Suzanne is a runner (though she says not a “real runner”). She started running three years ago to get back in shape after the birth of her second child. Over a few months, she progressed from a walk/run around the block to running 2-4 days per week, covering 3-5 miles each run and up to 10 miles in her long runs.

Like most of us, Suzanne soon realized that running was so much more than just a way to get in shape. She treasures her morning runs with her training partners, talking through life’s ups and downs as the miles roll by.

She has run a few 5K and 10Ks and even two half-marathons but was intimidated by the local running group and their workouts. However, she wanted to get fitter and would like to actually push herself to a faster time in her races. In her words, she’s not “training for the Olympics” but knows she needs to do some “real runner” workouts to boost her fitness.

Here’s what I had her do and if she sounds a lot like you, this will help you also become a fitter, faster and more confident runner.


Once per week for eight weeks, she inserted a few “surges” within one of her mid-week runs. She’d run easy for 10-15 minutes then pick up the pace for 15 seconds. Then, she’d return to her easy pace for one minute before surging again. She started with 5 surges in Week #1 and added 2-3 each week. By Week #4, she was doing 10-15 surges and could even carry these surges to 45-60 seconds.

I instructed that these were not sprints and she should not get out of breath while doing them. The surges were simply a slight rise in effort and increase in pace so we could prepare the neuromuscular system for faster running.

As I’ve witnessed with dozens of other athletes who used surges as their first workout, she loved it. “It was exhilarating to get out of my normal stride and pick up the pace! It also made the run go by quicker. Since the surges started at just 15 seconds, I wasn’t scared of them and after a few weeks, I could definitely tell my surges were getting faster,” she says.

Like Suzanne, many newer runners run the same pace for all their runs. But to boost fitness, there must be variety in training and thus new challenges to the body and mind to keep it adapting. Surges provide a safe way to do this while keeping the injury risk very low.

And, so many other great things happened to Suzanne. First, her running form improved. When you run fast, form flaws are accentuated. So, she was aware of form issues and cleaned them up. Second, she learn her “redline.” She knew if she went too fast, she’d get out of breath quickly and her surge would slow, a big no-no for this workout. This began her education on different effort levels and how they relate to fatigue. Lastly, she noticed that the average pace on her other runs got faster. Her stride felt more relaxed and flowing and she started to notice that she had to hold herself back from running faster and faster.


After 3-4 weeks, Suzanne started to feel good on the surge workouts and in her other runs. So, I had her start progression runs, the second workout that I prescribe as a transition from what I call “same pace” training to varied pace training. On her weekly long run (6-10 miles for her), I told her to finish the last 5 minutes a little faster. Again, not an all out sprint but to the point where she felt her breathing increase to where it was fast but under control. I told her she should feel exhilarated after the strong finish but not overly tired.

Each week, she was allowed to extend the faster portion by an additional 5 minutes if she felt like it. By Week #8, she was finishing her long runs with a fast 10-20 minutes depending on how she felt. Our mantra was “finish strong.”

As with the surge workouts, progression runs aren’t anything fancy or intimidating for new runners like Suzanne. But, the physical and mental benefits are great. She liked finishing strong. She learned the hard way when she pushed too hard too soon (something I told her would pay off in her future training and racing). And, she started to look forward to the final few miles of her long runs instead of feeling more and more tired and just wanting the run to end. The workouts made training fun and her fitness, as expected, took a jump upward yet she never had any aches and pains.


After two months, she knew what it felt like to run fast, recover and run fast again. She developed better running form. She also developed more stamina and finishing strong became a habit. Her body was stronger and her stride smoother. But most importantly, she now had the confidence that she could go to the group workout and in her words, “not make a fool of myself.”

I, too, felt great knowing she built up her faster running slowly and safely. I also knew that once she started attending group workouts, she’d be hooked and I couldn’t wait to hear about all the successes to come.

Read more about progression runs and how these three progression runs can boost your fitness while having fun.


training plan image


“I have achieved my goals for 5K, 10K, and now a Half Marathon – thanks McMillan Running!”
-James W, RunClub member

Tired of winging it and want a proven plan with coaches at your side and a community to share your running with? Learn more about RunClub.

How to Know If You’re Ready to Start Training for a Marathon

There’s nothing like an ambitious goal to focus your training, and running a marathon definitely fits the bill. Plenty of mere mortals have completed the 26.2 mile race, but it takes time, planning, and of course an appropriate level of fitness. Here’s how to know if a marathon is a realistic goal for you.

If You Can Run Three to Five Miles, You’re Fit Enough to Start

Believe it or not, marathons aren’t just for super athletes. A slew of politicians and actors have run marathons. Sean Combs’s goal in 2003 was reportedly to beat Oprah’s 1994 time. Meanwhile, a course at the University of Northern Iowa teaches novices to run a marathon with just a semester of serious training. The people who teach that class published their program as the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, and it’s a great guide for anyone who is starting from scratch.

Most beginner marathon programs start with the assumption that you can run two to three miles a few times a week, and that you can handle a five-miler as your first long run. If that’s not where you are, you need to back up and establish a fitness “base” to build on.

A Couch to 5K program is perfect for that starting stage. If you’re new to exercise, do that. While you could jump straight to marathon training after that, most coaches would recommend that you make sure you can maintain that level of fitness for at least a few months first.

If you’re already an athlete, though, an accelerated plan isn’t so farfetched. You have strong muscles and lungs, but running puts some strain on your bones and tendons that other sports don’t. So you don’t need to build fitness; you just have to get used to running. Then you can jump into a training plan.

Training Takes at Least Four Months


Marathon training plans are structured programs that gradually work you up to the challenges of tackling a 26.2 mile race, over the course of four months or so. Even people who have done marathons before will use a structured program for each race season. Nobody stays in marathon shape year-round.

You can find a series of well-respected marathon programs for free at They’re pretty typical of plans you’ll find elsewhere, including the ones built in to training apps like Runkeeper and Nike+ Run Club.

On any program, expect to go running at least four times a week. A typical program has at least three shorter runs, and one long run. When you get close to race day, your runs will get up to 20 miles or more, but you won’t be doing a 20-miler for every run that week—nobody has that kind of time, and it would wreck your body. Instead, you’ll be doing maybe five-milers on the weekdays, and one grueling 20-miler on the weekend. Usually there is also a midweek day where you do either a medium length run, or some other challenge like a day of speedwork or hill running.

That’s a serious time commitment. At a 10 minute per mile pace, the first week of Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan adds up to 2.5 hours of running: not too bad. But the peak week, when you do that 20-miler, totals almost seven hours. Fully half of that is a single long run that will eat up your entire Saturday morning.

If this sounds like too much, stick to shorter races. You can train for a half-marathon with far less of a time commitment, or just stick to 5Ks, where you never have to run more than three to five miles unless you really want to.

But if you’re up for the challenge and you’ve cleared your calendar, then there’s no reason not to proceed. It’s time to pick a marathon.

Choose Your Race Before You Start Training


You want your training program to end on race day, so it’s best to sync up your marathon choice with your training schedule. Most cities only have one marathon, so you can take the date or leave it. If you want more options, you may have to travel.

When to sign up depends on which marathon you choose. If you want to run the New York City marathon, for example, you have to apply in January even though the race isn’t until November. The organizers hold a lottery, and you only have a slim chance of getting in: just 23 percent of applicants were accepted in 2016. On the other hand, if you have your eye on the Pittsburgh marathon, all you have to do is fill out a form and pay the fee. In 2016, it didn’t even sell out until three weeks before race day.

This means if you want to run New York, you need to find out whether you got in, and then start thinking about when and how to train. If you don’t get in, you can start looking at other marathons that might be your second or third choice.

On the other hand, with an easier to enter race like Pittsburgh, you can begin your training with the race day in mind, and then not actually pay the registration fee until you are confident that training is going well. The delayed approach would mean missing early bird pricing, but it may be worthwhile if you aren’t feeling confident. Marathon registration refunds can be difficult or impossible to get.

Expect a Physical and Emotional Rollercoaster


The marathon itself is the experience of a lifetime, but the training will feel like a grueling part-time job. You have to show up even when you don’t want to. It takes a ton of time. You will come home sore.

In the process, you will learn to take care of your body. You’ll have to eat well to fuel recovery, and you’ll find yourself sleeping more. If you run with training partners, you’ll get to know them pretty well. If you don’t, you’ll spend a lot of time with your own thoughts.

You’ll give up your Saturday mornings. You’ll miss sleeping in, but you’ll also feel great when you show up to brunch with a fifteen-miler already in the bank. There will be a day when you run farther than you ever have before, and every step beyond that point is a new lifetime accomplishment.

Over the weeks and months, your runs will get longer and longer. About three weeks before the race, you’ll do your last really long run—almost never 26 miles, but more likely 18 or 20 or 22. That’s because long runs are hell on your body, and you need time to recover.

Those last three weeks are called the taper, when you run less and less because you’re letting your body heal and repair so it will be in the best possible shape for race day. Your body will feel great, but your brain may enter a state that runners call “taper crazy.” Did you train enough? What will you do with your newfound free time? Have you overthought your race day outfit yet?

After all that, you will show up for the marathon, you will run the marathon—assuming you didn’t get injured during your training—and you will finish exhilarated and exhausted. That’s when you’ll know it was all worth it.

Illustration by Sam Woolley. Photos via Pexels.

5 Trainer-Recommended Tips Every Gym Beginner Needs to Know


Whether joining a gym or working out at home, there is a long list of beginner fitness mistakes we’ve all made! And for those joining the gym, there’s the added pressure of figuring things out in a public place. If your brand new gym membership is already starting to lose its lustre, the following tips from one of Fitness First’s personal training ambassadors, Alex Chaple will help smooth the bumps in your fitness journey, and make your goals feel a lot easier to attain.

Cardio Comes After

There is a never-ending debate on when to perform cardio if you’re strength training, but Alex strongly recommends you do so after, because performing resistance exercises before cardio will give you a greater fat loss effect.

Get Off The Treadmill

Cardio machines aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to working up a sweat. You can avoid plateauing and getting bored by taking advantage of free classes your gym holds, or adapting your training style to include elements of HIIT, and Tabata. Training this way allows your body to burn more calories in a shorter space of time than traditional machine cardio.

Think Big

There are so many benefits to strength training, but some moves are better than others and some are better combined. Focus your training on large muscle groups and big ranges of movement to capitalise on the time you spend at the gym. You can start with a simple move like adding bicep curls to basic squats, whether you use low or no weights, you are still engaging different muscle groups (your arms and legs) in one move.

Use Your Own Body

Adding weight to your workout is beneficial to sculpting and growing lean muscles, but training with just your body weight for resistance is just as beneficial, because it allows you to perfect your form and perform higher reps when it comes to certain moves.

Book Time in With a Trainer

You don’t have to buy a block of expensive sessions with a personal trainer to reap the benefits of their expertise. If you need advice from a professional on your form, how to use certain machine, or simply gaining the confidence to walk into the weight area, get some time in with a personal trainer and go armed with a list queries.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Rima Brindamou
19 January 2017

Enter the ring: The beginner’s guide to boxing workouts


Boxing gyms have come a long way from the gritty, dank cages Rocky prowled in the predawn hours of Philadelphia’s winters. Just as we had the luxury-climbing-gym revolution last year—when men skipped the treadmill and instead flexed their bouldering skills—we’re now witnessing an explosion of ultra-high-end boxing temples.

Leading the way are Box ’N Burn Boxing and Fitness in L.A., Chicago’s Unanimous Boxing Gym, and, most recently, the gleaming Rumble, which opened a 6,000-plus-square-foot location in New York this past January. The knockdown palace, which is partly co-owned by a former Google executive and a master trainer from Bravo’s Work Out New York, is a mix of full-body toning and working the aqua heavy bag (which is much easier on the joints and tendons).

“Our clientele doesn’t just punch a bag for 45 minutes. We have weights and benches,” says Eugene Remm, a head of the EMM Group and a Rumble coowner. “Add our overall cleanliness, and nobody thinks ‘boxing.’” (For more about Rumble, visit

We totally approve of the rise in boxing gyms, and not just because we’ve seen Creed too many times. Boxing isn’t just about fighting—it’s a great workout that boosts mental agility, improves coordination, and blends cardio and muscle sculpting. “Boxing is the only sport where you have to stay on your feet the whole time to be successful,” says Eric Kelly, a four-time amateur national champion who now trains clients in NYC. “Meanwhile, you’ve got to keep a guy’s foot out your ass. That requires every muscle in the body!” Ready to step into the ring wherever you may live?

Here’s your 12-round game plan:

The Beginner’s Guide to Boxing Workouts

You’ve hit YouTube, and after watching highlights of Mike Tyson knocking heads into the cheap seats, you’re amped to learn the ropes. Now what?

“Start by going to a reputable gym,” says Heather Hardy, the WBC international featherweight champ. What constitutes as “reputable” depends on your personal preference. The gym doesn’t have to be beautiful—it can be a hole-in-thewall reeking of Bengay with heavy bags wrapped with duct tape.

Next, pick a trainer. “Let the owner know if you’re interested in competition or fitness,” says Hardy. And you know you: Do you respond better to an earful of growls from a grizzled vet, or pats on the butt from a gentler soul? Make sure the gym trains “whitecollar types,” and steer clear of anyone lacking ring time. “I don’t take the ‘no fighting experience’ trainers as seriously,” says Kelly. “Ever heard of a swimming instructor who hasn’t swam before?”

And don’t be intimidated. The camaraderie found in boxing gyms is second to none, and most boxers are chill cats who are happy to share tips. From the banker throwing a soft punch to the welterweight prospect fighting on HBO next week, each is there to better themselves. “It’s one of America’s last true melting pots,” says Bruce Silverglade, owner of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.


Group gigs are great for spinning, but in the boxing space? There’s something to be said for starting out by yourself and locking down the basics, bringing it back to the good old days, when men were men and drank raw eggs to get pure protein power. “One-onone is best,” says Kelly. “You get all the attention. Your trainer can focus on the proper technique and make sure you ain’t just staring at asses and being lazy.”

Your Total-Body Boxing Workout

The beauty of boxing workouts is that you can still become a mini Mayweather whether you make it to the gym or not. Done right, this boxing workout will eventually transform you into a Golden Gloves god.

STEP ONE: Stretch

No muscle goes unused, so spend five to 10 minutes before the bell rings stretching every body part. Work those hamstrings: Stand straight and bend over, with your fingers touching the floor. To prevent tearing your shoulder muscles, place your hand against a wall and lean away, which stretches the fibers.

STEP TWO: Jump rope

Jumping rope is crucial to building the quickness and agility you’ll need to be a ring king. Start out jumping with both feet, then gradually alternate, jumping five on the left and five on the right. Only after you master that will you be coordinated enough to jump back and forth between right and left.

STEP THREE: Shadow box

This drill helps you learn to stay balanced when you punch. It also puts your hammies, adductors, quads, and calves to work as you laterally move side to side. Start with three rounds, sliding and popping combos—which helps refine your evasion techniques—while picturing a foe in your face. You’ll eventually be able to shadow box for 15 minutes (or five rounds) and in the process build a toned trunk.

STEP FOUR: Heavy bag

Learn how to control your “foe” with a jab while also working your core and hips, from which you’ll transfer power to your punches. “The power comes from the ground up,” says Kelly, “and the core must be strong to get the right velocity behind each punch.” Aim for heavy bags attached to a chain, rather than those connected to the wall— the swinging helps hone your body movements. As you hit the bag for three to four rounds, make sure to snap the punch before you bring the hand back.

STEP FIVE: Speed bag

Fast-twitch muscles up top pop as the speed bag goes rat-a-tat. The goal is to build combos, which will improve shoulder strength and train you to keep your hands high. Besides getting those killer shoulders, practicing the speed bag is for rhythm, timing, and relaxation. Punches shouldn’t be thrown with flexed muscles—relax your arm to keep a steady rhythm, which translates to a more fluid motion. Don’t “punch” the bag; it’s as if your hand is holding a bicycle pedal moving in a continuous circle, hitting the bag every time it gets to the top. To improve your accuracy and head movement, sub in a double-end bag.

by Mike Woods | January 5, 2017
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