State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Help Me! I Need to Exercise Smarter

by on December 31, 2019 12:47 PM

When I get up from the couch while relaxing with my family at the end of the day, I start making the sounds of a man in pain.

“Eh, ouch, ugh,” I say under my breath as I start walking around the house, because of the pain in my feet, my hips, my knees, or wherever else I’m feeling it that day. Eventually that pain subsides, but it is beginning to last longer and hurt more. 

I am not on the injury list, per se. After all, I still am able to run every day and hit the weight room hard after work, so I feel like I am in pretty good shape. 

But I may be overdoing it. I think my recently turned 40-year-old body is trying to tell me to slow down a little bit, as I keep getting these nagging injuries, from plantar fasciitis to tendinitis.

But I don’t want to slow down, ever. I love having an active lifestyle.

I spent my 20s feeling out of shape and lethargic until, at 29, I competed with some friends in the Hyner View Trail Challenge, a 25K-race near Renovo. The race is a grueling 16-mile trek up and down three rugged mountains. 

After I hiked to the top of the first mountain, I could not believe my eyes when I saw people start running once the ground broke even. I was dead tired and not sure if I would be able to hike the rest of the way.

But I slogged my overweight and out of shape butt up and down those mountains with my friends, finally reaching the finish line with a time just under seven hours. It felt amazing. I couldn’t believe I did it.

An active lifestyle has been a priority to me since then. I started hiking long-distance trails, competing in running events, and exercising every day. With every workout, I felt more rejuvenated. Eventually, I was able to cut by more than half my seven-hour time in the Hyner Trail Challenge, finishing in 3:08 in 2016. It felt amazing.

This April, I will be running the event for the 11th year, and I want to able to finish strong again.

I see local runners like 99-year old George Etzweiler and 81-year-old Carl Undercofler competing in events and having fun, and I dream that I’ll be going strong at their ages. 

But I need some help to learn to train smarter, so I can try to stay strong and active as I get older. 

So I asked Jake Schiffer, the sports and wellness director at the YMCA of Centre County, to help me develop a better workout routine.

I have never worked one-on-one with a fitness trainer, figuring that I knew enough from high school sports and other stuff I picked up along the way. But I was wrong. 

Right off, Jake asked me what my goals were, and I could see that he was developing a plan that would help me. 

Jake has been doing this for a long time, working all around the country. He got seriously into fitness when he was part of the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska. He served as unit health promotion coordinator, helping members of the military get back to weight standards. 

“When it is that cold and dark, sometimes exercise is all you have,” Jake said.

After leaving the Coast Guard, he used the GI Bill to get a bachelor's degree from California University of Pennsylvania in exercise science. He then worked in the fitness world in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and San Antonio for a few years each before moving to Centre County with his wife, Kelly, their two sons, and four dogs. He has been with the YMCA of Centre County for almost three years.

Besides knowing about the body, he also knows how to help people feel comfortable. For him, it I all about relationships. 

“More than seeing clients get results, I really enjoy the relationships I build with them,” he says. “You can become part of each other’s lives, celebrating highs and consoling lows. I still train clients online that live in Massachusetts, Texas, and North Carolina.”

Jake developed an exercise plan that I could incorporate into my routine that focused on strengthening my problem areas and giving my body the ability to recover.

Jake suggested I take a day off from working out during the week and then take another as an active recovery day in which I didn’t run, but used the elliptical and step machine each for 10 minutes. 

This was going to difficult; my runs make feel alive. I didn’t want to give up two runs a week, but I knew something needed to change. 

“One day a week must be dedicated to full complete rest,” Jake said. “As someone who has recovered from plantar fasciitis myself, giving the feet 24 hours of complete rest is necessary. Another day needs to be a light recovery day, or an active rest day.”

We then went through some new exercises for me, with Jake making sure that I was using good form and technique. Almost all of the exercises incorporated some core strengthening, along with working various other muscles of my body.

“A weak core can cause issues throughout the entire body,” Jake said.

We used a BOSU ball, which helped me strengthen and stretch out my foot and calf. The BOSU is a squishy half-ball used by people practicing yoga and it is very difficult to balance on. I felt a little silly at first because I kept having to hang on to the wall, but it helped stretch out my foot and it felt good.

We also used “battle ropes” attached to the wall, whipping and throwing them down to the ground. I never used these long ropes before because they look intimidating, but they really worked my core and arms. It was also kind of fun.

We did a curtsy lunge exercise. Ugh, I hate lunges, but I know they are great for runners, so I do them.

Usually I do front lunges, but in this set, Jake had me step backward, extending my leg behind me. It really stretched me out and had me focus on my balance, which is a weak point.

Jake says doing multiple types of lunges (front, back, side) helps to target different muscles of the legs.

Even lunges weren’t so bad when I had someone to talk me through them. I didn’t understand how Jake could keep track of my reps while also talking and encouraging me, but he managed. 

“You kind of learn to count while talking about other things doing this job,” Jake said with a laugh.

After going through the upper- and lower-body exercises that focused on my problem areas, we went through a core workout of mountain climbers: side planks and reverse crunches with a plyo box.

After that, he had me do an exercise his dad thought him well before he became a fitness instructor. It was called an alphabet plank on a stability ball, and it was difficult. I had to do a plank on the ball, which was tough enough, and then spell out the alphabet with my elbow all while not falling over. I didn’t want to let him down, so I was determined to do it. Man, was it hard, but I got it done with Jake cheering me on. 

Then we focused on stretching. This is another weak point for me. Jake says I should be doing dynamic, quick stretches before every run to warm up my legs and then long stretching afterward to help with recovery.

We used a band to help stretch my legs; I could feel the tension releasing in my hips and calves.

We then used a foam roller to perform a self-myofascial release, which is kind of like performing an athletic massage on yourself by rolling parts of your body on a long foam tube. It was a little painful at times, but with Jake’s help I was able to find the right way to use the roller, and afterward I did feel a little more limber.

When I went home that night, I honestly did feel a little better, with less pain in my feet and hips. The next day, I did my active recovery plan and still felt strong afterward. 

In April, I will again be climbing up those mountains in the trail race. I don’t know how long it will take me, but as long as I am able to finish strong with a smile on my face, I will be happy. I understand a little pain is probably unavoidable, but now I have a plan on how I am going to stay active for my whole life, thanks to Jake. 


Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.


Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
Disclaimer: Copyright © 2020 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.