy that I usually have. But I figured it was just my body adapting to the longer endurance type of activities I had taken up.
I was also steadily increasing the distance that I was running and riding and I adjusted my diet accordingly to account for the increase in training volume. And for a while I thought the dietary changes had made things better. But thinking back now, it was all in my head. I wanted to think that I was getting better, but in reality nothing had really changed…in fact my energy levels continued to wane and it even started to disrupt my sleep.
I even started to take supplements (which I usually I take little to none) to help combat my lower energy levels. I was taking magnesium to help me sleep better, CoQ10 to increase my energy levels, Vitamin B complex and Vitamin D to help my recovery, Vitamin C to help boost my immune system, a green drink to help get nutrients I may be missing even though I ate greens 3 x a day, and quality omega-3 fat supplement to help fight the increase in free radicals production from my increased training volume. All of that, and I still wasn’t feeling well. My body felt constantly tired, I was having to drink coffee just to stay awake through out the day and I felt lazy with no motivation to do much of anything.
So finally after a few months of trying to “adapt” to my long endurance training, and ignoring more body’s symptoms…I finally stopped. I rested for what seemed like days where I literally didn’t do anything but walk, eat and sleep…not that I had any desire to exercise or workout. It took quite sometime, but slowly my energy levels came back up, my sleep patterns returned to normal and I felt “normal” again. My mental drive and motivation came back and I started to look forward to exercising and being active again. Looking back, it’s not difficult to see that I was running my body into the ground. And although in my head I didn’t feel like I was doing too much, my body was responding differently.
Don’t ignore your body, like I did! Always listen to your body…it always knows best.
Doing long endurance training is fine once in a while or for a short term leading up to an event like a marathon, but it’s really not sustainable on a consistent basis for long term…at least for the average joe. Now let me interject by saying that if you’re a competitive endurance athlete, it goes without saying that you have to make sacrifices which may (or may not) include the following: low energy, low motivation, higher susceptibility to repetitive injuries, lower sex drive, lower levels of testosterone, lower immune system, lack of time for anything else and general lower quality of health. Of course I’m pointing out the worst symptoms and not everyone will experience these symptoms, especially if you’re smart about listening to your body and training within your body’s capabilities.
That being said, there are much better ways to get lean, strong and fit if that’s your goal. Short but intense workout sessions give your body plenty of stimulus to optimally build lean muscle and burn fat. And research indicates that doing short intense workouts boosts mitochondria production in your body, which has countless health and fitness benefits including slowing the aging process, improving overall health and enhancing your endurance. This partly explains why doing short intense workout sessions helps boost performance for endurance events like marathons, long bike races and triathlons without having to do traditional high volume, long distance training…but that’s another post altogether.
BTW, this doesn’t mean you can’t do long duration workouts. Just don’t do it day in, day out and pound your body into the ground. I’d recommend keeping your long distance workouts to 1 - 2 times a week. This works out perfectly for most weekend warriors, because it means you can use the weekend to do your long workout sessions. Another recommendation is to perform these long training sessions well below your anaerobic threshold. Doing long distances at low intensities have shown to help increase endurance without negatively affecting your body.
As for me, I’ve gone back to my trusty 20 - 30 minute high intensity workouts (aka. MAX Workouts) and my energy, strength and endurance levels have come back. I still go for walks in the woods with my wife everyday and enjoy a long leisurely ride on my bike once or twice a week.
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