Finding Her Strength: Strong is Beautiful

The Finding Her Strength blog series explores the importance of diversifying your fitness game for three main reasons: to stay injury free, to prevent burnout, and to have fun!

As a running and fitness coach, I recommend adding in some type of cross training activity at least 1-2 times a week.  In the last installment, I explored the benefits of Spinning (indoor cycling).  I hope you gave it a try! Maybe you loved it, maybe you didn’t.  That’s the great thing about fitness – there are SO MANY different ways to move. Keep trying new things, and you will certainly find the right type of movement for you.  Find your fitness. In this installment, I’ll cover the awesome benefits of Strength Training (resistance-based workouts using weights or body weight).

Strength training has helped me develop a deeper sense of self confidence, better posture, and keeps my body strong, durable and injury free for many miles on the roads and trails.  It makes me a more resilient and more efficient runner.  And I feel that when we get stronger physically, we also get stronger mentally and emotionally.  Happy lifting ladies!

What are the benefits of Strength Training? (Won’t I bulk up or gain weight?)

I talk with women all the time that shy away from strength training because they are worried they will gain weight, get bulky, or lose their feminine shape.  Or they feel intimidated about going into a weight room which is a traditionally male dominated space.  Maybe they feel self-conscious or unsure how to properly lift weights.

The essence of the She.is.beautiful mission focuses on how movement makes you FEEL, not necessarily how movement makes you LOOK.  Focusing on how strength training makes you FEEL really resonates with me. It makes me FEEL strong, confident, capable, and healthy.

Let’s talk about the misperception of how lifting weights changes the female body.  Many of us have been conditioned from an early age to think that:

1.) being thin/losing weight should be the end goal

2.) in order to lose weight, we need to do loads and loads of cardio, and

3.) lifting weights will result in weight gain and our bodies getting ‘bigger’ which is ‘bad’.

FALSE! In reality:

1.) being healthy, strong, and happy should be the end goal

2.) lifting weights changes the composition of our body by replacing fat with lean muscle mass (which cardio doesn’t do), and

3.) muscle mass burns more calories at rest so in turn we burn more total fat while getting strong.

More Muscle > More Daily Caloric Burn > Less Fat > Stronger Body

Remember that the number on a scale does not represent who you are nor the composition of your body.  Muscle weighs more than fat, so while you may not lose numbers on a scale when you begin a strength training routine, you are certainly changing the look, feel and function of the body for the better. (Side Note: Body Fat Percentage is a better indicator of fitness than scale weight!) I encourage all women to move past the obsession with thin or a certain number on the scale, and embrace the reality that we can all be strong! I think you’ll also find lifting weights to be an empowering experience, an “I am woman, hear me roar!” kind of thing.

Strength training has many other important benefits to our health and well-being.  Lifting weights develops functional ‘real-world’ strength in the legs, core, upper body and back.  To get the most bang for your buck, opt for integrated movements (using multiple muscle groups at once, i.e. see Squat Press movement below) rather than isolated movements (using only a single muscle group, i.e. a Bicep Curl).  Strength training builds the muscles that provide support to your joints for long term injury prevention.  This is very important for runners and walkers – we want to protect our valued hips, knees and ankles by surrounding them with strong muscles, tendons and bones.  Strength training also helps to offset the aging process by decreasing the loss of bone density and the loss of muscle mass, as well as lowering the risk of osteoporosis.  Plus, lifting weights improves posture which keeps you upright and strong when running and in daily life.

And come on, it’s also nice to be able to open that jar of peanut butter on your own! 🙂

What will I need? (What if I don’t own equipment or have a gym membership?)

Good news! In our current technologically rich world, there are LOTS of online, at-home workouts options available with little to no equipment needed.  I’m personally a big fan of Jillian Michaels.  A simple investment in a few sets of dumbbells, resistance bands or simply your body weight is enough to get started.  Just be sure if you are opting for at-home workouts, that you already have a fundamental understanding of proper form and technique for basic strength training movements.  If you have not been taught by a fitness professional how to move correctly, I would recommend meeting with a personal trainer for a few sessions, or to drop into a class at your local gym to learn basic mechanics.

What are your favorite Strength Training workouts? (Won’t I get bored?)

One of my favorite ways to lift weights is by taking part in a Body Pump class.  Body Pump is a trademarked Les Mills group fitness program.  The 60-minute class works all of your major muscle groups through a high repetition/low weight workout structure using a barbell, plate weights and body weight.   The workout is set to powerful music, and is guided by an instructor. You will master primary movements such as squats, lunges and deadlifts while also learning exercises for your chest, back, triceps, biceps, shoulders and abs.

If I’m in a time crunch or can’t make it to a class, I like to use apps such as a Tabata timer to create a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout. You choose the strength training exercise, and perform it for a prescribed interval of time (typically 20-30 sec) followed by a period of rest (10-15 sec) for a set number of rounds (6-8 rounds).  This is a fun and fast way to get a strength workout in anywhere – no equipment required.  Check out the exercise suggestions and a 20 Minute Workout below!

My 5 Must Do Strength Moves:

  1. Squat Press: This exercise integrates your lower body (glutes, hamstrings and quads) and upper body (shoulders), and develops power.
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    A. Start by lowering your body into a squat position. Push your hips back and sit your butt down so that your knees track in line with your toes and your weight is concentrated in the heels of your feet. Hold a weighted ball or a dumbbell in your hands.
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    B. From a lowered squat position, drive up through your heels into a standing position and press the weighted ball or dumbbell over your head.

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    C. Optional Advancement – Add intensity to the movement by pushing up from the squat into a jump while driving the weight over your head.
  2. Pushups: Pushups are superb for arm, chest and core strength.
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    A. Start in a plank position on your toes (or knees) with your arms wide outside of your shoulders. Brace your core, keep your neck long, and your eyes forward of your hands.
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    B. Lower your body in a straight line, keeping your core braced and stopping your chest at elbow height. Push back up to plank position driving through the heels of your hands and activating your chest and shoulders.

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    C. Optional Modification: Complete the movement on your knees.
  3. Plyometric Lunges: Jump lunges develop explosive power for running. I suggest you start with backward stepping lunges and build to jumping slowly over the course of 4 -6 weeks.
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    A. Stand with your feet hip width distance apart. Step a long step back with one leg. Lower the legs down until your front thigh and back shin are parallel to the ground.
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    B. From a 90-degree lowered position, drive back up to standing by pushing through the front foot to engage the glutes. Keep your back straight, your chest upright and your core braced.

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    C. Optional Advancement – Add intensity to the movement by jumping to switch legs.
  4. CoreRussian Twists: This exercise targets the oblique muscles of the core.
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    A. From a seated position, lift your feet with bent knees off the ground and brace your core. Rotate your core from side to side while holding a weighted ball or dumbbell in your hands.
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    B. Twist from side to side while keeping the abs braced to protect the lower back.

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    C. Optional Modification – Place your feet on the ground for more support.
  5. Single-Leg Agility Moves – Ice Skaters and Single Leg Hops: These exercises develop single leg strength, balance, coordination and agility. Think fast feet on your next trail run!
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    A. Ice Skaters – Lower the body into a loaded ‘speed skater’ position. Jump or step laterally from side to side landing in a ‘speed skater’ position. Be sure that the knee tracks in line with the toe.

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B. Single Leg Hops – Lower the body into a loaded single leg squat position. Jump or step laterally from side to side landing in a single leg squat position. Be sure that the knee tracks in line with the toe.

Sample 20 Minute Workout:

  • Begin with 5 minutes of easy warmup dynamic movements (i.e. march or jog in place, jumping jacks, arm swings).
  • Interval 1: Perform 20 seconds of Squat Presses at a hard/very hard effort level. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Interval 2: Perform 20 seconds of Pushups at a hard/very hard effort level. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Interval 3: Perform 20 seconds of Lunges (Backward Stepping or Jumping) at a hard/very hard effort level. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Interval 4: Perform 20 seconds of Russian Twists at a hard/very hard effort level. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Interval 5: Perform 20 seconds of Ice Skaters or Single Leg Hops at a hard/very hard effort level. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times.
  • Finish with 5 minutes of easy cooldown movements (i.e. march in place, spinal twists, shoulder rolls).

 

My 5 Strength Training Must Haves:

  1. A set of 10-12 pound dumbbells
  2. Tabata timer app on my phone
  3. 2-3 Body Pump classes weekly
  4. She.is.beautiful More Love muscle tank
  5. A great lifting playlist with plentiful gangster rap

 

Here’s your call to action – try mixing things up once a week for the next 30 days!  Pick a non-running activity and commit to it at least once a week for a month.  I suggest you give Strength Training a try.  But stay tuned … in my next installment of Finding Her Strength, I’ll explore the lovely world of Yoga.  Until next time, find your strong. Strong is beautiful.

 

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By: Katie Gott, Group Fitness Instructor and Running Coach, Community Coordinator for She.is.beautiful

 

 

 

 

 

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