Tag Archives: strength training

Comrades Update: Easing Into Strength Training

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Photo by W_Minshull

It’s no secret that I really dislike strength training.  I find no joy in lifting weights.  I know how important being lean and strong is for runners, but it all feels tiresome and pointless to me.  Where running is The Force, strength training is from The Dark Side.

One of the main pieces of advice I hear repeated by Comrades veterans is that strength training is critical for the down run.  I’m not surprised.  I have run the Boston Marathon four times, and I know that the last four miles (which are a glorious downhill) can be a nightmare on the quads if you’ve gone out to fast in the first seven miles, which are a not-so-obvious downhill.  I can only imagine the quad screaming one experiences in the second half of the Comrades down run.  I want to be prepared.

I have to trick myself into the strength work, though, or I won’t do it.  Although I could easily outline my own program, I know myself well enough to realize that I will have better adherence to someone else’s program.  Why?  Because if I’ve planned a particular exercise or set of exercises, and I just don’t feel like doing them that day, I’ll go off-script and do something else.  (Nine times out of ten, it will be something easier or something that won’t serve me as well.)  But if someone else is telling me what to do, I’m much more compliant.  Thus, I’ve chosen two 30-day programs available free on social media to do for the month of January to ease my way in to regular strength training.

The first is UK-based James Dunne’s Kinetic Revoultion 30-Day Challenge.  In the short videos (available via an email subscription or instagram @kineticrev), James presents two daily exercises.  The body-weight exercises are targeted to runners, so there’s lots of work in the glutes, hamstrings, abductors, adductors, and quads.  What I like about the program is that it’s well-balanced, with core exercises and stretches interspersed into the program every few days.  Each day’s workout takes 8-10 minutes, and it’s something you can do without breaking a sweat.

The second way I’m easing into strength training is with Yoga With Adriene‘s Yoga Camp on You Tube (also available via an email subscription or a pay-as-you-wish download). I’ve had a regular yoga practice for 13 years, but this is the first time I’ve done guided yoga for 20 straight days.  With a great mix of standing postures, pranyama, relaxation days, and challenging vinyasa sessions, the videos (most of which are around 30 minutes) are adding an important counterpoint to my workouts.  I feel more confident in my balancing postures, more supported in my low back, and more appreciative of what my body can do.  I must admit I have a fan-girl crush on Adriene– I love her attitude, and I find the way she describes what she is doing to be so clear that I can move through the entire practice with my eyes closed.    I’ve been doing the Yoga Camp videos in the evenings, sometimes with my kids alongside me and sometimes right before bed.  Either way, I’m really loving the positive contributions they bring into my day.

If you’re looking for ways to sneak some strength work into your workouts, I recommend both James Dunne’s Kinetic Revolution and Yoga With Adriene’s Yoga Camp.  These free programs are worth your time, and they’re led by reputable people who know the body well.  I can’t wait to see how they help with my running when I hit the road for my first 50K in six years at the end of the month.

Good health and great happiness to you!

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Product Review: Quick Strength for Runners

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Like most runners, I am way better at finding time to run that I am at finding time for strength training.  I’ve made attempts in the past to strength train regularly, but I always find myself forgetting to do these workouts. And any workout that gets forgotten before it gets done isn’t very useful, is it?

I came across the book Quick Strength for Runners by longtime running coach and Runner’s World writer Jeff Horowitz.  I took a look at it on Amazon, and I thought it was well laid-out, simple to follow, and (most importantly) succinct.

Here’s the deal: most runners want to run.  They don’t want to strength train.  If you write a runner an exercise program where they need to spend 2-3 hours a week in the gym, they aren’t going to do it.  But Quick Strength gives runners 16 workouts, each about 30 minutes, that can be done at home with minimal equipment.  A set of dumbbells and a stability ball are all you really need.

The book does a good job assuming that runners need to start at the beginning:

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Once a basic overview of muscle groups and their locations and roles in the running body was given, there is a big section devoted to the individual exercises that make up the workouts.

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The exercises focus on hips, core, and legs, which make sense for a runner’s workout.  Each exercise is clearly explained with helpful photographs. The form cues were clear and easy-to-understand.

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 I really liked that advanced forms of most exercises were included, which allows the book to be useful well beyond its 8-week program lifespan.

Finally, the exercise program is laid out.  It is two workouts per week for eight weeks.  The workouts are easy-to-follow.  In fact, there are times where the workouts repeat exercises in short circuits.  Rather than saying “do exercises 8-11 again”, they are written out in full.  It makes the book incredibly user-friendly for even the most novice exerciser.

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In all of my years of trying to be good about including strength training, this is the first program I have followed start-to-finish in the prescribed time-frame.  I admit that some of the exercises were on the easy side for me, but I never finished a workout feeling like it was a waste of time.  Certainly, I could have chosen the harder versions of exercises or used heavier weights to give myself more of a challenge.

I was so impressed with the book, especially in its usability thanks to clear photos and clear workout layout, that I bought my dad a copy for his Father’s Day present.  I recommend Jeff Horowitz’s Quick Strength for Runners to any runner who wants to add some quality strength training to their workouts without feeling like you’re taking precious time away from your running.

Good health and great happiness to you!

I was not asked to write this review, nor was I compensated to do so.

Marathon Training Plan Review: Smart Marathon Training

This post is the first in a series of four blog posts that reviews different marathon training plans.  I hope to offer a very brief synopsis of each training plan along with my editorial comment about what I perceive are the plans’ strengths and weaknesses.  All opinions are mine.  As we like to say in distance running: your mileage may very.

Jeff Horowitz’s book Smart Marathon Training espouses a simple premise that is also the books subtitle: run your best without running yourself ragged.

Sounds great, right?!

The Basics

Smart Marathon Training is based on three runs per week, each of which has a specific focus and intention.  The types of runs are broken down into Hill Workouts, Speed Workouts, Tempo Runs, and Long Runs.  These types of runs are familiar to anyone who has done distance training, and Horowitz explains their purposes clearly for the novice.  The goal is to eliminate junk miles (miles a runner runs without any real purpose other than to go out and run) in an effort to combat overtraining and burnout.  The book includes six training plans for the half-marathon and marathon distances.

The Differentiator

Smart Marathon Training adds to the three runs per week a prescriptive cross-training regimen and strength training program.  Horowitz makes a sound case for the merits of cycling as cross-training, and the program assumes you will follow his advice and get on the bike to supplement your overall fitness.  The book also includes two chapters devoted a very specific strength training program.

The Pros

The training schedule is neatly laid out on two facing pages of the book.  It is clear, easy to read, and logically progressive.  This may not sound like much, but given how many different components there are to this plan (11), the fact that it is graphically pleasing is a real accomplishment.

The photos and descriptions of the strength training exercises are, for me, the best part of the book.  They are presented in such a way that even someone who has never done any kind of resistance work can understand how to do the moves.  Furthermore, the inclusion of such a thorough strength training program will likely help prevent injuries during training, as there is an emphasis on building a balanced body.

I like that many of the runs are done at a pace based on Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).  This is especially appealing to new distance runners, as they learn to tune in to how their body feels during a run.  Also, RPE allows runners a freedom to flow with the reality of life that pure pace-oriented training programs do not.

The Cons

The 20-week training plan includes three 20-mile long runs, with the first coming as early as week 11.  In my experience, that’s at least one 20-miler too many for most people, and if you can run a good (meaning not-get-injured) 20-mile run that early in the training cycle, it might be hard to keep interested in a goal that is still more than two months away.

Also, I have no interest in cycling.  I don’t want to buy a bike and all the gear necessary to follow the cross-training parts of Horowitz’s plan.  Even as a personal trainer who owns quite a lot of fitness equipment, the strength training plan can’t be done as indicated without a gym membership that gives you access to weight machines.  I am a runner because I enjoy the freedom of fitness without all the stuff required of other endeavors.

Furthermore, as someone who travels a lot, the inclusion of four long distance cycling efforts instead of long runs during the 20-week training could be a real logistical challenge.  One of the great benefits of running is that I can do it wherever I go with very little advance research and planning.

The Bottom Line

Smart Marathon Training is an excellent plan for a triathlete or avid cyclist who wants to try the marathon distance.  Likewise, if you’re coming to running from a weightlifting background, the strict and integral strength training program will appeal to you.  The components of the plan are scientifically sound and the focus on creating a well-balanced body would be helpful to those who are plagued by injuries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lift Strong

 

As promised in my previous post, I want to outline the strength training program I’ve been doing for the last few months.  It is based on the book New Rules of Lifting for Women by Lou Schuler & Cassandra Forsythe.  The basic premise of the book is that to build lean muscle mass, women should lift more like men.  That is, heavy weights and low reps.  For someone who has always only used strength training as a compliment to running, this type of training is completely new to me.

One of the premises of the program is that if a person strength training with the heaviest weights possible, her body needs rest on non-workout days.  Because the objective of the program is to increase lean muscle mass so that the body burns more calories even at rest, the authors explain that doing cardio as a primary form of exercise is inefficient.  Ideally, according to the authors, exercisers don’t to any other types of exercise until one establishes how her body responds to the heavy weights.  At that point, some cardio or yoga can be integrated into the program.  The workout programs in the book—designed by Alwyn Cosgrove—are methodical and sound.

Of course, when one is trying to build muscle, one needs to consume muscle-building protein.  The authors clearly and thoroughly explain the science and numbers of just how much protein one needs while doing this program.  The nutrition information and included recipe suggestions are one of the strongest aspects of the book, in my opinion.  The authors argue convincingly that the strength training and the nutrition guidelines should be followed closely for maximum success with the program.

In the four months I have been doing this program, I have learned two major things:

1)    I don’t like strength training as my primary form of exercise.  Even when I’m lifting super big weights, I don’t feel like I’ve done anything.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself thinking about how I’m going to sneak in a workout in the afternoon, only to remember that I lifted in the morning.  While it’s great for building lean muscle mass, it does nothing for me as a stress reliever or emotional release valve.

2)    I struggle to eat enough protein.  The recommendations for the program I’m doing are for me to eat around 120 grams of protein a day.  I’m lucky if I get to 100.  I don’t do protein powders on principle (which goes against what the authors recommend, but I eat only real food), and that makes it a real challenge to get enough protein into my body.  I have finally learned to like greek yogurt, so that helps a lot.  I’ve added sunflower kernels on my daily chef salad, so that’s a good bang for my buck.  Otherwise, I am going to go into the poor house to support my protein consumption (hello expensive nuts!).

This type of strength training doesn’t work for all people, and it isn’t a suitable way to reach the goals of others.  As with any type of fitness program, each person has to identify her goals and learn the best possible training type to reach them.  While I like the results I’m getting from the program, I don’t enjoy doing it, and as such I don’t see it as a long-term part of my fitness plan.

If you’ve tried this program—or one like it—I’d love to hear your results.  If you’re interested in more information or would like personal guidance to implement a fitness program like this, please contact me.

Good health and great happiness to you.