Exercises To Do This Week: Strong Shoulders

The shoulders are the unloved workhorse of our upper body. We want them to look awesome, rounded, strong and straight and yet, we abuse them daily by heaping huge bags on top of them and constantly rounding them forward into a terrible slumped over position that yanks on our rotator cuff muscles. Not nice. These are also the muscles that we call upon in the longer, harder miles to initiate more movement. “Pump your arms” I shout to my runners. Well, we gotta pump them in the weight room so we can pump them when we run.

Here are three exercises that work all three heads of the shoulder (anterior, medial and posterior) and helps to shape them for all of our vanity and arm-pumping needs.

#1. Upright Row

Standing with feet hip-width and knees slightly bent, grasp the bar in an overhanded position just inside of the width of your shoulders. Draw the bar up toward (but not reaching) your chin while pulling up on your elbows so that the wrists stay straight. Give a little tug to the rear at the top of the motion and release back down til your arms are straight. Start with a 20-30 bar, 15-20 reps.


#2 Overhead Press

Grabbing the bar beyond the width of your shoulders, make sure your elbows are underneath your wrists (not your wrists and the bar in front of your elbows), press the bar up and over the top of your head. Repeat 15-20 times over 3 sets.


#3 Bent Over Row

Support yourself with one leg in front and one leg behind so that you can table-top yourself as far forward as possible while maintaing a flat back. Grip the bar overhand and a little wider than your shoulders. Draw the bar toward your belly button, allowing your elbows to fly to the side but keeping your shoulders down and away from your ears. Repeat 3 sets, 12-15 reps.


With all of these exercises, if it is your goal to make your shoulders bigger, you should gradually do a heavier weight and fewer repetitions. Conversely, if your goal is to shape the look of your existing shoulders, a lighter weight (but not lighter than 15 pounds) and fewer repetitions (no more than 20, 3 sets) is appropriate for your goals.

Regardless, by doing all three of these exercises, you isolate each individual head of your shoulder as the primary muscle of the movement, thereby giving your body a well-rounded workout. If you do the same shoulder exercise over and over, you will likely 1. fatigue that primary muscle and make yourself more susceptible to injury or 2. build up just that one area of your shoulder, giving yourself kind of a funky shape to your most noticed upper body area. We don’t want that, now do we? No, sir.

Rock these out at the gym this weekend! Doesn’t Sass look amazing doing these exercises? Thanks for modeling, lady.

Now go out and run!

Science Backs Me Up

A few links for your Friday reading enjoyment. Some old, some new. All worth taking a look:

Weight training improves performance.

Running does not destroy your knees. So there.

Running in races helps to make you a faster runner.

Even Paula Radcliffe has bad days and wants to quit. Phew! I thought it was just me.

-If you are not inspired by Team Hoyt, you are dead in your soul.

*Bonus for you New Yorkers out there*

Join me and Aleah Stander of Flywheel Sports for an awesome BRICK workout (bike and run), compliments of lululemon athletica. Click here for details. Work out with me. Come on, you can do it!

Happy Friday, everyone.

Now go out and run!

Too Much is TOO MUCH (and how to avoid doing too much)

You ever have that nagging pain that just won’t go away? Do you feel tired on every single run and never get anything resembling a “runner’s high”? Are you getting sick all the time? Do you have trouble completing what would normally be an easy run? Does it take you forever to recover from a workout?

You might be doing too much.

Things like tendonitis, stress fractures, torn labrums, illness, muscle strains and stupid injuries sustained from tripping over curbs and face-planting because you’re too tired to lift your own feet while running…wait, don’t tell me I’m the only person who’s done that. Well, there you go. I trip when I’m tired. It’s very embarrassing and always leaves a mark.

These things happen when you’re doing too much. And where your body is concerned, too much is too much.

As someone who has an auto-immune disease, I have to learn the very hard and painful way what is too much for me. For most of you out there, you can still power on through for days and maybe weeks before your body starts to talk to you. Maybe it comes in the form of tendonitis or a more serious injury. Whatever it is, you will know it because it will stop you dead in your tracks if you don’t take care of it. But there are always warning signs you’ve chosen to ignore. Here’s how to avoid doing too much:

#1. Schedule your days off. At least one day completely off from working out. This doesn’t mean, “Oh, I’ll hop into an easy spin class” or “It’s just a 60 minute yoga class. Stretching is good, right?” Wrong. Yoga is NOT just stretching and breathing. It is hard and it is a workout. Rest is rest. You’ll know it because you’ll feel RESTED after having done it.

#2. Add mileage gradually. Jumping into a marathon training schedule before you can run 8 miles straight without stopping or finishing in torturous pain is a recipe for failure and injury. Stress fractures and muscle strains are common in people who decide that this is the way to go and they are not easy to come back from. Plan ahead at least six months before undertaking such a long race. You’re much more likely to succeed if you take your time with adding miles.

#3. Cross-train year-round. Cross training isn’t just for the off-season. You should be cross-training throughout your race season, but just do it less. You don’t try to set your personal squat record during training season, but you do incorporate lower body strength training into your schedule at least once a week. See the difference? Cross-training will keep you healthy and balanced so that you can best stave off overuse injuries like tendonitis that happen when you do TOO MUCH of one thing.

#4. Listen to your body. It’s talking to you.

#5. If it hurts, don’t do it. If you have a sudden pain that just won’t go away, something is not right and you should stop what you are doing that causes that pain and get it checked out. Good rule of thumb for many things in the fitness world. You know the difference between “it hurts because it’s hard” and “it hurts because it hurts” so don’t go commenting on how all exercise hurts. It’s a different kind of pain and you know it when you feel it.

Really, though, you have to know your body and know your trigger points. When my hips start to ache, I know I’m overdue for new sneakers and I kick myself for not remembering to stop by JackRabbit last time I was down in Union Square. My hips never hurt unless it’s my damn shoes, so if they suddenly start hurting, it’s either the shoes or something serious. Know thy self.

Be kind to your body. It’s the only one you’re going to get.

Now go out and run!

Q & A: Common Questions From Runners

Whenever I help someone get into the whole running thang, they inevitably get as obsessed as the rest of us (don’t lie, you’re obsessed) and their thoughts turn towards how to maximize their efforts and become the best runner they can be. Here are a few and my humble opinions:

Q. Is it better for me to run in the morning or at night?

A. Whatever works for you. When I run in the morning, I need at least a half an hour to wake up, chow something down and do my bathroom thing before I can lace up and start running. It takes me a little longer to warm up, but I generally don’t feel any more tired after a mile or so than on any other run. I enjoy morning runs because the sun is low and less intense and the air is still cool from the morning. (Notice how my feelings about the morning are directly related to the weather: this is very important to me)

I like an evening run as well. I’m more awake when I start and it doesn’t take me as long to get into my groove because my blood has been pumping all day and my muscles are generally warmer than first thing in the morning. I like running right before dinner, hitting the showers and curling up with my husband on the couch. It’s a nice way to end the day. However, it does take me a little longer to settle down at the end of the night, which sometimes makes for a later bed time, so I have to plan my runs accordingly.

But seriously, there’s no conclusive evidence that shows people burn more calories, have more effective workouts, or look better if they run in the morning vs. the evening and vice versa.

Q. I missed my run today. Should I run on my off day instead or run extra long tomorrow?

A. What I recommend people do is give themselves one or two days a week that are completely off from exercise. Not walking or shopping, but organized, high-intensity exercise. That way, when you just can’t get it in or make it to the gym, you have a buffer day and can pick up the next day with your workouts. I don’t recommend adding more miles onto your next run, but if you miss a strength training day or a run, consider doubling down the next day. For example: say you missed your yoga class today and are schedule for a run tomorrow. Well, add your yoga class to your workout schedule the next day and do one in the morning and one in the evening. Or, if you’re like me and you sometimes run as a part of your commute, run TO yoga class. Two birds, one stone! Don’t be so rigid with your schedule. Life happens, go with the flow and do what you can.

I’m glad we talked about this together. These are two questions that, when  you think about it, had pretty common sense answers. Runners being, well, runners, we don’t always take the most logical approach where our workouts are concerned. We’re kooky like that. Be kind to yourself and do what works for you.

Now go out and run!

Why You Probably Won’t Lose Weight Training For A Marathon

A lot of people ask me if they should train for a marathon in order to lose those last unwanted ten pounds. I tell them no. Sorry, but no.

But what if I run 50 miles a week? No, and don’t even think about doing that unless you’re looking for a slap upside your head.

But what if I cut my calories to 1200? Ummm, there is so much wrong with that I can’t even begin to start but I will just say NO.

This is my you-are-an-idiot-for-thinking-that's-gonna-fly-with-me face.

But what if I lift 4 days a week and spin 3 days a week and do yoga every day AND marathon train? Good luck with that.

But, but, but…sorry, folks. Historically, it just doesn’t work out like this. First of all, unless you are overweight, marathon training will likely help you maintain your weight, albeit with different fat-to-muscle distribution. If you are overweight, marathon truing probably will help you drop some poundage, but you have to have that poundage to lose and this, in most cases, means more than 15-20 pounds. You might even (hold onto your hats) gain weight during marathon training. I know. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Well, it sorta does…

Marathon training is hard and long. Increasing mileage makes you hungry ALL THE TIME and, typically, those training for a marathon rationalize that all the added mileage will compensate for eating ice cream twice a week, half a pizza for dinner and a pound of pasta on “carbo-load” nights. Even if you’re not overindulging, you have to eat more, which usually ends up canceling out the calories burned while running. And while increasing mileage does, at the most basic level, mean that you’re also burning more calories, it is often overstated just how many calories you are burning. And do you really know how many calories are in that milkshake you’re eating? You probably erased two weekday runs with one indulgence. You’d be surprised.

First marathon. Gained 4 pounds. Happy? No. Did I finish? Yes I did.

And here’s the most frustrating news for those of you who are looking to drop those last ten pounds: the lighter you are, the fewer calories you burn while running (or exercising, in general). This is because it takes less energy to push around 140 pounds versus 220 pounds. Makes sense, right?

The other simple fact is that you do have to eat more when you undertake such a rigorous workout program or your body won’t tolerate the added work load. You’ll get sick, you’ll be tired all the time, you’ll get injured and your body will otherwise reject the increase in activity if you don’t also increase your caloric intake during training season. If you deprive your body of the nutrients it needs to rebuild what you’re breaking down in your workouts, there will be no growth. Plain and simple.

By my 7th marathon, I learned to do the weight loss in the off-season and dropped 15 pounds (it's blurry, but you get the idea)

DON’T DESPAIR!!!! There’s hope! This is why I am adamant about training like professional athletes and cycling through training seasons the way that they do. The off-season is where you can drop a few pounds. The off-season is when you spice up your workouts with a little less running and a little more strength training, with a dash of different cardiovascular workouts (think swimming and spinning!) to give your bod a break from pounding the pavement. You can also better control your calories during this part of your training season because you aren’t going bananas once a week with 15+ mile runs accompanied by carbo-loading and gigantic recovery meals.

As you become a more seasoned marathoner, you will better learn how to tailor your diet in order to avoid weight gain during training season. But it shouldn’t really be the focus of your training anyway! You should be concentrating on getting the right nutrients to prepare and recover from your runs and putting 100% into your runs in order to maximize your potential for marathon day.

Get off the scale and go hit the pavement!

In short, don’t count on marathon training to help you drop weight. In my experience, people are seriously disappointed when they hop on the scale mid-way through their training and realize they’ve gained 3 pounds.

Are you feeling strong?

Are you getting through your runs successfully?

Are you feeling good about your marathon?

Good. Keep going. And forget about the scale (within reason…I mean, don’t go and gain 20 pounds) while you’re working toward this goal. Check in a few weeks after your marathon and use the off-season to shed those extra pounds.

Get off the scale and go out and run!