The other day, Josey posted about her postpartum determination to finish the Couch to 5K program. She asked me in her post about how I chose my lifting/workout routine that helped strengthen my knees before my half marathon.
I told her that I’d get a post up if I got my shit together that day. Clearly, I did not do so. Fail on my part.
But since I’ve been meaning to post about the whole fitness thing anyway, I figured now was as good a time as any. Thanks, Jos, for the motivation.
I haven’t actually written anything about running in a couple months, and back then I was incredibly gung-ho about the race series I had just signed up for. Let’s recap. I ran the 10 mile race on Christmas Eve. I kind of died for a couple weeks with the sickness nonsense. I got back into the gym two weeks ago. Running has all but disappeared from my workout plan. I skipped the 20k race (spent the entire day on my couch), and this past Saturday I was supposed to run a half marathon. Yeah, I lifted early in the morning then went to the Lake and got pretty damn schnuckered instead. I make good life choices. I have been back to lifting though, and lately I’ve been lifting REALLY HARD, just because that’s my way of stress release, of mentally working through things that clog up my brain. I’ve been sore for the last two weeks, because every day I lift, I push harder and harder.
As the Frostbite Series draws to a close (a 15k on Feb 4 that I still haven’t decided if I’m doing, since I don’t know if I could physically handle 9.3 miles in less than 2 weeks), I am realizing just how close the next half marathon is (April 15, for those keeping track).
Back when I signed up for the first one, and again this time, I am putting lifting at the top of my priority list for making it through. I absolutely attribute my ability to finish that race to the strength training I’ve been doing. That aspect of training started as just a fun class to take, but ended up being the key to my success. I recognize that one, I’m not an expert, and two, not everyone has the options available to them that I do, but I feel like there are definitely some items I could contribute.
The particular lifts that have helped me more than just about anything have been the squats and lunges that I do. Josey, this could be something you could do even while you’re holding little Miss Stella, since holding her could be considered adding weight to your lifts, even if it is only 10lbs or so. I’ve found that squats, either weighted (small handweights or a bebe in both hands) or just utilizing one’s body weight, have been helpful when it comes to hamstring and quad strength, and lunges, both stationary and moving, help the glutes and calves.
With squats, it is important to make sure that at the low end of the exercise your knees don’t shift further forward than the ends of your toes. As we’re told regularly, it’s like hovering over a public toilet at the bottom of it. Thighs end up at a slight angle above the knee, or just parallel to the ground, making sure to not go lower than that, with your butt pushed back. I prefer to use a wider stance with my toes turned just slightly outward, keeping my body weight centered, but that’s something everyone can adjust based on their comfort level. At the low end of a squat, weight should be in the heels. If it is, a person should be able to wiggle their toes when they’re at the bottom of the squat. I’ve found that it’s incredibly useful to change tempos during squats so as to take the momentum out of the lift. That disrupts muscle memory and forces the parts of the muscle not normally used to adjust and grow.
It helps me to lift to music, as I can use it as a way to count the timing of my squats. Down for two counts, up for two counts. Down for three counts, up quickly on one. Down for four, up for four. Down for one, hold for one, up for two. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, stay in a low squat and only come half way up for three counts, resetting to a standing position on the fourth. It’s all about comfort level, though. A person’s body will tell them when they physically cannot do something anymore, and surprisingly enough, that cutoff is actually further past what one’s mind will tell them they can’t do.
When it comes to lunges, moving lunges are simple enough. Start at one end of the room, take a large step forward, and lunge down to where your front leg is parallel with the ground. Push up with the front leg and step forward with the back. Repeat all the way across the room, and back if feeling adventurous. The purpose of a lunge is to work the front leg, not the back, and it’s important to keep the heel of the back leg off the ground. Standing lunges can be done with the same mindset as squats, weighted or unweighted, and utilizing the same tempo adjustments.
Though both of these sound absolutely basic, and some of you are probably going “duh, Ann, we’re not fucking stupid,” it’s amazing what kind of an impact they can have. They can be the difference between finishing a half marathon versus having to quit half way through training because of joint issues.
The one final thing that had a huge (and surprising) impact to my running was my core strengthening. Every single class that I take at the gym has an ab portion to it, and building that core strength not only has built my muscles so I stand up straighter (remember the strutting post? Yeah, this had a lot to do with it), but it also helped build my endurance throughout my training. It is very easy to google or Youtube ab workouts, and even just three sets of 12 full situps after a running workout will help more than doing nothing.
It’s important to remember that running is not based on just leg strength. It’s an exercise that requires muscles all over your body. The stronger all those muscles are, the easier running will be. Along with that is one’s own comfort level. I push myself incredibly hard in certain workouts because I like being sore after, feeling like I’ve actually done something. A lot of that pushing is a mental battle however, and the change of a person’s mindset is a lot different than changing a physical habit.
Wanting to change something is not always the same as committing to changing that thing and then following through with it.
I love running and working out. I love the feeling that I get from that adrenaline rush. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from being able to look back at something and go “look how much I’ve improved.” I’ve especially come to love that the most basic moves have had the most visible impact on how I look and feel and what I’ve become physically capable of doing. I’m by no means a fitness guru, but I’ve become pretty damn comfortable with what I know, what I can contribute.
I love helping people reach their goals, too. I’ve promised my mom that when she gets to the point in her own Couch to 5k journey of actually running the race that I’ll travel up to her and run it as well. I want to be able to do this for everyone, but I think it would be just as much help to offer that support. I’m willing to do that. If you’re new around here and want a helping hand, let me know. I’ll help anyone in any way I can. That I promise.