Ask Stew: You Are Not In Running Shape


If you do not run often, it won't take long for you to lose some of your ability -- even if you replace running with other forms of cardio. The same goes for swimming. Being in running shape and swimming shape requires you to do some of that activity at least every other day to maintain those skills.

To improve your pace and overall conditioning, you need to start pushing your speed at your goal pace, increase the days per week you train, and maintain other elements of fitness testing.

Here is an email from a sailor who needs to score better on his running test but has not run in over a year.

Hey, Stew! I need your guidance once again. I have not been running at all for the past year, but I've tried to keep up with biking and squatting. I'm still 180 pounds and stand 5'8". Last night, I did a quick mile run test at an 8-minute mile pace. The only "weak link" was my breathing (on the verge of gasping for air, but kept it together).

My next PT test is in three months, and I need a sub-10:30 minute time for my 1.5-mile run for my goal. Push-ups and planks are no issue for me -- just running. Which running program would you suggest I throw in and how would you recommend I pepper it in with my weightlifting program? Thanks, James

James, I would not try to gain muscle mass or strength while you are trying to get faster in running and get into running shape. Typically, you will see significant results in neither running nor lifting.

You can lift and maintain muscle, mixed with calisthenics (testing elements) and improve in running, but it is very difficult to see fast results when mixing both for gains -- not impossible, just difficult in short-term training goals. You can also mix in biking workouts with running and see huge improvements in running, but biking alone will yield less-than-impressive running results.

That's especially true if your goal is to drop a minute-per-mile on your pace. Going from an 8-minute mile pace to a sub 7-minute mile pace is a challenge, but not as much as going from a 7-minute mile pace to a 6-minute mile pace.

Consider the following cycle of running mixed with biking, since you should likely treat yourself like a beginner runner to avoid typical overuse injuries (shin splints, tendonitis, joint pain).

Week 1 is where most people err by starting off with way too many miles for their current ability. For you and others not used to running, consider this as a week 1 and the following progression:

Week 1: Run with Bike Progression

Monday -- Goal Pace 6 x 400 meters with upper body calisthenics, followed by bike cooldown 10-20 minutes Tuesday -- Bike and leg PT. Mix in squats and lunges, with 5-minute Tabata intervals (20 sec fast/10 sec slow) Wednesday -- 1- to 1.5-mile run, then upper body cals with auxiliary lifts, followed by bike cooldown 10-20 min Thursday -- Hard bike workout, hills, intervals, sprints, high resistance 20-30 minutes Friday -- Goal Pace Run, with goal pace sets of 6 x 400m. Rest with plank poses 1-2 minutes Saturday/Sunday-- Extra cardio, with long bike (hour plus) and lift supplement as desired

If you increase your running miles per week by 10-15%, you will find you are less likely to produce the overuse injuries that will stop any gains in running speed for weeks. Do this type of run/bike split routine for a month. Then, add a day of running, but keep the weekly volume on that 10-15% progression. By week 6, you will be up to 9-10 miles per week and you can focus on your 7-minute mile pace with more 400-800 meter intervals on your goal pace days.

By week 12, if you continue with the progression, you can build up to 17-18 miles per week running 4-5 times per week. However, if you prefer to just focus on the 1.5-mile timed run for testing purposes, keep the mileage at 9-10 miles per week and run faster. Focus on speed -- at your goal mile pace, of course -- to hit that sub 7-minute-mile pace goal of 10:30 or faster.

In my opinion, you need a 12-week cycle of calisthenics (some auxiliary lifting) and cardio, where you can mix a good balanced progression of running with difficult bike workouts. This will work both your legs and lungs and help with the cardio endurance weakness you have with running. Since you have not run in a year, you need to progress smartly and limit running to every other day for a few weeks as you gradually start to progress.

Because you are good to go on calisthenics, consider making them more challenging by wearing a weight vest (10-20 lbs.) a few days a week during your upper body/lower body calisthenics workouts.

Get on a program that can do both Calisthenics and Cardio to help you get in running shape and muscle stamina shape, and you can build bigger muscles with calisthenics and weighted vests work.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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