Girls who lift

Still described by mainstream publications as the latest fitness trend, #strongwomen are all over gyms everywhere. It’s more and more common for women to focus their training on strength and weightlifting rather than cardio, which is mostly great. When I first started using commercial gyms, 14 or so years ago, the free weights sections were dominated by men & I would not have set foot in there. These days, I’m rarely the only woman in the free weights section & split training is my favourite kind.

I do neglect arm training

I say mostly great. There’s a lot of discussion about how strong not skinny can promote a body shape just as unattainable. A lot of women, especially on Instagram, seem to do a lot of lower body work & there’s still a cultural apprehension around looking too masculine. A PT friend of mine has lots of female clients who are worried about ‘big shoulders’.

baby got back

Despite the marathons, I am more of a lifter than a runner. I first got into BodyPump around 2006, then kettlebell classes around 2012 and proper functional weightlifting in 2015 or thereabouts. These are my favourite gym sessions. I love being strong, I love how a positive mindset and a roar of triumph can assist to get that extra 5kg on the bar for a new pb.

I love deadlifts because they are the heaviest. I love squats because they have made my legs what they are.

I love bench press because it makes me feel like an absolute bro.

Olympic weightlifting is more challenging – it’s dynamic movements, with lower weights (mostly) & you need a good sense of balance and perfect form, as well as getting used to grips that shred your palms way more than standard power lifts. I’ve been training these lifts for about a year now & my form is improving slowly. Before marathon training kicked in, I was raising some decent weight for a beginner – slightly over half my body weight for clean & jerk, slightly under that for snatch (least favourite…)

Right now, after maintenance training for 4-5 months to fit in with running, I can comfortably (5×5) deadlift my own bodyweight, squat 75 percent of my bodyweight & bench half my bodyweight. Olympic lifts are a bit less because my form needs work after so much time out, but I’m incorporating a few snatch & clean reps into training sessions & it’s improving.

Looking back at my training diary from the last few months of 2018, I was training well & consistently & lifting quite a bit heavier than this. I can get that back one day, & I can’t wait.

Lifting goals can stay in place for a long time, more so than running goals. Incremental gains are good, & the most important thing for me is the enjoyment – I always feel amazing after training. It’s a full body workout & even if I don’t get the full 5/8/10 reps, a 10 second pause is usually enough to get there. Running’s not the same. Marathon training was great, & I have learned so much about my strength & stamina, but now I’m fully back on board with a strength-focused training programme & it’s fantastic.

What now?

Well, I’m not too sure. All of 2019 (& the end of 2018, really) has been consumed by running.

After a full week of rest, I headed out in the rain for a recovery run this morning. Just 5km, just round the block like a usual short training run.

Despite getting a bit agitated during the week of rest, it was a good idea to fully recover & not try & run a couple of days after a marathon with stiff muscles & worrying about my heart rate. Getting back to the gym is nice too. My eating has been relatively healthy & I am enjoying all the spare time I seem to have.

I have a 10km & a half marathon over the next few months, and a couple of shorter races that I am tempted by, but I will be taking bit of a break from running. There are too many other awesome things to do, & not just exercise related. I have friends in other parts of the country that I need to visit. I have items I really need to finish knitting, books to read, sleep to catch up on. The marathon is the easy part in a very long, high volume training programme that has been amazing for my discipline & propelled me well towards my 1000km/year, a milestone I usually reach in the last third of the year.

1km was New Year’s Day, of course

To hit this in May is incredible, but it’s time for a change. Working on my upper body strength, & particularly my back, will be happening. I was making good progress last year until I stopped lifting as much.

This rest has been the longest break I have taken in 2019, & it already feels weird. I haven’t even hit 10,000 steps a day this week. But it has probably been good for me in the long run.