Some Older Faster Stronger readers have asked me about my weight-training routine. I don’t have any big secrets other than I DO IT. And when I do it, I get stronger and faster. Need motivation? Studies show we can increase our strength by 40 percent in a 12-week training period and by as much as five percent in a single training day! I stick those figures in my head to spirit me to the gym for my twice-a-week weight and core workouts and to the yoga studio for a vigorous vinyasa once a week.
But this is the other incentive: When I skip these cross-training sessions, my body quickly gets cranky sore and stiff. I can feel repetitive-strain injuries creaking in. I’m not interested in being just runner fit. I want to be overall fit, balanced, flexible and strong. Plus, I get the same kind of endorphin kick from a weight-training session as a hard run. That cuts down on the desire to drink. How awesome is that?
But big disclaimer here. I truly don’t think you can simply follow my plan. Everyone’s body is unique and has different fitness needs. My best advice is to get a personal trainer who knows your body & your sport and have her design a new program for you every 6 weeks to 2 months. You don’t need to see a personal trainer every session — unless you have the cash and need that motivation! Once you learn the principles of training, you can start to change up your own super-fit regime (check out Runner’s World online for ideas).
Remember, you have your own starting place and to push beyond that is to beg for injuries, frustration and, ultimately, defeat. When I started cross training, I could have whipped my bra on backwards to cup the fat on my back. When I ran, there was no daylight between my thighs, and I used to apply Glide liberally before runs to prevent igniting forest fires on trails. Using the resistance of my own body weight was more than enough. Marathon training helped me slim down, but cross training toned me up. Now I add weights to boost my fitness. And weirdly, I have gone from hating the gym to rather liking it.
But please don’t label me a fanatic. I took the summer off the gym and played outside. I don’t live for workouts. I work out to live well.
Still, for what it’s worth, this is my current program:
I jog to a FREE community centre. I’m extremely grateful for this free gym and think every community should have one, as a tax dollar invested in fitness easily saves many more in hospital bills. The gym (attached to a library, how cool is that!!) is a kilometre from my home, so I arrive warmed up.
I start with core work and follow this mantra: I want long strong back muscles so I avoid shortening back muscles with anything that smacks of a forward crunch. I do two sets of the following, working through each exercise once before repeating the set.
40 swimmers – I lie on my stomach and alternate lifting an opposite arm and leg as if swimming. The key is to tighten every muscle in my body and dream about being an Ironman streaming through ocean waves in Kona.
20 Superwomans — Still on my stomach, I stretch out my arms and legs ala the spandexed superhero, tighten every muscle in my body, then lift my chest and legs off the floor, which is one rep. I pass the time by imagining myself soaring through the air, passing Kenyans and Ethiopians at the front of the Boston Marathon.
plank & side plank – I’m up to holding a plank for a minute rather easily so I immediately ease into side planks: One arm holds me up while the other upraised arm swoops down in front of me, 15 times, like, oh-my-god the crowd’s still cheering so I have to take 15 bows! I hate that these side planks are also getting easy because next week, I’ll have to add a light weight while I’m taking my sideways ovations. Must work on attitude.
push ups — I hit 15 yesterday and my ego nearly exploded. I admit I pump these out to try to impress the guys around me. But I really have to slow these down, go lower. So this number is really just show offy. I’ll probably be back to 10 proper ones next week.
leg kicks – I lie on my back, bend at my hips and lift straight legs in the air then kick to the left, then the centre, then the right. I kick as if I’m fending off an attacker. It’s a killer core workout, and yesterday, I hit 20 per set and dropped the entire “Gentlemen’s Club” at the Dalhousie U dental school, along with Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi!
Now I should be heading for the pull-up bar. But no one can make me. I suck at them. My personal trainer, Kirsten Bedard, would tell me to suck it up and just try cause it’s the best all-body exercise, period. Maybe next week, Kirsten. In fact, maybe next summer. About the only fun I ever have doing pull ups is in a park on kids’ playground equipment. What’s super motivating is that me doing them always prompts little kids to try pull ups, except the little brats can always do more than me — and better.
Next up, weights. I alternate three reps of a leg exercise with three reps of an upper body exercise so I am constantly lifting. This keeps my heart rate up and also means I’m out of the gym in 45 minutes. Example: If I’m on the leg-press machine, I’ll take two 5-pound weights with me. When I’m resting my legs from a lift, I’ll do wrist curls.
This is what I do for legs and butt:
squats with weight bar: I’m doing heavier weights for 8 to 10 reps as I want to build butt and and hamstrings to increase my 5K speed. During marathon training, I did lighter weight for 15 reps, which helped with endurance. Somedays, the thought of loading up the weight bar makes me queasy, so I’ll grab a heavy weight and hold it in front of me while I do deep squats and then spring/jump up in the air. What a way to bring a sweat on.
one-leg lunges: I have worked up to holding a 25 pound weight in each hand for 10-12 reps. When I do these, I latch my opposite leg on a bench behind me so I get a good quad stretch and work on balance all at once. Focussing on balance keeps me from focussing on how hard these lifts are.
leg-press machine: I felt pretty damn good about pressing 200 lbs until I read that former US sec of state, 77 yr-old Madeleine Albright, was pressing 450! Well, I have 25 years to catch up to her. To strengthen my calves, I also do toe-presses on the machine — toes pigeoned, then in a V and then middle. I believe this is helping me move from a heel strike to a springy-toed forefoot landing, but I could be just developing a rocking set of calves to show off at the beach.
This is what I do for my upper body:
rowers: I tried to crank it to 25 pounds in each hand yesterday, but couldn’t get beyond 7 so backed off to 20 lbs for the next two sets.
bicep curls: I get a 15 pounder in each hand and alternate 15 aside. Some days, I lift 20-pounders and do 3 sets of 10 reps. If the writing career goes bust, I could sling pitchers of beer for a living. And who knows, I might.
wrist curls: I have pathetically weak wrists, which is making some yoga moves painful, so I’m working on building up my forearms with wrist curls. Goal: To do a downward dog without wrist pain — or twist off my own beer cap when I’m 95.
tricep curls: I really have no use for triceps, save heaving myself out of my desk chair once in a while. But I hate that fold of fat at the back of my arms. I’d rather have a muscle there. So I have worked up from a 15 pound weight to a 30 pound in the last 2 months. But who knows, maybe I’ll pull a Cheryl Strayed and heft on a monster backpack and hike the Pacific West Coast Trail some day.
standing backfly: I am only lifting 10 pounds in each hand on this one, but my back is getting stronger and I love, love, love the feeling of a strong back. I imagine myself at 105, sitting arrow-straight at my desk, cranking out a 50th novel, all because of this exercise. So I love wrapping up on this one.
On the kilometre run home, I keep myself from ducking in for a Jamaican patty by doing plyometrics: butt kicks, high knees, sideways hopping, strides, carioca, hops, lunges. I do these frantic leg moves on a city sidewalk, in daylight, in front of bus shelters packed with people. Folks stare. Small children point. Some snicker.
This work is extremely difficult, but it’s building leg strength and turnover speed, so I plaster a smile on my face and hope people watching me think I’m some super-fit Wonder Woman soaring off to fight extremism & western imperialism & restore peace and balance to the world. And when a not-so-wonderous inner voice tempts me to skip this part of the workout, I remind myself of the 5k personal best I want to crush this spring, and that a five percent improvement in strength multiplied by two workouts a week is a 10 percent faster and stronger self each week! Even if I’m over imagining my improvement a tad….it helps. It really helps.