Winter can be a tough time for runners, what with all of that slush, snow and ice impeding outdoor running—and fueling cabin fever.
Of course, in an effort to combat the latter, it may seem as though a runner must endure the former, but that’s simply not the case. Instead of merely counting the days separating us from spring, we can—and should—use the last several weeks of winter as a time to aggressively recover and address areas of weakness.
Regardless of your ultimate goal, these cross-training workouts will tune your body perfectly for the approaching season.
Tabata/HIIT1 of 5
Most runners are familiar with high-intensity interval training in the form of hill repeats or sprint intervals—with workouts designed to rapidly increase aerobic capacity and build speed and power. But did you know you can get those same benefits in a 4- by 6-foot space? Tabata and other HIIT workouts employ exhausting, whole-body calisthenic exercises to achieve the same heart-pounding effects as your most demanding speed training.
The formula involves a light-to-moderate 5-minute warm-up, followed by 5 to 20 minutes of intervals—alternating 20 to 30 seconds at maximum effort with 10 to 30 seconds of rest. Exercises might include box jumps, burpees, push-ups, mountain climbers, squat jumps or thrusters. As a bonus, this type of workout not only improves a number of running-related aerobic parameters but also provides a total body strength workout. HIIT workouts are ideal for runners who have plateaued under traditional running programs or those who just want to get in better aerobic shape during the off-season.
Kettlebells/CrossFit2 of 5
If you want to get away from running altogether, consider taking a kettlebell or CrossFit class. Each of these workouts will build raw strength and power in slightly different ways, while continuously maintaining or building on existing cardio strength.
CrossFit is simply the brand name for a fusion-style exercise class that often combines bodyweight callisthenic exercises with heavy Olympic-style weight lifting. The competitive atmosphere in these classes will have you pushing yourself to the limit, doing things you never thought you could. Kettlebell classes tend to be more methodical and a bit slower paced—likely without a class leader yelling in your face—but can be just as challenging. These workouts—based on a series of Strong Man exercises originally developed in Russia—will have you swinging, pressing and squatting with strength-appropriate, relatively heavy weights. You'll be surprised by the cardiovascular component that accompanies all of this iron pumping.
Yoga3 of 5
If staying healthy is among your top challenges during the running season, you may do better to leave the weights alone and take up yoga for a few months. Virtually any type of yoga class will improve both joint range of motion and soft tissue flexibility, which can both be key for preventing running injuries. What's more, an offseason workout regimen centered around yoga will give your body the true rest and rejuvenation it needs, while other, higher intensity classes may only add to your overtraining woes.
A few weeks of yoga can be especially ideal for runners with chronically tight hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and quads. Any vinyasa or "flow" class is a good place to start (be sure it's a beginner's class), but some instructors lead classes specifically designed for runners. The internet search terms "yoga for runners" should quickly tell you whether there are any such classes in your area.
Spin Class4 of 5
If you're looking for a non-impact way to maintain your aerobic fitness during the offseason, it's tough to beat a spin class. If you aren't crazy about the idea of sitting on a stationary bike for 45 to 60 minutes, don't worry—spin classes are designed to push you in a fun, high-energy atmosphere. Your instructor will lead you through a ride designed to provide the best workout possible. Upbeat music—and, in some cases, video displayed virtual rides—help keep you engaged, while a digital display provides real-time feedback on your own personal distance, speed and effort level. All of that pedal-pushing will strengthen your legs, too, adding another benefit that can help you run stronger come springtime.
It won't be long until you're out on the running trails again, but, in the meantime, closing out the winter with a flurry of these classes is an excellent way to maintain fitness, address weaknesses and get your body primed for the spring.