Too Many Crutches, Too Few Legs
Last week I wrote about my sister’s legs, specifically how their tremendous strength has aided her in running and biking, and that because of what I have seen her accomplish I have changed my routine.
Even though running has been my focus for years, I have incorporated strength training into my routine in fits and starts. I’ll get on a weight lifting kick for a few weeks or months, decide that it’s taking valuable time away from running, and eventually peter out. After a month or two of running, I’ll decide that I need to give strength training a whirl again, so I hit the gym once more in an attempt to work in a new weight routine.
I’ve always gone in, however, knowing that it wasn’t for the long haul, that I’d probably be tapering off again soon. And I’ve always gone in with the intention of working primarily on my upper body, to keep it toned. Now, I like Batman, but that doesn’t mean I want big ole bat wings hanging under my arms, flapping around in the breeze (or causing the breeze) every time I raise a hand.
Focusing on my upper body means that I’ve laid off strength training for my legs. Until the past few weeks, that is. As I’ve seen my leg strength increase and, ultimately, my running, biking, and swimming improve, I’ve wondered why the heck I haven’t done this before. I realize now how much I’ve rationalized leaving my legs out of my routine. Here are some of the “reasons” I’ve given myself for not strength training:
- I am recovering from an injury and don’t want to aggravate it.
- My leg muscles get worked out enough when I run.
- If I work out my legs, I will be too sore to run for a day or more afterward.
- I already do sprints, which work muscles in a different way than simply running, so I don’t need extra strength training.
- I usually have to take a rest or easy day the day after sprints; I can’t afford to take more rest or easy days after strength training too.
Here’s what I now say to all that: poppycock.
While it’s imperative to listen to your body and let yourself heal properly as you recover from an injury, at some point the fact that you were injured might become an excuse that keeps you from reaching your full potential. At least that’s what happened to me. I was injured almost two years ago. And while I still experience pain from my injury from time to time, I have learned my limitations. If a particular exercise hurts, I simply don’t do that one. But for the moves I can do, I now lift as much weight as I safely can, always pushing myself beyond what I thought was my limit. I have been shocked in the past few weeks to see how much weight I can actually lift with my legs.
It’s taken me a couple of weeks to realize how much strength training has actually helped rather than hindered my running. I still do sprints. And now I work my legs. I have figured out a way to minimize downtime: I do sprints and legs on the same day.
This, of course, was my sister’s brilliant idea. It actually has turned out to be pretty brilliant. On this combo day, I start with a couple of sprints (400s) followed by a leg circuit on six machines: squats, calves, quads, hamstrings, deadlifts, and side step with a leg raise. Then I immediately do another sprint. I can hit the circuit 4 times, and I usually end up doing a total of 6 sprints. I am getting faster on the sprints and am able to lift more weight each week. And I only had down time the first week. Now, instead of running the day after legs and sprints, I swim.
The thing I’ve found about rationalization is that it is often irrational. That’s where excuses come from, crutches, to keep us from reaching our full potential. What drives the rationale? Fear, usually, at least in me. I now realize that I have 5 crutches and only 2 legs. Somewhere, something became unbalanced. It’s time for me to lose the fear and gain the strength.