Running Coach Heather Albright and the Power of Pushing Yourself

By Jill Farr

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Sisters in Shape online trainer Heather Albright has a wealth of knowledge to offer as a trainer; nutrition guidance, strength training help...but her speciality, both personally and as a fitness coach, is running.

“I’m more of a running coach,” Heather explains. “And I personally do about one marathon a year and some shorter things in between.”

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Many people love running, both for its entry level ease and because all you need are shoes and space. While many teach themselves the basics, or just start running and never look back, Heather advises that there is a point where specific coaching about your running is valuable.

“I think the toughest part for people is getting over the initial hump with running,” Heather says. While she loves her chosen pursuit, she agrees that it gets a bad rap from those who aren’t immersed in it already.

“Running just kind of sucks for a while,” Heather admits. “It’s not fun when you’re starting out. But once you get to where you can easily run three miles on your own, then you can start looking at, ‘Okay, I want to get faster. I want to add miles.’ That’s when it’s sometimes helpful to get a coach. And a plan. I can evaluate how things are going, help you build in cross training so that you don’t get injured.”

That last part--injury prevention--is another facet of running’s killer reputation. It’s true that there are a host of ways you can hurt yourself, but there are also some basic precepts that can prevent the most common injuries.

“The biggest challenge for runners is getting injured,” Heather says. “You have to pay attention to the little injuries so that they don’t become big deals. You also have to do all the things--the stretching, foam rolling, recovery, sleep...all those things that balance you out as an athlete. Not many people understand that or have been taught that.”

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Anyone who has taken up running as a pursuit has probably encountered some joking about it, or heard lines like “I don’t run unless someone’s chasing me,” or, “You know we don’t HAVE to do that, right?”

Running’s perceived (and actual) difficulty may draw a certain personality type, Heather admits, but she also believes it’s a natural desire for humans to move...and sometimes move fast.

“I was just at a women’s running retreat and that came up. Why do we do this? A lot of us are competitive; we want to show the world our times, but that’s not the only reason for it. Most of it goes back to...we were never designed to be sedentary. Running was one of the original ways we moved.”

That primal drive may fuel the famous “Runner’s High” that gets so much press, and Heather acknowledges that both the exhilaration it brings and the intensity that running requires are key aspects of why she loves it.

“There is something just so incredibly freeing about it. It depends on the day, sure; some days my legs are heavy and it sucks. But when you’re flying and you feel like you’re walking on air...that’s the best. We’re just chasing feeling good.”

The fortitude required is also a positive, and Heather alludes to running’s unparalleled potential for cultivating tenacity.

“I believe you develop a mental toughness when you run. A lot of people in this day and age just don’t have that. I asked on a Facebook post recently…”When is the last time you really pushed yourself?””

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“My last track workout, it wasn’t great, I didn’t get my fourth tempo mile, but I pushed myself. It’s money in the bank. Not enough people go there. They don't push themselves. I do think runners push like few other people do.”

Coaching is a passion for Heather, but her first love was running, and it’s a love she still holds.

“Running has been such a source of confidence for me. I got into it as a way to lose weight, but I hit that first goal by actually doing a 5k, so I got hooked on the race thing early on. Then the times got shorter and the distances got longer. I’ve surprised myself by getting out there and doing better than I thought I could. That has bled over into other areas of my life, like training women.”

Lessons from Heather:

Change the narrative.

“I like to ask people...what story are you telling yourself about yourself? What are your limiting beliefs? I asked someone the other day, “What’s your biggest struggle?” and she said “Getting to the gym.” I knew her schedule, that she didn’t go to work until around 10 a.m., so I asked when she was going. She said, ‘After work’, and I responded, “Why don’t you go in the morning, before work?” Her answer: “I’m not a morning person.” She’s telling herself that she isn’t a morning gym person. But it’s pretty easy, once you identify that, to tell yourself a different story. Start saying, “I am a morning gym person.” Say it for as long as you need until it’s true. We all like to say, “I’m not a runner”, but unless you have serious challenges, your body is able to do it. Just ask yourself which limiting beliefs you’re telling yourself, and change them.”

Ease in.

“I like run/walk methods; Couch to 5k, etc. Start there. When you get to where you can easily run 3 miles, think about a running coach. If you come to me before that, I would just have you do something similar to that. It’s solid. That’s what I started with. It’s a smart way to build up.”

Don’t ignore recovery and form.

“Recovery is tough because no one wants to take the time off--but recovery has to happen. You have to take care of your body. That’s why there are so many injured runners. Not listening to warning signs, not strengthening, foam rolling, and recovering are not great. Understanding common injuries is important, too, so that you can recognize them.”

“If your form isn’t great, it heightens injury risk. Strength training is important, too.”

You can connect with Heather Albright at @halbrightfit




Powerlifting: BENEFITS, HOW-TO START & MORE

 

By Steph Puddicome

A frequent reaction that I receive when people find out that I’m a world level competitive powerlifter is, “but you’re too small,” “that seems impossible,” or “females don’t lift heavy.”

There are a lot of misconceptions around what powerlifting actually is. Powerlifting is not just a sport for males. Powerlifting does not make women bulky, and powerlifting is not a drug-ridden sport. Powerlifters come in all shapes and sizes. The sport of powerlifting is packed with competitive athletes with lean athletic physiques because optimal nutrition and an intense training regime is a big part of the game.

Powerlifting is a sport of passion, a sport of inner fortitude, a sport of determination and commitment, and a sport of true strength.

Powerlifting is combined of a series of three lifts: squat, bench-press, and deadlift. Competitors attempt to lift as much weight as possible for their max one repetition over three attempts. Each lifter is placed into a specific division based on age and weight class. Competitors compete for the highest total within their weight class but also compete for the best overall lifter title against all weight classes by using the Wilks formula. The Wilks formula is analogous to a “pound-for- pound” comparison that can be used to measure the strength of a powerlifter against other powerlifters despite the different weights of the lifters.

BENEFITS

Having the capacity to lift heavy weights and increase your strength has significant psychological benefits, such as enhanced confidence and feelings of empowerment. This translates and enhances all other areas of life.

Powerlifting is a primal rush and signing up to compete is one of the best things you can do to amp up your training intensity and progress.

People often ask me how I got into powerlifting, however they never ask what I get out of it. I think this is because they can clearly see this. I have grown from a shy girl to confident elite lifter and fitness professional. I am not afraid to show what I have accomplished and I am not afraid to go after my dreams.

There is nothing that can compare to the empowerment one feels when lifting a lot of weight. Not only will you feel physically stronger (and bad ass!), you will also become stronger in every
other aspect of your life. It is hard to imagine how a heavy squat can translate to a happier home life or better performance at work, but it happens. There is just something transformative about being able to do something that once seemed impossible. Once you realize the strength your body contains, you start to realize that just about anything seems achievable.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Do not expect it to be easy. Expect it to challenge every aspect of your mental and physical strength, expect it to push you to your limits, expect it to knock you down, expect it to pick you up, and expect it to bring out something in yourself you never thought possible.

From Your Body

When training is focused on strength with heavy weight and lower reps, you build dense muscle mass. I don’t mean you will get bulky, however you will gain some size. If you really want that “toned” fit looking physique in your legs, stomach, and arms, heavy lifting will get you there.

From Food

Another thing to expect is the ability to eat a lot of food! Overloading the body with fuel increases your lifting capacity. Nourishing yourself properly is not only healthy but causes increased lifts. The body goes into overdrive with heavy lifting and you will feel constantly hungry. However, increased muscle means the ability to eat and not gain excessive weight. Bring on the carbs!

From Training

Training for powerlifting is time consuming and requires true dedication to the sport. You will need to set aside at least 4 training days a week. Missing training sessions is missing opportunities for self-improvements. In this sport you need to check your ego at the door; it isn’t always about getting a record lift every time you step under the bar. Training happens in cycles, sometimes you are de-loading, other times doing volume work, and then there are times you are hitting max lifts.

A lifter cannot have longevity in this sport with maxing out lifts every session. Strength gains and muscle building come from the ups and downs in a periodized training cycle. Trust the process and trust your coach.

Some people ask what they need to do to get stronger as a powerlifter. DO THE LIFTS! Don’t spend too much time doing accessory exercises: If you want to be a good squatter, squat more. Work on form, work on volume, and work on increasing weight. Follow a training plan and listen to people with experience in the sport.

How to Get Started

The best thing to do is train with people much stronger than you, people who know more than you, and people who you aspire to become. You will learn from these people, be motivated, and rise to their level. Iron sharpens Iron; a solid training group is important for any competitive athlete.

As a female lifter, the dynamic can be different. Train hard… harder than anyone else around you. Earn your spot at the powerlifting rack and train with people who admire strength.

Finding a group of dedicated training partners who view you as an equal opposed to some sort of fitness sex symbol is imperative. My training group is comprised of all males; as the only female, I have earned my spot on the team. I hold my own and do my share. I get treated like one of the “bros” and I contribute to the training team just as they do. This includes spotting, loading the bar, and encouraging teammates. I do what they do; I push like they do. I do not need to be handled with kid gloves or treated differently.

Powerlifting is an extraordinary sport, and with each competition, it allows for a true measure of strength. There isn’t any lying, cheating, or blaming someone else. You either lift the weight or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. It is not a subjective sport. It is not a sport of favoritism. Powerlifting is a sport of fairness and strength.

With every training cycle, every session, and every rep, there is always room for improvement. Setting out on a mission in powerlifting can be life long journey. Once you reach your goals, you set higher ones.

Welcome to the sport of powerlifting! Train hard, eat to perform, and live for the lift. You have to truly love the sport to excel; the questions now become do you have what it takes to stay? Are you willing to do what you have to do to achieve greatness?

 

Breaking Down the Deadlift: Conventional and Sumo

 

By Sascha Teems, @creepshowphysiques

The deadlift is one of the big bar movements that all athletes should be doing. If you can walk, you can deadlift. Everyone gets fired up about them, but I see a lot of form issues with most lifters. It has to become very technical to work the intended area: the low and mid back. I'm speaking of the conventional deadlift. This is the version that you'll see most powerlifters doing. You'll also see them do a sumo stance in competitions. Most affiliations will let you do either. I'll explain why you should be doing both.

Conventional Deadlift

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I want you to think of the conventional deadlift as a mid and low back exercise. It's not a leg exercise. Do it on back day. Your focal point should be the low and mid back. Put your mind there. The chest is up and you are looking straight. Your back needs to have a natural curve. This really makes the spinal erectors work. The whole trick of deadlifting is to keep this position during the whole up and down motion.  Don't let that back round, which starts happening when you are pulling to much weight or start getting fatigued. If the back rounds, the lats do the pull and the lower back is taken out of the equation. Remember, the deadlift is a low back exercise. So, if you continuously keep rounding, the lower back never gets conditioned because it is taken out of play. Even advanced powerlifters doing a one rep max break this rule. Stay true to good posture, and it's only a legal lift if you get a clean lockout. Saying you pulled "X" amount of weight has no merit if the Kinesiolchain has a kink in it. I see horrible deadlift videos all day. The lifter will even admit the form wasn't there. In my own gym I've had many discussions about correct form. The lift is over if form is lost. It's not worth risking the injury. Leave the ego out in the parking lot.

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Sumo Deadlift

So what about this Sumo stance deadlift? Your powerlifting purists will do more conventional pulling in competition, but Sumo is normally allowed across all affiliations. The conventional pull is more quad dominate. The Sumo stance opens up your foundation and points toes outward for posterior chain boom. If you've hung out with me longer than 5 minutes, you will know I salivate over hamstring training. The Sumo stance gives you that hambone love you have been longing for. There is no greater love. Do this version on a leg day. Your goal is to get those legs down to parallel like a squat. At the beginning of the pull the hams will activate and then the low back takes over. It's a great hamstring beating if done correctly. The same form rules apply just as in the conventional. You can experiment with a wider base to get more glute activation.  Do these slow and controlled.

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Some key points to remember when doing both versions of these deadlifts:

1. Wear a flat shoe. Cons or Chucks are great. The lower you keep the heels, the more backside activation you get. Don't deadlift in tennis shoes or lifting shoes with heels raised. They transfer the load to the quads.

Your hamstrings and glutes need the extra activation. I also recommend squatting in flat shoes. The heels raised shoes mask ankle mobility....the lack of. I've seen guys squat beautifully in a pair of platform shoes, but they have a flabby ass and fall apart in flats. Heels low activates those glutes and hamstrings.

2. Lift RAW! No straps, belts, suits, fancy gripping gloves, or regular gloves. Knee sleeves and chalk are fine.

3. Run bar up against shins and quads. It makes sure your form stays locked in on the way up and down. Never bounce on quads to get a lockout. Lighten up. An actual deadlift bar will bend slightly before the plates come off the ground. Most gyms don't have them. Practice with one if you can.

4. Stop doing one rep maxes every lift. Four to six weeks is a good measuring tool. Pull what's safe for you. If back rounds, the set is over.

5. Hands need to be over/under right out side legs for conventional and 10-12 inches apart for Sumo. If you are wanting a career in Olympic lifting, use an overhand grip. You won't be as strong, but it will condition your forearm strength for hang cleans, power clean, and clean and jerk, etc.  

6. Enjoy high rep counts. Warm up with sets do 15 to 20. Do some light hamstring work before deadlifting and make sure the back has done some other form of rowing beforehand. Sets of 4 to 6 reps will get you strong. There is also nothing wrong with having one long deadlift session. Do both versions in a lift. If you feel really frisky, add stiff legged deads, Jefferson deads, and Romanian deads. It's fun to do them all in one session.

7. Make side, front, and rear videos of your deads. Dat camera does not lie. Send me your vids, I'd be happy to break them down. Steems2000@yahoo.com

Heck, come see me, 42701.

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8. Yes, you are using the whole body for a deadlift, but you should be feeling it mostly in your low and mid back. If you lose that feeling, your technique is off. You're specifically training spinal erectors. That's what a deadlift is supposed to hit with controlled weight. The movement has become one of the most macho movements on the planet. I've had grown big men walk out on me when I broke down their form and kept them at 95lbs. If you don't master the deadlift, your squat form and even your upper body movements will be in jeopardy. The Popsicle stick breaks in the middle. If you don't get that low back stronger, you will be calling into work with a thrown back.

9. Have fun. Make it competitive but safe. Watch everyone's deadlift. I do. I have a mental note on everyone in my gym. I'm not a stalker though. I do make it a point to catch the teenagers if they are headed for destruction. I'll throw them off by talking about pizza and their sock game, and the next thing you know their back is good and sore for a week because they finally trained it properly.

Get out there and deadlift now. Don't be intimidated. You must master the big bar. It takes time, but progress will come. Keep pumping that good iron!

~Creepshow

 

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