Here in the Boston area, it’s been a tough winter to be a runner. Trails are buried under 7 feet of soft snow (really), roads are narrow and dangerous, and we’re all nearing the stage we’d rather organize a closet than get on the treadmill one more time. Even for those of us who are used to running in snow, ice, and cold all winter, this year has been logistically challenging. I was talking with a client this morning about how it would probably be great to run circles around a local office park on the weekends when there were no cars. Yes, non-local folks, laps around an office park is our new definition of “great.”
I started thinking about how we can make the challenges of cardio work for us, rather than against us. Now that just about everybody in the northeast is spending more time working out indoors than we’d like, it’s the perfect opportunity to strengthen your body against typical running injuries. I purposely stuck to household items in this demo, because I wanted this workout to work when you were snowed into your house with no exercise equipment. We’re going to start at our feet and work our way up. As always, use good sense and don’t do any of these exercises if they are contraindicated for you.
1) Towel crunches
Standing in bare feet, curl a thick towel towards you with your toes. (This may be surprisingly hard! If it is, that just proves you really need to do it.) Repeat 5 times on each leg.
This is harder than it looks. (Peacock Tech Tee and Dark Denim shorts from www.inknburn.com.)
2) Sitting down with one leg in the air, deliberately trace the alphabet with your toes. This strengthens the muscles in your feet, your ankles, and increases ankle mobility.
Trace the alphabet. If you want to be an overachiever, also trace it in cursive.
3) Toe-offs. Roll onto the ball of your food, driving your opposite knee up. Pay very close attention to your foot mechanics here. This is meant to be strengthening your foot and creating muscle memory for good form, so you do now want your foot rolling in or out at all.
4) Stand on one foot on the least stable item you can find. I’m on two sofa pillows on top of a mat. (If you were at a gym you would use a balance pad, balance pod, or BOSU). Hold for 30-60 seconds, switch sides. If it’s easy, close your eyes, forcing your body to rely on sensory input from your feet rather than your eyes. This will really help develop your balance and agility.
5) Lateral lunges. I like to do these on a hardwood or tile floor with a paper plate. We didn’t have any paper plates, so I’m using a soft towel. Stand with one foot firmly on the ground, and side your other foot out sideways, bending your standing knee. Pull the leg back in firmly returning to a standing position. Repeat 25 times on each leg.
6) Standing strong on one leg, raise your other knee to a 90 degree angle. Extend the raised leg out straight and hold for 5 seconds, bend. Repeat 25 times on each leg.
Extend leg out strong.
7) Leaning against a wall, counter, table, etc. at about a 30 degree angle, raise your knees strongly and as quickly as can be controlled. You’re lifting off the balls of your feet, contracting your quads quickly, and dropping the leg back down.
Quick feet! Thighs stay parallel to the ground.
8) Single leg squat. You can do these with your leg in front of you (pistol squat) or behind you as if you were stepping into a lunge. The important thing is to keep your hips square, your knee in line with your ankle, and to strongly contract your glutes when you come back to standing. No wibble-wobbling, and no trying to do the work with your quads and hips.
I’m working on them, but still have a lot of typical runner imbalances which you can see in my form.
9) Prisoner squat. Hands behind your head, drop down into a squat. Knees stay in line, butt comes back, core stays strong.
More runner imbalances. My back is more arched than it should be, and my hamstrings are tight, limiting range.
10) Lunge jumps. Stand in a lunge position, jump and switch legs. Land lightly and with control, keeping your hips square and your knees and ankle in line. If you have to choose between form and speed, choose form. If you have a soft surface available and can do this barefoot, it will also help strengthen your feet and ankles.
11) 1 arm plank. Legs fairly wide, keeping hips square to the floor and shoulders level. Lift one arm with control, hold it is as long as you are able to maintain form. 30 second break, repeat on the other side.
Don’t let your hips drop!
12) Lateral leg raises. Laying on your side, core engaged and foot active, lift one leg with control. Repeat until you cannot maintain form (don’t angle forward towards the floor!) and then switch sides. As a runner you want a strong gluteus medius and this a great way to fire it up.
Giant puppies find this position irresistible. I get attacked every time I do this exercise. EVERY TIME.
13) V-sit. Sit in a V and hold it, thinking about maximizing the distance between your head and hips and feet and hips. Nice long back (don’t round!) and core very strong. If you need to modify you can drop your hands to the ground.
14) 1 leg bridge. Start on your back, knees bent, feet on floor. Raise both hips with core and glutes strong. If you feel any tension in your back, drop your hips back to the floor and strongly contract your core there. Otherwise raise one leg and hold your hips level to the floor, core strongly contracted so you feel no tension in your back (if tension in your back, go back to a two-leg bridge).
15) Runners. Holding a moderate weight item in each hand, legs in a split stance, mimic a running motion with your arms. Smooth oscillations, hands stay straight and relaxed, no crossing over your body.
Jenn is a personal trainer at Manchester Athletic Club and is currently accepting new clients. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.