Walking into the weight room at the local gym can be very intimidating. In my case, the instant I walk in, I feel like every guy lifting weights is looking at me wondering what I’m doing in there. “A girl in the weight room, what?!” The weight room is great for toning and strengthening the core, arms, and legs but it gets boring fast. Luckily, you can achieve the same workout by taking it outdoors to your local park or sports stadium. In this cross-training post, I will be giving you a simple strength training routine that you can do by yourself or with a partner incorporating common outdoor features. Way more fun than going to the weight room.
For runners, strength training and conditioning is key. It will build strength, develop explosive power, and make your body more durable, protecting your knees, ankles, and hips. I recommend doing the following strength training routine once or twice a week followed by lots of stretching. For added training, run to the park or sports field of your choice, do the following routine, and have an easy jog home. A lot of these exercises remind me of things I did as a kid: racing your siblings, skipping through fields, playing hopscotch, and giving high-fives. Thanks to Chong Ma and Dylan Loss for helping with photos.
Works: Quads, hip flexors, core
Find a place where you can move forward straight for 50 feet. Begin by lunging forward your right leg, making sure you knee is not over your ankle. At the same time raise your left hand. Don’t drop your left knee to the ground! Hold for five seconds. Stand up where your right foot was and step forward with your left leg, going into a lunge with the left leg and raising your right arm. Continue alternating the lunges, moving forward until you have done 12 total.
2. Stair Squats
Works: Quads, glutes, back
Find a staircase with at least 10 stairs. Facing perpendicular to the stairs, place your left foot on the ground and your right foot on the second step. There should be a skipped step between your legs. Turn your feet out 15 degrees, and keeping a flat back, sit back as if going to sit in a chair. Squat down so that your knees are bending 90 degrees, but make sure that your knees aren’t going past your feet; they should be in line with your ankle. Hold for 5 seconds. Stand up, pivot on your right foot, swing your left foot up to the 4thstep, again with a skipped step between your legs, and squat again facing the opposite side. Do ten squats total.
3. Stair (or bleacher) runs (also doable on big hills)
Works: Everything, especially quads.
Find either a long set of stairs (90 steps), a long set of bleachers, or a big hill. This exercise is ideal in a stadium. Pumping your arms, run as quickly as you can up the steps or hill. Don’t stop (this exercise uses a lot of momentum to complete), walk if you need to, and don’t look up! Recover for one minute at the top and walk/jog down. Try to do three to four in ten minutes.
4. Stair Jumps
Works: Hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, balance
Find a set of 10-15 stairs, making sure they are wide enough to fit your foot and not slippery. 1. Using only your right leg, swing your arms and use the momentum to propel yourself landing with only your right leg on the next. Do ten reps. 2. Repeat step 1 with the left leg. 3. Using both legs, swing your arms and propel yourself up the stairs, skipping a step. Do the entire set of stairs. Complete steps 1 through 3 twice.
5. Wall (or bench) dips
Works: Triceps, core
Find a short wall, the back of a sturdy park bench, or a picnic table. Grab the wall/bench/table with your hands, with your back straight lined up with the wall or bench back, and arms pushing you up. You can bend your knees, or keep them fully extended. If you bend your knees, they should be lined up with your ankles. Lower down, keeping your elbows flush to your side and bending directly behind you. Keep your back straight and parallel to the wall or bench back. Raise yourself up using your arms until they are straight again. Do 25.
6. High-five Planks
Works: Core, hips
With your partner, face each other in plank position, with about 1 foot in between your hands. Lift up both right hands and clap them together continuing to hold the plank. Put your right hands down and clap your left hands together. Continue to alternate hands giving each other high-fives for one minute. If you don’t have a partner, simply alternate raising each hand while holding a plank.
7. The Wheelbarrow
Works: Core, biceps, shoulders
You may remember this one from childhood. Pick a flat area about 50-100 feet in length. Have your partner grab your feet so you are only on your hands. With your partner “steering” move as quickly as you can from one side of the field to the other. Switch places.
8. Partner Abs
Doing this in the grass at the park is much nicer on your back. Partner 1 will lay down with their head between partner 2’s feet. Holding on to partner 2’s ankles, lift your legs together and bring your toes to partner 2’s chest. Partner 2 will push partner 1’s feet in any direction. Partner 1 should not let their feet touch the ground by control the core on the way back down. Partner 2 should give words of encouragement! Try to go for 1 minute. Switch places so partner 2 is doing crunches and partner 1 is pushing their feet. If you are by yourself, do a different ab exercise of your choice (Bicycles, in and outs, etc).
9. Burpee Cherry Pickers
Works: Chest, shoulders, core, hamstrings, calves
Find a flat area about 75-100 feet long (soccer field..etc) with good landmarks (tree, goalpost, water fountain) at one end.
Partner 1 will traverse the field doing “cherry pickers” similar to skipping (like when you were a kid) but will try to jump as high in the air as possible. If you are raising your right knee and jumping off your left, raise your left hand into the air, as if you were trying to pick cherries out of a tree. Your right hand should be fully extended if your left knee is raised. Aim for height, but try to go as fast as you can to reach your landmark. Once you reach the landmark, sprint back to tag partner 2.
Partner 2 will be doing burpees as partner 1 is cherry picking across the field. To do a burpee start standing with your feet together. Jump into the air with your hands straight up. Immediately get down into plank position. You can add a push up here if you’d like. Hold plank for 5 seconds, immediately return to standing and jump up again, repeating the process. Continue to do burpees until partner 1 finishes and tags you (and ends your suffering). After a minute rest, switch so partner 2 will do cherry pickers, and partner 1 will do burpees.
If you are by yourself, begin with cherry pickers. Sprint back to your starting place and take a minute rest. Then do 20 burpees.
10. Optional Challenge: Backwards Plank
Works: Core, arms, balance
This is an additional exercise to try if you feel like you need a challenge. Using stairs or bleachers get into plank position with your feet on a higher stair or bleacher then your hands. Slowly move one of your hands and one of your feet onto the next highest step, and follow with the other hand and foot. Stay in plank position during this movement. Be careful; there is a lot of balance involved with this move. Try to do 10.
That concludes my series on cross-training. Remember, there are many other forms of cross-training that I didn’t even touch on, including swimming, tennis, hiking, skiing, etc. The main point is to find a physical activity other than running that you enjoy and make full use of its benefits. So break away from the boring run-weight lift routine! Mix up your workouts: try out rock climbing, hop on that bike sitting in your garage, join a fitness class, or head outdoors and play like a kid again. Your running muscles will thank you!
Look for more posts from me in the coming weeks including posts on gear and tips for beating the heat as we approach summer.
Ashley is a geologist at Schlumberger, specializing in geologic modeling software. She completed her Masters degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an avid runner, cyclist, and rock climber. She will pretty much race anything and everything. You can find her hanging out on White Oak in Houston, TX or climbing and running in Austin.