Several years ago I was in love with running. Half marathons were my jam! I loved plotting out winding 10 mile long runs through the White Mountains of NH and spending my Sundays running for a few hours followed by an epic brunch. I enjoyed the time outside, the satisfaction of finishing a particularly challenging run and the thrill of chasing a PR. There was just one problem:
I felt like a runner but I didn't look like one.
Through several half marathons and hours of training, my body didn't seem to change much. I've always held on to weight in my midsection and no matter how much I ran, that didn't seem to change. I noticed other runners around me looking lean and fast meanwhile I felt as if I looked like a pregnant spider, spindly limbs with a bulging middle.
I didn't know it at the time, but I was falling victim to a common misconception: participating in a certain sport will help you achieve a body type similar to other athletes in that sport. Under this assumption many of us chase certain types of activities while avoiding others all based on the appearance of the more elite participants. What I didn't realize is that some bodies are more predisposed to perform certain activities and people with those bodies will be drawn to what they're good at because being good at stuff feels awesome. Many of those runners that I was envying didn't run their way into those lean bodies. They didn't find running, running found them.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that although I loved running, it was not loving me back. Despite efforts to lose weight my body was not changing and I was plagued with back and hip injuries. I was at the chiropractor or getting a massage weekly. I was spending time and money in the pursuit of something that was constantly hurting me while not helping me achieve my goals.
The last half marathon I raced in left me hobbled for weeks. It was a heartbreaking choice but I decided to take a break from running. I was terrified that I'd gain weight and worried that I wouldn't find another way to get that "runner's high".
I turned to strength training because I missed how running made me feel and I was worried when I stopped running I'd gain weight
Strength training ended up changing my life.
Just as I had enjoyed improving my 5k time, I loved working to increase my weights. When I did my first chin-up I was ecstatic. Anyone can hobble their way through a road race, it took me a year to be able to pull my chest to that bar.
I went from near constant back/hip pain to an occasional flare up once a year (or not at all).
My legs which had always been lean, gained muscle and shape and for the first time in my life I had a booty. Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing all of my flaws, I had pride in what I was building.
When you think about it, it's odd that we somehow assume that performing a sport/activity at a novice level could get us the physique of an elite athlete in that sport. We hope that a few hours of Barre class a week will give us those "long, lean" muscles of dancers and we shy away from lifting weights because we don't want to look like a body builder. In both cases these athletes have devoted their lives to their sport. When you're considering how to exercise I encourage you to worry less about what people in the top 1% of that sport look like and instead ask yourself a few questions:
Do I enjoy this workout?
Does it cause me pain beyond some muscle soreness?
Is it moving me toward my goals?
Is it sustainable?
We get caught up in what we think we should be doing and what other people are doing, forgetting that each body responds differently to different exercises. Don't let the stereotypical body type of a sport/workout draw you in or deter you, give it a try for yourself.
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