Something that's been on my mind a lot lately is the idea of chronic training load. CTL is just how much exercise you do on average (both the volume, and intensity). If you jog for twenty minutes every morning, your CTL is 2.3 hours of low intensity exercise per week. Joe Friel has a way of quantifying it even more precisely, but I just think of it as a total time spent exercising times the average intensity.
This has been on my mind because as my back problems cropped up mid-summer, the amount of exercise that I could do changed drastically week to week. This made it tough to gauge how good of shape I was in, which made setting goals tricky. You have to know where you are before you figure out where you are going, and the chronic training load is a good measure of your overall fitness.
I was reading "The Hungry Runner Girl" (great blog by the way- a fellow Utah Valley inhabitant), and in one of her posts she mentioned the following workout: 30 minutes of spin class, 20 minutes of weight lifting, and 70 minutes of swimming. I stopped and read it over again to make sure I had those numbers right, because that is 2 hours of continuous exercise! Looking at her other training posts, it looks like she regularly does 1.5-2 hour workouts at a pretty solid intensity, so that is her CTL. I was impressed (and a little embarrassed, looking back at my own week.)
What does it take to be able to do that? Can you go from total sloth to two hours of hard cardiovascular work a day? I don't think so. If you were really tough you might be able to do that for a few days, but eventually you'd burn out. And the reason is because if you want to make sustainable progress, you should change your CTL gradually. Your body can adjust to almost anything, you just need to change slowly enough. Pro marathon runners will do 120 miles a week at a blistering pace, but they can do that because they've been running for ten years. They did 50 miles a week in high school, 70 in college, 100 during the beginning of their professional career and now they've finally gotten to that peak mileage.
Being really healthy is an investment, and it takes a long time to get there. I feel pretty good about where I'm at: given the adverse circumstances of my last few years, I feel like I've done the best that I could. These days I've been doing about 2 hours of medium-hard exercise per week, which would be my CTL. This week that was four solid workouts, but I want to bump that up to six days a week. There are still things I can't do yet (running!), so that is what I'm pushing toward. And keeping track of my chronic training load can help me know that I'm making progress.