By Sarah Tuff
Maybe you’ve been getting cold feet (literally), or it’s still too dark for your early morning run. So head inside – winter is the perfect time to take a class that complements your running. “Group classes are a great way to try something new and address areas that you know are weaknesses for you, like flexibility or upper-body strength,” says Jessica Cover, a running coach and personal trainer. Cover introduced me to five classes – offered by many health clubs, community centres, and yoga and martial arts studios – that she finds help runners improve in the areas of balance, strength, and mental focus. “Plus, they’re fun,” she says. While keeping up my regular mileage, I sampled these classes on my recovery days. By choosing the right workout, you may even find your running performance improving in time for your next race.
This workout includes high-repetition movements using squats, bench presses, bicep curls, and other classic weight-room exercises with low weight loads, all set to energising music (everything from Bon Jovi to Eurodance hits). You load up your barbell with as much (or as little) weight as you’d like, and perform 70 to 100 repetitions each for legs, chest, back, shoulders, and abs. Most exercisers burn up to 2 500 kilojoules per 60-minute class. This is the one class that Cover didn’t have to tell me about: I’ve been doing Power Pump once a week for several months and am not only stronger but faster – I credit it for helping me drop my half-marathon PB by 15 minutes.
Good for runners: “You need upper-body strength for good form and carriage, and Power Pump is a fun way to get motivated, too,” says Cover. Start with the lightest weights possible and add more every six weeks, taking care to go lighter on the weights when it’s time for squats and lunges. “With the music going, it’s easy to overdo it and injure yourself,” she says.
Named for the stability trainers that resemble a Swiss ball sliced in half, Bosu classes (or general fitness classes incorp-orating Bosu exercises) put students through a series of balance, coordination, and agility exercises using either the flat platform or the squishy dome. The fast-paced classes include familiar exercises – bicep curls, back exten-
sions, lunges, and bird-dogs (an ab-strength-ening move) – performed on the Bosu, which challenges you to engage your core muscles to keep you centred and upright. After one class, my lats and calves were sore for days.
Good for runners: By working the small muscles, ligaments, and tendons around your knees and ankles, the Bosu helps develop the stability and quick-reaction skills you’ll need on trails and roads alike, says Cover.
The centuries-old practice of ‘moving meditation’ is going mainstream among athletes of all ages. That’s because the slow, flowing movements (there are 108) are said to harness energy – chi – while fostering mind-body awareness, flexibility, and balance. Most beginner classes start with gentle, yoga-like poses and progress to more challenging positions. Though I was skeptical, it took me just one session to get the basic hang of it, and to feel more relaxed, poised, and grounded than I’d felt in months.
Good for runners Especially those who’ve been plagued by injuries or chronic pain, want to improve form, or just need to add some yin to the yang of running, says Cover.
One of kickboxing’s biggest draws is as a stress reliever, but it’s also a way to improve coordination, sharpen reflexes, and increase muscle endurance. You can expect to burn between 1500 and 1 900 kilojoules per hour. At every class, instructors focus on basic arm snaps and jabs before adding in the kicks. Every few rounds, you break away and practise skipping for a minute or so. I felt clumsy during my first few classes, but that turned out to be a good thing; it got my muscles and my mind out of the straight-ahead running rut.
Good for runners: Kickboxing teaches you to move your hips and legs in a new way and can help you increase your range of motion. Start with low, slow kicks until you master good form, says Cover.
Unlike traditional weights, which you lift and lower slowly while isolating one body part at a time, kettlebells are swung rhythmically, using full-body motions.
To swing the bells in different patterns – including overhead, cross-body, or floor to shoulder – your small and large muscle groups must work in concert to control the momentum as you change directions. Like many beginners, I found the initial swing of the kettlebell tricky – I was ‘muscling it up’ with my arms – but in time the motion felt natural.
Good for runners: “A kettlebell workout can be a great way to gain core stability and upper-body strength,” says Cover. “But concentrate initially on learning the proper form.” If your kettlebell is too heavy or if you employ the wrong technique, you run the risk of injury. Ask the instructor to help you choose an appropriate weight. Click here for a killer kettlebell workout.