My Current Workout Routine

jason shen workout routine early 2012
(click to enlarge)

Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve gotten into a pretty great rhythm when it comes to working out. With no races coming up, I thought I’d drop a line on how I’m working and what I think it’s doing for me. Hoping to follow up on this post with an update on my 900 minutes of meditation which I started in April and perhaps another post in general on morning routines.

Disclaimer – I’m not a fitness, nutrition or medical expert. No certifications or anything. I’m coming at this as a former competitive athlete, biology BS/MS and an experimenter with N=1. I am still figuring things out and sharing what I’m learning.

My workout goals

Everyone works out for different reasons – they might overlap but hold different priorities. Here are mine (in order of importance)

  • To keep my body healthy and functioning well
  • To maintain a high level of energy
  • To train for a marathon
  • To stay in shape and look trim/fit

My Constraints/Requirements

I think there are a bazillion number of ways to work out and stay fit. What matters is finding one that fits the constraints of your life. Getting into a routine of working out every morning is awesome, but it means having a few constraints including:

  • Easy on my knee – I don’t do plyometrics or any activities that involve a lot of pounding, side-to-side cutting, etc.
  • Morning availability – I like to workout in the morning, at my own pace, so that means most classes are a no go at the moment.
  • Affordable – Right now I am not willing to budget for classes, bootcamps, trainers, expensive equipment, etc. I work out at a nearby cheapo gym and my biggest expense are race entrance fees.
  • Sub-hour workouts – Since I am working out in the morning, shorter is better for me. My gym is 2 blocks from my apt and only one of my workouts lasts more than an hour door-to-door (the long run).

Workout 1: Heavy Weights

When I was a gymnast, we only did a tiny bit of lifting in the beginning of the pre-season. Otherwise, I generally stayed away. After reading about the work of Pavel Tastasouline (kettlebells) and Brian MacKenzie (CrossFit Endurance), both featured in Four Hour Body, plus reading about Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running and his gym workouts, I decided to make heavy lifts a cornerstone of my workouts.

Typical workout:

  • Deadlift – 3 sets (6x 225lbs, 6x 245lbs, 4x 265lbs)
  • Benchpress – 3 sets (6x 185lbs, 6x 205lbs, 4x 265lbs)
  • Squat – 3 sets (8x front squat 135lbs, 8x back squat 135lbs, 8x front squat 135lbs)

Why I do it

What I’m learning is that heavier lift but lower reps is a really efficient way of building and maintaining strength without building mass. I want to short circuit the heavy mileage running programs that most marathon training guides advocate and I can only do that with a strong frame achieved through heavy, compound lifts.

In re-reading some of the literature like the “rule of 10”, I am considering raising the amount of weight lifted, reducing reps to 2-3 and increasing my rest time from ~2mins to ~5mins.

Workout 2: Tempo Run

This is the shorter run I do during the week, which should push me a bit aerobically and leave me breathing pretty hard at the end.

Typical workout:

Why I do it

You can’t train for a marathon without doing some running. Long runs obviously help build tolerance for distance, but my tempo runs are for going a bit faster and keeping me from turning into a plodding, slow jogger.

Workout 3: Bodyweight

As a gymnast, I used to warmup and end my workouts with a ton of body weight exercises. At one point, I realized the 45 min routine we would do to warm up for gym practice was hard enough to be an entire workout for me now as a non-athlete. Kind of a sad feeling, but just the nature of my current lifestyle.

Typical workout:

  • 10 mins on bike machine
  • 2x 50 pushups
  • 2x 15 pullups
  • 50 hollow rocks + 50 arch rocks
  • 1 min handstand hold + 5 handstand pushups
  • 1 min plank hold + 1 min side plank hold (each side)

Why I do it

Bodyweight exercises is like a medium-light workout that doesn’t tax my legs too much, works my core and upper body, keeps me active and my blood moving during the week.

Workout 4: Interval Training

High intensity interval training is where you switch between doing really hard activity followed by really easy activity on repeat for some number of cycles. Studies have shown that vigorous exercise burns more calories than “steady state exercise”, increases your post workout metabolism for longer and can even increase your endurance/aerobic capacity in less time than longer, easier workout. Check out more on intervals via this infographic by Greatist.

Typical workout

  • Elliptical: 6x 1 min easy on Level 10, 1 min really hard on Level 14

Why I do it

I do intervals partly as a way to build speed without doing track work or hill sprints. It’s a lot more convenient and it’s nice that it only takes 12 minutes to do the whole workout. I do wondering if I’m getting the same benefits because I am worried about running being too different from “elliptical-ing” and thus not getting that speed boost. But my aerobic capacity should be benefitting. I think I’m going to start doing more cycles (maybe 8?) while taking the easy portion even easier and seeing what happens.

Workout 5: Light/Rehab

This is a mixed bag. I want to be in the gym but not kill myself before a long run.

Typical workout:

  • 20 mins on bike machine easy
  • Rotator cuff exercises with 5lbs dumbells
  • Single-leg balance Romanian Dead Lifts (no weight)
  • 100 ups (which after watching the video, I realize I’ve been doing wrong)

Why I do it

Most people don’t do enough preventative rehab. I don’t use my upper body as much as I used to but it’s really good to work out some of those smaller muscles in your shoulder and back. Same for the lower body – just doing some drills, some stretch and staying loose.

Workout 6: Long Run

I love this workout. It’s my big test every week – my test of progress. I am constantly trying to extend my long run until I’m easily running some faster paced half marathons and can handle a 15 or 18 miler without issue.

Typical long run

Why I do it

I’m training for a marathon in late July and this is the best way I know how to track my progress. I want to be comfortably running longer distances without blisters or major soreness before I go all out on that 26.2 miler.

I really enjoy my long runs because – 1) I’m usually extra well rested from the day before 2) I blast electronic dance music and get my jam on 3) my runs are along the waterfront of San Francisco and 4) my long runs are usually are also on my cheat day (more on that in another post) so I eat very well afterward

I may write an entire post devoted to the long run later on, but we’ll stop here for now =)

Final Thoughts

When reviewing my workout program, it’s like someone made a smoothie out of running, powerlifting and gymnastics. I realize I may not be realizing the full gains of doing heavy lifting or interval training by only doing it once a week. Perhaps my need for variety is preventing me from getting stronger/faster as efficiently as possible. Writing this blog post has been great because I already have some ideas for changing up my routine.

I will say though that I’ve been doing this routine for a few months and it’s been great. I feel good everyday, never too exhausted during the weekdays and full of energy – and I haven’t suffered any major injuries or illnesses (minus the foot issues and cold symptoms before the half marathon) so it’s achieving my goals.

What’s your workout routine like? How do you structure your exercise? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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    •  @MtnEvan My faces are usually much worse in races. That guy isn’t working hard enough, clearly.

  1. @JasonShen Really good template, man. I like the mix. I’m curious, with your background, any reason you stick w/ relatively easy BW work?

    • @AndyFossett Thanks! Yeah, it’s mainly because I don’t want to gain mass and also not tire myself out before intervals.

  2. @JasonShen Ha ha, I’m nowhere near as strong as you, but wanted to ask. Makes a lot of sense though. Thanks.

  3.  @JasonShen, really great article. @AndyFossett and I were talking about your blog just the other day.  It’s great reading about people who love life and kick ass in the process.

  4. Very cool. And inspiring! Today I kicked off the first day of a 30 day challenge I told you about on Sat – to work out every day, alternating between weights and interval cardio – with a set of uphill sprints on top of Mt Davidson. My knee seems to be holding up and I feel great!

    One thing I haven’t decided about is whether to have an off day to recover. I thought you work out every morning but see 6 workouts in the post, so does that mean you take Sundays off after your long runs on Saturdays?

    •  @AlAbut I think one day off a week is good if you are working out pretty hard. Weights + interval is actually a pretty ambitious cycle. Be careful not to strain yourself.

    •  @doyulikejin Thanks. It’s so hard to get a handle on what’s good. I’m 165/170 and I know that there are people my weight can lift much much more.

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