Your fitness streak starts here
In my experience, most of us know we should work out, and many of us even want to work out, but we have no idea where or how to begin. What if I don’t belong to a gym? But I don’t have much time! I guarantee that if you can start a program and stick to it, you will begin to want more. Fitness doesn’t need to be a burden. Done right, a healthy, fit lifestyle doesn’t have to cost a lot or put you in a pain cave . . . being fit can feel good!
As a mother and an athlete, I want to be better and I recognize that means I need to “practice” every single day. I want to model for my kids what it looks like to be fierce and resilient. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I am human and, like anyone, my motivation can wane, but I know that if I can get one foot out the door the other will quickly follow and my children will see that mama also has rough days but she doesn’t give up. I know that once I get started I will start to feel better. On days when it is just straight torture, I think about how much better I will feel having fought through a mentally tough day. Barring sickness, exercise is a great mood booster. Once you start sweating, those endorphins start working their magic.
Your body wants to work for you. It’s time to begin thinking about how you move through everyday life, and commit to moving your body so you can be better.
Fitness is a great metaphor for life. It is a space to challenge yourself, to reach a goal, to hit a PR, and to progress in ways big and small. Whether you want to become a better runner or just start running, the big idea here is growth. Let’s not settle for more of the same. If you have reached a plateau physically or emotionally, let’s take on a new challenge and see what happens.
But I’m not a runner!
I may be an Olympic middle-distance runner, but I wasn’t born with a passion for running. What I did have right from the start was passion to move, to push myself, to feel the adrenaline. I always enjoyed being able to take on a challenge, and figure out ways to become better, to overcome weaknesses, and get after my goals. Through this process I developed a hard-core passion for movement. I love how movement helps me carry on through my daily life with energy and pride. I love how movement also shows me that I am strong, I am resilient, and I have the tremendous ability to persevere and to overcome obstacles. I have the ability to take a challenge head-on, knowing it isn’t going to be easy, but knowing the hard-fought effort is worth it.
The great thing about running is that it is so accessible. Find yourself a good pair of shoes, a watch, and a foam roller, and you are all good. Run repeatedly and you just might start to feel truly free, like you can fly. It’s not a speed thing; it’s all about moving athletically, and all of the “feels” that come with that.
Move better, run better
In track and field, we spend a lot of time working on agility and quickness. Activation drills and strength training play a huge role in the training and preparation of professional athletes, and I credit this work with keeping me relatively injury-free. Among distance and recreational runners, this kind of work is often overlooked in favor of higher miles. I regularly encounter runners who tell me that they don’t spend time in the weight room. Running puts forces on your body that pack a punch—almost three times your body weight. What makes us think that we don’t need to pick up a weight, use a band, or do the work that will make us better runners? If you want to improve efficiency, speed, and endurance, if you want to run stronger and farther, this is an investment you can take to the bank. Do the work and you can build from a place of balance, rather than waiting for the chain to break and then trying to get back to balance.
Even now, most of the workouts I do entail activation drills. After all, we need to prepare our bodies to move. Imagine your morning without a coffee, or being woken up and immediately expected to perform at your best. Warming up prior to a workout, doing activation drills, is like communicating to your body, “We are about to do a little bit more, you cool?” Get it done and you can hear your body say, “Yeah, let’s do this.”
You need your body to work with you, not against you. Naturally, your body will move better when it’s warm. Temperature matters—a cold rubber band can snap if you don’t take the time to warm it up and restore its elasticity. Treat your body to a warm-up every time you work out.
After the warm-up, activation drills teach your body to fire optimally to avoid injury. It’s easy to lose sight of this, but if you show your body how to move in an efficient way, you will fire up the neurological pathways that put peak performance on autopilot. Put in this time and you will find it easier to move athletically and over time you can expect more from your body.
Pick a challenge
I’ve mapped out 10 challenges for you, but don’t feel like you have to tackle them in order. If you haven’t been running or working out regularly, Challenge 1 is a great place to start. Whatever you do, find a challenge that you are excited about and get after it. On the back half, the challenges will progress strength and speed work in new ways.
I’ve designed these challenges to make fitness more attainable for all of us. Here’s what you can expect:
Workouts that fit your life. Most are 30 minutes or less. Each challenge has 4–6 workouts that you can fit into your week on the days that work best for you. Pick your own recovery days.
Variety, but not too much of it. If you are doing a 4-week challenge you will repeat the weekly workouts four times. There’s just enough repetition to build confidence and just enough variety to keep you from getting bored. Just look for the weekly progressions and exercise progressions so you can keep challenging yourself along the way.
A finish line that you can reach. Too many times we start an ambitious training program or join a gym and after a while we lose motivation. My challenges are just 2–4 weeks in duration. Why? Because we all need to feel validated by reaching our goal.
How to navigate pace and effort
If you’ve been running for years, you might know how fast you can run a mile or a 5K. If you’ve only run when someone was chasing you, I’ve got your back. I like to talk about pace and effort in terms of how it feels. After all, I want you to listen to your body every step of the way. So, as you run, gauge perceived effort on a scale of 1–10. In the RPE chart below you will see a description of effort levels and the running paces that typically correlate with them.
If you train with a watch, you will begin to figure out what your typical pace is at different distances over time. I’ve also added in some of the different run paces used throughout the challenges that follow so you can know what to expect. We will also do some benchmark tests and time trials to give you a better sense of how to pace your workouts.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the same pace can feel really different from one day to the next. If you didn’t sleep well or if stress has you at the max before you even put your shoes on, chances are good that a hard effort will feel even harder. This is why it’s important to listen to your body. Give it your best, but stay true to how the effort should feel, trusting that you’ll have another chance at busting out that top speed.
What if I miss a workout?
I’ll just call it right now. You will miss some workouts. Whether you get sucked into a big deadline at work, get sick, find yourself taking care of your kids, oversleep, undersleep, or experience any other insurmountable obstacle in a day, let’s just accept that it will happen and move on.
The whole point of setting a fitness streak is to know what it feels like to consistently make time for moving and feeling good. Do it and you’ll want more of it. So stop beating yourself up over a missed workout. Tomorrow’s a new day. Commit to your workout and get back on track.
Balance work and recovery
You’ll notice that every challenge includes recovery days. You can either take the day off or do some active recovery work—get out your foam roller or do some light mobility work.
I like to take the weekends off so I have more time with my family. Lots of people like to do longer workouts on the weekends, but I prefer to be home rolling my glutes out while the kids do their weekend thing instead of trying to make the morning revolve around my workout. You might want to pace your longer ones throughout the week or get up super early. Do what works best for you, but find your off switch.
Fitness works when you fit it in around the parts of your life that fulfill you. Remember to ask for help in balancing all of the responsibilities a week holds—work, laundry, wiping butts, making meals. You’ll have more energy for all of that when you get back from your workout.
Show up ready
Food, water, and rest will help you get the best from your body. I go out of my way to eat healthy, organic foods because I feel better when I fuel better. Maybe there are some small steps you can take to eat and fuel better. With each challenge, try to introduce one small change. It gets easier to make good choices when you feel the difference it makes.
Prior to working out, I like to eat a Picky Bar. In my experience, even half of a bar in my belly 30 minutes prior to working out is better than nothing. Find what works best for you—every body is different. Have a snack ready after working out We are less likely to crave unhealthy foods or binge eat if we can refuel at the right times. If you’re reaching for a doughnut after your workout, you probably didn’t refuel right. There’s nothing that doughnut is giving back to your body. Listen, there’s a time for doughnuts, but make sure you refuel right.
Remember to hydrate before, during, and after exercise. How you hydrate depends on the workout, but here are some simple tricks:
- Invest in a 24-ounce water bottle that you can carry with you throughout the day.
- Plan on drinking at least 8–16 ounces before you exercise.
- As you work out, rehydrate between intervals or sets—sips, not gulps are best to make sure you don’t end up with stomach cramps.
- Include electrolytes in at least one water bottle during exercise to replace the minerals that you lose when you sweat.
- Be deliberate about drinking liquids immediately after exercise.
On recovery days, remember to think about hydration. For me, a typical day off includes plenty of Nuun Rest with magnesium and tart cherry, which aids in sleep and recovery.
Get your head in the game
Whenever I’m physically working, I also want to be mentally working. When mind and body work together, the hard work of training can take full effect and we can be more prepared for anything life throws at us.
With each challenge, I’ve sprinkled in some Flower Power—these are attributes that deserve our attention because they have the power to change how we think about ourselves and what we can do. Promise me you will make some space to think about these things—you owe it to yourself.
Enough talk. Let’s do this!
Feel-Good Fitness from pro runner Alysia Montaño offers a year of fun and fresh fitness challenges that will build your strength and endurance.