We're all pressed for time, but it is possible to incorporate functional strength exercises into your existing routine. If you squeeze in strength sets during a run, for example, you tremendously increase your chance of completing them.
Functional strength exercises help you to prevent injuries, improve your overall strength and increase your efficiency in each of the three sports. Here are a few ways you can use outdoor structures, such as at the park, to your advantage.
Use Outdoor Equipment
You can either bring small equipment like a resistance band, or use the equipment you find in a park, along a greenway, or at a playground. It's usually not too hard to find a park bench, some steps, a tree trunk on the ground, or a suitable fence post somewhere along a run.
Any elevated object such as stairs is a great tool for various exercises such as incline push ups and single leg drop-down squats. Steps, tree stumps or fallen logs are excellent for leg and balance exercises. A higher curb would do the trick as well.
Ideal settings are playgrounds — they offer a wide variety of options. The end of a slide, the little benches around a sand box, the climbing ladders — all can be used for exercises. If you are lucky and find monkey bars, they let you add even greater upper body and core workouts.
Little Is Better Than None
Start with the first four of these eight exercises and make it a habit to add them three times a week to your endurance workouts. In the second week, add the second set of four exercises. After a few weeks, mix them up and add other exercises as well.
3x10-min Run-Strength Combo Workout
Go for a 3x 10 minute easy run. Aim to finish each 10 minute segment at a bench or curb. You could also run laps around a playground. Every 10 minutes stop for a round of 10 repetitions of four exercises.
Exercises #1 - Bench Dips with Leg Lift
Sit on a bench, place hands right next to your thighs. Get into a ‘reverse-bench’ position by extending your arms and lifting your hips off the bench. Walk your feet away from the bench and bend your elbows to lower your torso. To make the dips more challenging, lift one foot off the ground. After 10 reps, switch to the other leg.
Exercise #2 - Step Ups
Put one foot on the top of a stair or platform, extend your hips and knees and lift your body up to the top. Place the second foot on top of the stair and extend your hips fully, before stepping down with the other leg. Add difficulty by holding your arms overhead. Switch out legs, go for 10 reps each leg.
Exercise #3 - Elevated Push Ups
You can always go for the full version and crank out your regular push ups on the ground. But to increase the number of reps and sets, most of us benefit from using an elevated version. Start in a plank position with your palms placed on a bench. Bend your elbows and lower your entire body. Keep your glutes tight and your ankles, hips and shoulders aligned.
Exercise #4 – Hanging Leg Raises
Grab the overhead bar shoulder-width apart. Engage your core and lift both legs off the ground into a hanging position. Raise both legs up front until parallel to the ground. Hold for 1-2 seconds before slowly returning to your hanging position. Repeat 10 times.
Exercise #5 – Bulgarian Split Squats
Stand in front of a bench or similar object, facing away from the object. Bring one leg to your rear and place the foot on top of the object. Keep your back straight, bend the rear leg and lower the rear knee towards the ground. Avoid pushing the knee of the front leg forward. Move your arms at your sides like during a run. Repeat 10 times and switch legs.
Exercise #6 – Star Planks
On an elevated object, start in a side plank position. Keep both feet close together, engage your core and align ankles, hips and shoulders. Raise the top leg and the top arm at the same time into a star position. Hold for 1-2 seconds and lower back to the side plank position. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.
Exercise #7 – Single Leg Drop-down Squats
Start on top of a bench or stair. Place the left foot toward the edge of the platform, the right foot is off the platform. Bend the left leg on top of the platform, doing a single leg squat. Lower the heel of the right foot towards the ground. Straighten back up until fully extended. Repeat 10 times and switch legs.
Exercise #8 – Walking Lunges with Arms Overhead
You will not need any equipment for this exercise. Start standing upright with your arms overhead. Step forward into a lunge position. Keep your arms overhead and your back straight. Focus on lowering hips by bending the rear leg, without pushing the front knee forward. Continue with the other leg. Repeat 10 times each leg.
No excuses — mix up your run training and get stronger!