Monday, 14 March 2016

How much can you lift?

Don't you worry, it's not going to be like one of those childish "my dad has a bigger cock than yours" conversations. There won't even be any bragging here (ok, a little bit, but just a tiny bit). It actually will be about running and importance of weights training in a runner's life.

To get over with it, here comes the bragging part. You can skip it.

Few days ago I've hit my weights targets for this season: 120 kg squat and 130 kg deadlift. It's next to nothing for those big guys you can see occupying your local gym, gut it's pretty good for a skinny runner.
Bragging done.

Now down to business. It's funny - if you've told me 10 years ago that I'd be preaching about weightlifting, I'd be at your home in no time, searching for this awesome stuff you're infusing your moonshine with. And wondering, why the fuck you're not sharing with your friends?
Yet, 10 years passed in a blink of an eye, and here we are: I'm going to write Words on weightlifting, and you're going to read it (you are, aren't you?).

So, without further ado:

1. Good reasons for doing weightlifting. 


1.1. Injury prevention


That is fairly obvious. When your muscles are stronger, there is less impact on your joints and tendons (because your muscles are absorbing most of the energy). Decent weights training + good running technique can make you nearly injury-free (of course, depending on the amount of your running, but if you're not running much more than 100km a week, that can make you almost immune to overuse injuries. Well, you can still sprain your ankle or fall on the pavement).
Anyway, how old are you? Statistically, you're probably in your 20s or 30s. You already love running, and most likely you'll be doing that for the next 20-30-40-50 (or more) years. Do you think you'll be able to do this without strengthening your muscles?

1.2. It will make you faster


Now I can hear you saying "but I'm not a sprinter, why would I lift weights, I don't need that".
You are wrong.
There are two aspects to that. First - getting stronger will improve your max speed. Even if you don't use it too often (or almost never, as most of amateur long distance runners), it still comes in handy when you want to out-sprint that guy you've been fighting with for the better part of your last 10k race. But - what's more important - it will enable you to incorporate faster running into your training. You don't need to do a sprinter's training, but doing at least faster strides from time to time is a must if you want to improve your technique.
And you want to improve your technique, if you want to run faster - it will make you more efficient.
Running fast is also fun, and running is all about fun, isn't it?

1.3. It won't make you slower


Yeah, I know, I've just said that it will make you faster, so why do I need to say it again, just with different words?
Many people think that weights training makes your muscles grow, and - since it targets your fast-twitching fibers - makes you slower over longer distances.
To be honest, I guess there is a bit of truth here - but only if you overdo weights. Certainly you should be very careful with that if you're at elite level. But hey, are you at elite level?
Really, you are? So why the hell are you looking for my advice?! You know much better than me. Close this blog and go for a run or have some sleep, or eat some ugali, or do whatever elite runners do.

Ok, so you're not an elite runner. In that case you can do weights without any (or almost any) harm for your long-distance abilities. Just do it in a clever manner.
Let's get to the next step - how to go about weights.

2. Weight lifting for dummies runners.


2.1. Safety first


If you're new to weightlifting, do not start on your own. Have someone - ideally a personal trainer - show you how to go about it without hurting yourself. It's not a rocket science, but there are many things one can do wrong and hurt himself. Do not lift too heavy weights to start with, do not increase loads too quickly, even if you're clearing your current weights easily. And be prepared to be fairly sore after first few sessions.

2.2. Periodize


Do not do the same thing all the time. The same as with running training, it's good to periodize your weights training. If you're new to that, probably you can do basics for the first year or so, gradually building your strength and ability. But at some point you may want to start periodizing, e.g. focusing more on strength during base-building phase, and more on power closer to the competition phase.
To be honest it's my first season when I'm doing periodization (both in running and weights training), so it's not based on my experience yet, but periodization is pretty well known and basic concept in training.

2.3. Do the right stuff


I strongly recommend getting professional help with that - be it your coach, personal trainer. Someone who knows the stuff and has the right qualifications. Ask for good strength exercises for runners and how to do them properly.
But mostly you'll need to do squats and deadlifts as a base - those are the best exercises to build general strength, targeting large muscles. You can add lunges (I think it's pretty good exercise for runners, it targets glutes, quads and hamstrings), front squats, jumping squats, romanian deadlifts, and so on. But squats and deadlifts is the bread and butter. Oh, and don't bother with the machines. They are easy to use and thus are tempting, but you'll get much better results with free weights. Machines are too isolated, while with free weights you're working on more muscles, your general movement patterns and balance.
At some point you'll need to start doing a bit of upper body exercises as well - you need some general strength to be able to cope with heavier weights. But be careful with that, you don't want to grow big!
Big muscles may look cool, but for a runner they are just a ballast. You need to carry it with you while you run and you need to feed it (therefore having less oxygen and sugar to power your running muscles).

There are also plenty of other exercises that are more running-specific. I may write something on that at some point as well. Tonight it's all about the strength though.

2.4. Do not overdo


I know it may sound very unlikely at first, but you may end up actually enjoying lifting weights. I myself have grown to really enjoy this stuff. So a piece of advice: remember that you're a runner in the first place. Weights should help you with running, not hamper it. Remember you're doing it to improve your running, not to be stronger for the sake of strength.
I think I've overdone it a couple of times, I missed few running sessions because of that (by missed I mean I was too knackered after previous day's weights to do the session properly and get the full benefit. Not to actually miss the session!)
I think that my aerobic endurance at the moment is not as good as it should be - because of weights training. But in my case it is "a part of the plan", and with proper periodization it should be ok in the long run.
My point is that there is no such thing as a free lunch - doing weights will force you to plan your training better and may sometimes impact your running. But if you're sensible about it, it's definitely worth it.

Ok, to summarize it:
  • do weights training
  • have someone qualified to help you with that
  • do not overdo weights
  • run fast from time to time (even if you're training only for ultramarathons)
  • have fun
  • never, ever, hide good moonshine from me

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