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My Exercise Blunder (i.e. how not to start lifting)

If you’ve been following my blog for a little while, you may remember how I suddenly got super excited about lifting over the summer.  I even hosted a widely successful crazy challenge to try to get others excited about it too.

For 2.5 months, I did The Core twice a week without fail. And then…marathon training picked up. I slowly started getting a little less regimented with my lifting routine. Some weeks I still managed to do it twice; other weeks, only once.  Finally I dropped lifting altogether. The Core was making me too tired to get in the miles I needed, so instead of adjusting and trying another strength training workout (which had been the original plan), I simply stopped doing it. At the time, I can’t say I was sad to see lifting go.

The honest truth is that I love strength training — in theory. The Core especially is an awesome workout that really helps me feel stronger all over. When I was doing it regularly, I was fit and toned — so much so that I felt like I was in great shape, despite the fact that I was running much less. But while I love what regular lifting can do for my body…I just don’t love doing it. So in late summer when my mileage started increasing, I was all too happy to focus solely on running.

But regular strength training is really good for you. Now that the marathon is over, I’m determined to get back on the wagon. One of my short-term goals is to start doing this regularly, and then hopefully keep up some sort of core work even after I start running more. Sounds like a reasonable goal, right?

Where I Went Wrong

For better or for worse, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. When I put my mind to something, I’m going to be all in. This is why even when I say that I’m just going to relax and have fun running a marathon, in reality I can’t help but race it.

I applied that same mentality on Tuesday night to strength training. After 2 full weeks of relative inactivity, I was itching to move, and excited about getting in a hard workout. I got to the gym, laced up my shoes, and marched straight over to the free weights. For the next 30 minutes, I proceeded to go through the entire core workout, with weights that were very similar to the ones I was using a few months ago. You know, back in the days when I actually did things besides run.

This is pretty much what I looked like ;)

(Source)

And the thing is, the workout didn’t really feel all that bad. Yes, it was hard. I had to really push to get through the entire thing. But besides leaving me exhausted and with legs that felt like jelly, I didn’t feel any negative effects from this (if I had been in pain at all, I would have stopped).

To loosen up my legs, I followed it up with a relatively hard 4 mile run, and went home feeling tired and happy.

The next morning I woke up and was shocked to discover that I could not move my legs without a significant amount of pain. This wasn’t your normal post-lifting soreness — this was post-marathon ‘my legs feel torn up’ bad. I winced and slowly got out of bed, feeling the effects of about 5 million squats. From there it just got worse. The second day, I could barely walk without pain, and stairs became my worst enemy.

Now a little bit of soreness/pain after a new type of exercise is normal. This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (or DOMS) and can peak 24 – 72 hours after the exercise. Why does it happen? Research suggests that the pain is caused from microscopic tears in your muscle fibers that occur after eccentric contractions — or movements where your muscles forcefully contract while they lengthen…such as lifting. These tears can also lead to swelling in the muscle, which results in soreness (source).

While some pain is normal, I could tell that I over-did it. I’m not lifting to win a strength training competition. I’m lifting to enhance my running. But if my lifting workout is so tough that I’m not able to run at all, we’ve got a problem. It took two full days of just easy walking before I could get back to doing some sort of cardio. And even then, my legs were still too sore to run, so I cross-trained instead.

How You Can Prevent It

As I try to get back into lifting shape, I can’t expect to avoid DOMS altogether. I simply don’t have the strength that I used to. It’s going to take some work to build back up, and I expect some soreness. But there are some things that I should have done (and that you can do) to at least lessen the pain:

  1. Warm up first. Research has found that a short warm-up right before doing the new exercise can help reduce soreness (interestingly, a cool-down does not). Not surprisingly, I did not do this.
  2. Start gradually. When you’re doing a new type of training for the first time (or after a long break), don’t just jump right in. Whether it’s hill running or strength training, you’ve got to build up slowly. So instead of doing the full core workout with high weights, I could have reduced the amount of weight I was using and done more reps; or simply done fewer sets.
  3. If you’re feeling up to it, repeat the same type of movements that made you sore in the first place. Although it’s the last thing you’ll probably feel like doing, research (and personal experience) does show that repeating the movement within 1 to 6 weeks can actually help make it hurt less (though if you do it a few days later, it’ll hurt when you first start!).
  4. Try active recovery. If you aren’t able to do the intense routine that got you in trouble in the first place, try lightly cross training instead. Going for walks or using a cross-trainer at the gym both can help get the blood flowing and ease the pain.
  5. Just rest. When you do dumb things like jump back into an intense full-body lifting workout 2 weeks after a marathon, sometimes the only option is to just rest and let your legs recover. The pain does go away…eventually.

So here I am on Day 4. My legs are still sore, but at least that “I can’t walk” feeling has subsided. I plan on testing them out in a few minutes by going for a run.

As far as strength training goes, I’m still determined to get back into it. I know that it can really help my running, if I do it correctly. But I won’t try again until next week. And this time, I’ll be smart about it. I think I’ve learned my lesson.

Sources:

  1. Syzmanski DJ. Recommendations for the Avoidance of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
  2. Law RW, Herbert RD. Warm-up reduces delayed onset muscle soreness but cool-down does not: a randomised controlled trial.
  3. Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L. Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors.

11 Responses to My Exercise Blunder (i.e. how not to start lifting)

  1. I have to say that when I took even just a few weeks of from The Core and got back into it, I didn’t feel great in the beginning. I’ve never lifted much in general, but there is something about that combo that really works my entire body. I hope the second go around is more successful, and that the run went well. There is a reason I started calling it The Sore… :)

  2. Back in the summer, I had big strength training goals for myself. I thought I would strength train on my non-running days and it would all go so smoothly. I did it…for about three weeks! Then September hit – peak mileage, Reach the Beach, back to school – I had every excuse in the book. Since I don’t love strength training, its always the first thing I skip. It’s amazing that I will get up at 5 to have time to run, but I won’t strength train even on days when I have all the time in the world.

    Since the marathon, I’ve gotten back to Pilates and yoga. You may have given me the motivation I need to get back to the weights. The goal is twice/week. Hope you had a great afternoon run fueled by pizza!
    Becky´s last post ..Week to Weekend

  3. I feel you, I tried the Core in the midst of Half Marathon training and thought was about to die. Or be crippled, at least.
    Lately I’ve been having some knee issues and the first thing the physio told me was: strength training, go lift some. Ugh.

  4. Oh, I so needed this post. Now that my big running goals are over for the year I want to reduce my running to 4 days to add in strength training. I understand what you mean about liking it in theory. I always have good intentions, but never get as committed as I do with my running.
    Bekah @ runtrackmind´s last post ..Leaves Of Fun

  5. Aww, poor you. Don’t you hate how being over-ambitious can get the best of you? At least you took time to reflect and learned your lesson :)

    I am just so impressed that you got in some strength training. I love it in theory, but I hate it so much in practice that I completely avoid it. But I am slowly making yoga more of a regular hobby. I know that helps my strength, but isn’t a complete replacement for lifting.
    Jen´s last post ..To race or not You decide

  6. I just clicked on your Core link and it looks like a pretty intense workout so I can see how you would be pretty sore the next day! I’ve been trying to incorporate strength into my routine for a while now, but I never feel like I’m “doing” enough when I do try. Definitely going to try out your workout…it looks awesome!

  7. It’s actually amazing how lifting can help running (as long as it’s not *too* much and hinders it, like you said). I started lifting more seriously about 6 months ago and laid off on the cardio..but lately switched and added more cardio, less weights. When I started more cardio, I could run SO much further and longer than I could before ever lifting weights! It’s incredible.

  8. Aww, well there is something to learning things the hard way. You know your limits. I have the same “all or nothing” spirit and it’s hard for me to not keep pushing. I had a whole week where I could hardly put my hair in a ponytail. That will teach you patience:)
    Nichole´s last post ..The Tale of Two Tigers

  9. The Break Your PR plan over at http://www.marathondominator.com is the best marathon training program I’ve yet seen. You should check it out. Good luck!

  10. hope the soreness subsides soon! i fall into the same pitfalls as well, trying to pick up right where i left off. it seems that its just as easy to do this with running as with strength training. while we may not have slid all the way back to zero, we need to be realistic about where we are and what our bodies can handle when we’ve taken a break from one activity or another.

    great post!
    the dawn´s last post ..the week’s end- 21 weeks to go

  11. Rather than a crazy workout would it not be wise to consider purchasing your own home gym and use a plan suited to yourself. Obviously this could be modified as you progress.
    Roy Montgomery´s last post ..BOWFLEX BLAZE REVIEW

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