Posts Tagged by The Core

December Challenge: HOTR Abs

This summer, before marathon training took over all my workouts, I was {trying to} strength train regularly. It got to the point where I was consistently lifting at least 2 times every week. I know this may not seem like much at all to people who train with weights as their main form of working out, but it was a huge improvement for this runner. And after just a few months, I realized that doing some sort of core strengthening workout 2 – 3 times a week was enough to make a difference – a difference visible enough to keep me motivated.

HTC leg1

….for a little while, at least. Sometime before Hood to Coast, I sort of lost my thunder. When it’s so much simpler (and preferable!) to just go out for a run, it’s easy to start skipping the weights more and more frequently. As marathon training continued, it only got worse. By the time I ran MCM, strength training had become a distant memory yet again.

I’ve never been great about sticking to my routine during the entire marathon training cycle. The increased mileage and need for my legs to be fresh for workouts make it easy to give it up a few months in. But since I’m now technically in the off season, I no longer have any excuse not to strength train several times per week (the fact that I don’t really love doing it doesn’t count).

Since my mileage has now gone way (way) down, I’ve been dragging my butt to the gym several times per week to focus on cross training and strengthening my core. I know that continuing to focus on building up other muscles (and not just my quads that appear to do all the work when I’m runing) will make me a better runner in the end. But since I’ve already admitted that the vanity reasons are more motivating than the running improvement reasons, I can also say that I figured December –  a month typically filled with too many cookies and cocktails – is the perfect time to focus on toning up instead of filling out.

Plus – after a year of training, I was in major need of a new non-running related challenge to keep me motivated.

So with that in mind, I have instituted the December “HOTR Abs*” Challenge. So far I am the only participant and the prizes are nonexistent, but I figure if I formally challenge myself, I’m more likely to stick with it. Right??

*yes, that play on words was intended. And no, I don’t  really think that highly of myself.

HOTR Abs Challenge

To stay motivated to lift regularly this month, and get into the habit now so that I can sustain it during marathon training, I am challenging myself to 2 – 3 days of strength training/core workouts per week. What follows is my routine.

[But before I proceedplease remember that I am not a personal trainer. Just a runner whose naturally curvy body needs regular strength training to keep it {somewhat} reigned in.]

The workout below is the one that I have found works best for me. I’ve tried other routines, but have always come back to this because:

  1. I can get it done quickly (30 minutes or less is all the time I want to devote to strength training)
  2. The quick movements get my heart rate up while I’m lifting, so I feel like I’m getting more of a workout
  3. Results are fast. And I mean fast. I’ve only been back into lifting for a few weeks and can already notice a difference. I haven’t yet found another routine that seems to do the job so well.

1.) The Core

Yes, I’ve been touting the benefits of this workout since I started the blog. I have a love/hate relationship with it, but I can’t deny that it works. So at least two days per week before running or doing any sort of cardio, I’m going to do “The Corewith a couple of modifications (yeah I know those pictures of me in my parents’ basement aren’t the best. But hopefully you get the idea).

  1. I no longer do the stiff-legged deadlifts. I have issues with my lower back and found that this exercise was only exasperating them.
  2. I use lighter weights for the initial “pre-core” warm up exercises and focus on keeping my arms straight for each one. This works out my back and shoulders much better.
  3. I do one armed dumbbell swings on each side after the HOTR-Dad dubbed “Here Comes the Bride” move (which is really just a dumbell swing with two hands). Apparently you can also do these with kettle bells, but since I’m not trained on them I stick to the old school hand weights.

dbell-swing.jpg(Source)

2.) Super-Powered Ab Moves

The Core is good because it focuses on movements that work multiple muscles at once (legs, arms, shoulders, core) but I also like to do a couple of exercises that focus just on my abdominal muscles. So at least two days per week, after The Core, I’m going to add on these two additional moves:

a.) Standing side bend (with dumbbells). Similar to the exercise described here, but I do it with one weight and just focus on one side at a time.

 

side-bend-dumbbells.jpg(Source)

 b.) Dumbbell Pullovers. This one never fails to leave my abs screaming. I do them lying sideways on the bench, as demonstrated here. To make it a little easier, you can also lie lengthwise on the bench, letting your head hang off.

Dumbbell-Pullover.jpg

Disclaimer: My abs do not look like this

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Some people have asked why I lift before I run. Although lifting first makes running more difficult, I find it’s really the only way to make sure I do it. If I go through The Core first, I look at it as my primary workout instead of something that I’m just trying to squeeze in after a run. That way if I’m tired and need to cut back on something, it’s the cardio that gets cut, not the weights.

3.) Pilates or Yoga

One day a week, my goal is to get in some sort of cross training that focuses on building strength through increasing flexibilitiy and lengthening my muscles. I’m pretty tight normally, so when I throw weight training into the mix it gets even worse. I know once per week isn’t a lot of time spent doing these activities, but it’s better than nothing. Plus, I’m hoping that if I make it a habit now, I’ll actually stick with it during marathon training this winter. But we’ll see…

My sucess with this super official challenge is only going to be determined by how well I stick with it. I haven’t taken any sort of pre-measurements to track my progress. I suppose that would’ve been interesting to know, but for now, we’re just going to go with how my clothes fit. And as long as my decreased running and increased cookie intake doesn’t lead to holiday weight gain, I think we can dub the HOTR Abs challenge as a success.

 

Marathon Fitness vs. Total Fitness

Fact: you don’t have to be in excellent shape to run a marathon.

Now before you go thinking I’m crazy for saying something so counter-intuitive, let me explain. To train for a marathon, the only thing you really have to do is run. You start off running a little, and gradually over time, you build up enough endurance and strength to continue running for hours on end. Is this hard? Yes. Do you need to be strong to do it? Absolutely. But do you need to be in great all-around shape? Not really.

In case you haven’t noticed, running a lot isn’t automatically going to give you a strong core or great flexibility. When you run, you are essentially practicing the same movements over and over. Ultimately, this is going to make you really good at those movements, and it will help your body become very efficient at keeping you moving for long periods of time. What it doesn’t do, however, is work every single muscle, leaving you strong and toned all over.

In an ideal world, runners should supplement their running with other activities – like cross training and weight lifting. Not only will these things make you in better all-around shape, but they will also make you a stronger runner.

The problem is, similar to the training for any endurance event, the actual running part of training takes a lot of time. And for most of us, running isn’t actually our full time job (sadly enough). There’s only so much you can fit into any given day. So unless you’re willing to cut back on the running or add to your total time working out, it’s really easy to let the non-running parts of training slide.

Clearly, this is the only reason why Kara and I both run marathons, yet I do not look like this: (okay, fine… so there might be just a little more to it than that…)

eliterunners.jpgThis woman just gave birth and has better abs than I do

Other forms of exercise aren’t the only things to go when you’re marathon training. For me, when my miles go up, my other movement goes down. Way down. Sure, I may run for a couple of hours one day a week, but in the days leading up to it, I’m resting to conserve energy. And then for a day and a half after my run, I’m resting to recover. Anyone who has never trained for a marathon before might be surprised at how much resting is actually involved.

Not only that, but it’s easy to let fruit and veggie consumption go down too, as peanut butter and carb consumption go up. Meals become planned around runs, and it’s a lot easier to snack on pretzels before a run than an apple.

Add to that the decreased activity level that occurs during a taper, and then resting after a marathon to recover (but yet an appetite that still seems convinced I need to stock up on calories!), and by the end of the full cycle, I’m left feeling a bit like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

go-run-scale.jpg

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Don’t get me wrong. I love training for marathons. I love the discipline, the challenge, and the opportunity to push my body harder and further than I had ever thought possible. There is something incredibly rewarding and addicting about this test of endurance, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean I think that marathon training is the path to a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle. And honestly, I like having time between marathons to build up my fitness base – and get back into better all-around shape.

I always go into a training cycle with the best intentions. I plan to cross train regularly, lift often, and take Yoga classes to increase my flexibility. But a month or so into training, the same thing inevitably happens. I get busy, and my motivation to do anything that makes me more tired on my runs goes out the window.

Now that my spring marathon is done, I’m fighting the urge to just run, and taking steps to incorporate other forms of exercise into my life. For the next couple of months, I want to focus more on:

  • Lifting - my goal is to do this workout twice a week
  • Yoga – I need to break the mentality that if my heart rate isn’t up, I’m not really working out. I know Yoga is good for my inflexible-injury prone self
  • Classes – my comfort zone is running, not group exercise classes. But I need to break out of that comfort zone, and start trying new things like spinning (do you hear that Becky??)
  • (and if I’m feeling particularly ambitious) Other forms of exercise like cycling and swimming - one of these days, I will actually get around to training for a triathlon.

I will still be running and racing  (I have another race coming up next weekend), but that’s not going to be my primary focus. I’m going to try really hard to restore some sort of fitness-related balance to my life, so that by the time I start ramping my mileage back up in July, I’ll be in really good shape. And who knows – maybe this time around, I’ll actually stick with it.

Thoughts? Agree/disagree? Does being a marathon runner automatically mean that you’re in great shape? And is it really the best approach to a balanced, healthy lifestyle?

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 ;)

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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.

Shape Up Summer Challenge: Officially Unofficial Rules

It’s June and you know what that means: The Shape Up Summer Challenge has officially begun!!

Now the point of this little challenge is just to give you (and myself) a little extra motivation to include some strength training into your weekly routine, specifically by trying The Core. Obviously this does not require that you love the workout or want to do it for the rest of your life. Instead, the challenge is meant to be fun and to encourage you to try something new!

DSC_0433

Because it’s all for fun, the rules for this thing are going to be simple. Basically, the SUSC will run for 2 months, which will hopefully give you plenty of time to try the workout whenever it fits best into your training schedule. There are two ways to participate:

Basic Challenge

  1. Try the workout 2 times over the course of 1 week.
  2. Let me know you did so by leaving a comment on The Core page. Include any thoughts and feedback you might have. Whether you hated it, loved it, thought it was just okay – I want to know! Also tell me your favorite (or least favorite move).
  3. For an extra point, send me a picture of you doing your favorite move. I can feature the pictures on the new challenge page (soon to be created) of the blog.
  4. Everyone who does so will be entered into a drawing to win a $25 gift certificate to either Road Runner Sports (my favorite online web store) or your coffee shop of choice: Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. It’s up to you!

(Yes, I know…it’s not much, but this challenge is being funded by Yours Truly. Plus, you get the added prize of learning a new, amazing workout and getting a super-toned core. Honestly, what more could you want? ;) )

Bonus Challenge

  • Those of you who do the workout regularly* for at least 1 month will be eligible to win a super special prize (TBD – but it’ll be something great, I promise). Two bonus entries for this if you participate for the entire 2-month challenge.
  • To enter this drawing, email me at Lauren {at] healthontherun [dot] net (or via the Contact Form on this site), letting me know how long you’ve been doing the workout regularly, and of course sharing any feedback you have. I will enter all your names into a spreadsheet and randomly choose a winner.
  • Individuals who choose to participate in this part of the challenge are also eligible for the Basic Prize (just leave a comment after 1 week to be entered).

*Regularly = 2 – 3 times, most weeks for one month (meaning, if you get busy and can only do it once during a certain week, don’t sweat it!)

You have until July 31, 2010 at midnight (EST) to participate. The drawings will be held on August 1st.

Like I said, this is meant to be FUN! Especially since there’s absolutely no way to validate whether or not you did the workout (though I really hope you do give it a shot). So hit the gym (or your basement) and get sweating!

And of course, if you like the workout or are excited about the challenge, I’d love it if you told your friends, neighbors, co-workers, family, etc (and if you hate it….please pass it along to your enemies ;)).

National Running Day

running_day_main_logoIn other news, today is National Running Day! According to the organizers, the aim for this day is to “promote running as a healthy, easy, and accessible form of exercise.”

I believe that [most] anybody can be a runner. Obviously there are certain physical impairments, injuries etc that can make it unsafe or unwise for some individuals to run. But for the rest of you — it really doesn’t take much to get started. All you need is a good pair of shoes and the motivation to put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t matter how fast you run or how far you go. The point is to just get out there and get moving. Enjoy nature, explore your city or, if you’re too nervous to run outside, try the treadmill. Not only is running a great form of exercise, but it can also be a stress reliever – a time to think and an opportunity to really process anything that’s on your mind.

For anyone who is new to running, try not to let it overwhelm you. That first step is the hardest. But start off easy and slow. Aim for a mile, and mix up your running with walking. Don’t worry about your time or whether people are watching you. Just enjoy pushing your body and seeing what you can do!

Here are some great resources to get you started:

And of course, please feel free to ask me any questions you might have. I certainly can’t claim to know all the answers, but I have been running for over a decade now, both as a competitive and as a recreational runner. I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to work as an Assistant Coach for my college XC team, so I’ve seen running from all sides. Hopefully there might be something in my experience that can help some of you.

Happy Running!

“What distinguishes those of us at the starting line from those of us on the couch is that we learn through running to take what the day gives us, what our body will allow us, and what our will can tolerate.”
~John Bingham, running writer and speaker

Are you planning on running today (or have you already)?

When Cardio Meets Strength Training

Free_Weights Strength training is an important part of any balanced exercise routine. Building and toning muscle helps you better control your weight (your metabolism increases as you build more muscle), build stronger bones, increase your overall endurance, reduce your risk of injury, be more efficient in your workouts, and even sleep better – not to mention the physical effects it can have on your body and the boosted self-confidence that goes along with it.

But even though I know strength training is good for me, I will still pick cardio over weights 99.9% of the time. This is mostly due to the simple fact that I’d much rather go for a run outside than travel to the gym.

My hatred for lifting began back in high school, when my cross country and track coaches would make us spend time in the smelly, football-player infested weight room, claiming that doing leg exercises would make us stronger runners. Being a 16-year-old who clearly knew just about everything, I proclaimed this a load of crap – my legs were already tired from running…why should I lift with them too??

Then I entered college, and realized maybe I wasn’t quite as smart as I had previously thought, and that just maybe my coaches were actually onto something when they claimed that regular lifting would make me a stronger, faster, more efficient runner. But although I gained a new appreciation for how strong it made me feel (and look!), I never really loved it. I found myself spending hours in the gym, trying to balance cardio with doing endless inane repetitions on a million different machines. It’s no surprise that I soon came to resent lifting just as much as I had before.

But then, The Core Was Born

Fortunately, my Mother swooped in to save me from a lifetime of lifting boredom. Shortly before winter break during my second year of grad school, she called me up to excitedly tell me about this new eBook on abs she was reading, and how it made her change the way she looked at strength training. No more static, isolated movements done on silly gym machines. Instead, she was taking up free weights, in a routine that combined cardio and weight training. And the best news yet: it only took 20 – 30 minutes!

The only catch? It was the hardest lifting routine she’d ever done (and that’s saying something – my Mother is my fitness inspiration!)

This quick, high intensity workout was actually put together by my Mom, and utilizes squats to not only get your heart pumping, but also to work out multiple muscle groups at one time. Because, although I’m no expert, I do know that our muscles don’t move in isolation. And that when you only do one-joint exercises at a time, you aren’t burning all that many calories, and could even put yourself at risk for injury – or muscle instability.

DSC_0438This is what I look like when I try to pretend that my grimace is actually a smile

On the other hand, this workout gets your heart rate up right from the start, and keeps it there through a series of dynamic movements that work every part of your core – your abs, back, butt, and hips. These  muscles are important for stability and posture – and a strong core can do wonders for your running.

Shape Up Summer Challenge

I try to incorporate this core workout into my exercise regimen as often as possible. But as I mentioned earlier, from time to time I still have a problem with letting lifting fall by the wayside. So, it’s time to re-commit myself to regular weight lifting.

I have hereby declared it to be “Shape Up Summer.The Challenge: to do The Core at least 2x per week for the next two months.

Want to join me? If so, visit the new Core Workout page I’ve created that lists the 7 different exercises, along with some wonderful pictures of yours truly modeling the moves. If you’re a cardio-addict like myself, you will not be disappointed with this workout. I promise that it’ll make you sweat. In fact, when I’m pressed for time, I sometimes do this as my only workout for the day.

I also promise that it’ll make you sore. To be honest, if you haven’t done this type of lifting before, it’s going to make you so sore for a couple days that you’re probably going to curse my name whenever you’re walking down stairs. Last week was my first time doing it in many months, and I will honestly admit that I hurt everywhere the following day – my stomach, my legs, my back. (Though this may have been partially due to the fact that I think I was a bit too overly ambitious with the weights.) I took the next day off completely (besides waddling around) and then forced myself to do it again two days later. That second workout was much more painful than the first. But — the good news is that the following day, my legs had been stretched out and I started feeling better. I’m now in my second week and while it still hurts, it’s starting to be more satisfying than excruciating.

I’m not telling you this to scare you. I’m telling you this to (hopefully) convince you that this is simultaneously the best and worst weightlifting workout you’ll ever do. It’s quick, extremely efficient and will make you stronger by building lean muscle (and give you rock-hard abs just in time for swimsuit season!).

So…have I convinced you to try it yet?? Seriously, if you’re looking to mix up your current lifting routine, or need some motivation to pick up the weights and want to join my Shape Up Summer Challenge, let me know! If people are actually interested, I can come up with some sort of fabulous prize for those of you who stick with it for the full two months.

Ready to see the moves? If so, click here.