This week I got an email from a former client who’s quarantined in Spain, asking me for tips on running in place since he doesn’t have a treadmill. Here’s my best advice for anyone in that situation.
There isn’t great carryover from running in place to actual running. In fact, the most important thing you do when you actually run on solid ground is using the ground for leverage to move your body. That is the exact opposite of running in place.
For many generations, coaches have given runners drills that can be done in place, such as high knees and butt kicks. But neither of those things moves the center of mass, and both build very bad habits for running. I don’t think they’re a good use of your time, whether or not you’re quarantined.
Instead, this is an opportunity to build movement skills and a different kind of fitness. And that will make you a better runner when you can finally return to running outdoors. It’s a fantastic use of your time.
Here are some ways to do that:
If you’ve got a jump rope or even a clothesline you can repurpose, spend some time learning jumprope skills. Not just jumping in place, but even some fancy stuff. You’ll improve your elasticity and this will carry over nicely to running. My old friend Tim Haft, creator of Punk Rope, has great tutorials and workouts on his YouTube channel here, and other options as well.
I don’t recommend you jump rope every day–give yourself some recovery! You could alternate with the activities below, especially Latin Dance and Yoga.
This is a great way to build exactly what the name says. The quickness and precision you develop with your feet, and the varying directions of movement, will be wonderful for your leg, hip, and core strength (in a very mobile way) and will carry over beautifully to running.
There are lots of instructional videos like this one on YouTube and you can just make your own ladder on the floor with masking tape or chalk or string. For a longer workout, alternate sets of agility ladder with strength training exercises or even bodyweight exercises.
This is my favorite form of core work for runners because it works the core in a great range of motion in conjunction with the hip muscles, while on your legs and balancing in gravity. And it can give you a longer workout than the two preceding options. Search for Latin dance or Zumba workouts on YouTube.
Just remember, if you’re new to this type of exercise, there’s no need to push for a big range of motion or to do things fast. You don’t want to hurt yourself trying to make moves with your hips you’ve never made before at high speeds! Just make the movement small to start and cut the tempo in half whenever necessary.
Yoga is great for runners because of the variety of movements. I do it several days a week. I recommend hatha rather than Bikram or Iyengar, and there are a ton of beginner yoga sequences on YouTube.
If you’re new to yoga, the same cautions apply here as to Latin dance: don’t go deep into the postures or be ambitious. Do everything at 50% for awhile to get the hang of it.
I am not a fan of runners doing Pilates, unless it’s my specially adapted sequence of mat exercises. Here’s the blog post and free video I created on that. You can do 8-10 reps of each exercise. It would be a great warmup before any of the activities above and will translate wonderfully to running later on. That’s why I created it!
Your time indoors is a fantastic opportunity for a deeper kind of learning too. I’ve listed this last even though it’s first in my mind (it’s my business after all!) because the first thing you’ll probably be looking for is a workout, and Feldenkrais will not give you that.
But once you’ve had your exercise needs met, you can use some of your additional free time to invest in improving your ability to coordinate yourself for running. You can just jog up and down a hall way, or laps around your room (be sure to switch directions after a few laps) to feel the effects of lessons and leave it at that. When you do eventually get back to running outdoors, the effects will absolutely be there for you.
Many runners have trouble finding a break in training and racing, and the time in their busy schedules to do this kind of form work. Now’s your chance! Take it.
If you’re new to The Balanced Runner System™ you can start with the free Mind Your Running Challenge here.
If you’re the sort of person who prefers to dive in and swim right away rather than wading in slowly through the shallows, the 6-week Balanced Runner System™ Online Running Camp is here.
In addition to the benefits of this work for your running form and coordination, the lessons are very relaxing and stress-relieving. Many people find their resilience and ability to cope really improves with each lesson.
In 2009 I was in the stands at the finish line of the NYC Marathon when Meb Keflezighi broke the tape. As he approached the finish line I thought he had the best form of his life. He was really mobile and dynamic. He didn’t seem to be trying to over-lengthen his spine, which I’d seen him do many times.
He’d just finished rehabbing a hip fracture, and he’d apparently done a ton of dynamic medicine ball work. That variety of movement gave him spectacular form.
You can use your time in lockdown the same way. In that sense this is an opportunity, because you’re being prevented from sticking to your normal routine and forced instead to learn a new way to do things.
I hope we all pass through this time as well as possible and on looking back, see that we made the very best use of it we could.
A week after writing this blog post I was still thinking about the problems with running in place and whether there was any way to mitigate them. I came up with this:
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.