Everybody Come Outside!

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
-Mark Twain

Lately I’ve been reevaluating the idea of the minimum effective dose when it comes to conditioning and fat loss. I’ve certainly been on the bandwagon and have ignored my own intuition and experience.

What’s changed my mind? Listening to a broader range of trainers who have gotten great results with themselves and their clients and done so in a way that’s fun, sustainable, healthy, and empowering. Plus I’ve been experimenting with conditioning – different approaches to running, to bodyweight training, having some fun with it, and trusting my own judgement.

This isn’t to say that I’m suddenly all about long duration cardio. I’m just taking about adding in a couple of 30 – 40 minute conditioning sessions (walking, running, body weight training) on top of 3 strength sessions per week. So, for someone taking class three times per week (45 min per class) that comes out to to a total of 3.25 to 3.6 hours per week of focused training.

So, if you’re looking for taking it to the next level, it’s probably time to first, bring your strength sessions up to at least three times per week (class works well for this) and add in two more conditioning sessions.

Much as I love sprinting for fat loss, it’s a bit much for most people. You have to establish a base and build a strong foundation. So, here’s how I’d recommend going about it.

Start with walking.


Standing tall, shoulders back, roll through your feet and press off through your toes. And, as always, keep your glutes engaged.

It should be at a pace you have to work to maintain. When you climb hills, keep your feet pointed straight ahead, not duck footed, stand up tall (do not hitch forward at your hips) and push the pace.

This is not a leisurely stroll. Stand tall, feet pointed straight ahead and get after it like you mean it. If things fall apart and you’re giving up your posture, then take a break.

Next, you can add some short runs. Preferably uphill as it puts you in proper alignment without you having to think about it. Running uphill is also lower impact. Go as far as you can do well and then walk. One idea might be to find a long grassy hill, run up, and walk down. As you run, land lightly on the balls of your feet and stay tall. Try to drive more with your butt and less by using the muscles of the front of the hips to pull your legs forward.

One way to build up is to find a steeper hill, take longer strides, and really work on driving yourself up using, you guessed it, your butt.

By the way, with all of this, listen to your body. If you have it in you, then go hard. If you need to back off and walk, then walk or stop.

When you run, run. I am not a fan of jogging. Jogging a biomechanical train wreck designed to destroy knees and backs. I am, however, a fan of running. I would rather run ten one minute repeats with a minute rest between than jog for a continuous thirty or forty five minutes. Build up your capacity to run fast, to go a little longer on the repeats, and to take a little less time to rest.

This man knows how to run. He knows how to run to defy the aging process, not speed it up.

Running is immediate, it’s powerful, it’s graceful. Jogging is hanging on just above a walk and hoping to survive. Running is about getting after it with purpose.

This, not so much

That being said, I still believe that you should be fit before you run rather than run to get fit. So how do you solve this chicken or egg dilemma?

Start with walking. Fast. Keeping perfect posture.

Everyone is different, so I’m reluctant to say “walk for this many weeks, then switch to phase two”, so mix up it along the way and find what works for you. Experiment, learn to tune into your body and the feeling of the effort, and trust your own experience.

So, let’s say you’re getting fit TO run.

Perform uphill repeats, as far as you can get after it with a good amount of speed, control and form. Rest as needed. See above for a few basic cues.

Another favorite is to perform short distance repeats running faster than a sustainable pace, but not a flat out sprint. It might be as short as a half or full length of a soccer field.

One way to mix it up is to run a short distance fast and pair it with a few bodyweight exercises to mix up the workload and movement patterns. Push ups, bridges, Spiderman climb, sit through, lunge or squat variations all work well.

As an example, you might run one length (Let’s say about 20 seconds), walk back, do a set of push ups x 10, side lunges x 8-10 per side, and Spiderman climbs x 5-10 per side, rest for :30 to 1:00 and then run again. Repeat this series for about 20 minutes. If you include a short warm up and warm down, you’ve covered your bases pretty well.

The Finns have a method of interval training called Fartlek which translates as speed play. I like it because it basically comes down to this: go from here to there (this could be a hundred yards or a quarter mile) as fast as you can. Back off from the pace or walk. When you’re recovered, go as fast as you can sustain to that point over there. Recover. Repeat. I like it because it allows for faster running while still allowing for listening to the body, both in terms of running form and perceived effort.

Yes, repeats are your friend. As a former competitive swimmer, repeats are a way of life. It’s how we got faster and fitter, not by swimming laps for two hours straight. The same for goes for track athletes. You are not cheating and you will get more benefit from repeats than you would from a continuous run.

Finally, let’s deconstruct the minimum effective dose. One of it’s main suppositions is that movement/training/conditioning sucks, it’s painful, it’s boring, it will lower testosterone and thyroid levels, it will cause muscle wasting, and we should try to get away with as little of it as possible.

I beg to differ. I think much of the MED argument comes as an overreaction against the cardio-only, more-is-better, throw-everything-at-it-but-the-kitchen-sink approach.

Yes, you can go overboard and do so much that it becomes awful and detrimental to your health and well being, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about adding in a couple of short sessions to get your heart rate up, build up some basic movement patterns, and yes, get the metabolism revved just a bit more as well.

I also beg to differ because movement is rewarding. It’s a chance to get outside, to get some fresh air and sunshine, to feel the rain, to get away from cell phones and computers and move. It’s a chance to feel fit, healthy and agile.

Thanks again for listening to another one of my mad ramblings!


Charlie Levine
Owner, Trainer 513FIT
Cincinnati, OH

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