Provision #516: Maximum Mix

Laser Provision

Long-time readers of LifeTrek Provisions know that I enjoy long-distance running. This Provision may surprise you, therefore, since I argue against non-stop running for hours on end. Such exercise does not take into account our evolutionary inheritance. For millions of years, survival called for a diverse mix of endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance activities • when we weren’t lying around sleeping and resting. I’m not ready to give up on long-distance running, but that’s because I use a run-walk method that more closely approximates our physical requirements. Read on to learn how the method works.

LifeTrek Provision

In late 2005 and early 2006, long-time readers may remember that I wrote a four-month series of Provisions on Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Focused, as it was, on a tool that brings together positive psychology, social constructivism, and organizational development, there was not much mention of nutrition or fitness. Instead, we wrote about the principles and practices of strengths-based change.

Judging from your replies and inquiries, many readers of LifeTrek Provisions found the series to be transformational. Prospective coaching clients called to ask, “Can you assist me to find my strengths?” School leaders and pastors called to ask, “Do you think this process would work in our situation?” Executives and managers sought to bring AI into their companies and work groups. It has been fun and rewarding to field and respond to the requests.

One of my AI trainers and mentors, Jane Magruder Watkins, will be offering a five-day foundations course in Lincoln, England (near London) from September 24-28. At the same time and in the same location, my friend and colleague, Barbara Sloan, will offer a five-day workshop on the use of AI in coaching. The two events, running in combination, should make for an exciting week. For more information and to register, go to either the AI Foundations Link or the AI Coaching Link.

I mention this not only to promote a valuable training opportunity in a delightful location, but also to connect the dots between AI and Optimal Fitness. That may seem like a stretch, but it all revolves around the title to this week’s Provision: Maximum Mix. That’s the formula for success when it comes to both Appreciative Inquiry and Optimal Fitness, which all goes back to our evolutionary inheritance.

Variety, they say, is the spice of life. It’s also the source of life. Populations that fail to interbreed become increasingly susceptible to recessive traits. It just isn’t good to marry your sister. It also isn’t good to connect only with the person in the office next door. That’s a surefire formula for the Dilbert principle, as managers become increasingly disconnected to reality.

The magic of Appreciative Inquiry is not only that it gets people to talk about and to build upon their strengths, it’s also that it gets people to talk about these things with new faces and voices. Maximum mix is the mantra when it comes to both the invitation list and the instructional design for an AI process. The more stakeholders the better, including both internal and external constituencies. That’s because you never know where a good idea is likely to come from. If someone has a part to play and an investment in the outcome, then they have a vantage point worth discovering.

A typical AI Summit begins with one-on-one interviews to discover people’s best experiences, core values, generative conditions, and heartfelt wishes. The instructions always include the following admonishment: “Don’t interview someone you know well or work with closely!” After the interviews are complete, a process that can take anywhere from 30-90 minutes, the dyads find two others pairs to share their discoveries in groups of six. Once again people are told, “Mix it up! Form circles that cross platforms, work groups, buildings, reporting lines, and decision trees. Be on the lookout for hidden treasures. Expect the unexpected. Seek to learn new things.”

And so the process goes, playfully getting people to discover the wisdom that is often hidden below the surface in organizations. It works the same way in coaching. By asking positive questions from a strengths-based framework related dynamically to a client’s learning goals, coaches enable clients to reconnect with the ambitions and resources of their own personal and professional lives. These, too, are at times hidden from view.

Once they come out, whether in organizations or in individuals, the growth can be rapid and dramatic. Seemingly insoluble problems lose their grip on people; instead, people get interested in new things and start moving forward in new directions. Even though I have seen the process work on numerous occasions, it never ceases to amaze me. The mere gathering together of diverse peoples and interests, in the presence of well-crafted, positive questions, is enough to set things spinning in new directions.

So, too, when it comes to Optimal Fitness. If you have learned anything from the past two months of Provisions, then you have learned the importance of mixing up our activity patterns for optimal wellness. We need to work out and rest up, to go and sleep well, to breathe fast and slow, to respect the rhythm of day and night, to build endurance and strength, to push out and pull back. Maximum mix is once again the mantra when it comes to what our bodies require.

That’s because our bodies evolved over millions of years in rugged, outdoor environments. Our survival was dependent upon our ability to run fast and to sit still, to shout loudly and to whisper softly, to jump high up and to reach low down, to lift and carry heavy things, to stretch our muscles and to balance our bodies • to mention only of a few of the diverse requirements that come with scavenging, hunting, and gathering in wilderness settings. The best exercise programs mirror such real-world challenges in order to build endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance through a wide range of activities.

I mention that as a way of backing into a discussion of my perspective and pattern when it comes to endurance training. Many of you know that I enjoy marathon running, and even an occasional ultramarathon, as a way of staying in shape. That does not mean, however, that my weekly regimen involves nothing but running — a mistake made by many long-distance runners. On the contrary, I try to mix it up as much as possible from day to day and even during the runs themselves.

One way to mix it up is to rotate your shoes. I rotate through four pairs of shoes from four different shoe companies. Most of the time I rotate from day to day but, on occasion, I even rotate my shoes halfway through a long run. That’s because every company makes their shoes, and especially their soles, in slightly different ways. These nominal differences change the foot strike, however so slightly, which adds variety to the run. It helps with injury prevention and, in the long run, it doesn’t cost any more money than buying the shoes consecutively, after they wear out. I purchase four pairs of running shoes, all at one time, every two years.

Another way to mix it up is to rotate your routes. I never run the same route two days in a row; that generates variety as to elevation, pitch, and roll. One day may be flat, another hilly, and yet another filled with obstacles when I go trail running. I do trail running at least two days a week precisely because of the variety it introduces. I love that variety on every level: it is both physically and psychologically satisfying. Every foot strike comes at a different angle, and every turn presents a different vista. Recently I saw ospreys in the nest, a large snake across the path, and a small box turtle, not to mention the spring flowers and foliage. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

A third way to mix it up is to rotate your paces. All runners do that to some extent, especially when they do interval training (short, all-out sprints followed by slow recovery walking or jogging). There’s no other way to get faster in the long run than to start going faster in the short run. Jeff Galloway, however, has taken pace variation to a whole new level, urging people to become run-walkers, rather than runners, for their long-distance outings. Here is what Jeff has to say about the practice:

“To receive maximum benefit, start the walk breaks before you feel any fatigue, in the first mile. If you wait until you feel the need for a walk break, you’ve already reduced the potential benefit. Even waiting until the two-mile mark to take the first one will reduce the resiliency you could regain from walking in the first mile.”

“Would you like a discount? To put it in shopping terms, walk breaks give a discount from the pounding on legs and feet. If you walk often enough, start early enough, and keep the pace slow enough, a 10-mile run only leaves five to seven miles of fatigue, and a 20-miler produces only 12 to 15 miles of tiredness.”

To set up walk breaks, Jeff offers the following pointers:

  • On long training runs, the more often you take walk breaks, the better your legs feel at the end.
  • Beginners take jogging breaks in their walks (one minute jogs, every five minutes or so of walking.
  • As beginners get in better shape, they may reduce the walking segments gradually (1-4, then 1-3, 1-2, 1-1).
  • Fitness runners will take a two-minute walk break after two to three minutes of jogging.
  • Average runners take one to two-minute walk breaks after three to eight minutes of running.
  • Advanced runners take one-minute walk breaks or “shuffle breaks” every mile (after about eight to 10 minutes of running).

Jeff has made the run-walk method so famous that people who practice it religiously, such as myself, are called “Gallowalkers.” He puts forward a lot of scientific research to demonstrate how the method improves performance and reduces the risk of injury for anyone running a marathon slower than two hours and fifty minutes. That’s the vast majority of people.

Beyond the issues of performance improvement and injury prevention, however, there is the argument of evolutionary fitness: run-walking approximates the way human beings have moved for millions of years. Our Paleolithic ancestors seldom or never set out to continuously run 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) (although they may have done so and more to get out of harm’s way). Instead, our ancestors would mix running and walking with plenty of other activities ranging from languid to intense. That was how they survived and those were the genes passed on to us.

Arthur De Vany describes the situation this way:

A historical source reports that 5 Indian braves drove 5 bison into a pit. After they killed these 2000-pound bison, they pulled them out of a pit more than 10 feet deep, lined them up, skinned, and butchered them. Then, they carried as much as they could back to camp to get others to return for the rest. I think that is a wonderful model of fitness, combining speed, power, strength, stamina and courage. You can be sure this successful hunt was followed by plenty of rest and play and feasting. This model is what I seek to  emulate.

To do that in today’s world, De Vany recommends an “evolutionary model” that:

combines activities of varying intensity to mimic our ancestral hunter-gatherer existence. The key is to hit the right balance of intensity and variety. You have to live in the fast twitch (FT) muscle fiber zone where your metabolic rate is many times your basal metabolism for intermittent, brief intervals.

This requires brief, but intense, work outs in the gym (the FT zone) with a wide variety of activities that mix intensity and duration randomly (mixing the Intermediate and Slow Twitch zones with brief spurts into the FT zone). Roller blading, bicycling, walking, sprinting, tennis, basketball, power walking, hitting softballs and so on are the sorts of activities that mix IT and ST fibers with intermittent FT action.

Activities are spaced randomly according to a power law distribution which not only fits the hunter-gather activity rhythms but also virtually every process in a healthy human being.

Although De Vany limits both the duration and frequency of aerobic exercises as part of his “evolutionary model,” he would definitely recognize the evolutionary value of Galloway’s run-walk method. Especially if you walk backwards, sideways, and with all manner of foot angles during your walk breaks so as to increase the variety even further. If you’re going to push yourself to the limit, rotating your paces and strides is the way to go.

The ultimate way to mix it up is to rotate your activities. Whether you compete as a triathlete or not, the mix of swimming, cycling, and run-walking is an excellent mix when it comes to aerobic activities. When possible, I cycle two days a week, run-walk four days a week, and swim every chance I get. The cycling and run-walking take place in the morning, soon after I wake up and before I do other activities. The swimming, when I manage to do it, takes place in the afternoon or evening.

If swimming, cycling, and run-walking are not your activities of choice, then look at De Vany’s list and do what you love. The key is to be consistently active in a wide variety of physical pursuits. Gardening and yard work, for example, can be pursued as excellent aerobic activities. However we do it, optimal fitness will result only by attending to our evolutionary inheritance when it comes to both the quantity and quality of our activities.

Coaching Inquiries: What is the nature of your daily activities? Do they incorporate enough variety, intensity, and duration? How could they become a healthy part of your daily life? Who would enjoy doing activities with you? How could move yourself in a positive direction?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..

I just read the article you wrote for the most recent edition of AI Practitioner. The article opened my eyes up to this path of development. Your words and teaching have a lasting, powerful impact on many coaches (myself included), both in our personal lives and in our growing professional identities. Just wanted to drop you a note to let you know how much I appreciate you and learn from you. Thank you!

Your words of guidance and encouragement regarding my daughter helped a lot! Thank you very much! I needed to hear everything you said and will take you up on the book recommendation. It looks very interesting! God bless you a lot as you continue to help people!

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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