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.
Why wait until illness forces a team of medical professionals to heal you? Why wait for disease to force you to take the time to get better? Why not commit to getting as strong and healthy as you can now, so that you enjoy your body and revitalized health?
Wow, that’s a lot of questions and challenges. And now for the reality.
When I set out on my super-fit journey at age 50, I knew one thing: I could not do it alone. I did not know how to pull it off. So I sought help — coaches, running club, friends and support. In short, I surrounded myself with a wellness team to help me get on the path to better fitness.
For the journey of my book, Older Faster Stronger, I focussed on turning back the clock on aging, to recapture the fitness and energy of my 20s. This is what I asked myself: Why enter the second half of my life in an aging decrepit vehicle when I could train myself into a younger zippier sports car? While my project was almost entirely physical — run a fast marathon, lose weight, kick the social smoking habit, eat better, get stronger and faster — I also wanted to get happier. I wanted to haul myself out of a mid-life malaise and charge into the second act of my life with the wisdom of my years but the piss and vigor of my twenties.
I am proof that it’s possible. I’m also proof that there’s no end goal to this challenge. Though we can achieve goals along the way, we can’t ever achieve super fitness then set it on the mantle like some trophy collecting dust. Super fitness entails a continual striving to improve wellness, in every way.
I can report that training has become a happy habit. I actually look forward to runs, pumping weight, doing yoga and moving my body in a myriad of ways. I’m tweeking my training in 2015 to give myself more of what I love because doing what I love is the key to adherence.
I enjoy shorter harder runs, so I’m focussing on 5 and 10K events this year. I love being over-all fit, not just runner fit, so I’m taking more time to lift weights, do yoga and other sports because, hey, I want to have fun with my younger fitter body! One of the biggest surprises of my super-fit year was discovering just how much I enjoy competing so I’m entering many more races; focussing on shorter ones allows me to do that.
Do I have it all together? Not by a long shot. Finishing Older, Faster, Stronger was hard because my favorite place to be in the world is INSIDE A BOOK, writing, researching, meeting people and trying to wrestle all that into something readers might enjoy. Writing a book is a hugely challenging but satisfying and even comforting place to be. Frankly, I miss being inside Older Faster Stronger.
So what’s next? I’m continuing to live the journey by speaking to running groups, book clubs, university groups and companies. If you would like me to speak to your group, just scoot up to the contact button and drop me an email.
As for my next big writing project, I’m test driving a number of ideas to try to figure out that next big step. This is not easy work. There is so much I want to do. Many days it involves enough questioning to drive me batty. I get mired in the questions. But, being on the super-fit journey means striving to improve all the areas of our lives — family, career, relationships. Which is when I recalled one of my favorite quotes in OFS, from sports psychologist Peter Jensen. He told me, “When you’re ready for the lesson, the teacher will appear.” I said, hell, I turned to a running coach to help me run a marathon. Maybe I need a life coach to help me sort through these career questions! The very next day, a partner of an old friend friend called me up, asking for a signed copy of Older Faster Stronger for a Christmas gift. She told me that she had changed careers, become a life coach. So the super-fit journey continues……
I may be hugely biased, here, but I had a blast speaking to Kari Gormley of The Running Lifestyle. She’s a great interviewer, really funny (we had a mock fight over who’s Kathrine Switzer’s bf) & is infinitely curious about running so asks fantastic questions. She speaks to a wide range of guests about running culture, training, racing, & eating. Subscribe to her show and listen to her podcasts while on a run. And why not start with this one:
If you have a fav running podcaster, hit the contact button and flip me an email to let me know. When I’m not running with pals at my club, I love running with podcasters yakking into my earbuds about interesting stuff.
Sylvia Ruegger achieved her dream, running in the first-ever women’s marathon in 1984, then had her chance at a medal in 1988 snatched away from her. Rather than lamenting what might have been, she focuses on the person that running has made her. Here, the national director of Start2Finish, a running & reading program for underprivileged kids, talks about how training and setting big goals makes women courageous, gutsy and mentally strong in this fifth & final installment of the virtual video launch of Older Faster Stronger. To watch all the videos in the series, click here. The launch of OFS was also a fundraiser for Start2Finish, where I am proud to volunteer as a running and reading coach. If you missed the launch & would like to contribute money or your volunteer time as a coach, please visit their website.
The world’s fastest 60+ woman, Karla Del Grande, talks about the benefits of training for speed and setting big BIG goals. This is the fourth installation of the virtual video tour of Older Faster Stronger. Click here to see the first three videos. If you like them, share them!
Here’s the third installation of the virtual video launch of Older Faster Stronger, featuring professor of health psychology Catherine Sabiston on how to muster motivation to start training and keep training. Listen to her thoughts on intrinsic motivation, catching the social contagion and more! To see all three videos, in order, click here.
Here’s the second installation of the virtual video launch of Older Faster Stronger, featuring nutritionist Kirsten Bedard on eating for performance. She overhauled my eating style and set me on the path to gaining muscle, getting leaner and setting personal bests at every race distance I attempted in my super-fit year. Here is what she has to say!
Check here over the next week for the video virtual launch (and you can make it viral!) of Older Faster Stronger. A fantastic panel of women discuss — guess what — How Running Makes Us Stronger Faster Younger & Powerful!
First up, video highlights of the launch at Hart House, University of Toronto with a packed room of runners and readers. The room was abuzz with energy! Thank you all for coming out. And thank you for sharing links to this great discussion.
Over the next week, I’ll post the following:
- Kirsten Bedard on eating for performance (Dec 4)
- Professor Catherine Sabiston on running for brain health (Dec 5)
- Karla Del Grande on how she became the fastest 60-year-old woman on the planet (Dec 8)
- Olympic marathon great Silvia Ruegger on how running makes us powerful, gutsy, courageous! (Dec 9)
Hope you enjoy these inspiring women talk about all the ways running makes us strong.
She orders tickets for you! These tickets are the best seats (Section GA1 and Row GA4) and she’s charging straight cost of tickets, simply eager to ease the load on her credit card.
This is what’s available:
Tickets for Tuesday July 21- 10:00-12:45pm preliminary session $75.00 X4
Women: 100 Metre Round 1 Races; 5,000 Metre Final Race & Medal Ceremony; 400 Metre Hurdles Semifinal Races; Javelin Final & Medal Ceremony
Men: 100 Metre Round 1 Races; Long Jump Qualifying; Pole Vault Final & Medal Ceremony
Tickets for Tuesday July 21- 6:00-8:50pm medal session $145.00 X4
Women: 800 Metre Semifinal Races; 100 Meter Hurdles Semifinal & Final Races; Hammer Throw Final & Medal; Ceremony Triple Jump Final & Medal Ceremony
Men: 10,000 Metre Final Race; 3,000 Metre Steeplechase Final Race & Medal Ceremony; Shot Put Final & Medal Ceremony
Tickets for Wednesday July 22- 10:00-12:45pm preliminary session $75.00X4
Women: 400 Metre Semifinal Races; 100 Metre Hurdles Medal Ceremony; High Jump Final & Medal Ceremony
Men: 400 Metre Semifinal Races; 800 Metre Semifinals Races; 10,000 Metre Race Medal Ceremony; 400 Metre Hurdles Semifinal RacesDecathlon; 100 Metre Race, Long Jump & Shot Put
Tickets for Thursday July 23- 10:00-1:30pm preliminary session $75.00X4
Women:100 Metre Race Medal Ceremony; 200 Metre Round 1 Races; Long Jump Qualifying
Men: 100 Metre Race Medal Ceremony; 200 Metre Round 1 Races; 1,500 Metre Semifinal Races; Hammer Throw Medal Ceremony; Decathlon 110 Metre Hurdles Race, Discus & Pole Vault
Tickets for Thursday July 23- 5:45-9:00pm medal session $145.00X4
Women: 200 Metre Semifinal Races; 400 Metre Final Race; 10,000 Metre Final Race & Medal Ceremony; Pole Vault Final & Medal Ceremony
Men: 200 Metre Semifinal Races; 400 Metre Final Race; 800 Metre Final Race & Medal Ceremony; 400 Metre Hurdles Final & Medal Ceremony; Discus Final & Medal Ceremony; Decathlon Javelin & 1500 Metre Race
Tickets for Friday July 24- 10:00-1:20pm preliminary session $75.00X4
Women: 1500 Metre Semifinal Races; 400 Metre Race Medal Ceremony; 4×400 Metre Semifinal Races; Discus Final & Medal Ceremony; Heptathlon; 100 Metre Hurdles & High Jump
Men: 400 Metre Race Medal Ceremony; 110 Metre Hurdles Semifinal & Final Races; 4x400m Semifinal Races; Triple Jump Final & Medal Ceremony; Decathlon Medal Ceremony
Tickets for Friday July 24- 5:30-8:40pm medal session $125.00X4
Women: 200 Metre Final & Medal Ceremony; 3,000 Metre Steeplechase Final; 4×100 Meter Semifinal Races; Long Jump Final; Heptathlon Shot Put & 200 Metre Race
Men: 200 Metre Final & Medal Ceremony; 1,500 Metre Final & Medal Ceremony; 110 Metre Hurdles Medal Ceremony; 4×100 Metre Semifinal Races; Javelin Final & Medal Ceremony
If interested in purchasing any of these tickets please contact my running pal, Lily Wong firstname.lastname@example.org
The only I have is a) Lily is awesome b) these events are taking place in Toronto and c) Lily has saved you time and effort of playing the Pan Am Games ticket lottery!
Best-selling author Sarah Waters (six books, more than a million sold) is a champion walker. She takes breaks from writing her door-stopping, historical literary page turners by exploring corners of London, England. “London is a great town for walking,” she told me during a recent video interview when the author was in Toronto to promote her latest novel, The Paying Guests. Nothing better than walking, she says, to spur on creativity.
After our interview was over, I thanked her with a copy of my running book, Older Faster Stronger. She stared at it for a moment (gasp, was she thinking I’m a shameless self promoter?) then told me that she used to be a runner. “Maybe I’ll get back to it,” she said.
Okay, I will not take credit if Sarah Waters picks up her walking pace a little. Oh, stuff that. Of course I will!
If you’re a super fan, check out the full, uncut, unabbreviated, blisters and all interview.