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Myths and Truths: Strength Training for Runners

The way to get better at running is to run.

This is a sentiment that many runners subscribe to.  While there is truth to the need to run to become a better runner, cross training and strength training can improve your running without the high impact.  Let’s be real for a moment, running is extremely hard on the body, so anything you can do to keep your body injury free WHILE improving your running without further impact on the body is a win-win.

A well-designed strength program will supplement your run training by adding strength and durability.  This means you will get faster, stronger, and less likely to incur an injury.

Here are a few common myths and truths about strength training as part of a runners training program:

 

Myth: You only need to do strength exercises when you’re injured to fix the injury.

Truth: As a general rule, runners exist in a vicious cycle of chronic injury. The cycle begins with an injury. The runner might then see a physiotherapist or other professional, do their prescribed rehab exercises, then jump right back into the program that injured them while letting the exercises fall to the wayside because the injury is “fixed.”

Injury occurs when the external load exceeds the load bearing capacity of the tissues. Put simply, if your joints, tissues and muscles are not strong enough to perform the tasks you’re asking of them, an injury is inevitable. When an injury occurs, it is because the tissues can’t handle the training load. When an injury is rehabbed fully and properly, it means that the tissues have been restored back to their normal functioning capacity – equal to pre-injury capacity, or ideally even higher. If you do not rehab fully, and jump back into the same running program with tissues that have lower load bearing capacity than they did before, it is no wonder that the injury reoccurs.

Strength training will increase the load bearing capacity of your muscles and tissues in a way that running can’t. This translates to being able to handle a higher training load, with a reduced chance of injury. Strength training will allow you to run more!

 

Myth:  Strength training will make you big and bulky.

Truth: Strength training will add lean muscle mass. Trust me, as someone who actively tries to gain visible muscle, I would love to be able to run everyday and also have the physique of Hugh Jackman in Wolverine. The reality is that this isn’t what happens when you lift weights unless you train very hard and very specifically.

In distance running, the goal is to get from the start to the finish as fast as possible. For many, weights equal muscles, which equal more mass to carry, and this translates to slower times. There is some truth to the idea that the heavier you are, the slower you will be; however, a gain in lean muscle mass is not the same as a gain in adipose or fatty tissue. Adipose tissue is useless weight that you have to carry, while muscle tissue can help do the work. Think of strength training as adding hands to help do the work.

 

Myth: Strength training takes away from your run training.

Truth: A proper strength routine should add to your run training, not take away from it. Your program should be designed to prepare you for your sport. Running is about efficiency, so a training program designed to strengthen hip extension, arm drive, and rotational core, will make you more efficient in your sport. If you find yourself doing a program that includes biceps curls, ditch it. Favour a program that includes functional movement (i.e., exercises that will carry over into your running ability) over isolated exercises.

You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get strength benefits. It can mean as little as 30-40 mins 2-3 times per week. Your time in the gym should also shift as your running program shifts, meaning less time doing strength work during the high volume weeks and as you get closer to competition. Strength training is your side dish, while running is your entrée. Neither is complete on its own!

 

Kristen Hansen, BA, CSEP-CPT, PFT-NAIT, NASM-CES, FRCms

New Year, Same You?

Now that we’re a month deep into 2018, there’s a good chance one or more of your planned resolutions for the year have already bombed. Harsh, I know, but statistics for 2017 showed that only 58.4% of people had maintained their resolutions after the first month of the year and that percentage dropped another 13.6% past 6 months. Why is that? Well, there are a few plausible explanations.

Right from the get go, a New Year sets us up to set unrealistic goals. For many people, the month of December stands out as a time we are thrown off our usual routines. Holiday parties, festive dinners, additional time off of work separate December from the other 11 months.  Although the holidays aren’t a relaxing and recuperating time for everyone, the change of pace usually leaves us craving some sort of structure come time the last holiday event finishes. This desire for structure is liberating for many, especially coming from a place of exhaustion and burn-out after the past year of consistent hard work devoted to our jobs, families, and lives in general. The holidays oftentimes serve as a gas tank fill for our mental, emotional, and physical energy tanks left drained from the past year of, well, living on earth. So how does that set us up for failure? Well, this recharged state leads us to feeling on top of the world come January 1st (or maybe January 2nd, once the hangovers have subsided from your New Year’s Eve festivities). So, when you sit down to map out your goals for the coming year, you’re very likely to overshoot what you’re truly capable of and forget about all of the day-to-day stresses that are going to block you from achieving your shiny New Year goals.

So, let me ask you: Are your goals for 2018 realistic? Let me help you figure that out.

Imagine a week in 2017 where several things didn’t go as you planned. Maybe you got stuck in traffic for hours, you had to stay late at work, you forgot your lunch at home, your child played hockey 3 times per week, your basement flooded, your household got attacked by this year’s flu strain…..on, and on, and on!   With all of these events piling up on you, do you truly think you’d make it to the gym seven times for a 2-hour workout and manage to find a reasonable replacement for the healthy prepped meal you left at home? Chances are, your mind will tell you there’s no point in going to the gym because you don’t have the originally planned 2 hours in your day to dedicate to training after having to re-do the project your computer lost, and you’ll end up stress eating three donuts from the staff room because you got hungry and were too distracted to navigate your way to a healthier alternative. If that sounds like a familiar event to you, don’t worry – we’ve all been there.

So, during our time of lofty goal setting and 2018 resolution lists, we must remember: life happens. We all have things that throw us off course. It may sound totally achievable to get in 7 killer workouts and delight in your healthy meal prepped dishes every day when you’re glowing from the extra time off work and delicious holiday treats, but realize you aren’t always going to be living the post-holiday high. Sure, it’s great to aim high and have great expectations for yourself. However, a week where you’re blown completely off track is likely to damage your self-efficacy and confidence and, ultimately, derail your big plans.

So, next time you sit down to map out the steps you are going to take towards your goals, make sure you can check off those steps more often than you can’t. On weeks where you’re feeling on top of the world, do more! On weeks where life is a little more hectic, at least you have those small, achievable steps and habits you can still take towards the bigger picture.

 

Reference

Statistic Brain. (January 1, 2017). New Years Resolution Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/.

 

 

SVPT Trainer, Kelly Gifford

Myths of Cardio

Are you ready to have all of your cardio questions answered? To have all the controversy solved once and for all? Get answers from experienced fitness professionals who learn and teach this stuff for a living? Well, just keep reading! Ready? Here we go:

Q: Does cardio mean jogging on a treadmill or going on an elliptical for a really long time?
A: No.

Q: Is cardio the same as Crossfit?
A: No.

Q: Do I have to become a runner to do cardio?
A: No.

Q: Is it a rule that I have to do cardio to lose fat?
A: No. 

Q: Will doing cardio make me lose all my GAINZ?
A: No.

Q: Is cardio all I need to do to be healthy and fit?
A: No.

Q: If I’m female, is cardio all I should be doing?
A: No.

Q: Does walking to the fridge between Netflix episodes count as cardio?
A: No. 

Q: Do I HAVE to do cardio?
A: No.

 

Controversy solved! Wasn’t that great?? So glad we had this talk.

Joking aside, what we hope becomes apparent from reading this list of common myths is that there is no clear definition of what the word “cardio” actually means. Lack of a commonly agreed-upon definition for a particular term makes the situation ripe for misunderstanding and controversy. This goes for everything, not just fitness-related stuff. Words matter! What do we actually mean when we use certain words and phrases, such as “cardio”?  Before we can answer questions about cardio, we need to define it so we know what we are actually talking about.

A Google search of “what is cardio?” garners over 8 million results. Some of the definitions that pop up include:

“Cardiovascular exercise.” Wow, that’s helpful.

“Endurance exercises that strengthen the heart and blood vessels.” More specific, but is that all there is to it?

“Any exercise that raises your heart rate.” By this definition, our whole Netflix and walking to the fridge thing would qualify as cardio after all.

“Cardio is the most common form of weight loss exercise.” Debatable, and that doesn’t actually define what cardio means.

As you can see, there isn’t really a clear definition here. So we have come up with our own definition. You don’t have to agree with it – it’s just a working definition that we have created to hopefully help clear up some of the myths surrounding cardio.

Our definition of cardio is any method of training that improves the body’s ability to produce sufficient energy to accomplish a particular task.

In order to be able to produce the energy needed to accomplish any activity, the body has to be able to:

·      take in sufficient amounts of oxygen (strong breathing muscles, efficient breathing mechanics)

·      transport that oxygen into the bloodstream (quick delivery of oxygen from lungs to blood vessels)

·      move the blood to the working muscles as fast as possible (strong heart)

·      take up that oxygen into the muscles as efficiently as possible (fast oxygen transfer from capillaries into muscle cells)

·      utilize that oxygen within the muscle as efficiently as possible (efficient inside-cell chemical processes)

As you can see, there’s a little more to it than just getting the ol’ heart rate up!

Now, to bring all of this back to a more practical level, what activities could we use to improve the body’s ability to produce energy at all of those different levels? 

Could we use running? Yes.

Could we use strength training? Absolutely.

Could we use cycling, swimming, pushing a super heavy sled, going for a hike, or doing high intensity intervals? Sure.

 

The key factor here is not necessarily the method of exercise used, but the intent of the training, the stimulus being sent to the body, and the resulting adaptation that we see as a result.

 Are the adaptations from running going to be the same as those from strength training? No, because they are two different stimuli to the body, and will produce a different response. However, could you use specific running methods to improve the body’s ability to take in oxygen? And use specific strength training methods to improve the body’s ability to utilize oxygen within muscle cells? Most definitely.

The key takeaway is that both of these activities can improve the body’s ability to produce energy to accomplish a task. It simply comes down to application – how they are being used. Thus, according to our definition, they are both being used as “cardio”.

Moral of the story: any activity that makes your body better at producing the energy needed for the task you want to do – whether that be running a marathon, playing recreational sports, or playing with your kids – is “cardio”. What form that “cardio” takes simply depends on what your individual body most needs to accomplish the tasks you most want to do. 

Don’t get us wrong, cardio is not bad! Doing only cardio at the expense of strength training, or taking a will-nilly approach to doing cardio – this is where we tend to go wrong. But training the body’s ability to produce energy is a crucial part of a well-rounded approach to fitness and health, and should not be overlooked. Cardio just needs to be programmed well (with individual needs and goals in mind), and done purposefully so that we get the desired adaptations in the body.

SVPT Trainer, Erica Saunders