Big Guns, Some women LOVE them on men, some women love having them…….BUT a large percentage of women just don’t want them.
Today we are shining a light on strength training, specifically for runners. In part 1 of this topic we will outline why strength training is important and sort through the myths and facts.
Now, I admit that over the past 4-5 years I have not done any strength training, in fact I have actively avoided it. I’ve made lots of excuses why I don’t do it, but at the end of the day I just don’t get into that gym junkie life. Standing indoors pushing weights doesn’t do it for, not when I could spend that time out on the trails.
So what changed?
Post baby I noticed the amount of strength I had lost, not just core strength but overall strength, I wanted to do something about that. I also noticed that running my usual “pre-baby” trails seemed just that little bit harder and I was working really hard to keep up with my usual running buddies. I also noticed doing daily activities that required that bit of strength became just that little bit harder.
I got talking to Jane Rundle, she seemed to be winning a few races here on the Gold Coast. I noticed a couple of things about Jane, 1. She had actual muscle definition 2. She was a bit older than me and 3. She is relatively new to trail running/racing, yet was winning.
I asked Jane what she does. Jane went on to tell me that she is a Personal Trainer at Coast to Coast Personal Trainers and she does specific strength training for her running. So I did what everybody is doing these days and I Facebook stalked and googled her. WOW, she is lifting some serious weight. So how can she still run so fast and how is she still so lean.
I went and met with Jane and her husband, Grahame Rundle to get some answers around this. Graeme, who seems to be a guru of strength training, gets straight to the facts and figures:
“After the age of 20 our metabolic rate can decrease by 2% per decade. Decreases in activity as we age not only decreases our metabolism but it contributes to a loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) as we age. The health cost of sarcopenia for Australia is in the region of billions of dollars per year. With loss of mobility, frailty, weak bones (osteoporosis) falls, fractures, diabetes, weight gain and all it’s associated “lifestyle” diseases more needs to be done to reduce sarcopenia’s impact. Whilst running, swimming and other forms of cardiovascular exercise are great for fitness, general health and wellbeing they are not as effective as strength training for slowing this sarcopenic age related losses in muscle mass, preventing it and in many cases reversing it altogether”.
But I still had concerns, “I don’t want huge Schwarzenegger like muscles”.
Is it true that if women lift heavy weights they’ll grow big muscles like a man?
No! Put simply, women don’t have enough male hormones to produce any significant muscle mass. We’ve all seen those pictures of bulky women in bodybuilding magazines, but they are genetically predisposed to becoming big, they train and eat specifically for development of muscle size. Muscle tissue per weight is smaller in area (size) than fat per equivalent weight. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat, therefore it actually enhances fat loss and improves performance.
Okay, so Jane and Graeme had peaked my interest, but it is still not running.
Is running hills equivalent to doing squats, lunges in the gym?
No!! Whilst running hills is an excellent exercise to strengthen muscles specifically for running hills and improving your fitness it has limitations on how much strength can be developed and where that strength is actually developed. Because of the repetitive nature of running hills, it is difficult to correct any muscle imbalances within the working body.
One of the beauties of strength training is that with the utilisation of a different energy system, lower repetitions, heavier loads or more controlled movements promote a more anabolic (growth) hormonal response verses continuous catabolic response (breakdown) that often leads to overtraining and or injury with just running all the time.
I continued to play devil’s advocate here, “Well, I do a regular body weight session at home, I would have thought that was sufficient, it leaves me exhausted”
Are body weight exercises enough?
As a beginner or someone with a poor level of initial strength, bodyweight exercise are an excellent choice for improving your strength. Your current level of strength, your goals and experience etc. will determine where you take your strength training too. The problem with body weight exercises is the limitation of load (weight). Once you have adapted to the weight of your body, trainees tend to just increase the number of repetitions they do. Doing 20-30-40 reps of an exercise and multiple sets is pushing the exercise away from strength and into endurance. You are no longer getting stronger and again because of the repetitive nature of the exercise are now possibly moving into and promoting overtraining.
Still trying to find a reason that strength training is not for me, “I like to run most days and my time is limited so I don’t want to be too sore to run”
Does strength training fatigue you too much?
That depends on a few things e.g. If you are new to strength training, then yes for a few weeks you may feel really fatigued after a solid strength training session. But in a very short period of time your body will adapt and that “heavy legs” feeling will disappear.
The when, or the timing of your weight training within your working/training week that you do the strength session is important as well, you wouldn’t do a heavy strength session the night before a major speed session where you want want to impress. Leave yourself at least 48-72 hours to fully recover. Likewise you wouldn’t do a heavy strength workout the night before an important long run where you’ll need all your energy. I make it clear to anyone that I’m training, the week of an important race, there is no strength training that week, period! That is definitely not the week you want to be cramming a strength session into.
But I like to run most days…
How often should I strength train?
Jane tells me that even one session a week is better than none, but she recommend at least 2 session per week. Leave at least 48-72 hours between sessions and do it earlier in the week, e.g. Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday and later in the day after your morning run or on a day where there is no running.
I trail run because I like being dynamic…
How will you keep this interesting for me and what will be best for my running?
This depends on a number of factors e.g. experience, current level of strength, age, goals to name a few. You may need to build a base of strength first, but in general, exercises that transfer or mimic the running style, hopping, jumping movements, balance, stability, power and range of motion needed to run are all important.
I think everyone would benefit from hiring a strength and conditioning coach, if only to learn how to perform and progress the exercises correctly. Learn and develop the skill of the new exercise, perfect the movement so it enhances your running goals/experience. To get the best for your running stay away from focusing purely on numbers, how many reps, how much weight etc. Also stay away from complex machines promising miracles in minutes and bodybuilding style training e.g. 5 day split routines etc.
Ok, so Jane and Graeme seem to have all the answers, so time to put it to the test. I signed up for weekly strength training with Jane.
Stay tuned as Part II will look at how I have found it, did I notice any benefits, the likes and dislikes of strength training and most importantly am I a better runner for it!