Exercise Your Way to a Strong Mind & Body “Alice”.

I woke up yesterday to April 1. What in the world! How dare time keep moving on as if my life hasn’t been turned upside-down and reality isn’t now likened to a scene from Alice in Wonderland; except then, who am I? Shrinking Alice, the Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts? And where the heck am I? Where is the comfort of my life – my everyday routine of busy days and never-long-enough-weekends, my complaining and grandstanding of never enough time to do..well..anything. Ironic, though it is, time is all we have these days amidst the craziness of a virus hellbent on upsetting our routine and leaving disquiet and unsettling changes in its wake. But one thing is becoming quite clear, whomsoever we choose to be may very well determine who we are when this is all over.

Under normal circumstances and in the routine of our everyday, it’s oftentimes a challenge to juggle the many interests and day-to-day activities we engage in to maximize the best use of our time and resources. These days may be the “new normal” but they are anything but normal. Time, one of our most valuable resources on any given day, is in endless supply these days. However, this has in no way diminished its value; In fact, I want to stress on the importance of seeing time, in these “not normal” days, as an opportunity to invest in ourselves with the benefits/returns to be derived in the not-too-distant future. Let’s dive into how.

Exercise is what I do and in the most challenging of times I run to what I know for comfort and a sense of wellness. If I can catch my breath, work up a sweat, release some feel good endorphins, and stimulate my senses, then the world is still on its axis and there’s hope yet. This is not unique to me, there are a lot of literature on the effects of exercise on our physical and mental well-being and there are many people who benefit from adopting a healthy exercise routine. So allow me to share with you a variety of simple exercises you can use as a template to inspire your endorphins rush as our world goes through this crisis alone but together.

Running, Jogging, Walking – a relatively easy, cheap, and safe way to enjoy the outdoors alone. Spring is the ideal season, minus the wet days, to enjoy the chirping birds, budding leaves, and flowers in bloom in neighborhoods and parks. Nature is awakening and so will your senses. Just be mindful of doing so in daylight and keep your social distance. New to this form of exercise? Start slowly and with shorter distances that you can build upon as time goes on. For example; start with a goal of a 1 mile walk, which you can increase to a jog, then to a run, or feel free to utilize a combination of any two or even all three. Remember, it’s your body and your journey. Listen to it, and take pride in your daily accomplishments.

Cycling – another great calorie burner and a great way to get your exercise outside of the four walls of your home and to enjoy the outdoors when the weather is great. This is of course for those who have bikes. It’s become my newest crave and I like to think I’m a Cyclist-in-the-making. It’s so much faster on the bike than on foot too!

Yoga and Stretching – Stretching should ideally be performed before and after your workout, whether its an at-home workout, or before or after a run or jog. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints (Harvard Health). Pre workout, it serves to warm up the muscles so as to prepare for it’s use and works to keep you free from injury. After that run or workout, post workout stretching benefits are much the same and helps with releasing muscle tension.

Yoga can be different things for different people. For me, it is an excellent way to get my stretches in and practice my breath or breathing. This is really important, not only for me as a runner, but for all of us as per the usual stresses of life and especially now under present quarantine conditions. Practicing deep breathing can bring you calm, energize you, and reduce health problems. The best thing about stretching and yoga is that you can follow a guided video at home or on a mat in the quiet area of the park/ outside (my favorite) and use this as a meditative form of relaxation. There are many videos online, I especially enjoy Alo Yoga from which you can choose, short or longer, sessions particular to your taste.

Ab Workouts – Ideally targeted to that area of the body that makes us crazy with envy when we see a person boasting a six-pack. I mean, yes please! Of course much of that has to do with our diet but some is attributed to exercise and a minute amount to age. Again, thank God that we can do these alone, at home, in the park, or in the backyard. There are tons of YouTube videos and many exercises we can do on our own as well. You can make a list of your favorite, most challenging, or an ideal combination and set up a schedule to workout. If inside, it’s best to clear a spot in your living room for those days when you’re stuck in and designate it as your workout area. Stack up your mat and any workout additions in that area and allow it to work as a reminder of your intention. Some common and simple core exercises include: sit ups, crunches, Russian twists, planks, on the back leg raises, V-ups, and leg sissors.

Dancing – a fun way to release stress, burn calories, and enjoy yourself. You can do this alone with just a dance playlist in the privacy of your own home or join an online class. Virtual dance classes present a fun opportunity to let your hair down and shake “it” off.

Photo Credz @Pinterest.com

Swimming – A great cardio workout, which sadly many of us will be unable to utilize during this time with all the restrictions in place. But it’s a definite plus for those with access at home where you can work on drills and laps to develop technique and build endurance. It’s something I had planned on taking up this year for my triathlon training, now we’ll just have to wait and see. The intention is still there. Hope springs eternal.

Gymnastics movements – I’m limited here by the fact that I have no bars at home. But hey, I have a wall; so while I can’t do pull ups, toes-to-bars, knee or elbow raises, I can manage some wall walks, practice my handstands and handstand push-ups, which helps with shoulder strength and mobility. Since this is a movement that requires demonstration, and YouTube is a treasure trove when it comes to learning a new skill, check out a beginner video to help you get started.

Cardio Exercises – outside of running and cycling there are many other easily accessible exercises we can do to get our heart rates up and release those endorphins. 1. Jump Rope/ Skipping is a favorite of mine and doesn’t require much technique unless you want to graduate to a more advanced skill level like Double Unders. In the CrossFit world we use the term Single Unders for when the rope passes under your feet once and Double Unders for when it passes twice in one jump. 2. Burpees can be done easily by dropping to the floor facedown and using one’s hand in a push up motion to jump straight up as you feet leaves the floor and your hands meet overhead. This is repeated as many times as you decide. It’s an exercise we love to hate for it’s constant movement and high intensity. 3. Jumping Squats are almost self explanatory except remember that squats need to be below hip level to maintain proper form. 4. Jumping Jacks, high knees and butt kicks on the spot are also self explanatory. 5. Sprinting is short distance running at high speed with short recovery efforts after each Sprint (100 meters is my favorite). 6. Lunges: walking, jumping, and reverse are great glute exercises and a great addition to any cardio workout. Begin with feet hip width apart and step forward with the preferred leg and lower your body until the front knee is over your shoe while your back knee bends until it touches the floor in a straight L while you balance on the back toes. Stand and alternate legs and repeat. You can include a jump or do them in the reverse with a step back and knees back approach instead of forward. 7. HIT workouts are high intensity exercises that combine short bursts of different exercises like mountain climbers, push ups, squats, and burpees. They are great sweat-it-out workouts with constant and rapid movement.

The ideal workout would consist of a combination of warm up exercises, strength, and cardio. And could look like any variation of my daily workout these days: stretches, running/ sprints/ cycling/ jump rope; some combination of strength – these days I make use of books, backpacks, resistance bands, and other safe household items to add some weight and challenge – and could include weighted sit-ups, weighted squats/overhead squats, hip thrusters, deadlifts, plank rows, man makers, and some ab exercises. Some days I switch it up to emphasize yoga and core workout or sometimes, like today, I have a cardio day: 1500-2000 jump rope – a combination of Single and Double Unders and a 10 minute Ab workout. Go me!

One thing I’m super thankful for during this time is technology and the ability to vary workouts and generate new and refurbished ideas into tailored workouts because of the tons of resources that are available online, and on YouTube particularly. Technology has given us the added advantage of doing these workouts alone, but together. Who’s not thankful we can “Zoom” in with our friends anywhere, or Skype, or FaceTime, or do a live video call to share our time and workout with others if we so choose. Because, I’ll be honest with you guys, I’m not digging this solitary confinement at all. Praise the Good Lord for technology and our tech gurus!

Running Benefits to having a Strong Core

The muscles involved in the side plank. Theagonist (active) muscles are highlighted.

Most of us when we think “core,” we think abs (abdominal muscles) and envision the ideal six-pack and harbor dreams of tone, ripped, lean stomach muscles that make us proud and others jealous. I mean who doesn’t want that? I’ll tell you who..no. one. ever. And while I’m super crazy about ripped abs, core muscles are much more than that and I’m more crazy about what they can do; what amazing powers or secrets do they hold. Word on the street is that they’re magic to your running and really that’s all a runner girl needs to hear.

Before we dive into the magic stuff, let’s get rid of any misinformation as it pertains to your core muscles. The core consists of the abdominal, hamstrings, quads, hips, glutes, hip flexors, obliques and lower back (active.com). I know! I wasn’t quite aware it was all that but the truth is you can see how it makes sense, since all these muscles can work together to make you stronger and faster. The aesthetics is purely a pleasant by-product of paying attention to these areas.
Thus, the main benefit of having a strong core is a stronger body with less potential for injuries.  Workouts targeting the core areas outlined above strengthen the muscles, which translates into better performance or running efficiency. The concept of a well-oiled machine can be applied here as the body, tried and tested, continuously strives for optimal performance. A number of the injuries that runners fall prone to such as : Achilles problems, Hamstring issues and lower-back pain, result from bad pelvic alignment (runnersworld.com). Additionally, there are issues of over and under pronation and inefficient cadence; a strong core can help to greatly reduce your risks, if not eliminate these issues altogether resulting in increased running economy.
So enough already with trying to get you on board, if you’re not there by now.. let’s just say you’re missing out on some sexy summer pics πŸ˜‰ . On the other hand, if you’re sold, here are five of my favorite core exercises that you can include in your daily workout:
Planks – Basic and Side Planks can be done in separate workouts or can be alternated. On your toes, legs a few inches apart and elbows resting on the floor (below shoulders) hold position. Start small and work your way up increasing reps and duration. For example, from reps of 20 seconds to 1 minute with rest intervals in-between from 10-30 seconds depending on length of rep.
Abdominal Crunches – The basic crunch with feet planted on the floor or hyper-extended at right angles to the floor with a twist to do what is termed the bicycle twist gives you two options. You can start with 4 reps of 15 with 30 second rest intervals, gradually increasing reps each workout.
The Superman Pose – Lying stomach to the floor extend arms and legs full out raising first one leg and opposite arm about 4 inches off the floor, hold for an initial 10 seconds and rest, alternating sides and increasing the hold position slightly each workout.
The Bridge – Lie on the floor, hands extended in a cross position with feet planted on the floor right below knees. Slowly lift torso and upper legs until it’s in a straight line and you’re resting on shoulders and pressing down with feet. Extend left leg straight while keeping back straight, so it’s off the floor and hold for about 5 seconds. Repeat with right leg. Do 5 or six reps with the option to increase duration and reps each workout.
Russian Twists – Using a ball or weights, I use 10-15 pound weight, sit  straight up on the floor with legs extended and slightly raised, lean back until abs are engaged and twist and pick up weight, keep twisting right to left with weight and reaching as far behind you on the twists as you can. Do 4 reps of 10-15 to start.
What’s super cool about these is that you can work them into any workout, on any given day, and they can be done indoors or outdoors with minimum fuss. You can also combine as few as or as much of these core exercises as you like. Pretty flexible right? Feel no pressure to get a crunch on..only that summer in all its bikini-clad glory will soon be here. 😜
Sources: active.com, competitor.com, runnersworld.com

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