Athletes of all types have seen or heard advice to make strength training a part of their regular training, but how many take any notice?
In this post I reflect on my own recent experiences when undertaking strength training for the first time: my motivation, the results so far and my plans for the future. I also invite comments from readers of the post; especially those interested in sports other than running.
Running has been a part of my life since the first jogging boom of the 1970s. However, the ride has at times been a bumpy one, punctuated with overuse injuries – especially achilles tendinitis, which eventually became so painful that it put an end to my running on more than one occasion. So when driven, in March 2015, to start running again by weight gain and body shape (vanity, I know), I was determined to do everything right this time, and avoid any more injuries.
Before starting to run I consulted a physiotherapist and was given a set of exercises based around heel raises, as you would expect. And guess what, achilles tendinitis has not been a problem this time round. But other things have been.
All went well for about six months, but then when I was going for a parkrun PB, such ambitions came to a grinding halt and excruciating pain in the lower calf. A visit to the physio left me with a diagnosis of a severe grade 2 gastrocnemius tear and little prospect of returning to running for at least three months.
In fact there was to be no return until shortly before Christmas 2015, but things went sufficiently well for me to enter the Cardiff Race for Victory 5k taking place in April, 2016. However, two weeks before the race the calf injury recurred during my weekly long run, but less severely this time mainly due to the fact that I didn’t try to continue running on it.
So I rested for the two weeks prior to the race and then decided to run. Mistake. One kilometre was all I could manage before the injury came back to bite me. A personal worst in more ways than one.
Another couple of months passed before I could run again and, two weeks after returning to training I missed the bottom step in a hotel I was staying in and twisted my knee. To be honest my knee had been a bit dodgy for some time and an X-ray showed bony growths on my patella causing inflammation of the quadriceps tendon. Treatment with NSAIDs soon got rid of the pain, and I got the message. Last March, I went to see a personal trainer.
At the initial meeting with Emma, my trainer, I got the usual lecture on the importance of core strength for good running form. Much was said about “abs” and “glutes” and, to be honest, I was more than a little sceptical. Gym work was completely new to me and I was not at all convinced that I would enjoy it and neither was I convinced – as a subscriber to the view that upper body musculature was nothing more than weight to be dragged around when running – that it would do any good.
Despite my doubts, I signed up for two, hour-long strength sessions per week for a minimum of 5 weeks.
Ten months on, I remain injury-free. I’ve been able to stop taking the NSAIDs for the knee problem, a shoulder problem that had been giving me some pain for months has practically disappeared and my range of movement is greatly improved, and, most importantly, my parkrun PB has been reduced from 28:44 (09/04/2016) to 27:37 (17/12/2016). I can also deadlift my own bodyweight and perform multiple sets of kettle bell squats amongst other things: a whole new vocabulary.
And I enjoy it. So strength training is here to stay, for me.
A quick look around the web also points to a growing interest from other sports apart from running. Cyclists, for instance, might like to take a look at this recent article in Cycling Weekly.
Are there any other strength training converts out there? Or has it always figured in your training schedules? Or would you rather be seen dead than working out in a gym? Let us know by posting a comment here, or, if the mood takes you, feel free to submit an article.
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