It’s been a year since I joined my local JD gym in Preston and started strength training sessions with a personal trainer and I’m writing this post to share some of the benefits this has brought to both my physical and mental health.

As background I have run on and off since my early twenties as a way of keeping fit and managing my anxiety. However, I have struggled to maintain running longish distances due to a variety of issues such as runner’s knee and problems with my piriformis and hamstrings.

Over a decade ago a physio recommended strengthening my legs to help with my knee pain by doing squats and lunges but this seemed to make my knees worse and I gave up on this course of action and running for a while.

Since starting sessions with my excellent personal trainer, Marie Meagher, I have learnt that I am perfectly capable of doing squats and lunges. Initially my form was incorrect and, with her help correcting me, I have progressed to learning a variety of different forms (sumo squats, split squats, reverse lunges) and to adding weights such as kettle bells, dumb bells and bar bells. 

She has also helped me learn to use the resistance machines and free weights. When I first started at the gym all the cogs and pullies and weights and fastenings were utterly bewildering and I didn’t understand the exercises or know much about my muscle groups and the best ways of working them. 

I can now put together an effective workout incorporating a variety of exercises such as leg extensions, hamstring curls, hip adductions and dead lifts for my lower body or dead rows, chest and shoulder presses, and assisted pull-ups for my upper body. I know what weights to use, the right techniques, how many reps to do.

Strengthening my legs has worked wonders for my running. Before training, the most I had been able to run was 4, 7, and 10 miles a week with the occasional half marathon which usually left me crippled for a couple of days. I am now running 7 and 9 miles and a half marathon every week and have taken 15 minutes off my half marathon time from 2hrs 10 mins to 1hr 55 mins. 

I’ve also noticed the difference that doing exercises for my upper body, abs, and core has made when I’m doing outdoor work in my local green space or gardening.

It is now rare that I suffer from any of my former issues either during or after a run. Another big help has been finding a good physio, Phil Noblett at South Ribble Physiotherapies, who has been brilliant at sorting out my minor injuries and keeping me running. It’s been a big revelation that some of the niggles I’ve had are simply due to lactic acid build up and can be massaged out.

Learning about my different muscle groups, how to work them, and discovering muscles I didn’t know I had has provided me with much better knowledge of my body and a more positive and mindful relationship with it. 

My successes with strength training and running have also improved my mental health. Being physically stronger helps me feel mentally stronger and and provides me with a source of accomplishable achievements when I’m struggling in other areas of life due to limits with my autism and anxiety.

I have found both are better antidotes to stress than alcohol or overeating and am far less likely to do either as I know they will have a detrimental effect on my training.

Although I will never run record beating times or lift heavy weights it is an accomplishment, at the age of forty, to be the strongest and fittest I’ve ever been.

*With thanks to Marie for taking the photographs as this morning’s PT session.

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