Fast Legs, Firm Abs

Outdoor cross-training circuits will make you a stronger, fitter runner - no gym required


Posted: 3 September 2007
by Kelly Pate Dwyer

Hill repeats: help develop explosive strength

The mild autumn weather is great for running and it’s tempting to use this as an excuse to skip the weights room. But as you pile on the miles, your need for strength training grows. Years of study show that strengthening the muscles and ligaments adds stability and power to a runner’s stride, and it can mean the difference between staying on the road and being sidelined by an injury.

That doesn’t mean you have to stay inside on a beautiful day. Outdoor circuit workouts, or sessions that alternate running and resistance exercises, are a perfect way to log more miles and build strength. And they’re more than just a good change of scenery. "Running-strength intervals force your body to adapt to something new, which will improve your overall fitness," says Eric Von Frohlich, a coach and personal trainer who leads outdoor group circuit sessions.

Exercising on grass or earth without using machines "strengthens your kinesthetic awareness and your proprioception," according to Tina Vindum, the founder of Outdoor Fitness in Marin, California. In other words, you’re training your neuromuscular system, which improves balance and your body’s ability to respond to its environment. Plus, you really earn your postworkout ice cream. "Interval workouts burn calories like lighter fluid," says Vindum.

Head to a park, the playground or even the beach to do the workouts, and experiment with running on various surfaces (sand, grass, earth).

Running outside, building strength and blasting calories on sunny autumn days – now, doesn’t that sound better than the gym?


CORE POWER (30 mins)

Do these exercises slowly, favouring form over repetitions or time.

Warm-up Run for 10 minutes; do four 30-second strides during the last five minutes.

Plank & Side-Plank With Twist From a press-up position, drop to rest on your forearms, keeping your legs and back straight and your stomach pulled in (see picture below). Hold for 30 seconds. Transition into a side plank, placing your top hand behind your head. Keeping abs tight and hips lifted off the ground, bring your top elbow toward the ground. Do five repetitions on each side, then repeat the abs sequence.

Side plank: great for core stability
Run for three minutes. Start slowly; build to a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of eight (on a 10-point scale where one is very easy, 10 is racing), slow back down for the last 30 seconds.

Hanging Abdominal Curl Hang from a pull-up bar or handy branch, bend your knees and use your abdominals, not momentum, to lift your legs. To make the move harder, keep your legs straight. Do two sets of 8 to 10.

Run Same as first running segment.

Quadruped Back Extension Start on all fours. Extend your left arm and right leg, parallel to the floor. Keep your back and neck straight, stomach pulled in, and extend your arm and leg. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then change sides. Do two sets with a 10- to 20-second rest between.

Run the first running segment, then finish with five minutes of easy running.


LOWER-BODY BLAST (45 mins)

Find a moderately steep hill (6-8 per cent gradient) for this session.

Warm-up Run easy for five minutes. On a flat surface, do five of the following gently: walking lunge, single-leg squat (each leg). Finish with two minutes of easy running.

Bounding Start in a slight squat. Blast off one foot uphill, making your steps wide. Start with 30 second efforts; build to 60. Do this twice with a one-minute jog downhill between repeats for recovery.

Uphill Travelling Lunge An exaggerated walk. Step into a lunge, find your balance, then bring your back leg forward into a lunge without touching the ground. Continue for 60 seconds. Shortening your lunge length can help you balance and build power when going uphill. Jog downhill backward. This develops balance and takes the pressure off your knees. Do this twice with a one-minute recovery jog in between sets.

Sumo squat: building stronger upper legs
Hill Repeats Run uphill at a strong but not all-out pace for one minute. Jog easily for one minute. Repeat.

Sumo Squat Stand with your feet together, your right side facing a hill. Take a large step uphill and lower into a modified squat (see picture right). Press down through your left arch, then quickly bring your left foot to meet your right. Continue moving uphill in this way for 60 seconds; run downhill for recovery. Repeat the exercise with the other leg leading.

Quadruped Back Extension Start on all fours. Extend your left arm and right leg, parallel to the floor. Keep your back and neck straight, stomach pulled in, and extend your arm and leg. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then change sides. Do two sets with a 10- to 20-second rest between.

Repeat the hill exercise sequence (minus the warm-up), then run easy for five to 10 minutes.


FULL-BODY BLITZ (60 mins)

Head to a playground for this workout.

Warm-up Run easy for six minutes, then do the carioca step. Cross your left foot in front of your right, then your right foot steps right, your left foot crosses behind you, and so on. Do this for 20 seconds on each side, twice.

Inverted rows: change your hand position to target different muscles
Speedwork Run at a RPE of seven, then nine, then back down to seven, for 60 seconds each.

Press-Ups Do three sets of 10 to 15.

Tempo Run Run at a RPE of eight for six minutes, walk for 20 seconds.

Inverted Rows Find a bar two or three feet high. Lie on your back and grab the bar, palms facing you (see picture left). Keep your body straight as you pull up to the bar. Do three sets of 10-15.

Speedwork Run at RPE of seven then nine then seven, one minute each, walk 20 seconds.

Reverse Crunches Lie on your back with thighs at 90 degrees and legs bent. Use your abs to curl your knees to your chest (see picture below). Do three sets of 15-30.

Tempo Run Same as first tempo segment.

Reverse Crunch: work those abs
Dips Do three sets of 10 to 15.

Sprint 30 seconds, recover 30 seconds, three times for three minutes.

Travelling Lunge See description in 'Lower-Body Blast' (above) but do them on a flat surface for 60 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat.

Tempo Run Same as first tempo segment.

Prone Cobra Lie face-down on the grass, arms in front of you, palms down. Draw your bellybutton in and lift your chest up. Hold for five seconds, rest for five seconds; do two sets of 10.

Finish with an easy five- to 10-minute run.

Short circuit

Only have 15 minutes to work out? Try this.

Run easy for 2.5 minutes to warm up, then alternate one minute of faster running with one minute of strength training five times, for a total of 10 minutes. Choose from the exercises above or do your favourites. Cool down with 2.5 minutes of easy running.


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