Monday, January 13, 2014

What I Do When I'm Not Running, Exercise Edition

The Polar Vortex, which brought a negative windchill to New England, left me little choice but to stay inside for a spell. On the coldest afternoon, as I did a did some compensatory leg work while waiting for lunch to cook, I thought it might be helpful to share the exercises I do when I’m not running.

I don’t do all of these on every non-running day, mind you. I do leg work most often, followed by core work and arm exercises. My part-time job involves a lot of repetitive heavy lifting, so my arms and core get a good workout once or twice a week as it is. (Side note: Any job that pays you to lift things up and put them down is pretty sweet.) You, then, may want to do the arm and core work more often than I do.

Necessary caveat: I'm not a licensed trainer, though I did learn these exercises from various coaches or trusted friends over the past 18+ years. If you have any concerns about doing any of these exercises -- especially the ones with weights -- talk to your coach or physician.

Leg exercises:
  • Squats and lunges. Pretty standard. I do sets of 16 to 20.
  • Heel raises. My variation on this, thanks to my wife, is to do two sets of six in each of the five ballet pointe positions. (This is a great post-run stretch, too.)
  • Toe tough while lifting opposite leg behind me. Basically, as you touch your left toe, you lift your right leg behind you so that, as you touch your left toe, your right leg is parallel to the ground. (Note: If you have pets, make sure they aren't nearby. Otherwise, they will get kicked in the face.) I do sets of 12, only because I just started doing these.
  • Lift knee toward chest, then push leg behind. Keep your back straight as you lift your knee toward your chest, then thrust it behind you. This works your hips. I do two sets of 20.
  • Leg sweep. Find a step. Stand on it. Kick your leg out in front of you. I do sets of 16 with each leg. Then, kick them to the side. Again, sets of 16.
Core exercises:
  • Planks. Make sure your forearm (between your shoulder and elbow) is perpendicular to the floor. If you're feeling lucky, you can lift your leg off the floor for 3-4 seconds. (I do this in sets of 12. I have trouble staying upright much longer than that.)
  • Crunches. I bring my left knee toward my chest while raising and twisting my abs to touch my right elbow to my left knee, then repeat. I go back and forth like that for a set of 25.
  • Leg lifts from the floor. This one is hard: Lie on the floor, legs perpendicular to the ground, and use your abs to lift your lower body off the floor, all while keeping your legs in position. I do sets of 16 and am sure my form is off.
  • Side-to-side stretches. If you do yoga, you know this one well. I do it with my feet shoulder-length apart. Put your hands on your hips. Bend at your left hip, with your right arm in the air, and go as far down the side of your body as you can. Hold for 4-5 seconds. Then do it on the other hip. I'll do sets of 20 if I hold for 4 seconds and 16 if I hold for 5 seconds. (If you're so inclined, this is the exercise done on The Sims whenever you turn on the fitness channel.)
I use 20-pound weights for all the arm exercises except the "running" one, for which I use 5-pound weights. If you've never lifted weights before, start with something smaller. You can always buy a set of smaller dumbbells if you need to. For these exercises, you probably won't need anything much bigger than 20 pounds. In a pinch, handles jugs of cat litter will do.
  • Curls. To save your back, do one set with your left foot in front of your right foot, then reverse that for the other set. It gives you better balance without impacting the arm workout.
  • Military press. Rest the weights on your shoulders, palms facing forward, and lift your arms toward the sky. For more of a challenge, start with your palms facing backward and twist your arms so that your palms are facing forward when your arms are almost fully extended. (As with any arm exercise, don't hold them fully extended with a weight in your hand.)
  • Tricep extensions. Weight in (one) hand, put your arm at your side. Use your other hand to stabilize your arm (use your thumb and forefinger to "cup" your arm between your bicep and elbow.) Straighten your arm as though you're doing The Robot. (Note: This may require a smaller weight, as it works a muscle that most of us don't usually use.)
  • Wrist curls. Stabilize your arm just past your wrist and mimic the curl motion using only your wrist.
  • Shrugs. Let your arms hand at your side, weights in hand. Shrug your shoulders. Keep your arms straight.
  • Arm twists. Same position as shrugs, only this time you're going to twist your arms 180 degrees backward and forward.
  • Mimic arm running motion. Grab small weights and pretend you're running. You can either "run" in place or stand with one foot in front of the other.
  • Push ups. As variations on the theme, I'll do two sets, one with one arm in front of the other and then reversed, or one set of regular push-ups and a second with my hands meeting to form a triangle between my thumbs and forefingers.
  • Pull-ups. There's a pull-up bar in my basement. I never use it. It's still in the box. I should set it up.
When you do the arm exercises, remember: You’re a runner, not that bodybuilder from the video. Upper-body bulk does you no good. Sinewy arms do. Aim for sets of 16 to 20 reps. The last few should burn. (But they shouldn’t hurt. If they do, stop.)

As with any workout, be sure to stretch when you’re done and refuel with good carbs, protein and lean fat. I opt for Greek yogurt and a banana, since (even altogether) this is a quick workout that doesn’t burn a ton of calories.