Cross-training on the run

Posted: Friday, January 29, 2010

"What happened to you?" my hoops-playing friend asked. "You used to be, um, bigger. Are you sick?"

He was right. I used to lift a lot more and run a lot less. My sports were explosive and my clothes fit more attractively instead of flapping like flags.

Time constraints, new work locations and new fitness interests took me away from my most important training staple - core work. As a former trainer who lived by fast-twitch olympic lifts and plyometrics, I was raised on fishing boats using my legs and lower back and born in a tiny wood-planked boardwalk town where kids bounded off of stumps and tackled bears in the front lawn (OK, imaginary ones).

I had gotten away from my weight training. Running had improved my cardio tremendously, yet I noticed a few minor "owies" that could have been prevented with more muscle.

If you want to burn more calories, prevent injury and get a mental boost, some strength training can help. Even elite runners do some type of core work, be it advanced stretching, multiple hills or circuit training in a gym.

To get back on track, I start slowly with body weight exercises. Before each run, walk or morning chore, try this:

1) 20 pushups, 20 crunches each side, 20 leg raises. Repeat, repeat, repeat or not. Do what is comfortable.

2) Raised leg crunches: With feet resting on a couch, chair or running partner, attempt to raise your butt off the floor and crunch your chest forward. This exercise also helps your hamstrings and glutes.

3) Planks or bridges: Lay on your left side, legs together. Raise up on your left elbow, keep your body rigid and hold for what you can. Repeat on the right side. Repeat on stomach, "bridging" on both elbows. Let your body sag, and raise from your elbows to your hands. Look up and over, stretching your lower back, legs, toes, etc. Repeat if you want.

4) Cross crawls: One of the most incredible total ab workers. Seemingly effortless until the effects are felt the next day. Lay on your back, legs straight and wide, arms loose above shoulders. Draw up or "throw" your right knee (if you can) past or in the vicinity of your chin while simultaneously throwing your left elbow to meet it. Repeatedly alternate sides.

5) Wall sits: Stand against a wall. Move your feet shoulder-width apart and out in front a distance that prevents your knees from going over your toes when you "sit" slowly down the wall. Stop before your thighs reach parallel for now. Hold for what time you can.

If done quickly, this series also gives you a cardio boost and warm-up for your run. When I get out on the trail and want a day of lifting, I often incorporate my surroundings:

6) A sturdy tree branch at the right height can be a pull-up bar. Trail pull-ups are easier if done with hands facing each other, curled over the branch. Pull your body up, alternating your head to each side of the branch. (Yes, I have smacked my face.) Lower branches allow you to support your weight on the ground and add leg presses.

7) Straight arm bridges, same as before only don't bother putting the tummy on the ground. Squat and bend and place both hands shoulder-width apart directly under your chest, walk torso slowly back, keep arms extended and body ridgid and hold. Then walk back up out of it.

8) "Boxers" are a nice ab compliment. Stand loose, legs straight, feet less than shoulder-width apart (together for more advanced), arms up and curled like a boxer protecting his head from a blow. Keeping your feet firmly planted throughout, bend forward and low at the waist (your elbows almost touching your knees). Staying low, twist upper body to the left, raise up the left side, quickly twist to center and back to the left, bend down the left side, stay low all the way across to the right side, bend up the right side, twist quickly to center and back to right, bend low down the right side and repeat across to the left (multiple repeats).

Be creative. Rocks, branches and other debris can be used as weight for curls. See a loose limb on the trail that needs to be cleared?

That's a perfect opportunity to squat, explode and toss that baby off into the distance. Muscle weighs more than fat, so do not be alarmed if the bathroom scale shows you have gained a pound. Muscle also burns more calories than fat.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at

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