things I know about lifting

Lately, I've gotten quite a few questions about the lifting that I do.  I realized that I was just typing the same thing over and over.  Instant blog post, just add water and hit publish!

Lots of disclaimers, first.  I am not certified or licensed or anything like that.  I have not studied lifting.  What I don't know about lifting would make a much longer post than what I do.  Over the past 4-5 years, I've been in physical therapy quite a few times due to injury.  From that, plus some reading online, plus some working out with friends, plus an occasional workout with a trainer I've put together a lifting rotation that works for me.  Every body is different and requires different exercises and routines to make things work right.  I am constantly tweaking this based on how my body responds.  When I have questions, I ask my PT or someone at the gym or I look it up online.  If you print this out and take it to the gym and follow it step-by-step with no modifications for your own body and level of fitness, you will almost certainly be struck by lightening and drop dead.  

A few other notes.  I have broken up my lifting into two days - a legs day and an arms/chest/back day.  However, I do core exercises on both days.  I try to pair the things I'm lifting in opposition with whatever cardio I am doing.  If I am running that day, I will lift a/c/b.  If I am swimming, I will lift legs.  It doesn't always work out that way, but when I am mentally planning my week, that is my goal.  Post-surgery, I was lifting 6-7 days a week for an hour because there wasn't a lot of cardio I could do, and I couldn't mentally handle swimming every day.  As I've added cycling, then running back into the mix, it's pretty seriously affected my energy levels, so I dropped down to 4-5 days a week of lifting, 45-60 minute sessions.  When I'm in a more serious running or cycling program (cough National Half cough), I think I may even drop it down to 2 days a week, or I'll do shorter sessions 4-5 days a week, depending on how I feel.  I think that there are pretty serious benefits to be found from lifting even one day a week, and there is an endless amount of ways to put together a lifting program.  If you are lifting for the first time, I loudly and strongly advocate signing up for a few sessions with a trainer so you don't tear something or drop a barbell on your head or break your neck.  It's very easy to hurt yourself if you don't know what you are doing, and proper form is crucial.  

Okay, so now that I'm done saying everything I need to say to avoid getting sued: lifting.  Both days are broken into two sections: a free weight/body weight section and a machine section, roughly 20-30 minutes each.  Most of the free weight exercises have come from being in PT, and are designed to target certain weakness, as well as my core & little stabilizers.  Here's what yesterday's legs workout looked like:
It took me 55 minutes to do this.  When I first started, it took me a lot longer because I was really focusing on form (I still am, but my body has the muscle memory now).  The first half, I do as a mini-circuit, with no rest.  I alternate the first two sets of Bosu squats.  I put a set of 50 crunches in between every set of side lifts and windshield wipers.  I put a plank in between every set of donkey kicks.  The second half (where the weights come in), I allow 60-90 seconds of rest between sets.  I never raise the weight on more than 2-3 exercises per week, and when I do, I generally raise it by the minimum available (usually 5lbs).  I do 3 sets of 12-20 reps because I am not trying to grow Hulk muscles, I am trying to be flexible and strong - and there is an infinite amount of discussion among lifters about how many sets/reps to do and for what purpose.  This is just what I believe is true and works for my body.  Occasionally I'll throw in a day of 4x6-8 reps of a much higher weight on the machines, but I haven't noticed it making a difference in how I feel or progress.  Other people may see a big difference.  As the people who know me in real life can see, this has not made me super ripped.  But I feel strong.

For those of you that may have been living under a rock for the past 8 months, I have IT band problems that are linked to weak/tight hip flexors, which are likely linked to weak/tight glutes and adductors.  I also have left/right imbalance issues due to various surgeries and injuries, which is why I have so many exercises in here that target using one leg at a time (all the squats are single leg except the second set, also side lifts, donkey kicks, windshield wipers, all of the cable exercises, and single leg press).  I have monster quads and calves that need no encouragement, so while many of these exercises target quads & calves secondarily, I don't do much quad or calf work at all.  Also, while my core is activated during almost every single set, I still do crunches and planks to target little core muscles.  I hate planks more than anything on earth, but I do them every day that I lift because I'd like to run again someday.

This is what my arms/chest/back workout looked like this morning:
Again, the first 6 exercises are free weights and are done as a circuit with no rest.  When I started lifting after my shoulder surgery this spring, I was doing 2x10 chest press, pec fly, and vertical row - all with no weight.  And that's it.  I've worked up from there.  I discovered this summer that I was still having shoulder problems (weak lats and a funky rotator cuff), so my PT added in all of the cable work, some of the rows, and the shoulder swings.  I do roman chair work between the pec flys/rear delts, I do the planks and some of the cable work during machine rest.  

I have a bigger spreadsheet that is the sum total of my lifting, and I add and remove as my body changes.  My twiggy knee thing is preventing me from doing lunges, so those aren't in the rotation right now.  I pulled one of my triceps just the tiniest bit last week, so some of the tricep work isn't in the rotation right now.  And on and on.  As with anything, the most important thing is listening to my body and being constantly reactive.  Sometimes I get to the gym and only do the body work weights.  Sometimes I'm feeling great and I add in a lot more core work.  I generally lift on the weekdays - both because I try and do my longer rides/runs/swims on the weekend and because my gym is kind of obnoxious on Saturdays and Sundays.  If I have a ride or race coming up, I'll adjust my lifting the week before and generally leave it out the 2-3 days leading up to the event.

Here's a copy of the big spreadsheet.  The exercises in the rotation right now are marked with day 1 or 2.  The names of things are generally what my PT calls them - you can google the name or just email me and ask if you can't figure something out.  I'd love to hear about the lifting that everyone else does, and if you have any questions, please ask!  If this is too hard to read, drop me an email and I'll send you the actual spreadsheet.


  1. Great post! I tend to fall into the same lifting routine so I will be stealing some of these to add to mine. Thanks girl!
    And see you Sunday + Monday...woot!

  2. You are awesome! I get so distracted and don't know what to do, so my lifting routine for upper and lower body and abs lasts about 30 minutes total. Maybe I will ask nicely and smile pretty and one day you will work out with me :)

  3. Me: Who does this shit?
    Katie: I do.

    Sigh. Continually the story of my life. Can we do some weight stuff together when I'm in DC so you can explain some of that stuff?

  4. I only have an hour, maybe 1:15 per day, for exercise, except weekend long runs, typically starting at 5 am, so I have to get my work done in way less time if I want to do daily cardio and weights.

    And therefore I also don't have a kickin' bod like yours!!

  5. You. Are. Badass!

    Lifting always make me feel so great during and after. Like Powerful Woman.
    Can't wait til lifting and core don't make my bulging disc mad. I really miss it. And I agree it makes a huge difference in running and avoiding injury.

  6. WOW! You are a serious badass! I am too schizo in the gym to be ever able to lift for that long! Very impressed, as always!
    Loved the diclaimer - you so work for a law firm! LOL!

  7. This is bad ass. I think my running has suffered as I've gotten away from serious weights--though I was never quite this serious! I'm going to hit up my chiro for a routine tomorrow, though I do usually just do the classes at the gym.

  8. Useful post regarding strengthening. Thanks for describing how incorporating cycling and running to a strength conditioning routine may help in core muscle strength.


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