The Power of Four: Home-Workout Challenges
Adapting all aspects of training has been a challenge in Lockdown - not just my actual running, but the various support acts built in to the programme to enhance it too.
A few strength sessions a week plays an important role for any endurance runner, giving the body the power and condition it needs to thrash out mile after mile each week.
Moving the location of these from the “Iron Paradise” of the local gym, to my modest first floor flat has been almost a big a change as always haveing to run solo in a “virtual” racing world.
Initially I loved it, making the most of the few bits of home equipment (proper weights and other things like brooms!) I had to get a new routine in place with a variety of tweaked exercises I'd never tried before.
The enthusiasm of mixing things up held strong for a couple of weeks. Then, like most things in Lockdown, the novelty started to ware off and things edged towards another mundane autopilot routine.
What could be done to make things more fun? A bunch of random challenges was the answer I came up with - short, sharp, fun sets I could work in to the sessions once a week to provide something new and quirky to focus on.
My favourite 4 are given below – full list is pinned to my Strava feed if you fancy checking it out.
4. Dead Hang: Lockdown PB = 2minutes, 2 seconds
Dead Hang: The act of hanging from a bar, with your feet of the ground, for as long as possible.
The simple dead-hang is a quick and effective way of enhancing a few of the body’s features needed for tougher parts of the training block;
Grip: Building block for big ticket exercises (e.g. pull ups).
Forearm Strength: Maintain good running form, with added hulk-like veins.
Breathing: Manage energy in long distance races.
Revenue: Take on “Hang from the Bar” challenges at local carnivals to win a few quid.
I suspect the odds are probably stacked against you for the latter no matter how good you get, however the top 3 will go along way to making the incremental differences needed to squeeze out a few pbs towards the end of a racing season.
My best during Lockdown (unfortunately not captured on video) provided both the highlight and lowlight of that day.
I’d only ever managed to do the exercise for longer than 2 minutes once before, so was dead chuffed to see it nudge past that mark for a second time. My all time record was 2 minutes and 5 seconds...
Should I go for it? Yes
Could I hold on for it? No
Could I injure myself trying? Yes
In the determination to hold out for the record my weary hands shifted the angle of the bar, removing it from the doorframe and causing it to crash on top of my head shortly after I fell to the floor myself.
What better way to celebrate a Lockdown pb than standing over a sink for 10 minutes with blood pouring from the nose – if you’re gonna be dumb, you’ve got to be tough!
3. Press Ups in 30 seconds: Lockdown PB = 28
Press Up: The art of raising your body from the ground by pressing down on your hands, while keeping your back straight.
In a world where only a single exercise is allowed forever more, the press up would be my choice.
Upper body, lower body, core, shoulders, arms and legs – they all get some benefit from doing an exercise so straightforward and adaptable it can be done at any time, in any place.
The versatility has proven handy in a few life situations too;
Travel: Easy to do in a hotel room.
Late Nights: Fight the zzzzs when tiredness has to be overcome.
Work: Get pumped up before big meetings or presentations.
The last is something I do put in to practice, even more so now I’m working from home and don’t have to shuffle around awkwardly looking for an empty part of the office to do it.
Provided you don’t overcook it, the exercise can also be a good way of engaging all of your muscles before a race. My club vest isn’t on by coincidence in the video. I had an early morning slot for a “virtual club” relay we were doing that day, so netted my press-up pb to help waken up before heading out to do my shift – two birds, one stone etc.
2. Max single arm chin-ups in one set: Lockdown PB = 4 Single Arm Chin-Up: The art of raising your chin above a fixed horizontal bar, using the muscles from one arm only.
The Rocky training montages are arguably the peak of the series and the single armed chin up performed at his local jungle-gym was always my favourite.
To my youthful eyes it looked incredibly cool and an awesome show of manliness. Trying to replicate it on my the monkey bars at my village park also quickly demonstrated how difficult pulling it off would be.
That fear never really went away and the idea of “zero reps” put me off ever attempting it in the gym. With that barrier removed the chance to now give it a go was unavoidable.
It took weeks to build up, but like anything else it got there over time with a bit of patience as I worked my way up the ladder to hit each of milestones below;
Half a Rep
Four Reps (the PB you see in the video)
There’s still plenty to work on, particularly the form which often has me looking more like a dangling fish than the Italian Stallion, but it is getting there.
Can I get to five clean reps before the end of Lockdown? It’s definitely a goal in my sights…
1. 100 skips as quick as possible: Lockdown PB = 29 seconds
Skipping: The art of jumping over a rope swung so that it passes under the feet and over the head.
Another classic from any boxer’s repertoire and something which has made a big difference to my training as a long distance runner.
Skipping for 10 minutes is said to burn as many calories as running for 30 minutes. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but the cardio benefit from the a constant series of small jumps is undeniable and makes for great cross training on non-running days.
Like a lot of runners I’ve had my issues with calf and ankle injuries over the years. The repeated motion of hopping off the ground has been a game changer for my lower leg strength, which has hopefully helped make these a things of the past.
The improvement it gives to general running efficiency has been another key benefit – the quicker you can get your feet off the ground, the less energy you lose when going through the rigours of a long distance race.
There are so many fun variations you can do with the rope as well to keep the exercise fresh;
Endurance: A simple one-set max helps develop both mental + physical stamina.
Coordination: Wee routines like 20 on the left, 20 on the right, are great for balance.
Speed and Power: Doing as many as possible in a short time gives a good benchmark.
A quick blast on the speed side is what you see in the video, with the target being to do 100 skips as quickly as possible. The short hair in should give away that the 29 seconds I managed came quite early in Lockdown. Why has there not been a follow up?
Well, a top tip quickly learned when structuring a home workout routine is learn the layout of your downstairs neighbour's flat - from my experience it’s unlikely they’ll share your enthusiasm of netting a skipping record at 6:30am in the morning!