Hi there, my name is Jen, aka Rainbow Jen – as I love to wear the most garishly bright running outfits possible. I blog over at Two Itchy Feet. Normally which is a running blog, but as I’ve been laid up since February with a running injury, it’s slowly morphed into something like a ‘how to get your sweat on when not running’ blog.
My injury doesn’t come with a very good story. I wish I could say I was chased by hyenas, jumped a wall and escaped via a drain pipe, but ‘tis not so. What started out as a small niggle turned into a big pain and I’ve been spending my future child’s uni tuition fees on physio sessions ever since.
LazyGirl’s asked me to fill you in on how to cope with all that time off from running while maintaining some illusion of fitness and strength. So here’s a summary of some of my favorite forms of exercise that I’ve tried over the past few months to keep busy and fit. My only demand: whatever I was doing, it somehow had to benefit my (future) running-self.
Barre is a new-ish exercise class that’s finally made its way over here from the US. It’s basically a mix of yoga, Pilates and ballet moves that aim to strengthen your core and get you nicely toned and lean. Although the movements are quite minimal, the burn and violent shaking of your muscles aren’t.
Ah, the noble form of yoga. I’ve fallen in and out of love with yoga for many years now. However, thanks to my injury we seem to have finally gone steady and I’ve been practicing more or less regularly. I have a great app on my phone (Yoga Studio), with a huge variety of classes and you can pick a focus, level and/or duration. I do this when I’m too lazy to go out or while traveling.
I’ve also (finally) discovered hot yoga. Now, hot yoga is what it says on the box: yoga in a very hot room. I’m not yet decided whether I prefer to practice yoga while slip and sliding all over the place or in a more respectable and dry fashion, but it’s definitely worth a try. As runners, we’ve heard countless times how beneficial yoga is for us and I think it’s true. We’re notorious for super-tight hammies and IT bands, so why not throw in a weekly yoga sesh to rectify this at least a little bit?!
Top tip: Yoga seems expensive but doesn’t have to be. Most studios have great intro deals, like 10 days for £10 or a month for £30. With the plethora of yoga studios on offer, especially in the capital, you could easily get away with a full year’s worth of very cheap yoga classes. Just shop around!
I always think of Pilates like yoga without all the spiritual stuff but I’m not sure whether that’s a fair assessment. It’s a great form of core-strengthening and should be hailed in its own right. It also gets your glutes. A lot. So if yoga isn’t your cup of tea, Pilates might just do the trick.
APPS & VIDEOS
With the less than favorable spring we’ve had, I’ve often found myself wanting to work out but really not wanting to head back outside. This is where apps and videos come in handy. I’ve already told you about the brilliant Yoga Studio app, but there’s more. My other fave is the Nike Training Club. It’s free to download and it’s a treasure trove of circuit classes, lasting anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. You can do those at home, with or without equipment, and really get your sweat on. The app keeps track of all your achievements and every once in a while throws in 15-minute bonus workouts performed by celebrities like Paula Radcliffe or Serena Williams.
I’m also a big fan YouTube. There’s a gazillion different exercise videos out there and it takes a while to find one that works for you. For a while I loved me some Blogilates videos as they are short. Throw a few together for an hour-long class or just do a 5- or 10-minute burst focused on a particular part of your body.
However, the best I’ve found that’s worked for me is Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. There are three levels of workouts and each lasts only about 25 minutes. After a couple of weeks of doing the Shred religiously, which in my case was about three or four times a week, I started noticing results. Again, the workouts are based on circuits where you do three minutes of strength exercises, two minutes of cardio and one minute of abs, three different circuits like that, add your warmup and cool down and you have a very effective and fun workout that doesn’t even take a full 30 minutes (while being yelled at by the Biggest Loser top-trainer).
I’m a big cycling fan! However, the winter months can be tough. Aside from the cold, it’s not as safe with dark evenings and the risk of ice on the roads. In comes spinning, a killer workout. For 45 minutes to an hour, you’re being put through your paces on a stationary bike (there are proper spinning bikes, you won’t be using those electronic ones you find in the cardio area of your local gym).
Each song usually represents a particular form of cycling. A slow track might see you go up into a high gear and drop your RPMs (revolutions per minute), emulating a nice and painful hill climb. The next song could be upbeat and put you through your sprinting paces, with brief intervals to catch your breath. I’ve encountered many ‘proper’ cyclists who swear by spinning classes to get them through the winter. It’s also a really good workout for your bum!
Top tip: As with so many things, a good class depends on the instructor and I’ve found this to be particularly true for spinning. So if you don’t hit it off the first time you try it out, find a different instructor and give it another go.
This is one of my most recent discoveries and I’ve been going to my local box (that’s what the gym is called in CrossFit lingo) for the past month. Each workout is broken into three parts. A warmup, usually consisting of a variety of circuits, for example, three rounds of a 200m run, some squats, push ups, etc., the technical focus on lifting, for instance overhead squats, deadlifts or cleans, followed by a WoD (workout of the day).
Now this is where it gets fun, or not! The WoDs are tough and I don’t think will get any easier with time as you push yourself as hard as YOU can. They take on two forms: either a variety of circuits for time (an example would be 5 rounds of 200m run, 12 x wall balls, 9 x v-crunches, 6 x sit ups) or circuits for reps (for ex.: 12 minutes AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of 5 x burpees, 10 x kettle bell swings, 15 x ball slams, 20 x skips). You get the drift. These are an absolute killer and I’ve had more than one instance of finishing and wanting to throw up. Only racing has ever had that effect on me. CrossFit benefits both strength and conditioning and can be a good laugh too as it’s quite social.
All of the above are great complementary exercises/workouts for running. With each of these you can improve your core stability, strength and conditioning – all of which are so very essential for running. But I don’t have to go into detail telling you that, you already know!
And me? I’ve been given the all clear to get back to running as of June. It’s going to be a long and steady road, having to gradually re-build my stamina and distance. But I’m hoping that the last three months of constant sweat-sessions will have paid off and I’ll be able to make my comeback as a stronger and faster runner than I was before.