Only the Strong Survive (and Thrive)

I’ve been thinking lately about “strength.” To begin with, I am fighting myself on starting a strength training routine.  My head knows that adding strength training – just two or three brief sessions a week – will boost my metabolism, enhance my running performance, and help prevent injury. I know this, yet I don’t do it. Even tonight – I went to the gym to knock out my four miles on the treadmill, but I bypassed the weights and went home under the multi-pronged excuse of “I’m tired-I’m hungry-I had a tough day-I don’t feel like it-my run is enough for today.”

I’ve been thinking about this resistance to resistance training. It too is multi-pronged, but most of it stems from my perfectionist character traits. First, I’m afraid of looking silly. I moved into my condo eight months ago (and therefore to a new LA Fitness), yet I haven’t gotten entirely comfortable with the layout of my “new” gym. Gym machines intimidate me.

True story: when I was fighting through my stress fracture injury, my doctor told me to swim and to ride the stationary bike while I was on my running hiatus. I have never ridden a stationary bike in my life, but I decided to give it a try. I sat down on the bike one day and pushed the “start” button. Nothing happened.  So I did it again. Still nothing. I started punching away at multiple buttons while simultaneously taking sideways glances at my neighbors to see how they were doing it and trying to look like I actually knew what I was doing. I somehow finally realized that I needed to start turning the pedals to begin the workout.  I thought the bike would just light up and go – like when you push “quick start” on the treadmill.

So – I’m not entirely machine-savvy/mechanically inclined. As anyone in my family will tell you. This is not limited to workout equipment.

The second part of my resistance is that I want to do it “right” but I don’t know what “right” is. There are so many different strength training workouts out there. How do I know which one is the right one for me? How do I balance it with my running, not go overboard, and make sure I have time for it all?

Aside from strength training, I’ve also been thinking about other variations on strength and running.  Or, more specifically, how running can be a great source of strength. When I started running a few years ago, it awakened a strength in me I never knew I had (but that, of course, I had all along). There is something so amazing about it.  I started out with almost nothing. Very little physical endurance to speak of, let alone emotional strength. Running a mile without stopping was a challenge. But before too long, I was running two miles, then three. And then gradually over the days, weeks, months, I built up to distances that I never thought were possible for me – 6, 8, 10, 12, 14. Not only were they possible, but they became almost easy. And that empowered me. It made me realize that I can take that same approach – building up little by little, taking it step by step – to almost anything in my life.  That I am capable. And suddenly, “starting over” in my life didn’t seem quite so daunting anymore.

So, I guess I need to take that same “step by step” approach with strength training. Maybe awareness is the first step toward action. So I ask any of my running friends who are reading this to share tips/recommended (basic) strength training routines with me.  But I ask you – please keep in mind my fear of machines. I prefer free weights and using my own body resistance. Mostly so I don’t repeat embarrassing moments like the stationary bike experiment.

Miles today: 4 (plus 2 on Sunday, along with about 500 yds in the pool); total miles for the year: 28.22.  (And just a side note: thank you to everyone who has been reading so far and sharing such encouraging comments here, on my Facebook page, and via e-mail. I truly appreciate it!)



  1. sean
    January 20, 2011 / 12:35 am

    great article! Love the stationary bike tale… I never thought about that before but I guess I could see someone doing it… especially a PSU’er. I love strength training at the gym and usually slog through with my run before the fun starts. Actually my favorite workout is running to the the gym (3 miles) working out and running home. Don’t try to do too much and spend all night there. Do 3 sets of 8 (high weight) reps for 3 leg exercises (curls, extensions and squats) and some upper body (bi’s, chest and back) and then leave.

  2. Lindsay
    January 20, 2011 / 8:55 am

    What about sit-ups and push-ups and five pound dumb bells in your living room? If you do a tiny bit of that sort of thing, or get a video and get into the routine at home, doing it at the gym might get easier.

    Also, take a friend to the gym who knows what to do.

  3. Rebecca
    January 20, 2011 / 10:51 am

    this is random, but i woke up this morning, flipped through my blackberry, read your post, turned on the TV, and saw part of an infomercial for the “ab doer twist,” and seriously thought about buying it on the spot! are you and summer sanders (the olympic swimmer hosting the infomercial) in cahoots?

  4. John Pitchford
    January 20, 2011 / 2:40 pm

    Keep it simple! A trainer once told me if you strengthen your leges, everything else follows.

  5. Gena Camoirano
    January 20, 2011 / 7:31 pm

    hi janice! i enjoy reading your ‘blog’. have you ever heard of body pump? it’s a weight lifting class that is offered at some gyms. it’s a full hour of lifting and hits all muscle groups. if you google body pump you can get info on the class and where to find classes in your area. i know what you mean about using weight machines and looking like you have no idea what you’re doing, so i’ve found this class to be a great way to get lifting into your routine. good luck!

  6. janice
    January 20, 2011 / 10:09 pm

    Thank you everyone for your comments. I actually had dinner with a good friend tonight (she is also my old workout buddy back when I actually used to do gym workouts). I think she’s going to help me get back on the horse! Thanks for the tips – all good ones. Sean, I’ll let the Penn State crack slide for now. Rebecca – that’s so funny. I will have to check out the “ab doer twist.” 🙂

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