Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Missing Link?

You can get the shirt at
Chuck Norris may never have done an Ironman, but he seems to be clued in on other things - and for the purposes of this blog, he appears to know about strength training. As a quick aside, has anyone noticed that Chuck Norris and The Most Interesting Man in the World may actually be the same person based on their quote pages? (Chuck Norris Top 50 vs. M.I.M.I.T.W. Quotes). I wonder what the MIMITW has to say about Ironman?

Back to the thing that Chuck Norris did for me - well, he didn't really do anything FOR me, but he endorses my newest toy - the Total Gym. And it just might be the thing that makes a difference for me this year.

As a background, to finally leave Chuck Norris out of the equation, I first came in contact with the Total Gym through a Cleveland-based physical therapist. In 1993, after several injuries on my left side and several doctors who said I would never run again, I finally found an orthopedic doctor - Dr. Vernon (Sam) Patterson - who could accurately diagnose what was wrong with me. No, it wasn't a leg-length discrepancy. It was a muscle imbalance. Dr. P sent me to a physical therapist named Mike DeRubertis who was finally able to rehab me from three left-side injuries (stress fracture, torn quad, and totally-screwed-up pyriformis). It was May - and my only goal that year was to be able to walk down the aisle at my wedding in October without limping. After a summer of intense physical therapy, I realized my goal, and I've also not had problems with left-side-only injuries ever since.

And when I finally checked out of P.T., at Mike's insistence, I invested in one of those giant exercise balls and body cords (those stretchy exercise cords with handles) to keep me healthy and muscularly balanced. One other thing that Mike suggested that year was that if I wanted to do strength training at home, I should consider getting a Total Gym - a mainstay in his physical therapy rehab arsenal. I couldn't justify the cost of a Total Gym back then, but I've thought about it every single year since (yes, it has been almost 20 years of thinking). (Note, I remind my readers here of my gripping, and yes, irrational, fear of weight rooms.)

The Xmas morning scene under the tree.
This year, I finally stopped thinking and started doing. My husband Jim and I bought a Total Gym for our "Christmas present to ourselves," and all I can say is "for crying out loud, why didn't we do it sooner!"

For the last few weeks, I've been holiday-slacking at swimming because of reduced pool hours (i.e., swimming once or twice a week for 30 minutes). Thus, I made up for it by working my arms on the Total Gym when I would otherwise be in the water.

After about six days out of the water, I finally got back in and I felt like a different swimmer altogether. I'm not stupid enough to believe that I've gained immense strength by doing two weeks of strength training against my body weight, but I have noticed the little amount of arm strength gained has translated into a much stronger feel to my swim stroke. For the first time in years, I feel like I can finally "follow through" with my entire stroke - something I've always been accused of not doing. My stroke has always been short in the water - which may be the singular reason I've never been able to reduce the number of strokes per lap that I take. My first set of 100s after almost a week off was my fastest and most consistent in the last six months! I had to do a double-take when I looked up at the clock after each repeat. (I'm 95% sure of what I was seeing, but with my age-reduced eyesight these days, it might have just been a manifestation of my fondest wishes).

The benefits of strength training are now apparent to me, and it's likely that this has been, indeed, the missing link in my training program, the one thing I need to get under those plateaus (read: sub-1:00 Ironman swim). And now that I don't have to conquer that irrational gym fear, it will be less stressful to fit this (missing) link into my training program. I can't say that I'll go hog-wild at strength training because I still fear muscle gain will have a detrimental effect on my running. But I will continue to do core work and arm strengthening and report back when I have more data to analyze.

For now, let's just say that Chuck Norris may be right about one thing. Even though he never did an Ironman.

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