A fitness center can be your best friend in winter—if
you know how to use it
to a gym these days is similar to strolling down a supermarket cereal
aisle. Everywhere you turn, you're faced with choices: flakes,
clusters, O’s... puffed, shredded, frosted ... high-fiber,
low-sugar, iron-fortified. Soon you realize you've spent way too
much time weighing
the merits of Cap'n Crunch versus Corn Pops. You're a busy person.
All you want is breakfast.
Same goes for the gym: Those rows of
shiny strength machines, cardio contraptions and free weights are most
impressive. But where do you start? You're a busy person. All you want
is a decent workout.
That's where we come in. Following
are eight simple exercise plans that require equipment found in most
gyms. Each plan focuses on a different aspect of your running—from boosting your speed to strengthening your quads to firming up your backside. Pick your priority area, then go to it.
PRIORITY: Higher Mileage—Without Increased
Best exercises: Cardio machines.
The stairclimber, cross-country ski machine and elliptical
trainer are all weight-bearing exercises that don't involve
the pounding that running does. If you find these machines
too boring to stay on for long, go from one to the other. Spend
10 minutes on the ski machine, hop on the bike for 10 minutes,
then move to the stairclimber for another 10 minutes. This
way, you'll reap the benefits of a long run without losing
Benefit: Most running injuries are caused
by the impact of our feet against the ground, says Jake Kennedy,
director of Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapy in Boston and
a veteran of more than 20 marathons. "So the more you
can use gym machines to replicate running in nonrunning ways,
the less likely you are to get hurt," he says. Meanwhile,
you'll be gaining muscle, improving your fitness and burning
PRIORITY: Improved Speed
Best exercise: Sprints. Fast repeats
on the stationary bike are probably the closest approximation
of running fast, says Perry Esterson, PT., a physical therapist
and certified athletic trainer in Vienna, Va. Especially if
you stand up while doing them. Sprints on the stairclimber
also work well. Esterson suggests taking shallow steps, then
deep steps, as if you're running up and down hills. Stand up
straight and really pump your arms for maximum benefit. Or
for a completely different workout, try the rowing machine.
To sprint on the rower, program it for 100-meter intervals
and then race the clock on each one. Break these up with 50-meter
Benefit: You must teach your body to
adapt to the stress of running fast if you expect to go fast.
But you don't have to do all your speedwork on terra firma.
As long as you pump your heart rate way up—and keep it
there—your body doesn't care if you're running or blasting
away on a stairclimber.
PRIORITY: Better Balance
Best exercise: Step-ups. Find a weight bench or a plastic step and
adjust the height so that when your foot is on the step, your knee
is bent at 90 degrees. Stand up straight and hold a weighted bar across
your shoulders, behind your neck; keep your spine straight and your
hips tucked in. Step up onto the bench with your right leg. Then bring
up your left leg. Stand steady for 2 or 3 seconds. Quickly step back
down, leading with your left leg. Repeat eight to 10 times, then switch
sides so you step up with your left leg. For an extra challenge, use
Benefit: "The body keeps a complex interplay of nerve input and
muscle feedback going on all the time," says David Jenkinson,
DO., an assistant professor of orthopedics and family medicine at the
University of Pittsburgh. "If you haven't developed this sense
of balance, you're more likely to make one of the classic running mistakes—such
as turning your ankle 6 miles from home."
PRIORITY: Stronger Quads
Best exercises: Leg presses and backward burners. Head straight for
the leg-press machine and do slow, steady, shallow squats to spare
the knees, advises Kennedy. Do your leg presses one leg at a time (just
dangle the resting leg off to the side) to ensure that you're not perpetuating
any strength imbalances. Too boring? Here's another great quad-builder
that you can do on the treadmill, but be careful (have a friend spot
you the first few times). Set the machine at a 15-degree incline and
a steady walking pace. Then quickly turn around and walk backward,
squatting down a bit. Be sure to use the handrails. Your goal is to
be able to walk quickly but in control. Try doing this for 2 to 3 minutes
at first, and gradually work up to 5 to 10 minutes.
Benefit: As the largest muscle in your body, your quadriceps stays
very busy when you run. Each leg has to launch you forward with each
step, then has to perform a rapid-fire braking motion when you land
to keep you from falling facedown. The key to all this is a powerful
quadriceps. But strong quads are not your birthright as a runner: You
need to fortify them through strength training (and ensure both legs
are equally strong by doing balancing moves, too).
PRIORITY: Stronger Buttocks and Hamstrings
Best exercise: Supine lifts. Find a big
gym ball, then lie on your stomach on an inclined weight bench,
with your hips at the edge
of the elevated end of the bench and your legs hanging straight down.
Place the ball between your ankles, tighten your glutes, then
slowly lift your legs until they are parallel with the rest of
(Don't lift so far that you begin to arch your back.) Start and
the movement with your hamstrings and glutes, rather than "swinging" your
legs. Hold the position for a count of three, then slowly lower
the ball again. Hold it an inch or two above the ground, then
Repeat eight to 10 times for a set. Work up to two or three sets.
Benefit: Building up your backside makes you a faster and more efficient
runner. It also gives you an edge when charging up hills and sprinting
across finish lines. Many of us think our glutes and hamstrings are
strong enough already, so we neglect them and lose the chance to develop
what should be our greatest assets.
PRIORITY: A Stronger Core
Best exercises: Crunches and raises. For
your abdominals, the simplest and all-around best exercise is
the crunch. The key here is form.
Before you start, tighten your abs and press your pelvis down
so you're forcing
the small of your back into the floor. Then curl up—one vertebra
at a time—so your shoulder blades lift off the ground,
but no further. Breathe out as you curl up, and don't strain
yourself up for 3 seconds, then slowly curl back clown. Do eight
to 10 at first, and work up to 20, 30 or even 40. For the obliques
on the sides of your torso), try lateral raises. On a flat weight
bench, lie on your side with your hips at the edge and your upper
off the end. With your top foot in front of die bottom foot,
grab the bench with your feel (or have a friend sit on your legs)
fall off. With your hands interlocked behind your head, slowly
raise your torso, using only the muscles in your midsection.
As you grow
stronger, add a twist (literally). Begin the exercise with your
shoulders square to the floor, then slowly turn them up toward
as you come up. Hold a weighted ball for more of a challenge.
of eight to 10.
Benefit: A solid midsection means better
running form and less susceptibility to fatigue. ‘These core muscles initiate virtually every move
you make in running," says Kennedy. "And as soon as
they tire out, your shoulders, hips and knees get out of sync.
everything falls apart."
PRIORITY: Better Running Form
Best exercise: Pushups, plus. Try a pushup
that builds strength and stability in the chest and shoulders.
Place a free weight on the
ground, then lower yourself into the down" pushup position so your hands
are on the same side of the weight. Push up, steady yourself, then "walk" your
hands, one at a time, over the weight. When you've crossed over, do
a full pushup, paying close attention to your form (back straight,
no sagging, head up). Then cross back over and do another pushup on
the other side. Repeat eight to 10 times. For more of a challenge,
arrange several obstacles about 8 inches apart in a semicircle, then "hand-walk" your
way over them, doing a full pushup after each. Still too easy?
Grab a medicine ball and do your pushups on top of it. (The wiggling
really makes this tougher.) With pushups, think form, not reps.
Do as many as you can without getting sloppy
Benefit: Unless you want to look like Ichabod Crane when you
run, your chest should be forward, shoulders back and head erect. "Runners
with good upper-body strength usually have the best form," says
Kennedy. And the better form you have, the less energy you waste.
The less energy you waste, the longer and faster you'll be able
PRIORITY: Strong Lower Legs
Best exercises: Shin and calf raises. For your shins, stand about 6
inches from the wall, knees straight, back pressed against the wall.
Lift your toes up as far as you can and hold for 3 seconds, then lower.
Repeat 10 times. For your calves, stand on the edge of a step and let
your heels drop down slightly. Starting in that position, raise your
body up on your toes. Repeat eight to 10 times. To work another part
of the calf, try seated calf raises. Sitting on a bench with a 20-pound
weight across your knees, raise your heels as high as you can eight
to 10 times while keeping your toes on the floor. Add weight to increase
Benefit: Runners are notorious for neglecting
one muscle group while training a neighboring group too much.
Case in point: The
calf and its neighbor, the humble, neglected shin. "If the muscles
in your lower leg aren't strong and in balance, they fatigue more easily
and start to transfer the stress load onto the bone and Achilles tendon," explains
Jenkinson. This can lead to shinsplints and even plantar fasciitis,
which is triggered by an overburdened Achilles tendon.
Get the Lead
If going to the gym is not something you relish, try these tips from runners
near and far:
"I think about all the cute sleeveless dresses and shirts hanging in my
closet, and how great my well-toned arms will look when I wear them. And I
always treat myself to coffee on the way home from the gym. I really look forward
that cup of joe."
TRICIA O’BRIEN, NEW YORK, NY
"I try to incorporate as much variety as I can by mixing and matching my
alternatives. When I don't spend much time on any one machine, the time flies."
WRIGHT, ST. PAUL, MINN.
"While I'm lifting weights, I repeat to myself ‘Each lift of the
weight helps my running. Each lift of the weight helps my running. Each lift...’"
STOUT, CHICAGO, ILL.
"This sounds weird, but I use lucky numbers. On a day when I really don't
feel like running on the treadmill, I'll think of my lucky number 28 and then
run for 28 minutes or bike for 28 minutes or swim for 28 minutes. Then I'll use
another lucky number—13—and do 13 reps of 13 different exercises.
I also reward myself with something sweet afterward!"
"I buy most of my CDs in the winter. My rule is, as long as I use them
in the gym, I'm allowed to buy them. Also, my wife doesn't run, but at the
gym we can still work out together, even if we don't do the same exercises."
HAECK, NEWPORT, RI
"During my workouts, I think about what I can make—and eat—for
CARYN GORDON, CAMBRIDGE, MASS.
"Everyone should learn to do exercises properly. Nothing defeats you quicker
than nor making progress because you're not doing things right."
PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
"Cross-dress! I once ran 30 miles on a treadmill— in a wedding dress.
It was for charity. So many people came over to talk to me that the time just
JAKE KENNEDY, BOSTON, MASS.
The Pilates Promise
The latest craze
in fitness has the power to transform your body. Here's how to do
it at home
notice someone who seems to command attention even if her figure
isn't flawless or her face famous? Someone who's strong without being
lean but not emaciated? Chalk it up to good genes—or Pilates.
Endorsed by celebrities like Madonna, Courteney Cox, and Julia
Roberts, as well as a slew of models and professional dancers,
Pilates may seem like just the
latest fitness rage. But the unique and complicated exercises have achieved
their status for good reason: They work. Pilates promises increased
flexibility, and an overall improvement in your carriage that'll have you routinely
mistaken for someone renowned (or least someone who's supremely self-confident).
Pilates, a German-born bodybuilder, boxer, and gymnast, first developed these
movements while working as an Army nurse
during World War I, teaching injured
soldiers to stretch and strengthen their muscles. During this time, he created
much of the fitness equipment that's still used today. There are also Pilates
floor exercises—including the ones on these pages—that can
be done without any machines, just a mat or a towel. Although Pilates may look
it's far from easy. After a session, you'll definitely know you've been working
out, even if you're not drenched in sweat. Pilates himself told his followers
that they'd feel different after 10 sessions, look different after 20, and
have a brand-new body after 30.
Core of the matter
What's the real secret of Pilates? It starts with the core. Your
spine, hips, and shoulders remain in place, while you keep your
abdominals engaged and hollow.
Then your arms and legs join in. So although scissoring your arms or lifting
your legs isn't all that taxing, completing each move with your core muscles
already engaged is the real challenge — for both mind and body.
focus, in fact, is a big part of what makes Pilates so successful. The
kinds of changes that are required to truly transform any
body, whether it's
already strong or not, must come from the inside, says Clare Dunphy, a
certified Pilates instructor and the owner of Progressive Bodyworks
in Boston. " Pilates
exercises engage the whole body and mind, challenging you to fully concentrate
on body alignment and control, so completing them becomes its own reward." The
benefits sneak up on you because you are just too busy being proud of yourself
for performing the moves correctly.
"The beauty of Pilates," says
Linda Farrell, a fitness expert and certified Pilates instructor at
Equinox Health Club in New York City, "is
that it gives you a real body awareness. Most people never realize that
posture is all about how you hold your body; it's not something you
were born with."
The routines are not a replacement
for or aerobic activities; they won't improve your cardiovascular condition.
session will grab your attention
and won't let it go, forcing you to flex, stretch, and work your muscles
and joints. And while you may not drop pounds, you'll probably find
that your clothes
begin to fit differently. "The moves are designed to eke out that
very last tiny bit from your muscles," explains Dunphy.
Pilates sessions can even
aid in relieving chronic injuries (a qualified instructor can help
modify moves to accommodate specific
concerns). Matt Gomillion, a 39-year-old
anesthesiologist in New York City, credits Pilates with alleviating his
chronic back pain—and leaving him looking slimmer and taller
in the process. "I've
always been fit, but I've never been this strong before," says Gomillion,
who has been working out at a Pilates studio twice a week for the past
requires a lot of motivation and dedication, but the benefits have been
enormous. I only wish I'd known about it sooner."
perhaps most of all, you'll appreciate the way Pilates affects your
love it because of what it does to my mind," says Christiane Northrup,
MD, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Bantam Doubleday
Dell, 1998), who recently became a Pilates devotee. "Pilates changes
your brain. It's truly a mind/body exercise—you're bringing consciousness
to your muscles."
For a listing of Pilates-based instructors
in your area, called The Pilates Studio (800-474-5283), Current Concepts
Lie with back completely flat against mat and bring knees into chest.
Extend spine and press each vertebra into mat; visualize
navel pressing down toward
floor. Hold arms straight out along sides, palms down and a few inches
above floor. Lift chin to chest, elongating neck rather than straining
Keep knees at eye-level. Slowly straighten legs, pointing toes. Hold
legs between a 45- and 90-degree angle, making sure to keep entire
back flat on floor. Maintaining
this position, pump arms up and down at sides, breathing in and out
of nose for 5 counts on inhalation and 5 counts on exhalation,
for a total
of 3 to 5 sets.
Single leg stretch
Lie on back, pressing navel down toward floor, and bend
left knee into chest. Hold right hand 2 inches below
hand on left ankle. Bring
upper back and shoulders off mat, moving toward chest without straining
neck, and look at navel; keep elbows wide. Lift right
leg off floor as little as
possible while keeping back flat; switch sides and pull
right leg into body. Complete
a set of 5 to 10 repetitions on each side.
Double leg stretch
Lie as above, this time pulling both knees into chest. Grab ankles
with hands and press chin into chest. Inhale and reach
arms overhead, fingers together and
stretched out; at the same time, extend legs at a 45-degree angle
to floor. Exhale and circle arms around body and bring both knees
exhale further. Repeat movement 5 times, pulling abdominals in
and keeping spine pressed against mat throughout.
Spine stretch forward
Sit on floor with legs extended, 3 to 4 inches past shoulder-width.
Keep feet slightly flexed and thighs soft. Raise
arms parallel to floor, shoulder-width
apart. Inhale and tuck chin into chest; exhale and reach both
arms and legs forward while pressing spine in opposite direction.
to curl spine forward,
rounding back until forehead faces floor, pulling abdominals
throughout movement. Hold for a few moments, release, and
Circles against wall
Stanched with hold back — head to tailbone — against
a wall, feet about 12 inches away and parallel to each other.
Draw abdominals toward spine
and lift arms in front; keep both arms within peripheral vision and raise
them toward crown of head, pressing abdominals toward spine and
Slowly pull arms apart and lower to sides, elongating them
from waist. Repeat 5 times.
Gotta Try It: Sea Kayaking
Skim the ocean blue.
Explore the shore.
Float toward fitness...
takes you places you'd never reach on foot, provides a new perspective
sights, and puts nature literally at your fingertips. The
thrill of skimming along the water and watching seabirds dive for
their dinner makes you forget you're actually getting exercise. But you
And it's a whole new way to work out. Unless you're an avid tennis
player or regularly lift weights, your arms probably don't get
much work. Activities
such as walking, jogging, and cycling focus on the legs. But I recently
found a great way to explore the great outdoors—and sneak in
a workout for my arms, shoulders, back, and abs: Sea kayaking.
first kayaking excursion is off Cape Ann, Mass., a beautiful
stretch of rocky coastline just north of Boston. I've signed up with Essex
River Basin Adventures, an outfitter that caters to paddlers of all
ages and abilities. My group includes a few couples in their 30s
some boisterous 20-somethings, and a man in his 60s.
Testing the waters
Instructor Richard "Ozzie" Osborn starts with the basics:
how to maneuver and balance the sea kayak and how to get back in if
flip over. This is where I realize the subtle—but definitely
the muscles in my arms, shoulders and midsection will be doing,
both in propelling me forward and keeping me upright in the undulating
After about 45 minutes, we are each fitted with a life vest and
sprayskirt — a
rugged, waterproof contraption that seals you into the kayak from
the waist down. Hmmm, sealed into something that can tip? I'm happy
hear that you can detach easily in that event. (Other types of
you perched on top: See "Different Boats for Different Folks," below.)
a push from one of the guides, my kayak slips into the shallow
water, and I take a few tentative paddles. Easy, I think, grinning
at the sight
of my classmates ramming into one another a few yards ahead.
I use my rudder, a simple foot-controlled device that makes the kayak
maneuver, and attempt to swing out of the way.
Too late: I'm
drifting right into Adam, another beginner. "Look out! " I
yell. Adam lifts his paddle out of the way just in time for my kayak
to smack into
his. "Sorry," I mumble. Luckily, the kayaks are made
of heavy-duty plastic, so there's no harm done. Adam smiles
agreeably, then proceeds
to slam into another paddler. We all laugh.
With a little practice
and more instruction, I improve my stroke and master the
art of turning. Now I feel balanced and secure,
giving my legs a break for change, using my abs and back for
balance while my
often-neglected arms and shoulders keep me gliding forward.
Into the deep
Once we're all maneuvering without too many more "bumper boat" incidents,
we paddle into the main waterway, hugging the shore and checking
out the mud flats, low dunes, and piles of clam and mussel
shells. I find
myself gliding through water less than a foot deep, cruising
right up to the shoreline to inspect the moss-covered rocks; the kayak
about 6 inches below the waterline, allowing me to explore
I never could have approached in a canoe or other boat.
along, I spot an osprey searching for its dinner along the mollusk-covered
shoals as powerboaters zoom by
Next I see
Crane's Beach, the
crown jewel of Boston beaches, and Hog Island, a wildlife
refuge. Both are familiar to me, but here, from my sea-level
different. The beach is a pristine crescent of white sand,
and the island's craggy shore looks lush and impenetrable.
places I remember.
I glide along, enjoying the soft splash
my paddle makes with each stroke. Suddenly, I'm pulled out of my reverie
change in water
conditions. We are
now in the middle of the channel. The wind is gusting and
frothy-capped waves are rolling in from the Atlantic.
My kayak is bouncing
all over the place. "Point your bow into the wind!" shouts
a guide. I obey, and boost the effort of my strokes.
The nose of my kayak slices through the waves,
and I'm bounced over the choppy surface with a rhythmic
smack, smack, smack. As a light mist sprays my face,
I concentrate on keeping my
strokes steady and my body balanced as I bob along. I
pump my arms with each
stroke, and I'm breathing harder and starting to work
up a sweat; I feel exhilarated.
We're back into calmer
waters after about 20 minutes.
Several cormorants (large, black fishing birds) swim
The water is perfect
now, with a steady current that keeps me gliding along
with next to no effort.
My kayak slips through the water like the birds' bodies,
low and sleek, as we head for home.
Boats for Different Folks
If you don't like the idea of being attached at the waist to your boat, try a
sit-on-top-style ocean kayak.
That's the boat that Saul Stanton, 60, of Boston, bought four years ago
when he first discovered kayaking. "I tried it once, and I've been hooked ever
since," he says. "The kayak is very safe; its stable. I always
wear a life vest, and I feel comfortable taking my kayak anywhere. I've
through marshes and into the Atlantic and as far as 20 miles south, to
see the U.S.S. Constitution."
out on the water!
Where to go: Ask local camping supply or sporting
goods stores for suggestions of tours or rental agents in your
area, or contact the Trade Association of Paddle Sports at
What you'll pay: $30 to $50 for a beginners'
class and rental. My three-hour "introductory" trip
cost $45 and included all equipment and instruction.
For more information: On the Internet, check out GORP (Great Outdoors Recreation
Pages) at www.gorp.com. And check out Sea Kayaking: A Woman's Guide (Ragged Mountain