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Hello Women’s Running Community! I’m so excited to be able to share with you today how I make my cross-training workouts functional, efficient, and effective- and how they’ve made me a better runner. As a Mom of four young children I don’t have a lot of time or extra energy to expend on cross-training, but I know how necessary it is for both my pace AND my body to work on strengthening my muscles.
As an athlete I enjoy pushing myself and improving my times. Since starting to use HIIT exercises in combination with speed work I’ve noticed my paces moving from the 9-plus range to sub-8 minute range for a 5k. I’d say that improvement happened over the course of about six months. I spent so much time riding the 9:30/mile for a 4 mile run and struggling. I wanted to be faster, but how could I when what I was already doing seemed impossibly difficult? Strength training made all of the difference for me. I started taking CrossFit classes- learning basic body weight movements and Olympic lifts- and before long I saw my goals starting to come to fruition. Strength training was the missing piece of the puzzle for me. I was finally getting faster and seeing those times I was hoping for. Of course there is always room for improvement, but I’m able to look back now and feel satisfied that workouts that once seemed impossible are coming easily to me.
Here are three things that I feel contribute to a great strength training routine:
Functional: First thing’s first, my workouts need to be functional. Many times I complete my strength training during my running workouts or speed work. I treat them as an active recovery time in between runs during my ladder workout. This might look like 10 burpees between sets of 800’s or 10 push ups between 400’s. When I’m at the track or out on my run I’m aware of what’s around me. I try to get as creative as possible. Are there bleachers I can run up and down? Is there a ledge I can do dips on? Is there something I can hang off of and work on my pull ups? My strength training is something that fits seamlessly into my environment. I have an arsenal of movements that I can use at almost any time. The park, the playground, the track, my basement- anywhere has the potential to be my “gym.”
Effective: I don’t want to waste my time doing workouts that aren’t going to change my body and make me a better athlete. That being said, there are a few main exercises I like to hit multiple times a week. Burpees are one of my favorites. Very few people like them but they’re a great total body exercise. You can see how effective they are after doing about 10- you very quickly become fatigued and your muscles start to burn. Another favorite is the box jump. As runners, we want to have strong legs and a strong core. You gain explosive power from working box jumps (or stair jumps) on a regular basis. The above movements can benefit you in so many ways. Not only are you gaining muscular endurance but you’re gaining cardiovascular endurance as well. Other benefits include increased flexibility and agility. I have a long list of exercises I like to use, but here are a few of my favorites: push ups, dips, mountain climbers, Russian twists, leg raises, bicycles, crunches, agility drills, jump rope, stair runs and pull ups. Notice that none of these movements require lots of experience or equipment! I do enjoy lifting weights and using dumbbells but I don’t believe you need them to get a great strength training session in. Many effective exercises can be performed anytime, anywhere.
Efficient: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has been a game changer for me. Being a Mom I have so many responsibilities and wear so many hats. On an average day I don’t have more than an hour (many days, less) to fit in my exercise. I used to go to CrossFit classes, but they were 25 minutes away and I just don’t have two hours to give in a day. I am now able to complete much of my strength training during my running work outs. I try to lift weights two days a week but I do not feel that is necessary to have a healthy strength training routine, it’s simply a personal preference. Jump ropes, bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, and your own body weight are all great tools to utilize. Using high intensity interval training exercises I’m able to cut down my time in the gym to a quick 25 minute session where I work my entire body without having to leave my house. All it takes is a little creativity and a lot of determination to get it done.
Now go, get out there and make the world your jungle gym! Let the streets be your track and use the monkey bars for your pull ups. Happy running, friends!