Changing Approaches to Get Off the Bench

By Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN on April 22, 2017 , categorized in Endurance, Strength + Conditioning

on the bench

I have now spent over two decades in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people of all shapes, sizes and abilities achieve their fitness goals. Every single person I work with has their own personal aches, pains, and a story. Whenever they tell me they couldn’t do something because of these obstacles, I tell them about the boy on the bench.

The Boy on the Bench

As a young boy, I loved to run. It came easy to me. I was blessed with the genetics for it, both speed and endurance. Before school on the playground, during gym class, at recess and playing games around the neighborhood – I was always running. It brought me happiness, pure and simple.

Then, when I was nine years old, I began to experience pain whenever I ran. Crippling, debilitating pain. It presented in my entire lower legs: my shins, ankles and feet. I had just begun to play a handful of sports and came from a family of six boys where athletics were front and center, so this development was devastating.

A Life of Riding the Bench

Determined and strong-willed, however, I continued to play sports, but the pain continued as well. And it became progressively worse. At age ten I played on an elite soccer team that went on to win the state championships, yet I spent most of the season and the majority of the final game sitting quietly in pain on the bench.

In my teens I switched from soccer to football in the spring, but the change in sports made no difference. The more I ran, the more pain I experienced. In addition to the physical discomfort, the pain was now mental as well. I wanted to play. I wanted to run. I tried changing shoes, taping my ankles, wearing sports braces, but nothing helped.

Like my early years playing soccer, I spent the majority of my high-school football years riding the bench. Each summer I would participate in “Hell Week,” the two-week hard-core conditioning camp to prepare the football team for the upcoming season, and, by the final day, I could barely walk let alone run. I would then spend the rest of the season standing on the sidelines and sitting on the bench, playing an occasional play or two.

Time for a Different Approach

Unable to run but unwilling to give up my passion for exercise, I began to focus on what I could do instead of what I could not. So, while still in high school, I started lifting weights and working out religiously. I put together a simple home gym in the basement and began to read everything I could on strength training and conditioning. Lifting weights gave me the outlet I needed when running wasn’t an option.

During college and my twenties, I focused on strength training. A mix of free weights and machines, a typical guy “vanity” workout. But I missed running.

So I started back slowly. Very slowly. Short runs. Short races. I cross-trained. I continued with the strength training, but began focusing more on running-related lower-body workouts and core exercises. I read everything I could on strength and conditioning for runners, especially shin splints and issues of the lower extremities. After many months of slow, consistent, progressive training, the running-related pain that plagued my childhood slowly faded away.

Constantly Correcting Imbalances and Addressing Weaknesses

It would be great to say that my problems were solved, that I continued to run pain-free. Not true. As continued to run longer distances and more frequently, I experienced many of the common running-related issues. The difference was that now, as soon as the weaknesses and imbalances presented themselves, I identified and corrected them.

Fast forward to today: I have completed over 70 marathons, many under 3 hours, and even won a small marathon. I have done several ultra marathons including a 50-miler and a 36-mile run from sea level to the 10,000 foot summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui. I have completed 23 Ironman triathlons around the world, on six of the seven continents, along with the Ironman World Championships. I have written books about running.

But what is most important to me, much more than the number of races I have completed or personal best times, is that I am now running pain-free.

Identify what personal pains, aches and stories are obstacles in your path. Address them head-on and move forward. Having a modified goal is something you shouldn’t be ashamed of. Believe in yourself and you will get where you need to go.

What obstacles are you working through in your training?

 

tom holland

Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN

Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN is an internationally-recognized exercise physiologist, certified sports nutritionist, freelance writer, and regular contributor to Vega’s Expert Panel. He is the author of “Beat the Gym”, “The Marathon Method”, “The 12-Week Triathlete” and “Swim, Bike Run, Eat! The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon”. He has hosted numerous best-selling fitness DVDs including “Supreme 90 Day”, “The Abs Diet Workout” and “Herbalife 24 Fit”. Tom’s workouts and fitness articles have been published in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, SELF, Women’s Health, Oxygen, Men’s Journal, Fitness, Time, The New York Times, Runner’s World, Triathlete, Inside Triathlon and more. Holland is an elite endurance athlete with 23 Ironman triathlon and over 60 marathon and ultramarathon finishes around the world, including races in Malaysia, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, China, Brazil. South Africa, Germany, Italy, France and Ireland. Tom is a frequent fitness expert on television with appearances on The TODAY Show, Good Morning America, CNN, FOX, QVC & HSN.

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