The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 10: Lifting heavy will make women bulk

While some people are super passionate about cleanses or the newest fitness trend, today’s myth is near and dear to my heart. But I won’t lead with my opinions. I’ll do my best to lead purely with research, science and facts – and to perhaps toss in my own experience as a woman, a personal trainer and an athlete.

For whatever reason, many women believe lifting heavy will make them bulk up. In my Mile High Run Club Dash28 class, I always stress that you should be lifting the heaviest weight possible, as long as you can manage it with good form. And guess what – there’s always a decent percent of women who reach for the 2lb. kettle bell – and then use it for squats! Honestly, if you are going to take the baby weight for those large power muscles, just do a bodyweight squat. To make gains in fitness, you need to stress your body. Lifting a 2lb. weight for a thousand reps will never make you look any different. And while you may be a little stronger, you make big gains in strength and appearance when you lift heavy.

And as Medical Daily explains, lifting heavy increases metabolic rate (you’ll burn more calories), and so fat loss is pretty much inevitable as long as you aren’t consuming additional calories. You’ll be stronger and leaner, and other benefits include increased mobility, preventing muscle loss, fixing posture, and alleviating back pain. And if are still worried about bulking up, relax. It’s incredibly difficult for most women to do. For one thing, our testosterone level isn’t high enough to increase mass. And unless you are consuming excess calories, you have nothing to worry about.

And aside from the sleek muscles you can be sporting, there are lots of health reasons to lift heavy – especially as you age. Bone and joints will have a better shot of staying happy and healthy, your agility, balance, and energy will thank you. You’ll also probably carry less body fat, which as an aging female can be tough to manage. Establishing a weight training routine now, no matter your age or fitness level, is the right step. Here are some good points and tips for getting started.

Personally, I have found lifting heavy to transform my body in a bunch of ways. I am more defined and have lost fat. I am stronger. I am a far more efficient and faster runner – especially on hills or late in a race. And honestly, I feel better in my skin. Muscles and strength makes me feel more confident and sexy. A thousand years ago when I was lifting light (and weight a good 10lbs less than now), I was skinny but I wasn’t nearly the confident woman or athlete I am now. And most importantly to me, I was more injury-prone back then. My injury risk has gone way down with my improvements in strength and power.

It’s important to focus on quality in the gym. Don’t rush your workout and give rest/recovery between sets. Focus on full range of motion. Be sure you are using good form and make adjustments to the machine for your body. Hydrate throughout the day, and get in some protein after your gym session. A shake, greek yogurt, lean meat, a banana with peanut butter – whatever is appealing to you. As a rule of thumb, you will usually feel the progress before you see it. Focus on consistency. Your body will change. Sadly most of us get frustrating and give up before our bodies begin to really show the progress. Keep at it.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 7: Runners shouldn’t lift

It’s a common belief that weight training, especially with heavy weights, will make us bulk up. If you’re a runner, that probably sounds like bad news. After all, runners want to be as light and lean as possible, and additional weight makes running more challenging. This belief is completely false. In fact, runners should embrace the weight room in their gym. You may find your form and stride to improve, and injury risk to go down. But even if you’re on board with the concept, it can be hard to figure out how and when to include weight training to your running schedule, especially if you are diving into something intense and time consuming like marathon training. Today I’ll debunk the weight training/runner myth, and also give some tips as to how to include weight training into your running schedule.

Training specificity is important for improving. So if you are training to improve as a runner, you need to be running! However, it can be very helpful to incorporate yoga, cross training and weight training into your routine to support your running goals. So while much of your time should be spent running, most of us would benefit from not just running. For one thing, injury risk can go up as mileage or intensity increases. And while running can certainly make us strong, it’s not enough to strengthen our upper body, core, and even lower body in a way that will make use our best. We need more. The good news is that a little time in the gym lifting heavy can go a long way. For runners, strength training is a key component in boosting performance – both for speedsters and endurance junkies. Adding the strength and power you get from weight lifting will help you run faster. It will also help maintain good running form, even when fatigued. If you run longer distances, it is important to have good form when fatigued because this will help prevent injuries, and help with efficiency in those late miles. Short distance and long distance runners alike can benefit from strength training.

If time and energy are limited, aim for 2-3 gym sessions per week. Stack them on days you are already working hard – track, tempo, long run days – for example. If you can get in a 30-60 minute routine, working head-to-toe, focusing on lifting heavy and good form, you will see and feel improvements in your running. If you don’t have access to gym equipment, or are short on time, this article may be very helpful. There are some basic things you can do at home and with your own body weight. Something is far better than nothing! When at the gym, try aiming for moves that incorporate multiple muscle groups can be really helpful. You’ll get more out of your training, won’t need as many exercises, and when you run, you are using tons of muscles at a time, so isolating one muscle per exercise isn’t as helpful for a runner. Use the heaviest weight you can for 3 sets of 8-12, with good form. If you can handle more than that, you need to increase the weight. Be sure to have a protein-dense snack or meal after your weight training session.

Breaking down 5 Myths About Strength Training and Running, Coach Jeff offers some good advice and insight. Hopefully you are now on board and eager to add some serious weight training to your training calendar. You can anticipate some big payoff – few injuries, better and more efficient form, and faster times!

 

Running Injuries, Goals and the Gym

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot's of time in the gym. Pretty good PR - 3:03:30.

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot’s of time in the gym. Pretty good PR – 3:03:30.

It’s that fun time of year when there are literally dozens of races every weekend – from small 5Ks and 10Ks to some very large half marathons and marathons. The running community is filled with taper nerves, stories of recent race experiences, and reflections and goals for the new year. It’s a pretty awesome time to be a running coach and to watch the weeks and months of careful planning and training begin to pay off with some really incredible race finishes, personal records, and lessons learned.

I find that the journey can vary quite a bit per person. We are all different, and we adapt to training, goals and work load differently. I couldn’t help but notice while I was out for an 8-miler today how many runners I passed with medical tape, braces or bands on their body. It made me a little sad, angry, ad motivated to blog about it. In the non-running community, most people still assume running is bad for our knees. In fact, I cannot count the amount of times an acquaintance or total stranger says something negative about running and joints when they hear I run and coach runners. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

This isn’t to say that repetitive wear and tear doesn’t have consequences – cyclists, swimmers, dancers, tennis players – each sport has it’s own chronic injuries due to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints used repetitively. However, when done the right way, we actually usually stay far healthier and active when we use our body instead of sitting on our butts. Can running mess up knees? Sure. That will vary per athlete, their genetics, history, form, training practices, and overall strength. I come from the philosophy where most injuries are preventable, and most runners you see taped up simply didn’t train well. Usually they took on too much too soon (mileage or stress), or are incredibly imbalanced and could benefit from some serious strength training, cross training, stretching – or all of the above. Most injuries are preventable. Some obviously are not, and require immediate medical attention, and the diagnosis and advice should not be ignored.

Here’s the funny thing – most injured runners will willingly admit how much they are in pain, or how much their potential has been compromised, but yet they won’t take the necessary time off to rehab and recover. As a coach, I cannot help someone who isn’t willing to take the help. That may be the toughest part of my job. Knowing what needs to happen, but having an athlete unable to accept the work load, recovery, etc – to get there.

And so after witnessing all of those taped up runners today, I thought about myself and my running. I haven’t been injured (thankfully!) since 2012. I was forced to take 8 weeks off from running back then, and it was the worst two months ever. I swore to myself I would do what I could to avoid the injured list in the future. And so I finally began to take my own coaching advice. I also began to really listen and learn from my body. Dare I say, I began to train smart. Even when clocking 100-mile weeks while Ultra Marathon training in 2014, I quickly learned I needed to eliminate all speed work and simply focus on mileage. And when I shifted back to shorter and speedier goals, I cut mileage way down, and spent just as much time weight training as I did running.

In fact, that’s what struck me today. While training in 2016, my mileage was lower than most years in the past, ranging from 35-60 miles per week – including when marathon training. I’d cap my runs to 5X per week – no more, and 2 total rest days. I also spent a ton of time lifting heavy in the gym – upper and lower body – 2-3X per week for each. And for me, that combination lead to two of my three fastest marathons ever, within a 6-month span, and minimal aches and pains and no injuries.

And not only did the above combination work for me, I made myself be incredibly smart and conservative when hopping into any other races. Did I miss out on some incredible race opportunities this year in NYC? Absolutely. Did I have regrets or FOMO? Sure. And peer pressure is a bitch. But somehow I stuck to my guns, and my goals were clear. And so I didn’t add anything potentially harmful to the big goals.

Not every runner can spend hours in a gym. Or many simply don’t want to or refuse to prioritize their time. I get it. If you are very busy and love to run, you want to spend your free hour running – not in the weight room or on an elliptical. You want to be outside in the open air. I can totally relate. However, if you start to think about the longevity of your running career, and the specificity of your goals, you may start to view your training and choices a little differently.

So when you hit your off season, whenever that might be, I encourage you to take a hard look at your running and training history, and how your body has responded. Are you healthy? What hurts and why? Were your time goals achieved? How do you mentally feel? Listen, learn, and adapt.

Racing Weight, Body Image and the Scale

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Clothing size and the number on the scale can often torment or define the happiness of many of us. I’ve been very open about my relationships with food, body image, and an obsession at times with my size and the number on the scale. In today’s blog I’d like to discuss that number on the scale in regards to running and athletic performance, but also to address the human struggle.

I’m asked all the time about body weight and speed. It makes sense that the lighter the runner, the faster and more efficient the athlete. This is true in a lot of ways. Runners chasing down a specific time goal often look for the lightest shoe they can handle. Every step, stride, arm swing – that takes energy. When every second counts, so does every ounce. HOWEVER, athletes need to be careful to not lose too much muscle. An athlete who is under fueled and lacking good strength will be prone to injury, poor form, and can feel their training plateau because they are not fueled for training or racing. So there needs to be a safe, realistic, and honest assessment of finding that sweet spot. Extra weight isn’t good, but neither is being under weight. For my athletes, I always promote eating to support their training needs. Usually extra weight tends to disappear, but the athlete is also successfully fueled to knock those hard runs out of the park. This isn’t to say that runners always lose weight. Some can gain weight, as their appetite increases and perhaps they get a little carried away. It’s a balance. And a process.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life - 119-122lbs.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life – 119-122lbs.

There have been times in my running career where I gained weight while training (and no, not muscle), and times where I have dropped a lot of weight. I’ve experienced the consequences of both. I’ve lost some speed when heavier. I’ve also been injury prone when lighter. It was a journey for a long time. But after my lowest weight, in 2011-2012 – about 119-123lbs., and suffering an injury, a few things changed for me. One, I started weight training in 2013. Not stupid 5lb. shit. Seriously lifting weights. This was also when I got my Personal Training and Nutrition certifications, and my view on the human body changed. But most importantly, this was when I STOPPED weighing myself every damn day. It had become an obsession. A game. Something I could control. I never starved myself to be super skinny, but I trained to lose weight, period. I trained stupid. Once I stopped training like an idiot and weighing myself, a few things changed. I gained muscle from head to toe. I had muscles in my upper body I’d never seen before. And you know what? That was fucking awesome.

Since 2013, I have been consistently (more or less – there are certainly weeks where I don’t make it to the gym!) lifting heavy. In early 2015, I added heavy lifting for my lower body. Not only have I become a much more efficient runner, my aches, pains and injuries have thankfully been almost non-existent. I hop on the scale every few months (maybe, if that?), and have been a consistent 131lbs. for the last 3 years. I’ve been proud to be 131lbs., 5’7″, and strong. I want to be an example that the number on the scale doesn’t define shit. Strength does.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

One thing that has been consistent since 2011 – I track my calories and activity. Like a hawk. I measure and weigh most food I prepare. I read serving sizes. I’ve gotten really good at eyeballing food that I don’t prepare. I track it all. I also track all my activity. Not just the training, but sleep, standing and sitting. I know exactly what I’ve consumed/burned per day, the average per week, month and year. That knowledge means I am always accountable. Yes, it helped me to drop to an unhealthy weight/composition in 2011, but it also helped me gain weight back in the form of mostly muscle, and fuel my training needs appropriately. And yes, it means I have to hold myself accountable and enter in all that data, but for my training, goals and general health, it’s worth it.

Now, I found myself taking a hard look at my goals for 2016. My goal for Berlin Marathon (EIGHT weeks away!) is fucking ambitious. So I looked at my data. A hard look. The amount of miles I can safely run per week. The types of workouts. The best way to fit in strength training. And my current body. I stepped on the scale in May, and clocked in my consistent 131lbs. I looked in the mirror and was honest. Not “self loathing, wah I wanna be skinny” assessment, but a purely “how do I do everything I can to be my best” assessment. I decided if I could drop 5lbs. carefully between May and September, losing body fat and minimal muscle, I would be improving my odds for achieving my goal on race day. And so, I have been working for weeks to whittle that number down. This week the scale has read 126lbs. and 125.4lbs. on days where I was well hydrated and fed. Goal achieved! Now I need to maintain that number. There’s a part of me that is eager to take that control of the scale to the next level, and try to drop more. I’ll be carb loaded on marathon day, and that will mean gained weight. But there’s the sane and rational side of me that knows my body and that I need to stay injury-free, and fueled for my training.

My relationship with the scale is rarely healthy or happy for long. Which is why I rarely use it. I’d feel bad when that number went up, or happy and in control when it would hit a new low. Which is silly. And so I usually measure myself by my athletic abilities, and how clothes fit.

I joke and brag about my love for pizza, Chinese food, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I do genuinely love them all. So very much. And I eat all three quite frequently. But I also fuel my body with lots of fresh fruit, veggies, dairy and lean proteins. Those calorically high loves are accounted for and tracked. And I train like a beast. My body doesn’t look or act like it does because I sit on my butt or train sporadically. There is a ton of sacrifice (sleep and a social life), and sweat, tears, frustration and grunt work that goes into what I look like and what I accomplish. I’m a work horse. Plain and simple. What I lack in talent, I make up for with effort. I also have learned to value rest days. Those are the days we are actually rebuilding and getting stronger!

That scale. That number or letter in every article of clothes. They do not define any of us. We often let them drive our motivation, confidence, and our self worth. Often those numbers sabotage us in achieving our goals. But those numbers can change. One way or another. Take that control. Take your body and recognize that you can do anything you want to with it. Anything. It’s pretty fucking incredible. You could train it for anything and everything. Sure, it takes time, sometimes failure, and always hard work – but it’s possible. Once we begin to see our bodies as anything other than the obstacle, the sky is the limit.