Tuesday, January 30, 2018

I Have Found the Fountain of Youth and It's In The Weight Room

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a runner friend of mine, another woman who happens to be in my age group. We were talking about how much we are struggling with running paces that just a few years ago were easy for us. Getting older sucks for runners, especially women runners. The number of finishers in the women's' 50+ age groups drops dramatically, especially after age 55.

It is a well-known fact that endurance begins to decline after age 40 for both men and women. Stride length and speed decrease as well (source). Flexibility also decreases. But most importantly, muscle mass and strength decline. Women lose up to 30% of overall strength between the ages of 50 and 70. For women, decreases in estrogen and testosterone after menopause affects the ability to maintain muscle mass.

What if I don't want to slow down? What's an aging woman runner to do? Besides giving up on running? Is rocking in the rocking chair an endurance activity?

I refuse to accept the common wisdom that equates growing older with frailty and weakness. I'm not ready to call it quits and if you're reading this, you probably aren't ready to call it quits either. The good news is you can keep running into old age and maybe postpone or at least minimize some of the inevitable effects of aging. But you do have to change the way you train. Put on your running shoes and head to the weight room. Yep, strength training is the key to staying youthful.



As I entered my 50th decade, I was plagued with frequent running injuries. Frustrated, I spent more time sidelined than I did running. I realized that my regimen of mostly running with a little yoga on the side wasn't going to cut it anymore. Not yet ready to hang up my running shoes, I started working with a CrossFit coach on strengthening and conditioning. After a regular strength and conditioning regimen, I started seeing race times and paces I hadn't seen since my 30s. I also had a decline in injuries. It felt like I struck gold.

Or maybe I found the fountain of youth!

Trying to keep my hips even while lifting heavy on one side is a big challenge, both for strength and stability!
A recent study of a group of men and women showed that both sexes cannot rely on running alone to prevent loss of strength and recommended that all aging runners perform strength training as part of their regimen. My strength coaches have me do a lot of squats, lunges, and deadlifts, with variations of these basic moves. Core strengthening is a big component of my training as well, both for stability (keeping me upright and strong) and control.

These strict presses are great for posture as well as the core. You can't neglect the upper body. 
Choosing the right weight seems to be a source of controversy among runners. But most experts agree that runners who want to build strength and endurance should lift heavy weights at lower reps, ideally 6-10 reps. Lift using a weight that makes you feel fatigued on your final 2 reps. It should feel hard. Contrary to what you might think, the heavier weights will not bulk you up or slow you down. You aren't lifting heavy to bulk up. Instead of big muscles, you'll see improved running economy and faster times on the road. You will feel stronger. Trust me! Now when I run up a hill, I can feel my glutes engage as they push me forward. It's an amazing feeling!

The deadlift "cage"
When I first started working with a strength coach, I trained once a week for 30 minutes. I had people telling me that strength training once a week wasn't enough. Again, the goal here wasn't to build muscle but to strengthen the muscle I already had. You don't need to lift weights frequently to see changes. For runners looking to get stronger, experts recommend 30-60 minutes per week of strength training. I've since increased my frequency to twice weekly, with one strength session and one conditioning session each. The increased frequency in the gym resulted in me running my fastest races of 2017 at the end of the year. I'm not as fast as I used to be but I'm still able to kick it at the end of a race!

Don't count me out yet.

No old lady booty for me!
Besides improving running economy and endurance, benefits of strength training for older runners include improved posture and bone density, decreased injury, less falls, decreased body fat and more lean muscle mass, and more energy. The higher metabolism is nice--I like that all my clothes still fit and it's pretty sweet that people think that I'm younger than I am. Of course, when you are 55, that's all relative...

I don't know about you, but while I'm at the fountain of youth, I'd like fewer wrinkles too.

Strength training, yay or nay? What's your favorite thing? I like deadlifts. Have you seen the benefits of strength training in your runs?

I'm linking up with Tuesdays on the Run: Marcia, Erika, and Patti as well as Running Coaches' Corner: Debbie, Rachel, and Lora.










74 comments :

  1. Perfect timing on this! Now I don't feel so bad for missing my spin class and doing another strength workout at home. I fully agree with all you've said.

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    1. It's amazing to me how you can forgo all this when you are younger! The important thing for all of us to remember is to never become complacent.

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  2. You know I could not agree more. I attribute my background in strength training to early success in running. It's hard but so worth it.

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    1. Who was the runner friend I had this conversation with? Hmmmm.... we are in this together, my friend!

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  3. I'm a huge fan of strength training. To be honest, sometimes I enjoy it more than running!

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    1. I continue to make gains in my strength, which makes it very enjoyable!

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  4. Thumbs up! High-5! Absolute. Total. Agreement. Although I don't work with a trainer, I'm committed to strength work each week, end of argument. I don't want to be a runner with bony arms or skinny bird legs LOL....and my body doesn't want that either.

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    1. I like to think that all that muscle is protecting my joints!

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  5. You look fantastic. I am almost convinced to try it.

    But Ii don't have time with work and travel. I don't belong to a gym.

    That being said, I could still do strength training. I am not opposed to it....just lazy LOL

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    1. I don't belong to a gym either. I just meet with my trainer. Best money I've ever spent.

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  6. I do feel better when I get some weight workouts in at the gym, and funny thing, this is my week to start back with that, so your post was good timing and an excellent reminder of why I'm doing that!

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    1. Yes! Glad to hear you're getting back at it!

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  7. GIRL YES - the weight room is WHERE IT IS AT!! I friggin' LOVE weights because I LOVE seeing the difference they make in my muscle tone!

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    1. I just love how strong I feel and look! If only I could strength train my face...

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  8. Regular strength training is one of my priorities for the year! I was lax about it last year and I could definitely see it in my running results.

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    1. I am truly amazed and grateful for this fountain of youth that I've discovered!

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  9. Strength training is #1 on my list for this year. I love your post! I wish I could work with a trainer, but body pump is going to have to be it for now...

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    1. I've heard a lot of good things about Body Pump--if I didn't have my coach I'd be all over it.

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  10. You look marvelous, my friend. Keep doing what you do. Obviously, it works! (In the words of my good buddy the late George Jones, "I don't need my rocking chair...My Geritol or my Medicare...")

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    1. That's going to be my theme song! LOL!

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  11. Have i said how much I adore you lately?? I don't love lifting weights, but I do see the benefits so FINALLY after years of playing around I really have been sticking to it, though I don't do the Olympic lifts you do

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    1. I actually like most of what we do. Sometimes it's hard and it's scary when it's really heavy. My coaches make sure I am always safe, tho.

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  12. You are rocking some awesome muscles :)
    I am all about this and I have been faithfully at this the past few years - mission become stronger, I've had to take a few steps back because of aches in shoulder but I am loving my fast paced functional sessions right now! I don't push heavy weight right now but i hope it is enough :)

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    1. I really think the strength training is going to keep RA from destroying my joints. At least I hope so!

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  13. I used to lift heavy - met my husband in the gym, did a bodybuilding, contest, the whole 9 yards. But then he dropped a barbell on his chest and broke his sternum so no more lifting, hello 100% running. Fast forward 15 years and I couldn't stay healthy. Something was always hurt - hamstring, knee, etc. So I found a crossfit like gym and the rest is history. I am no longer running longer distances but do try to keep my number of runs and number of trips to the gym each week roughly the same. I feel sooooo much better and stronger now.

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    1. Yes! Glad to hear you are able to find a balance between running and lifting. And yes, I'm cutting back on distance too.

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  14. I spent a lot of my off-season doing strength training. If my soreness since yesterday morning is any indication, my session on Sunday was successful.

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  15. YES! I've been thinking of writing a post about the same thing but I don't think I could have written it as well as you just did! I love strength training. My running has improved substantially since I started CrossFit (although, my go-go-go attitude and inability to find balance with the two didn't help with a couple injuries) but I firmly believe that strength training is what has helped me survive after my knee surgery. And now that I'm not trying to do both (basically, I found that balance), and I'm smarter, I should hopefully stay injury free. *fingers crossed*

    And deadlifts. I love deadlifts. :)

    And honestly, never would have suspected 55. Never.

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  16. I know I need to... hangs head in shame.

    What I really want to know is if strength training will eliminate the hot flashes that have been keeping me awake at night. I'm one tired runner these days.

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    1. Actually, I think the running helped me with the hot flashes! I rarely get them now. I hope yours pass quickly.

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  17. Strength training is great for women. I have some clients that are hesitant to lift weights because they think they are going to bulk up but that is not the case. For as simple as a deadlift is, many people can't seem to do it right.

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    1. That's why I recommend a coach or a trainer. Especially with heavy lifting.

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  18. You look amazing Wendy!! I definitely wouldn't ever let age convince you otherwise!! You're rocking it!!

    I'm totally planning on making 2018 my strongest year yet with my strength training and running!! You definitely inspire me to do better!

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    1. You are too kind! I started lifting in my 30s and I was so empowered by how strong I felt and looked. Everyone can benefit from it.

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  19. Last year I ran the resolution run with a woman in her 70s. She told me that she was much faster in her 60s than her 50s. So I believe there is hope for everyone! My running club offers once a week strength training sessions so I hope to start attending those.

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    1. I hoped to be that 70 year old woman, but with RA now, I don't know what will happen. All I can do is try to keep things strong and hopefully I'll be able to keep moving forward.

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  20. Yes to strength training! I hope that now that Ive found a good plan that it will keep those injuries away, and also help me to continue running for many more years! Im always impressed by the workouts you do at crossfit. Its great how much its helped your running!

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    1. It's amazing, that's what it is! Who knew?

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  21. I love strength training! I have lifted since I was a freshman in high school. As I have gotten older, I see how quickly I lose muscle mass, so now that I have finished marathon training, I am getting back to weight training on a regular basis!

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    1. Running might be changing for me, but I've still got me some muscle! :p

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  22. You are looking so strong Wendy! I have let my strength training slip a bit after my trainer moved. I really need to find another coach - I like that external push!

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    1. I couldn't do this heavy lifting without my coaches. They make sure my form is perfect so I can avoid injury!

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  23. Thank you for posting this. I keep procrastinating on my goal to start weight lifting, but I know you are so right!

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    1. I've always done strength training but this is so much more intense than anything I've ever done!

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  24. I completely agree! Strength training has been amazing for me and I know will help me stay strong as I age. I love deadlifts as well. Wish more women were not afraid of heavy weights

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    1. I don't know how much more I can say or do to demonstrate that lifting heavy doesn't bulk you up--unless that's what you are going for!

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  25. Working on my deadlifts! It’s great for increasing power output which translates to a faster pace. Yes strength training is the fountain of youth - it can definitely slow down the rate of bone loss.

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    1. I absolutely love what deadlifts have done for me--both on and off the road!

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  26. This is something I need to do more of. I don't lift weights...only have 5lbs and 10lbs at our house but need to at least start doing that. I'd really like to get into kettlebells.

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  27. Such a great post. Of course I know all this, but even so I sometimes tend to skimp on my strength training. I actually read this yesterday (but so busy!), but I'll say you inspired me to put a little extra into my workout!

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    1. Considering that I only spend 1 hour/week on strength training, I get a pretty big return on my efforts!

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  28. I'm hoping to start hitting the weight room in the next few months for this very reason. The older I get, the less my body responds to simply running. I need to vary the training!

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    1. I still can't believe how much strength training has helped keep me on the road!

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  29. Love the title! :D these exercises look great--giving me some good inspiration!

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  30. Definite "yay" on strength training! I love feeling strong and learning how much my body is capable of. Loved this post!

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    1. I love that feeling of strength! The results aren't bad either...

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  31. Strength training can help out the younger folks too! I've just started back into a training program so I haven't seen any results yet in my running, but I can already tell I'm getting stronger. Plus I think it can definitely help with injury prevention. I love squats!

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    1. Oh, of course! I think I commented on that. I've been strength training since my 30s and I credit it for my longevity on the road.

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  32. I ran my fastest race times when I spent the winter actively strength training. Unfortunately I've gotten out of the habit (even though I know I SHOULD do it regularly!) but I'm hoping to add it back in this month.

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    1. It really does make a difference, right?

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  33. You nailed it! Fountain of Youth in the Weight Room. What a great image.

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  34. Yes to strength training! One of my goals for 2018 is to keep up twice per week strength training, even when running picks up. I started strength training before I started running, and I think it combined with Pilates contributed to remaining relatively injury-free (my biggest injuries were not caused by running, but fluke accidents like tripping on a hike).

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    1. I'm looking for longevity and I believe that staying strong is the way to go. I'm fortunate to have access to such a great place to train.

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  35. I do some stuff at home, but I'm so inspired by you!

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    1. Awww! I couldn't get these results at home, sadly! I need the hard stuff. I really like what I do at CrossFit!

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  36. Forget about runs, it's important for every day living!

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  37. CrossFit still intimidates the heck out of me but strength training really does make a huge difference! I don't lift but I take barre and just the work we do in class has made me a stronger runner. And you do NOT look like you're in your 50's!

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    1. Core is the key to everything! And thank you! It's my goal to stay young.

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