Category Archives: muscles

Improvement Season: Strength

When I think about strength training, it splits into two categories: strength for injury prevention and strength for speed development. While I think I did a good job with the former, my form and turnover towards the end of my training cycle suggests that I was less successful at the latter.

What did I do this training cycle? Arms on recovery days, 20 minute legs on workout days and core with the team, which is to say a little more sporadically than desired. Going into Philly, I wasn’t injured but I also didn’t feel particularly strong.

I attribute part of this to the fact that I didn’t rotate routines or up my weights. When I make strength routines for my team, we do them for no more than 6 weeks then change it up so that muscles never have an opportunity to plateau. In the moderate chaos of coaching, training and classes, I didn’t spend enough time trying to diversify my strength routines.

Going forward, my goal is to do a different strength routine every day and to try to incorporate more movement and balance into those exercises. For example, rows from a plank position rather than bent over rows or single leg deadlifts instead of traditional deadlifts. One of my favorite resources for workout ideas is Pinterest. Although it’s not exactly the pinnacle of exercise science and the emphasis on “bikini bodies” or “blast those love handles” is a little nauseating, it does have tons of workouts and exercises from which it’s possible to make some great routines. I’ve spent the last week looking through all my workout pins, writing down exercises that I want to try and piecing together new routines. As I work through them and figure out what ones I love, I’ll be sharing them here.

Where do you get new ideas for strength training? How often do you switch up your routine?

You’re Too (Muscular) (Fat) (Thin) (Tall) (Whatever)

A couple of weeks ago, I was lifting in the gym, headphones on and minding my own business when another gym-goer came over. “You know, if you lift lower weight and higher reps, you’ll be lean without looking so…muscular.” It was not a compliment. For whatever reason, this stranger thought I might need guidance on how to look more appealing to him. I turned bright red and stammered out “thanks?” I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me; I’ve worked insanely hard to have any definition in my arms but in one sentence, he managed to make me feel like some ugly masculine freak. Thanks dude.

Then over the weekend, I came across this story. It breaks my heart that not only did someone make him feel that way and gloat about it, it got spread across the internet. I’m thrilled that some other strangers stepped up to try to mend the situation but also imagine that no matter how many people step up to say “dance on,” he’ll carry that (and whatever other abuse he’s subjected to daily) forever.

As Suzy said upon hearing about my experience at the gym, “What’s with people telling us what they think about our bodies? Did we even ASK THEM?”

Anyone else entirely fed up with the body shaming trend? How do you avoid it? How do you address it when it happens?

20 Minute Leg Workout for Runners

This is my 20 minute, no BS leg workout that can be done at home or at the gym and hits the key muscle groups for building a strong drive train. Start with 8 to 10 reps of each exercise and 2 full sets. As you get stronger, add more reps in with an eventual goal of 20 reps per exercise. This is a little different from “traditional” weight training, where you usually top out around 12 before increasing weight. Endurance sports required a slightly different approach to lifting; because we primarily want muscle strength that helps us out when our bodies are exhausted, lifting for endurance tends to focus more on higher reps and lower weight. There are certainly times for lifting heavier weights (base building season, for example), but for in season strength training, stick to more reps and less weight.

One of the reasons I put videos** here (and WAY less than perfect videos) is to inject some reality into how hard it is to build real, functional strength. I’m not perfect at these exercises, they aren’t easy for me and it’s okay if they aren’t easy for you! #keepingitreal #nophonyrunningblogs

1. Single Leg Squat. It’s okay to hold onto something for balance here (I still do!) but your real focus is controlling your motion down and up and teaching your knee to track in the midline. Only go down as far as you can stay controlled.

2. Plie Squat.

3. Step-ups. Keep these to 10 reps and add an additional set once you feel fluid.

4. Plie Squat Jump. I don’t use weights for this because I like to use my arms to help get an explosive upward movement. Focus on landing lightly; if you are slamming into the ground, you’re missing a key part of the movement.

5. Donkey Kick.

6. Fire Hydrant.

7. Pendulum Squat.

8. Deadlift. You can do this with a straight bar or dumbbells. I usually use a straight bar at the gym, but don’t have one at home so use dumbbells at home. Focus on keeping your back flat (but not artificially straightened) and on driving hip bones up as you stand up.

9. Weighted Squat. If I’m at the gym, I use the Smith rack but at home, I rest the dumbbells on my shoulders for these. If you have a shoulder or rotator cuff injury, I’d recommend just using body weight instead. As with any squat, focus on keeping your knees midline and behind your big toe.

What other at-home exercises do you do? Hardest one of these for you?

**PS sorry the first two are sideways. It is just not my week for technology!

I Walk The Line

I’m quite confident that Johnny Cash wasn’t talking about running when he penned “I Walk the Line” but he nailed it when he sang I’ll admit that I’m a fool for (running). I’m currently walking the line between fitness and foolish with a foot that just doesn’t quite want to get on board with this training cycle.

My general rule for aches and pains is to ask myself three questions:

  1. Have I had this pain before?
  2. Does it get better or worse with running?
  3. Is it changing my form?

With exception of broken bones or some serious injury, if a pain is new, goes away as I warm up and lets me run almost normally (as normally as I run with a post-op foot), I assume it’s volume related discomfort and carry on. Sometimes I’ll do an extra recovery day or tone down a workout but this has worked well for me over the years.

My current “niggle” is giving my injury approach a run for its money, however. When it started, it was just a little soreness across the top of my foot. As I’ve learned to run again after surgery, I’ve had some assorted foot pain as I got back up to mileage and figured out how to carry my foot. Given this, I assumed this too would pass. However, in the last week, the top of my foot has gone from a little uncomfortable to really fucking painful (that’s official doctor speak for 8/10 pain) on occasion, especially after hard efforts. Just when I’ve gotten to a point where I am thinking I need to take a day or two off, I’ll have a totally pain free run. For example, on Saturday, my foot was sore doing an hour of recovery running and I wasn’t hopeful about my Sunday long run. Naturally, I did 18 completely pain free miles on Sunday. Yesterday I could barely walk. Today it’s much better but still a little tender.

I’m pretty confident it’s a touch of tenosynovitis of the extensor tendons, the little guys who help lift your toes. With high arches and some hesitation on my surgery side that leaves me in dorsiflexion a little longer than desired, it’s not surprising that they got inflamed. They seem to be happier when I add an extra recovery day between efforts, tie my shoes loosely, add a little KT tape to help them out and ice after my runs.

I have some unhappy tendons...

I have some unhappy tendons…

Dealing with little injuries like this is always a thin line. As I said to a running partner this morning, if I had any suspicion that this was something more serious, I’d take time off. If I took an off day every time I felt sore or tweaky, however, I’d never get my mileage in. That’s the cruel fate of the distance runner; it’s a rare day when something doesn’t hurt or ache. In our house, the first few minutes of the day are spent creaking around, hanging on to the railing on the stairs while we warm up. I’m sure my neighbors who see me warm up and cool down would be surprised that I can run faster than 10 minute miles.

How do you triage little aches and pains? What’s your niggle of the week?

Week in Review 6.2.14 to 6.8.14

It was a nice adaptation week with a capstone of the Causeway 15K at the end. I had my most successful blogging week ever (so thanks!) and wrote about runners and body image, shared a picture from my very first marathon and did my first giveaway (which is still going through Monday night!)

Monday: PT plus a 7.1 mile run in Colchester with Will. Everyday Abs before bed.

Tuesday: 7 miles plus 4 striders at the end. Feeling a little clunky in the humidity. 300 Abs routine.

Wednesday: Workout! Very deceptive workout that didn’t sound that hard but kicked my butt. Try it if you don’t believe me! 2 sets of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minutes at R pace with whatever you need in between to recovery. My first set was very clunky but my second set really started to feel smooth. Pace was sitting around 5:45 pace so I can’t complain about that! Let myself “run choppy” on the cooldown and felt about 100 times better. 9 miles total with drills before.

Just some goats mowing the lawn at Leddy Park for my workout.

Just some goats mowing the lawn at Leddy Park for my workout.

Thursday: Scheduled off day. Prorated 6.7 miles.

Friday: 3.4 mile shakeout plus 4 striders. Let myself be choppy again and it was just so much better. 7:33 pace for the run and felt a lot more natural than plodding along trying to be relaxed. Did arms at home and the Core Challenge workout.

Tough, especially the last upright plank.

Tough, especially the last upright plank.

Saturday: Causeway 15K in 1:02:39! Great fitness check. 2 mile warmup, 3 mile cool down for 14 miles. Hipcore and glute activation after.

Post race selfie.

Post race selfie.

Sunday: Recovery 8.

Total Miles: 55

1 Lift

3 Core

1 hipcore

This was a solid recovery week. I focused on getting better sleep and making sure I was well fueled and hydrated. Wish I’d gotten to the gym but with the race Saturday and my history of being sore from leg days, I didn’t want to risk it.

The Stunt Puppy Giveaway has brought in some adorable pictures so far; here are two submissions that cracked me up.

Lexa Stunt Puppy

Lexa with all her mama’s hardware on

Fenway on a run with her parents

Fenway on a run with her parents

The Runner’s Body

Normally, I would share this article in my reading round-up but it resonated so deeply with me that I kept coming back to it on runs. Lanni Marchant (@LJM5252) is the current Canadian record holder in the marathon. She’s also a practicing attorney. Marchant gave a recent interview about learning to love her body and appreciate it despite not “looking” like a marathoner. I understand where she’s coming from 100%. As grateful as I am to be part of elite tents, there is nothing that sparks insecurity like standing next to a group of runners who are half your size. It doesn’t take much to convince yourself that if you are bigger, you must also be slower.

Lanni Marchant after setting the Canadian marathon record.

Lanni Marchant after setting the Canadian marathon record.

Body image issues in running start early and run deep. I started running at a time when the “thin is faster” trend was in full swing. We were encouraged to lose weight and restrict food. Teammates were praised for losing weight. I distinctly remember not being allowed to get a snack on the way home from a race if I didn’t PR. I also distinctly remember a coach from a nearby high school telling his athlete “not to worry about Waterman, she’s heavy on the hills.” I carried those words with me with me for years. I hated having to wear our team shorts because I was convinced I was fat. Once in a while when I’m climbing a hill, I still hear his voice.

Heavy on the Hills Waterman, circa 1999

Heavy on the Hills Waterman, circa 1999

Now that I’m responsible for 35 gorgeous, fit high school girls, I cannot imagine ever telling them to lose weight or change their bodies. The body types on our team run from short to tall, from ultra lean to muscled out and you cannot tell by looking at any of them whether they are fast, slow or in between. In many ways, the landscape is shifting on the desired body type for cross country running. Stronger runners are getting the best performances and more importantly, lasting longer than a season or two at the college level. We’re not out of the woods, however, as long as old school coaches continue to push for the classic long distance frame. While coaching last week, Will heard another coach berate his athlete for “letting that ox by her.” I pray that the “ox” didn’t hear his comment.

There are ramifications from this for elite and regular runners alike. I know women who run in pants year round because “they hate their legs” and know extremely fast men who talk about being too fat. I’ve overheard and witnessed shame from people at races who worried that they weren’t the right body type to be running and it crushes me. Regardless of what we look like, if we’re running, we have runner’s bodies. We may not all be sinewy and lean, but we’re all runners.

Week in Review: 3.24 to 3.30

Monday Afternoon: 6.1 miles

Monday Evening: 1 hour aquajog

Tuesday: 3.5 miles easy with strides

Wednesday: 8 mile threshold effort. Went with JoJo on her first tempo, but was happy to find that a faster pace (7:15s) felt good. Encouraging.

Thursday AM: 1 hour aquajog and legs. Added in single leg squats. Still sore typing this.

Thursday PM: 5.4 mile plod. Ready for an off day.

Friday: Off

Saturday: 13.5 miles, easy. In the new shoes. Here’s hoping I’m Cinderella.

Sunday: 3 miles easy and arms.

Total Mileage: 39 miles

Good week. Struggled with shoes and more on that later. Still not getting enough core in but a little better this week. Appetite was really off; no interest in eating Thursday, Friday or Saturday which is not like me. Happy to start getting in something other than a plod, so it’s time to step it up again. Adding in drills this week and yoga on Wednesday to see if I can get my hips to loosen up.


Week in Review 3.10 to 3.16

It was an inspiring weekend of racing, with Shalane Flanagan getting the AR in the 15K, great debuts at the NYC Half and lots of stellar performances at both D1 Indoor Champs and New Balance Indoor Nationals. Makes me want to get back out there and race! Here’s my workout week in review:

Monday AM: 3 mile run on the treadmill. Strength: Legs including step ups.

Monday PM: 45 mile recovery aquajog in the evening.

Tuesday: Off Day (I’m doing 3 days of running, 1 day off) with a walk home.

Wednesday: 3.3 mile run before the snowstorm

Thursday: 20 minute interval workout on the Elliptical. Strength: Upper Body

Friday AM: 60 minute aquajog

Friday PM: 4 mile run with some speed changes. Strength: Core

Saturday AM: 9.7 mile run through the slush and snow.

Saturday PM: 60 minute aquajog. Strength: Back

Sunday: 3 mile run easy.

Reflection: Runs felt good this week and I did a good job of getting in the gym to get my lifting in. Need to be better about core and about second workouts in the coming week. Until I’m back at normal mileage, aiming for either an hour of aquajogging or spin class most days of the week.

That Awkward Moment When…

I’ve had my share of awkward gym moments over the years. Most recently, I’ve work see-through capris (unbeknown to me), fallen trying to get up off the exercise ball (my boot is a decent excuse) and today, realized that I didn’t quite manage to get my sports bra on correctly. 45 minutes into my workout in a white tank top.

As my friend John would say what had happened was I hardly ever wear this sports bra because it’s not good for running. It was a gift from a friend who competes in fitness competitions but definitely more for her sport than mine. Nevertheless, it’s fine for the elliptical and lifting and it was on the top of the pile this morning. It has double straps on the shoulder, definitely more pretty than functional and somehow I didn’t manage to get both double straps on my right side over my shoulder. I also managed to not notice this through my time on the elliptical or the first few exercises. As I started overhead press, however, I realized something was very wrong. A black strap was cutting across my armpit, under my shoulder. Not my best moment. I finished my workout quickly then walked with my arms at my side to get to my coat.

What awkward wardrobe malfunctions have you suffered while running? Do you fix them or just keep going?

Fixing Running Form (or how I’m ridding myself of TRex arms)

Runners with perfect form are rare and perfect form does not necessarily a good runner make. There are plenty of elite runners who have form peculiarities. In recent years, runners like Ritz and most recently Mary Cain have received lots of attention for their attempts to correct form. For Ritz, it doesn’t seem to have borne out enormous benefit and he’s still struggling with injury. With Cain, it’s too soon to see if the tweaks will help. There is an increasing body of work that suggests that perfect form isn’t necessarily something to work towards; the way we run, quirks included, may be most bio-mechanically efficient for us. That being said, there are things that most runners can do to generate more power and run more efficiently.

I have good parts of my form: high stride cadence and a light, mid-foot landing. This explains my relatively low incidence of injury (my two surgeries not-withstanding, but those are from anatomical variance). I have bad parts of my form: my quick cadence means I terminate my stride early and my hamstrings don’t snap my foot back well. And then there are my t-rex/twisty arms that waste a ton of forward movement. Recovery from surgery is the perfect time to focus on my form. Since I can’t run, my choice for exercise is predominantly lifting and I’m taking advantage of that opportunity. My major focus is on building stronger hip flexors, stronger arms and back and improving hamstring flexibility. Read on for a few explanations of why and links to great articles covering common form issues.

What is your form weakness? Have you ever tried to improve your form? Any major improvements in performance?

Knee Drive

“Generating hip drive is also a concern for runners with a very short, quick stride. When these “choppy stride” runners try to accelerate, they often find their speed and ability to change gears during a workout or race is limited by their cadence—since their default gait already uses a very high stride frequency, they can’t increase it any more to speed up! These kinds of runners tend to terminate their stride a bit early, giving the appearance of a quick “lifting” of the foot off the ground instead of a good drive with the knee straight and the ankle plantarflexed. Learning how to increase stride length by generating more power from the hips is a big help if you are a “choppy” runner.”


“Hanging from a bar, draw your feet up to the bar while bending at the waist. Build up to three sets of 10. An easier version is to bring your knees to your elbows. Use a 12-inch diameter band, or double loop a longer one. Place the band under your left foot, and put your right foot in the loop. Pull your right knee up toward your chest 10 times. Repeat 10 times and then do the other leg. In waist- or chest-deep water, perform high knees in place for 30 seconds, recovering for 30 seconds. Repeat 10 times. You will work against the pressure of the water, strengthening your hip flexors without the pounding.”


Arm Swing

“To help the above occur as efficiently as possible, arm swing should be initiated at and through the shoulders. Driving the elbows down as well as back can help avoid elevation of the shoulders, which in itself causes tightness and limits range of motion.

Just as bringing the knee through in swing phase needs to be a passive movement, so does the forward movement of the arm. Driving your arms up and forwards wastes energy and reduces the efficiency of the stretch reflex mechanism in the shoulders. Your hands crossing the midline of the body is a sign that you may be driving the arms forwards instead of backwards, or that you have tightness in the chest.”