By Naomi Rabon
There is and most likely always will be an on-going battle in my mind between two areas of health and fitness:
• Recreational athlete in the sport of running
• Improving (or at the very least maintaining) my physique as a recreational weightlifter/bodybuilder
Many of your reading this may be in the same boat of having two very different hobbies you are passionate about and both are equally as important to you to pursue on a weekly basis.
TOP PERFORMANCE, PHYSIQUE PLATEAU
My first love was running. I ran for about 13 years before I started getting serious about weightlifting. Despite being on a local racing team, running races just about every weekend at the height of my recreational running “career” in 2010, while logging over 100 running miles per month, as well as running my first marathon with a Boston qualifying finish time that year, I would still look in the mirror and see saddlebags and cellulite around my hips, thighs and butt. Although I had a healthy body fat percentage, it wouldn’t budge under 26% no matter how much I ran. I still felt flabby in my stubborn areas, and felt flat and not very muscular all over. No matter how many miles I ran, or how fast I finished races, I still felt skinny-fat.
I wasn’t unhappy with my body, but I felt like I didn’t look the way I wanted to look. And I didn’t understand why I couldn’t lose fat around my hips, thighs and butt, and why I didn’t look more muscular. I was eating nutritious foods, but would later realize that Kashi cereal, dates and prunes, a plethora of sweet potatoes, peanut butter and Amy’s Gluten-Free Pizzas – while not un-healthy – were “performance runner Naomi’s” idea of healthy foods. But an abundance of carbs (well over 100 grams of sugar daily) and not enough protein, plus too much cardio and not enough of, or the right kind of, weightlifting (not lifting heavy enough) fed my running performance but simultaneously kept my physique stuck in a plateau. I had taken my body as far as I possibly could with my fitness regimen.
TO CHANGE HOW YOU LOOK, CHANGE WHAT YOU DO
In 2011, I hired a coach to train me for my first competition. She knew I was an avid runner, and the first thing she told me was to stop running. As luck would have it, I had suffered from plantar fasciitis near the end of 2010 (probably because I overtrained and ran way too much that entire year) and I wasn’t running anyway due to my injury. But she told me to stop doing cardio all together (GASP!) at least for the first 4-6 weeks of training with her so that my metabolism and body could fully embrace the muscle-building process.
This was extremely difficult for me mentally, as I was your typical cardio queen. But I also knew that in order for my physique to look completely different, I had to do completely different things, so I trusted her.
She gave me a sample diet, which was totally different than how I was eating to be a fast endurance runner, and my muscle-building physique transformation journey began.
I fell in love with lifting weights, and after stepping on stage in 2012, I also started to run again and eventually started racing again while continuing the process of improving my physique.
TWO GOALS: DIFFERENT BUT EQUAL
Fast forward to now. I have the muscular physique I wanted so badly when I was an avid runner, and I also re-discovered my love for running and racing about a year and a half ago. This gives me a whole new set of problems! As you may have gathered, it takes two very different kinds of fitness approaches to achieve athletic performance than it does to improve your physique. I foresee this being an on-going struggle, possibly for the rest of my life, but I’m ok with that. I feel like I’m starting to learn how to enjoy both, but I’m not too thrilled with what has to be done in order to have both hobbies in my life: I have to choose one that I’m going to focus on for a certain amount of time, then switch my focus to the other.
Basically, running and physique improvements have to take turns being front and center. This doesn’t mean I can’t run a little while I’m focusing on physique improvements, and it doesn’t mean I can’t lift heavy while I’m focusing on running. But because the training and eating are very different for both, one has to take priority over the other at any given time.
HOW TO TAKLE MULTIPLE FITNESS APPROACHES
If you have a similar struggle with being an athlete (tennis player, obstacle course athlete such as Tough Mudder or Spartan Racer, martial arts, etc.), and sculpting your physique, here’s what you can do to try and be successful in both fitness approaches.
1. Choose One Focus Choose one of your two fitness approaches to focus on for a given time period, then switch to the other focus. For example, I am taking the first 6 months of this year to focus on strength training, physique improvements, experimenting with different diet techniques, endurance improvements and functional exercises. Then the second 6 months of this year, I am focusing on my running athleticism in preparation to run a full marathon in December.
I have still been running during the first 6 months of focusing on my physique, and will still lift when I start marathon training. But believe me, my leg workouts especially will look much different during marathon training. Right now, I may sacrifice a run in order to get my leg workout it, whereas in the fall I may have to forego a leg workout in order to get all my training runs in (and not feel like my legs are going to fall off).
2. Eat For Your Goals As many of you may now know, if your goal is to get shredded and lose body fat, you have to be in a caloric deficit. It is very difficult to be in peak athletic performance shape while in a caloric deficit. Before an event, typically runners, biathletes, triathletes and cross-fitters will down some fast-acting glycogen to rev up their engine for a good energy burst for their performance.
During the months training for an athletic event, you want to eat foods that are conducive to great performance, which may not be the same foods that would be conducive to physique changes. On the flip side, if you’re trying to build muscle, you don’t want to do too much cardio so that you can allow your body to use the calories and macros to build muscle that might otherwise be used to get through a 5-mile training run.
3. Educate Yourself The best thing you can do is know what it takes to excel at athletic performance specific to your sport, and the physique changes you’re looking to achieve. Once you have identified what it takes to achieve both, then you can decide how you want to divide your time between both passions.
Whatever your passions are in the health and fitness arena, you can pursue multiple avenues, but most likely not both to full capacity at the same time. One or the other will have to take priority. And both fitness approaches can definitely complement one another, if done the right way.
ABOUT NAOMI RABON
One of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.