Rebecca posted the following comment and question on our Facebook page recently:
“… I just wanted to write in and say how much all of you inspire me! Reading your posts are so much fun and give me so much great info.. I have had something on my mind and I just wanted some words of wisdom. It’s the idea of being skinny or strong. I know it may sound crazy but I battle with it all the time. I guess being an over weight kid really left a mark on me! Running helps me to feel strong and in shape. Often if the number on the scale is too high ( in my mind) I feel better knowing that the number on the road, meaning the amount of miles I run is also high so it’s better to be strong then to be “skinny.” Right? “
What an important question! Many people struggle with this same question in several different forms! Thank you for asking Rebecca!
Oh Rebecca, I know that you’re not alone in that feeling as I encounter it often with people I coach. I always give them the same advice knowing that it’s hard for them to follow, and that is; stop using the scale! Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for a scale, but in my opinion that’s likely at both extremes of the weight spectrum, including very fit competitive athletes, as some suffer from the opposite problem that many others deal with, and that is they lose weight too easily and become underweight (for them) and weak.
I admit that I’ve never had to deal with being overweight, and so I can only tell you what I’ve learned from coaching lots of people over the years as well as training myself for a number of different sports.
The way to find your “best weight” is in monitoring how you feel and how you respond to your training to meet the goals you’ve set for yourself. I think that using a simple measure is most beneficial . I suggest that some students buy clothing which is heading in the direction that they want to go with their weight (either a slightly larger or slightly smaller size) and put it/them on every week to see how it’s going. When those clothes fit comfortable, and training hasn’t suffered, try a new outfit at a slightly smaller or larger size and repeat the process until something changes in motivation, endurance, speed, etc. At that point listen to your body and perhaps back off a bit. Now that I think of it, that’s a coaching concept that could likely get me lots of students, if I had time to train more that is! I’m seeing an ad which says, Train with me and buy new clothing of your choice regularly as part of your training plan! Hummmm …., but I digress!
One of the best ways to monitor how training is going is to keep a running journal in order to help find that ideal training weight, write in it honestly, review it every week or two and listen to your body for guidance. You can learn how to listen to your body and to understand what it’s telling you on your own, but it takes awhile for some people to tune in properly.
Now, as to your direct question re: is it better to be strong or skinny, I’d say that since you’re not likely making a living from the prize money you win racing (a very large percentage of the people racing with us are not making a living racing for prize money, even our Champions), I would submit that it’s better to be Strong and Healthy then it is to be Skinny. Less weight can mean faster times, up to a point, but skinny does NOT necessarily equate to being either strong or healthy!
The lifestyle you have chosen (including being an endurance athlete) is one which only a very small percentage of the population is able and willing to follow. The mental strength you’ve developed, although you may have been referring to your physical strength, enables you to accomplish amazing things. Please forget that number in your head and concentrate on your health and racing goals (those are the more important numbers). You are likely far down the road to robust health, and having a number on a scale to guide you further does not likely provide an additional benefit. Did you know that making adjustments based on the number on a scale can be counterproductive to your training if done improperly? As you likely know, training has its ups and downs, and so does your weight. The weight of most serious athletes varies a bit depending on their training and racing schedule, and the times in between, and so may yours.
I say throw that scale out and concentrate on how you feel, how your training is going, and how tight those test clothes are. But if you must count something, here are a couple of good choices: 1) Download an app that helps you count total calories in and calories expended each day. 2) Measure your resting heart rate and blood pressure often and write those numbers in you journal, or graph both of them to see trends easier (I’m a numbers junkie). You may be amazed by how much useful info you’ll have to go along with your training journal. It’s a bit of work at first, as is most anything new, but once you get used to it, it doesn’t take much time.
“Live Strong” may be a bit tarnished as a motto right now, but it’s true. I don’t recall ever seeing, “Live Skinny” as a motto though!
As you can see, I’m on a mission to get rid of standard weight scales for most athletes. Feel great, train and race well, listen to your body, and be both mentally and physically healthy. That’s where the magic is! No traditional scale required for you Rebecca! That’s so yesterday in your life now. Live Strong and Healthy! – Joe