Q: I love weightlifting and only run more than 400m when the USMC tests me. If I'm going to add running to my daily lifts, when will I see the best results for improving my PFT time? Before or after my strength session?

A: To clarify the following response before I dive in I want to say a few things. When combining lifting and running it’s important to note that heavy weightlifting and three mile training require two different energy systems; phosphagen and oxidative. Your muscles can be one or the other (or a hybrid), but they can’t be both simultaneously. All this means is that people who lift heavy may need to take a hybrid approach to their training while preparing to run a good three miles in order to make your muscles more responsive to using oxygen.

There are a few ways to achieve better running results without pounding the pavement every day. I would recommend spending the most time doing the method you enjoy the most, but it is important to get out and run some miles while preparing. You can add metabolic conditioning to your current weightlifting workouts, which would allow you to effectively integrate cardio right into your workout. Another option is to add 1-2 muscular endurance workouts into your training load. These involve low intensity/high repetition lifts and some running/cardio work. If you are looking to strictly run with your current lifting workouts I would consider which one you want to excel at (lifting or running) and do that one first. Another option is to split workout focus throughout the week.  If PFT run is priority, do conditioning style workouts 3x/week and perform total body strength days 2x a week. This is a good opportunity to plug the HITT Program, as it was designed specifically to help Marines excel at the PFT/CFT and in combat. See your installation HITT Coordinator for more assistance!

Q: Can it be counterproductive to run a 5k three times a week for your cardio? That’s my usual but I feel like I’ve plateaued or even regressed in my fitness.

A: My advice would be to incorporate a day of max effort sprint intervals and a day of tempo runs. The max effort sprints should be short in distance/duration, and paired with long rest periods. Appropriate work to rest ratio would be 1:4-6.  For example, if I sprinted 100m on a 400m track then I would walk 1 lap around the track (or 400m) to rest before sprinting again. If you sprinted for 10 seconds, rest for at least 40 seconds before sprinting again. On the tempo run days, run at the pace your goal time is for your 5k and try to hold that pace for as long as possible.  Don’t focus on distance, when you are no longer able to hold that speed, stop regardless of how far you made it that day.  Using this method, your week would look like the following: Day 1 – Tempo Run, Day 2 – 5k (focus on running form), and Day 3 – Max effort sprint intervals. You can also focus on muscular endurance workouts that work on building strength and endurance over time. I would recommend seeking help from your local Semper Fit Office to assist you with a plan for distance running and achieving your goals.

Q: Is it a better fat burning workout to run hard and fast, or slower and longer?

A: It is important to note that there is no such thing as fat burning workouts in the sense of decreasing body fat. Body fat loss is a byproduct of creating a caloric deficit or burning more calories than you consume. With that knowledge, the question turns into which burns more calories? The answer is running hard and fast paired with appropriate rest periods. This will keep your metabolism boosted for a longer period of time. I like to use a two oven analogy when explaining this concept. You have two ovens, one is set to 500 degrees (hard and fast) and the other is set to 250 degrees (slow and long). They both cook for an hour (hour long PT session) and are immediately turned off. Now which oven stays hotter longer? The longer that oven stays hot, the more calories you are “burning” even after the workout session is over. The 500 degree oven stays hotter longer because the intensity of the heat required for the cooking was higher.  

Q: How can you “make your own hills” without being near any hills?

A: If you want to use the hills for running form improvement, then utilize wall drill marches/high knees. If you’re looking for sprint resistance, then utilize sleds and weighted vests (weight shouldn’t be too heavy that it changes running form and you should still be able to move fast). If you want single leg power development, then do exercises like step-ups, hops, and single leg box jumps. If the intent is general aerobic conditioning, then you will want to utilize the stair stepper, treadmill at an incline, versa climber, or Jacob’s ladder. 

Q: When Marines are stationed/deployed in a cold weather environment, what changes in clothing, nutrition, and running routine should we make to properly acclimatize to our new environment?

A: Advice from the NSCA Tactical Strength and Conditioning Book: “It is recommended that the first layer of clothing should have wicking properties to draw moisture away from the skin and keep them dry throughout the exercise session. Popular materials for the first layer are polypropylene, polyester, or wool. The second layer of clothing should provide the most insulation to retain heat. The third and outermost layer should act as a weather barrier to block wind, rain, and snow. It is also recommended that shoelaces and equipment straps like gloves or backpacks are not pulled too tightly as circulation to the extremities is already reduced in the cold.” They make running gloves, hats/headbands, leggings, shirts, socks and shoes. They even make little spikes you can attach to your shoes to allow you to run in the snow/ice. Ladies, they make running hats with a hole in the back for your ponytail and they’re fantastic.

For nutrition, make sure you’re hydrated. It’s easy to forget to drink enough water when it’s cold out, but it is still a very important part of your training. You should aim for at least half your bodyweight in ounces every day, regardless of the weather. Your activity levels will require more. Your food calories are more closely related to exercise intensity than weather, so I would make adjustments based on that.

For your running routine, I would extend your dynamic warm-up to ensure your muscles are ready for running. Get with your local HITT Coordinator to learn proper execution of a dynamic warm-up, but at the very least you should have a light sweat going before you reach your training pace for running. The cold temperatures can stiffen up your muscles, properly warming them up will ensure more elasticity and decrease the risk of injury while on your run.       

Q: How much time should I give my body to rest in between runs?

A: This really depends on many factors including stress, sleep, nutrition quality, and training age. The longer you have been consistently training, the quicker you can recover. Focus on getting quality sleep, eating properly, and learning how to effectively cope with stressors to decrease recovery time. Recovery is the most important factor to creating improvements in performance. My best advice is to listen to your body. If you feel very fatigued the day after a run either cross train or take the day off. I would follow a hard or intense run with an easier run. Back to back hard workouts is not ideal for the long term.

Q: I have extreme tightness on my right side from my hips down. I try stretching at night and after warmups on sprint days. I've also started using a lacrosse ball to target some of the tighter areas, but nothing seems to be enough. Do you have any recommended stretches or other resources I should look into?

A: Always consult a doctor or physical therapist if you are experiencing pain. There could be a number of reasons why you are experiencing this “tightness” and more information is needed to help narrow down some of the possible causes. You may need to address above and below the problematic area because it could be caused from other areas. Make sure you are properly hydrated, and educate yourself on fascia - the lateral line in particular based on the info provided.   

Q: Is it better for energy and/or fat burning to eat before or after cardio?

A: You won’t be able to train to the best of your ability if you are not optimally fueled for you PT session. It’s like planning a long road trip in a car, but not wanting to fill your gas tank up.  Optimally fueled means something different for everybody as everyone reacts differently to certain foods. General recommendations are 200-300 calorie snack low in fat and fiber content to minimize the effect on the digestive system. Some people can eat a meal two hours before a run and some need three to four hours. In the end, find foods that don’t upset your stomach while you PT. After your session, look to refuel as soon as possible. General recommendations are a 2:1 carb to protein ratio for weight loss goals, a 3:1 ratio for maintain weight goals, and 4:1 ratio for performance enhancement goals. This will aid in tissue repair. It is important to note that these are recommendations specific to the question asked and athletes will see best results with a regular balanced diet of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

Q: Is it better to practice running fast or practice running long distance to better your PFT scores?

A: You need a balance of both. General principles of a three day run plan for PFT prep looks something like this:

  • Day One Tempo Runs: where you take your goal PFT time and divide it by three (getting your one-mile split times) and run at that pace without worrying about distance. 
    • For example, if your goal time is 21minutes, your one mile splits would be seven minutes. Practice running and holding that seven minute mile pace for as long as possible.
  • Day Two Distance Runs: This is where you practice the three mile run for PFT focusing on running form and being as efficient as possible. 
  • Day Three Sprints: Pick a short distance (less than 200m) and sprint that distance with maximum effort. Then rest before repeating. If you can, time the sprint and then multiply by four to determine rest time before sprinting again.
    • For example, if it took you 15 seconds to run 100m, rest for at least 60 seconds before sprinting again. The key here is to be able to sprint each interval at maximum effort without having to slow down because of fatigue from previous sprints.

Get with your local HITT Coordinator to help you program your actual sets/reps/times for your own personal goals.

**The information provided is for educational purposes only. Please consult a professional health advisor before adjusting your health and wellness routine.