Exercise, fitness, Progress, wellness

Strength Training For Runners

One of the concepts that I repeat over and over is that resistance training will improve (almost) every aspect of your life. Heavy resistance training will increase your overall strength, body composition, bone density, and metabolic rate. But what if you are an endurance athlete? Even if you are a marathon runner, and nothing else (yet), don’t count my teachings out just yet. Supplementing your distance running, or cycling, with heavy resistance training will do nothing but improve your performance in your sport.

Heavy strength training and endurance training could not be more opposite. They are both physical activity that contribute to your overall activity level, but that’s about it. Endurance training and strength training tax two completely different energy systems and muscle types. Endurance training taxes your aerobic energy system, while strength training taxes the anaerobic energy system, either the creatine phosphate (CP) system or the glycolytic energy system. The aerobic energy system kicks in after you have been exercising consistently for over 90 seconds, and allows you to continuously produce energy to be able to fuel the duration of your workout without rest. Anaerobic systems produce powerful energy in short bursts, up to 15 seconds for CP and 15 seconds up to 90 seconds for glycolytic, and require rest to be able to replenish energy sources. As well, endurance training exercises mainly type I muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are full of mitochondria, meaning they are able to continuously supply energy and oxygen, allowing for longer periods of work without fatigue. Strength training mainly works type II muscle fibers. Type II muscle fibers are those most associated with strength and power, and are beneficial for quick bursts of energy before needing to recover. To be a well rounded athlete, whether you are a distance runner or a strength athlete, both energy sources and muscle types should be trained. Sprinters can absolutely benefit from heavy strength training, as both types of training require heavy use of the anaerobic energy systems and type II muscle fibers.

Specifically for endurance athletes, strength training can have many benefits. Heavy resistance training, specifically for the lower body, can help to improve overall running mechanics, as well as muscular balance and strength. Unilateral training, which means training one limb at a time, is one of the best things that you can incorporate into your routine. Training one leg a time can help to improve any muscular imbalances that you have between legs, which helps to improve proper movement patterns. The better you move in general, the less likely you are to encounter an injury during a run. As well, training single legs will improve tendon and ligament strength. This strength will translate into more stable joints, continuing to improve muscular balance, while also helping to reduce your risk of sprains and strains. As well, heavy strength training incorporating both limbs, such as a barbell back or front squat, will help to build up muscle strength, tendon and ligament strength, and bone density. Your bones build up against resistance, so movements where your body is working against gravity, will help to build up the vertical bone density. This newfound muscular strength and bone density, combined with regular endurance training, will help to improve leg strength and elasticity, which will reduce the energy you expend to take a step. You will also be a much lower risk of multiple injuries, include strains and sprains, and shin splints.

Distance running and strength training are not mutually exclusive. When combined for a distance runner, these two forms of training can keep you running longer with a lower risk of injury. Strength training can also help to decrease muscular imbalances that can be exasperated by running. Running can cause overactive quads and hip flexors, while decreasing activation of hamstrings and glutes. Strength training can actively help to even out these imbalances. Though you’re a distance runner, and probably pretty tied to it, don’t count out strength training. It can help improve your running from good to great.

Sample workout for runners:

-Glute activation 2 sets 10 reps

(Lateral walks, Glute kickbacks, donkey kicks)

-Barbell Back Squat (or heavy goblet squat) 4 sets 6 reps

-Weighted Stationary Lunge 4 sets 6 reps

-Single Leg RDL (DB in opposite hand) 3 sets 8 reps/leg

-Single leg calf raises 3 sets 8 reps/leg

Exercise, fitness, Progress, wellness

Bump It Up

How have your workouts been lately? Are they still really challenging, or have the once challenging lifts become easier? As you continue to perform a workout, exercise, or movement in general, your body and muscles adapt to the movement, becoming stronger, and making the movement easier. In order to grow muscle size, endurance, strength, or stability, the intensity must be increased past the point of adaptation. This is a principle in fitness known as Progressive Overload. There are many ways to easily increase the intensity of your lifts to ensure that you are making sufficient progress from them.

Increase the Weight

The easiest way to increase the intensity of any movement is to increase the weight used. How do you know that it’s time to increase the weight? Let’s talk about the 2 for 2 rule. This rule states that when you feel as though you could do extra reps in each set, from the last two workouts, it’s time to increase the weight. This ensures that you won’t be increasing weight prematurely, or before your body is actually ready. To reduce the risk of injury, you should be sure to gradually increase the weight, with no more than a 2.5-5lb increase on upper body movements, and a 5-10lb increase on lower body movements.

Increase the Volume

Another easy way to increase the intensity of your workouts is to increase the volume of exercise you perform in the workout. Volume refers to the total amount of sets and repetitions of movements in a workout. To increase the intensity, you could increase the amount of sets by one (two to three sets, three to four, etc) or you could also increase the amount of repetitions you perform (12 instead of 10, 6 instead of 4, etc). I would not increase both the sets and repetitions at the same time though, as this may increase the intensity too much too quickly, with little time for adaptation. If you decide to increase the repetitions, be sure that it is still within your intended range, so as not to change the intent of the lift. This means to keep the range within 8-15 for hypertrophy, 1-6 for strength, and 15+ for endurance.

SuperSet for Super Gains

Instead of performing a straight set, of three sets of 10 repetitions of an exercise with a one minute rest in between sets, try to superset two exercises. This means combining two exercises into a single set, by performing all reps of exercise One and then all reps of exercise Two with no rest in-between. You rest after all reps of both exercises are complete. Increasing the amount of work without increasing the amount of rest will increase heart rate, breathing rate, and the amount of stress placed on muscles. You can either combine two similar exercises, such as a squat and a lunge, to really stress your leg muscles, increasing the volume and intensity placed on those muscles, or you can combine two opposing muscles, such as with a row and a bench press, working back and chest. This type of superset allows for more work to be done with less rest in between, as the rest period for one muscle group occurs when you are performing the repetitions for the second muscle group. For pure strength gains, I perform straight sets, with no second exercise, as the rest time for those lifts are two-three minutes. After I have performed my strength lifts, I then superset lifts for an increased intensity, and stress on the muscles to make them grow.

Between these three variables, it is very easy to increase the intensity of your workouts. Remember, without proper intensity, your muscle size and strength won’t increase, as they don’t have the proper stress to stimulate the adaptations. What would be the point of working out if you weren’t actually gaining anything from it? Each workout should be difficult and challenging, giving your body the necessary stress to progress.

Exercise, Other, Progress

Deadlift Your Way to Better Movement

The overall strength movement that gets the biggest negative reputation anywhere besides the fitness industry is the deadlift. There are plenty of deadlift fail videos out there, with the lifters fainting, falling, rounded/breaking backs, you name it. But what if I told you that there is no other movement as effective for total body strengthening than the deadlift? Along with that, did you know that the deadlift directly relates to everyday movement? Let’s dig deeper into the deadlift:

Deadlifts 101

The deadlift is a total body strengthening movement. It begins with a hip hinge, training proper lifting from the floor, as well as core strength and stability, upper body strength and stability, and posterior chain (glutes and hamstring) strength and stability. The biggest fear with the deadlift is that the lower back is in danger, but, with proper form, the deadlift will greatly reduce your risk for lower back injury and reduce lower back pain. The stronger your core is, no just your abs, but your actual deep core, the less stress that is placed on your lower back. As well, the main imbalances many people have include weak glutes/hamstrings and weak mid backs. These imbalances tend to be the leading cause of both lower back and knee pain. The deadlift actually trains these weak areas, increasing the strength, stability, and endurance of these muscles, helping to alleviate the imbalance.

There are many different deadlift variations, all with similar, yet different outcomes. The conventional deadlift involves feet around hip width apart, with toes pointing forward, and hands on the bar outside of your feet. The conventional deadlift is more of a true hip hinge, and recruits more glutes, with also more lat and mid back engagement. The sumo stance deadlift involves a wide stance, with toes pointing out. Your hands will be inside of your feet on the bar. The sumo stance deadlift recruits more glute, quads, and less back, as you are more upright in the starting position. The romanian deadlift, and stiff leg deadlift, are also true hip hinge movements, with more of an emphasis on hamstring strength, as the knees stay straight, but not locked out. Depending on the intention of the movement, each variation is incredibly efficient in strengthening the intended muscles. Deadlifts tend to be best programmed for strength (3-6 sets, 1-6 repetitions), as they can be loaded, and the load helps to translate to everyday life. However, deadlifts can also be programmed for hypertrophy (3-5 sets, 6-12 repetitions), which also helps lead to overall movement and strength gains.

To begin to learn the deadlift, learn the hip hinge. Once you properly learn to hinge from the hips, rather than bend from the lower back, you can continue to progress in the movement. As well, begin to learn the deadlift with a dumbbell or kettlebell, as there is less chance for form slips. Once you can easily do a hinge with a kettlebell or dumbbell, you can progress to a hexagon barbell or a barbell, as long as you are sure to maintain proper form.

The movement itself is not flexion/extension of the lower back, but a drive through the hip hinge, using the legs as the main movers. This helps to teach the movement pattern that you should lift through your legs, not your back. The deadlift also teaches you how to properly brace your core, and pull your shoulder blades back, helping to reinforce proper posture. The deadlift is not a scary movement, and should be incorporated into programming for a healthy, strong body.

Tips for a Successful Deadlift

1: Start light! Learn the movement first, then begin to progress in weight or volume.

2: Keep feet as close to the barbell as possible to begin the movement.

3: Keep core braced the entire time. Pull your belly button in towards your spine (while still breathing) to fully brace your core.

4: Vary the set and repetition amounts to get all the benefits from a proper deadlift.

Conventional Deadlift:

Sumo Deadlift

Romanian (Stiff Leg) Deadlift

Exercise, Opinion, Other

Ladies, Don’t Be Afraid to Lift Your Weights

Year after year, female client after female client, it’s always the same. “I want to tone,” “I don’t want to get big and bulky,” and all sorts of variations. This blog is going to discuss the reasons why women won’t get bulk by accident, and it’s going to be short and sweet.

To get started, let’s look into how you even get “bulky.” Muscle bulk is simply muscle hypertrophy, or the tissue getting larger from increased stress and volume placed on the tissues. As well, testosterone in the body plays a big part in muscle tissue increase, in both and men and women. Testosterone is the main anabolic hormone in the body, assisting to build muscle size and strength, along with human growth hormone (HGH). However, women have between 15-20% less testosterone in their body than men, and that testosterone is much less respondent to training stimulus. Estrogen and progesterone levels in women are also much higher than in men, with these hormones being catabolic, or contributing to tissue breakdown, they keep muscle at bay. With our body’s build and hormone makeup, it is actually physically impossible for women’s muscle size to get to be as large as a man’s.

I know what you’re thinking, “Molly, what about those crazy looking women bodybuilders?” (Also, those body builders have worked hard on their physique, and whether you agree with it or not, it should be admired.) As well, those bodybuilders can not achieve the size or definition that they have without artificial help. Anabolic steroids are artificial sources of hormones, such as testosterone or HGH, that push muscle growth further than the body could achieve alone. Even so, those female bodybuilders work incredibly hard to build that size, so even with anabolic steroids, being big and bulky doesn’t just happen.

So now, how do I get toned? Easy. We increase our muscle mass (naturally, by lifting weights and keeping our volume within 3-5 sets of 8-12 repetitions), and decrease our body fat. Being toned is nothing more than having a low enough body fat to see the muscle tone underneath. If you feel that you are getting too large of muscles from lifting, either decrease the repetitions to a strength range (1-6 repetitions) or increase them to an endurance range (12-20 repetitions). However you want to do it, lifting weights and increasing muscle size and strength has incredible health benefits. Resistance training has been shown to increase lean body mass, leading to better body composition, increase bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis, and also help increase stability and decrease the risk of injury. Don’t stray away from resistance training simply because you are afraid of getting big. It takes more energy and effort to get bulky than you realize, and I promise it won’t happen by accident.

Exercise

The Basics of Legs

We’ve already gone over the foundations of fitness in two posts, now were going to go in a bit deeper and go over the basic movement patterns. There are six movements that everyone should be able to do, in order to be able to move effectively and efficiently. Today, we’re going over the main leg movements (luckily there’s only two of them), so here we go.

The first movement is a “knee dominant” movement.

These are movements that utilize knee flexion and extension more than any other joint, and include exercises such as squats, lunges, and step ups. For this example, we’re going to focus on the squat. Over my years of training, the squat is the movement we have to work on the most, as it is the foundation of your movement patterns and, with increased sitting in daily life, the motion that shows the most imbalances. A good squat varies from person to person, as each individual has different bone lengths, joint angles, etc, but all have a few characteristics in common. The first being that, though this is a knee dominant exercise, we are going to break from the hips first. This ensures your weight is going backwards, as it should. The next characteristic is keeping a tight core. This ensures that our lower back is protected and we stay nice and upright in our squat. As well, since it is a knee movement, we need to keep an eye on the knees. They should stay in line with your toes during the whole movement. This means no knee caving in, no bowing out, and, that if your toes turn out a bit, your knees should also track out. Keeping the knees in line with the toes makes sure that the knee doesn’t get put in a vulnerable position and reduces the risk of injury (always a good thing). Don’t worry if you can’t get the weight distribution right or the depth of the squat down right away, keep practicing good form and the necessary strength will come!

The next lower body fundamental movement is a “hip dominant” movement.

These are movements that use hip flexion and extension, and include exercises such as a hip hinge, deadlifts, and all of the deadlift variations. Today, we’re just going to focus on the basic hip hinge, as this is the basis for all other hip dominant movements. Strengthening the hip hinge will help with core stability, hip strength and stability, and correcting the imbalances that come from sitting all day. Increased sitting translates to quad (front of leg) and hip flexor (front of hip) tightness, while the hamstrings (back of leg) and glutes (back of hip/booty) are underactive. The hip hinge teaches how to activate glutes and hamstrings and re balance the body. The main misunderstanding of the hip hinge is that it is a movement that just involves bending forward and standing up. That is not correct, and can lead to lower back pain. The hinge really involves pushing hips back, while keeping a neutral (flat) back, until you reach your maximum range of motion. Once your range of motion is reached, squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward until you are back to standing. Many clients have very tight hamstrings, which limit their range of motion. Ensure you are doing the movement properly, no matter the range, and we can work on the mobility part separately. So remember:

The more efficiently and effectively that your legs move, the better your entire body will move. Practicing proper form of the fundamental movements will translate into all aspects of your life, not just fitness!

Exercise

LewdaGlutes

It seems that you can’t scroll through instagram for even a second without seeing a girl, or guy, showing off an exercise that is supposed to grow, activate, or burn your glutes (ya booty aka the gluteus Maximus, medius, and minimus muscles). It’s the trendy topic and cements your spot in insta-fitness fame. So when did full, round glutes become the marker of a fit person? When did glutes become the new abs? But more importantly, why?

Well, not only do fully developed glutes look great, but they are also vital to muscular balance as well as proper movement. Let’s start by dissecting what the glutes actually do as a muscular group, and we’ll see how they translate to moving effectively and efficiently. The glutes all together move your hip. That is their function, they aren’t just there for visually pleasing cushion. The gluteus maximus, or the biggest muscle in your booty, is in charge of extending your hip and externally rotating it (so think, straight leg kicking back and kicking out). The gluteus medius is mainly in charge of external rotation, and the minimus assists with both movements. Below is a quick anatomy lesson and then a video showing two examples of hip extension powered by the glutes.

So now that we know what movements the glutes actually perform, why are they important? 99% of people spend their days sitting at their job or on the couch or driving to and from work. That means that, for a majority of the time, your hip is in constant flexion. This tightens your hip flexors and your quads, allowing them to be your primary movers in your legs. Not only are tight muscles not pleasant, but they also throw off the way you move, whether you feel it or not. Unless you’ve been taught otherwise, if I asked you to show me a squat, the majority of you would shift your weight onto your toes and your upper body would shift forward as well. This puts strain on your knees, lower back, and just feels uncomfortable. The reason your body moves this way, even if it’s not comfortable, is because your body goes with the path of least resistance (aka your hips and quads are tighter and stronger than your glutes, so give them the strain). Over time, without correction, this leads to knee and lower back pain.

So how do we change the tightness? Tight muscles don’t always just mean tightness, they also mean. one muscle is overactive (the “tight” one), while its counterpart (the muscle opposite) is under active. We can do one of two things here. We can either stretch the tight muscle or we can strengthen the underactive muscle. I go with strengthen always because stretching a muscle without fixing the cause of the tightness does nothing but waste your time. Strengthening your glutes will allow the back half of your leg to accept some of the pressure of daily movement, giving your knees a break. As well, strengthening the back half of your hip will relieve some of the tightness of your hip flexors, actually alleviating lower back pain. Now glutes are not the magic cure to all pain, but making sure they are at least balanced with the front half of your leg will allow for better movement over time.

Since you read this far, and hopefully learned a lot, you get my favorite glute exercises (besides my fave, the squat, but we’ll have a whooole post of squats later)! Try throwing them into your routine!

Glute bridge

Either 3 sets of 10-12 reps or a hold for 30 seconds at the end of Glute day

RDL (hip hinge)

3 sets of 8-12 reps

Split squat

3 sets of 8-10 reps/leg