Even though resolution season is not yet upon us, I constantly hear references to “finally starting to exercise.” The truth is, working out looms large in our public consciousness, but relatively small when it comes to actually – you know – doing the work. It tends to be something we talk about, not something we actually do a whole lot of.
Those of us that do do it tend to hone in on the one activity that requires relatively little money, emotional investment, and physical know-how: running. If I had a quarter for everyone who told me they’d taken up running again/for the first time/after too long a break/whatever, I’d be absolutely rich. Now, this is not to say that I don’t respect it, because I always do and always will admire that kind of commitment to body and health.
What does worry me a bit is the fact that running is not necessarily your best bet for a stronger, healthier body. Yes, it builds endurance, and yes, it burns calories – both great goals in and of themselves. But without a built-in strength element, especially at an older age, running can lead to injuries galore. The consistent impact on weakened joints and muscles can have some very nasty consequences. So if you, like me, insist on running as your primary form of exercise, what can you do to make sure it adds to your health, instead of diminishing it?
Luckily there’s lots of strength training you can do without going to the gym either. Depending on the amount of time you have available, try working a few of these ideas into your routine several times a week.
Ten Minutes a Day:
Squats and lunges. In your yard, in front of your television, at the tail end of your run at the track … it doesn’t matter. Just alternate sets of both the whole time, without taking a break. You’ll work up a great sweat, and your quads will be sore for days, but that’s a good thing. If you can do it holding a five- or ten-pound weight in each hand, so much the better.
Half an Hour a Day:
Circuit training. Create a schedule beforehand, so you know you’ll stick to it, and work jumping jacks, high steps, push ups and bench lifts into a routine that incorporates wind sprints and skipping. Nothing is easier than simply switching this out for sustained running during the period you’d already set aside.
An Hour a Day:
Hike up something tall. If you’ve got a treadmill at home, put it on a steep incline and walk instead of run. If you’re working with what you’ve got, go find a hill in your neighborhood and climb it. Even if it’s not that big, you can go up and then back down it several times; walking downward is great for strengthening calves and hamstrings.
Of course, no one’s expecting you to drop everything and carve seven hours out of your week right here, right now. That’s not only unrealistic, but you’d be setting yourself up for big-time failure in the long run. Instead, focus on incorporating some or all of these options into your weekly routine. If you run consistently (4-7 days a week), consider switching out one or two of those days for a strength day. If you do have extra time, and love to work up a sweat anyway, simply add a few of these on top. Or, if you – like lots of would-be runners – have started experiencing any pain in your joints, consider building only strength for a few months, then working running in slowly.
Running is an appealing way to get back in the game, I know. It’s easy, you don’t need a gym membership, and you’ve already got all the equipment you need. But remember that your body is more important than anything else, and take a good hard look at your routine. If it needs changing, do it.