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, 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, Other, Progress

Say Goodbye to Slouching

Hey, you! Yeah, you right there. Are you sitting on the couch or at your desk, or maybe even laying in bed, right now, digital device in front of you, shoulders slouching? I bet you are. Because of how sedentary our lives are now, with driving and sitting for work, our posture doesn’t need to work nearly as hard. Whether you try to prevent it or not, a mainly sedentary lifestyle (I’m guilty of slouching on the couch too, don’t worry) causes our muscles to develop some strange imbalances. The main muscular imbalance I see (besides those pesky glutes, read more about that one here) is an overactive upper back and chest, with no other muscle helping to oppose it. This causes that round in your shoulders, and that slouching that I’m sure you’re trying to break yourself of.

Of course, you can try and maintain a “shoulders back, chest up” posture 24/7, but that’s actually harder than you think. Especially when it is from muscles pulling your body into this position, just practicing good posture isn’t enough. We need to get to the root of the problem, which is the overactive and tight muscles. So what do we do for tight muscles? We try to lengthen the tissue that is tight, while also strengthening those muscles that aren’t doing so hot at holding your body in the right place. Lengthening tissue, such as with stretching and foam rolling, is only a temporary fix, not lending itself to any long term results unless the stretches are done daily. This, as well as many other aspects of fitness, benefits greatly from consistency over anything else. To help with upper back tightness, and those dreaded rounded shoulders, we need to stretch both the trapezius muscle (your upper back) and your chest and front of shoulder muscles. This will allow for your shoulders to have enough leeway to gravitate back down, instead of being elevated, and also allows for the shoulders to be able to roll back into their place.

The next step in correcting your upper back tightness is to strengthen some muscles. We are definitely staying away from any exercise that activates the trapezius or chest muscles. The first muscle we need to activate is your serratus. This is the muscle that holds your shoulder blades down flush against the rib cage. With the serratus strengthened sufficiently, you don’t need to worry about your shoulders rounding forward, as you have a strong muscle holding them back and against your body. The serratus is also essential to efficient overhead pressing (and healthy shoulders). Serratus exercises involve gaining control over the motion of your scapula, and they are very different from the normal exercises I show you (and awkward and hard at first, but please just do your best and stick with it. They get easier!) The one thing to remember is to perform these exercises with your shoulder blades as down and back as you possibly can!

(Each exercise is a progression on the first)

Exercise 1: locked shoulder blade rocking (20 reps)

Exercise 2: Scap Pushup (8-10 Reps) Squeeze shoulder blades together for a second and then spread shoulder blades apart as far as possible.

Exercise 3: Scap Pushup to Downward Dog (8 Reps) Don’t let Shoulder blades rise in the downward dog!

As well, the mid back muscles, such as the rhomboids, are muscles that will actively oppose the shoulders migrating upwards and forwards. The rear delts are the last muscle we want to strengthen to oppose the sedentary lifestyle. Rear delts directly oppose the forces of the front of your shoulder, helping to keep them upright, rather than rounding. Keeping these exercises between hypertrophy ranges and endurance ranges for workouts will help to build the muscle strength and size, as well as allow them to get used to working and holding for long periods of time.

Exercise 1: Face Pulls (12-15 Reps)

Exercise 2: Reverse Pec Dec (12-15 reps)

Exercise 3: Chest Supported Rear Delt Fly (10-15 Reps)

All rear delt exercises should be performed with shoulders down, and the motion lead by the elbows.

Exercise 4: Barbell Bent Over Row (6-10 Reps)

Exercise 5: Chest Supported Row (6-10 Reps)

Keep Shoulders down and back, and squeeze shoulder blades together to get rhomboids activated!

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, Progress

Spooky Shoulders

There’s a muscle in your upper body, one that assists with almost every movement your upper body makes, but is overall very weak unless focused on. What muscle is this? This magic, widely underactive muscle is your deltoid muscle! Also known as your shoulders, your delts are responsible for a multiple of movements, and assist in almost every movement. (It’s also October so we should talk about pumpkin shaped muscles, right?) Not only is strengthening your delts essential to proper (and pain free!) movement, but strong shoulders also give an illusion of toned and athletic arms, no matter the degree they actually are. That bump at the top of your upper arm sets you up for more shapely arms than just working arms, while also increasing your overall strength and stability.

Anatomy:

Your shoulders are actually composed of three different sections of the deltoid muscle, each performing different actions.

Anterior Deltoid: This is the front portion of your shoulder, attaching at the clavicle (collarbone) and inserting into the mid-upper portion of your humerus bone. The anterior deltoid is in charge of flexing your shoulder (or moving your arm forward, in front of your body), and, with the help of the pecs and lats, shoulder adduction (pulling the humerus towards your body). The anterior delt also assists in almost every chest movement, as it is the closest part of the shoulder to the pec muscles. Movements that target the anterior deltoids include front raises, overhead press, upright row, and chest flys.

Medial Deltoid: This is the middle portion of your shoulder, originating at the acromium process (where your shoulder joint is) and inserting into that same mid-upper portion of the humerus. The medial deltoid is in charge of shoulder abduction (pulling the humerus away from the body). Movements that work the medial delt include those that involve the humerus moving away from the body, such as lateral raises and upright rows.

Rear Deltoid: This is the back portion of your shoulder, originating at the spine of the scapula (top of the shoulder blade) and inserting in, you guessed it, that same mid-upper portion of the humerus. The rear delt is mainly in charge of extending your shoulder, or bringing your arm back away from the body. The rear delt is the most underexercised portion of the shoulder, which leads to upper back muscular imbalances. Having weak rear delts, and stronger front and mid delts, will lead to rounded forward shoulders, with a tight chest and anterior delt. Strong rear delts help with proper posture, and help to counteract the common tightness that accompanies a mostly sedentary lifestyle. This can lead to upper back pain, along with shoulder and neck pain. Exercises that work the rear delt include rear delt flys, face pulls, and wide grip rows.

Exercises

Your shoulders can be easily worked, either in their own workout day or mixed in with other push muscles, such as chest and triceps. Below are two sample workouts, one push focused and one shoulder focused. Your delts respond easily to volume and intensity, and grow best with a mixture of heavy compound movements, as well as isolation movements with higher volume (3-4 sets, 10-15 reps).

Shoulder focused:

A1: Overhead Press 4 Sets, 6-8 Reps

B1: Incline Press 4 Sets, 8 Reps

C1: Upright Row 4 Sets, 10-12 Reps

C2: Lateral Raises 4 Sets, 10-12 Reps

D1: Face Pulls 4 Sets, 12-15 Reps

D2: Single Arm Overhead Press 4 Sets, 10 Reps/arm

Push:

Warm Up: 10 minutes cardio, 1 set incline pushups, 1 set light overhead press

A1: Dumbbell Chest Press 4 Sets, 6-8 Reps

B1: Overhead Shoulder Press 4 Sets, 8-10 reps

C1: Incline Chest Press 4 sets, 8-10 reps

C2: Lateral DB Raises 4 Sets, 10-12 reps

D1: Upright Row 4 Sets, 10 reps

D2: Face Pulls 4 Sets, 12-15 reps

Exercise

Upper Body 101

I’m sure your legs are nice and sore from working on and perfecting the lower body fundamental movements, so it’s time to move on to upper body. Instead of just two movements, there are actually four movements we need to focus on here to balance out the upper body.

The first movement we’ll tackle is our “horizontal push”.

This includes exercises like pushups, bench press, chest press (machine or free weight or on floor as shown above), and involves the pec (chest) muscles, as well as help from the front of the shoulder and the triceps (back of the arm). Many men tend to overwork these muscles, as they like the look of a well developed chest, while women tend to avoid these muscles. Neither is correct, however, we need a balance. The chest muscles need to be worked at least for muscular balance, if not muscle growth. Balancing chest strength with all other muscles allows for efficient movement, as well as an overall balanced physical appearance. A few tips for an effective chest press: make sure you sit up nice and tall, with shoulders down and back. As well, don’t let your elbows bow out, they should lead away from your body at a 45 degree angle, not 90. Last tip (well the tip for all exercises really), keep the core tight!

The next upper body movement is the opposite of the first, it’s a “horizontal pull”.

The pull exercises include rows (such as the bent over row shown above) and variations and use your mid back muscles mainly, with help from your biceps (front of arm). Making sure that we do pull exercises with good form ensures that we effectively oppose all those push muscles, allowing for that balance. The more balanced we are, the more efficiently our body is going to move, with less risk of injury. As well, pull muscles can help to combat the slouching that we all do all day. To perform an effective pull, lets sit up nice and tall, bringing our shoulders down and back to properly activate the back muscles. As well, core tight and do the movement with purpose, making sure to use the actual back muscles and not momentum or the rest of your body.

Getting away from the horizontal movements, we’re heading towards the verticals. The next movement is a “vertical push”.

This includes overhead press (dumbbell as shown above, barbell, or machine) and mainly enlists the shoulder, especially the anterior and lateral (front and side) of the muscle, with help from the triceps. The vertical push is one of the hardest movements to do properly, as having a tight upper back and chest, as is common with sitting all day, prevents us from doing the movement correctly. A proper overhead press involves pressing the weight directly overhead, not in front of the head, with shoulders down and back still. The core being tight is especially important in standing overhead press, as we want to protect our back and do our best to prevent injury.

Our last movement (i know it feels like we’ve been talking movements forever now but bear with me, you’re almost through it) is our vertical pull.

This includes exercises such as the lat pulldown (as shown above) and pull ups, and utilizes the lats mainly, with help from the biceps. The lats are the big back muscles that run up and down your back and contribute to the width of your back. Lat Pulldowns are the exercise I see done incorrectly the most often in the gym. For the lat pulldown to effectively hit your lats, and not the upper back (which is already always tight), we need to start by leaning back slightly and rolling our shoulders down and back (are you seeing a pattern yet?). As well, we need to focus on our elbows heading straight towards the floor, with the bar stopping right in between your chest and collarbone. Your lats, and the related muscles, are your main warriors in good posture (aka shoulders down and back) so it’s vital that we train these muscles effectively.

And now that we have the basic basics down, we can get into the really fun stuff soon.