Cold Weather Running – Winter Recess for Grown-Ups

“I can’t put my arms down!”

I realized something funny during my run yesterday. Winter running is a lot like winter recess.

See? He can't put his arms down.

See? He can’t put his arms down.

Those of you who grew up in cold-weather areas, remember going out for recess or out to play in your neighborhood, during the winter when you were in grade school? (If not, hopefully you’ve at least seen A Christmas Story – or the pic here isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense.) You had to layer up, put on your boots, sometimes top off the outfit with a hat, scarf and mittens. All of this to go outside and play for about 20 minutes. And, inevitably, someone in class would be fully encased in his/her recess gear then utter those seven words that made the teacher (or your own mother/father) cringe, “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Running in the winter is a lot like being a child about to go out for recess. First, it takes some time to plan out exactly what you’re going to wear. How cold is it? Will it warm up quite a bit during the time I’ll be out there? What’s the wind factor? All of these questions determine the right layering combo.

Once that has been established, it’s time to get dressed. That’s where the real fun comes. In my case yesterday, it was 20 degrees with gusty winds and not much warming predicted throughout the morning.

So began the process:

Base layer: running tights, under armour long sleeve, smart wool socks.

Next layer: fleece quarter-zip.

Crap, I have to pee again. Ugh, backwards we go.

Okay, first two layers back on – let’s continue:

Final layer: wind-resistant pants and jacket.

Accessories: full hat, neck gator, gloves, Garmin.

Do I look like I can't put my arms down?

Do I look a little puffy? Or like I can’t put my arms down?

By the time I reached the point of being fully dressed, I almost felt like I had to pee yet again – nope, I’m fully committed at this point, I’m ten minutes behind schedule of when I wanted to start my run, and it’s probably just in my head. Let’s do this.

It seems like an awful lot of work to go through for a relatively short amount of time (depending on your distance, maybe 20 minutes, maybe three hours) but, in the end, a winter run it’s like recess as a kid – no way in hell you’re missing it, weather be damned!

Luckily, temps in Fargo are looking to be on the upswing starting next week – I sure hope so, looking forward to a few less layers for my upcoming 20-miler next weekend! Anyone else still running in full-on layering weather or have you shelved it all for the season? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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A Few Of My Favorite Things – Fitness Stereotypes

“Oh, so do you do yoga?”

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all stereotype, at least once in awhile. Likewise, whether we realize it or not, many of us are probably the subject of someone else’s stereotype.

The above quote is one I’ve receive on more than one occasion when I mention I’m a vegetarian. And, while I do partake in yoga on a regular basis, mostly on my own after a tough workout, I struggle to understand why it would be the first assumption a person makes about me.

Taking a break to enjoy the scenery - not being lazy!

Taking a break to enjoy the scenery – not being lazy!

I was thinking about this during my recent snowboarding vacation in Montana. My fellow female shredder, Emily and I were joking about the stereotypes attached to snowboarders – the bulk of which are about as far from who she and I are as possible. From “unambitious” and “ultra-laid back” to “hippies” and “hipsters” and, of course, “PBR” and “potheads”, there’s definitely an image most people get when they think of the sport. And, I hate to say it, but many in the snowboard community only further those labels. (Anyone watch this season of the Celebrity Apprentice? Thanks, Jamie Anderson.)

The fitness world is one of the greatest for stereotypes. Sometimes they’re true, sometimes they’re not; regardless of that, they have one thing in common: Fitness stereotypes are funny. Especially at the gym; it’s a little community all its own, complete with its own stereotypes. Here are some of my favorites.

Everyone Who Does Yoga is a Vegan
I’m not sure how this one started. Maybe it’s the hippie, peaceful, zen-like quality that many who do yoga possess – and that makes them incapable of slaughtering innocent animals for food? Maybe it’s the misconception that they’re all stick figures that bend and move like rubber bands and, therefore, must only eat wheatgrass shots and smoothies? Or maybe it’s the fact that there’s a pose called, “Tree Pose” so that implies they only eat other foliage…?

I really have no idea. This one is probably the furthest from the truth.

Everyone Who Lifts Weights is a Meathead
You’ve seen the DirecTV commercial where Rob Lowe tells you all the great reasons why DirecTV is the best – meanwhile, “Meathead Rob Lowe” grunts while lifting, has his own tanning bed and can’t stop saying “bro.”

While there are a handful of meatheads at every gym, I think this stereotype is one of the furthest from being true; most people who lift do it as part of a fairly balanced workout regimen. Sure, most drink protein shakes, take supplements and, yes, sometimes grunt, but that’s far from what I’d deem meathead status.

Mine too!

Mine too!

Everyone Who Runs Is Annoyingly Perky
I thank my TV twin, Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe again!) from Parks & Recreation for this – and am the first to admit I can be totally guilty of this stereotype. I have a naturally upbeat personality and that doesn’t go away when it comes to running. I enjoy running, I am legitimately happy to head out for a nice 15k on a Monday evening. And I’ll finish it with a smile on my face.

Sure, go ahead and call runners annoyingly perky. I don’t think most of us will mind – or argue!

Everyone Who Works Out Only Talks About Working Out
This one is semi-true but made worse by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The post-workout selfie or humble brag of the day’s mileage might come across annoying and vain to most. For some people, it absolutely is a vanity move. But for many of us, sharing workout posts is a way of holding ourselves accountable and trying to be a source of motivation for that person who’s struggling to get a workout done that day (we all need it here and there).

In the simplest terms, yes, we do talk about working out a lot. But some people talk about the weather a lot. Others talk about their kids a lot. Plenty talk about how they go out and get wasted a lot. None of it’s wrong or bad, it’s just all about what your thing is. For fitness folks, that’s our thing. And it’s never “all” we talk about, it just might be the thing we talk about most often.

So, technically, this one is closest to being true.

What are some of your favorite fitness stereotypes? Also, since I’m a runner and might be a little clouded on that one, I’m especially curious what you’d say is your #1 stereotype of runners? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311!

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A Few Of My Favorite Things – Sports (Besides Running)

“I feel the need to endanger myself every so often”

I just returned from a wonderful spring vacation (hence the longer-than-usual absence from the blog). No, I didn’t go to Mexico, Florida or some other sunshine-filled spot. I packed a bunch of layers, cold-weather gear and hit the open road to drive to the Montana mountains. Mid-40s, snow and shredding all day, followed by a steam shower. Yep, that’s my kind of vacation!

Ah, Montana - my happy place.

Ah, Montana – my happy place.

While nice to get away and do something I love, it was tough taking off four days from running, especially during Marathon Season. But it was also a great chance to take part in a fun activity I enjoy. See, I’m a huge sports fan and I love to participate as much as watch. There’s a thrill I get flying down a mountain or diving to make a tough catch – not really putting myself in danger as the above quote might suggest, just doing something that gets the heart pumping and makes me feel alive. And, for those of you who may have thought otherwise, I do enjoy taking part in athletic events outside of running and races! I’m not even talking about triathlons, and the swimming and biking that goes into that training. In that spirit (and with March Madness kicking off this week!) I wanted to share a few of my favorite sports.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. That was revealed about 50 words ago. Since I first strapped on a board and learned how to ride in Whitefish, Montana, I’ve been hooked on this sport. The tough part is I don’t get to go much (for you non-geography buffs out there, North Dakota is severely lacking in mountains) but, on the upside, when I do get to go, I appreciate it so much more.

Some of my fondest memories and best friendships were made in my late teens and 20s, playing co-ed slowpitch softball. It was also a change of pace to play a team sport. Even though it wasn’t supposed to be taken too seriously, the competitor inside of me played to win. And, not to brag, my teams were consistently awesome. I even have a few championship t-shirts to prove it.

More than 20 years of my life has revolved around dance – starting with tap and ballet classes at age three, evolving into competitive danceline in junior high through high school, and rounding out with coaching in my college years. Though I don’t participate anymore, I still enjoy watching competitive dance when I catch it on ESPN – that’s right, haters, it’s a sport and even televised on THE sports network. Also, I like to think my running is improved by my natural flexibility, and engrained focus on the importance of stretching and yoga.

Yes, running is definitely my favorite sport and the one I take part in the most often. But I feel like my love of participating in other sports may have led me to love running, and helped fuel my competitive spirit during races.

What’s your favorite sport, and what are the others that I might not know you love too? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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A Few Of My Favorite Things – Protein Bars

“You must know what you want to find what you want”

As a vegetarian for my entire adult life (and part of childhood too), I’ve spent years refining my diet and experimenting with foods to include more and better sources of protein. Naturally, protein bars have become a staple in my daily eating routine.

I’ve actually become somewhat of a connoisseur of protein bars. A lot of time, energy and failures have gone into my search for the perfect one that matches my needs and criteria. One that’s not high in calories or sugar, one that tastes good and, most importantly, that delivers on the promise of protein. Along the way, I’ve discovered that, despite their packaging and marketing, not all bars should call themselves protein bars, and not all protein bars are created equal.

Not to point out the posers but there’s a lot of crap masquerading as healthy food in general these days. Protein bars are no exception – and I’m talking actual protein bars. I’m not talking about snack bars, diet bars or energy bars. Though several of those try to come off as healthy snacks, meal replacements or actual protein bars, they don’t even make it past a first glance, at least for me. I check labels and, if they don’t deliver on the goods, primarily calorie-to-protein ratio, they’re out. It’s not that I mean to be a protein bar snob; it’s just that I eat them far too often and depend on them too greatly (due to the absence of meat in my diet) to bother with any that I know aren’t the best choice for me.

Luckily, I have managed to weed out the bad to find the best, the ones that I eat on a regular basis. Below are my top choices. *Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with or obligation to any of the below-listed brands. They’re simply the best choices that meet my specific criteria. 

Quest Bars for the win

Quest Bars for the win

The Winner: Quest Bar
For me, this is an easy win. Quest Bar is my favorite by a landslide. Each delivers 20 grams of protein for less than 200 calories, and are low in sugar. Better yet, they taste good and have a soft, slightly chewy texture. Bonus, there are about a million flavors to choose from so there’s bound to be at least a couple that appeal to everyone
The only negative I could find against Quest Bar is a slightly higher cost than the others on my list and availability (limited). Lucky for me, the manfriend is a preferred customer at a local nutrition shop so he purchases whatever I need at his discount rate. What a guy.
The First Runner Up: Pure Protein Bars
With 17-21 grams of protein for 200 calories are less, Pure Protein Bars deliver on my primary criteria. They’re also low in sugar and available at Wal-Mart and Target for a good price. As for flavors, they’re offered in double chocolate, chocolate peanut butter and chocolate vanilla crisp, all pretty good tasting.

The knock I have on these is the double chocolate and chocolate peanut butter varieties aren’t as tasty, and they’re a bit on the chewy, chalky side. Not bad but worth pointing out.

It's like a candy bar - but so much better for you.

It’s like a candy bar – but so much better.

The Second Runner Up: Luna Bars
The chocolate chip cookie dough Luna Bar is delish. It truly tastes like a sinful treat but it’s not. You can find Luna Bars at Target and they’re reasonably priced. This particular one is also the lowest calorie bar in my favorites at 170.

That being said, it also delivers the lowest dose of protein at 12 grams and it’s the highest in sugar. But if you have a craving for a treat or sweet fix (and who doesn’t here and there), skip the candy bar and get the same satisfaction plus some protein from a Luna Bar.
The Lindsay Option: Monster Cookie Protein Balls
As good as the above choices are, sometimes, I just want something homemade. Kind of like when I’ve been traveling for work all week and eating out every meal, going out for dinner at a restaurant when I get home is the least appealing thing to me. So I’ve been experimenting with recipes and have finally found a good one – my Monster Cookie Protein Balls (check out the recipe the Yum, Food tab of this site).

In addition to traveling well, tasting good and packing some protein, they’re a good snack option for when I’m more in the mood for a quick bite vs. a full protein bar.
Any of you have a favorite protein bar you’d recommend? How about a killer homemade protein bar/bites recipe of your own you’re willing to share? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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What To Know About Training For Your First Marathon

“Any idiot can run but it takes a special kind of idiot to run a marathon.”

When it comes to working out, running, eating healthy – all of it – I tell it like it is. Sure, I always try to see the upside of things but I don’t shy away from the struggles and “suckfests” that come with living a healthy lifestyle.

Sometimes, this is how I feel about running.

Sometimes, this is how I feel about running.

In the past, I’ve blogged about the less-than-glamorous side of running and have been open to all the quirks and crap that can come with being a runner. Let’s face it, running, while great for the body, mind and soul, isn’t all rainbows, unicorns and smiling selfies. There are plenty of awful moments that come with it.

I think people need to know both the good and bad. No one deserves to be blindsided. It’s like, I hope people tell me the real, ugly truth about being pregnant and having a baby, not all the happy bullshit of “It’s such a miracle.” “Pregnant women glow.” “Childbirth is an amazing experience.” Oh please (insert eye roll). Can I get a #cmonman?!

So I’d like to talk a bit about the truth of training for your first marathon (much of this applies to those of you training for your first half marathon too so please read on). Those who have decided this is the year they’ll run their first full or half, that’s awesome. Whether the race is this spring, summer or fall, there’s plenty of time to make that goal a reality.

You already know you’re going to have to commit a lot of time and energy to running, that’s a given. But there’s a lot more that goes into preparing for a run of this caliber.

The Sacrifice Goes Beyond the Miles
The comments I most often hear from non-marathoners are always related to the mileage. From the, “You did a 16 mile run today?” on a Saturday afternoon to the, “I can’t even run a mile without stopping,” when you log a typical Tuesday night 10k. And my favorite, the disgusted, often horrified looks when they find out a marathon is 26.2 miles.

Yes, running a long way without stopping is obviously a huge part of full or half marathon training. But there’s more to training than just covering a lot of miles in one run. The commitment and sacrifice that enables one to do that is much larger.

Get to know these - you'll be spending a lot of time together.

Get to know these – you’ll be spending a lot of time together.

I’ve had to forgo Friday nights out on the town for girls’ nights, birthday parties or random acts of fun. I regularly miss out on post-work happy hours. I’ve had to skip weekend trips out of town to see friends or family. And it always sucks to have to tell people why. Most don’t understand why I’m making the choice, and it’s the worst when they feel like it’s personal to them, like I’m not going because I don’t want to hang out with them. I get it, I wouldn’t understand either.

The simple truth is, if you want to succeed in a goal of this size, running has to be your first priority. Making sure you get in the weekend long run and log all your weekly miles, plus any speedwork, hill training or other specialty running – it can be frustrating and exhausting. But when it boils down to it, it’s just a sacrifice that one has to be willing to make.

It’s Not Just About You
Speaking of the sacrifice, it doesn’t all fall on you. Yes, there’s a lot of personal investment in training for a full or half marathon – unless you have a running coach constantly with you, no one is going to force you out of bed for early runs or make you head straight to the gym after work to hit the treadmill. But others feel the effects of your quest more than you think, especially if you have a significant other and/or children. I blogged about this last year in an effort to recognize and thank my manfriend for putting up with all the crap that goes with my personal goal.

Here are a few of the fun (actually, not fun) examples others have to deal with:
• You’re frequently tired and ready for bed by 9, even on weekends – not fun for others.
• You’re always hungry or, worse, hangry – really not fun for others.
• Your top priority and main focus in life becomes running – definitely not fun for others.
• Rest and nutrition are extremely important so social commitments often have to go by the wayside – obviously, not fun for others.

And, probably the hardest thing others have to deal with is seeing you on the bad days. When you have an awful run, when your knees hurt, when you’re ready to throw in the towel – it’s tough for us, imagine how hard it is for someone you love to see that.



Your Appetite Will Astonish You – And Controlling It Is Hard
Did I mention you’re always hungry? It’s amazing how much food runners can put down to begin with and add all the extra calorie burn, suddenly your appetite rivals that of an NFL lineman. You feel like a bottomless pit, you rarely get full and, even if you do, it passes quickly. During the height of training, it’s not a terrible thing if you can reign it in to a reasonable amount – but that’s so much harder than it sounds (you’ve heard of people who actually gain weight training for a marathon? It’s true and this is why). The worst part comes post-marathon when you’re no longer burning all the calories but your appetite hasn’t yet reset to non-marathon status. Let me tell you a little story to illustrate.

One summer, a friend and I went out for breakfast a couple weeks after we had both run a marathon. When I casually ordered the French toast platter AND an eggs and hashbrowns combo meal, and he proceeded to order two items as well, the waitress looked at us like we were messing with her. We both assured her we wanted two breakfasts and, more importantly, we would finish all the food. Her look then turned to disgust, primarily towards me, the smaller and female offender in this ridiculous display of excess. The food arrived with a smirk; I’m sure she was thinking to herself there was no way in hell we’d finish it all. Well, we did. And it was glorious. And I think she judged us worse for it than if we wouldn’t have finished. Our photos are probably hanging up in the kitchen like common criminals in the post office.

So yeah, you’re gonna eat a lot.

You Will Question Yourself More Than You Ever Have
If you feel you’re a mentally strong person, that’s good – keep that as long as you can! Because there will be plenty of times during training where you’ll feel defeated and like you can’t go on; where you think you should just give up because you’re going to fail anyway. The good news is, these moments typically pass quickly, although there will be at least one run that is so awful, so unbearable, so out-of-the-norm that it makes you break down and cry (I’ve blogged about this before but it’s worth repeating because it will happen). Whether your speed isn’t there, you feel like you can’t finish the last five miles or your brain has finally woken up and realized this crazy thing you’re doing, there will be plenty of moments that shatter even the most confident person.
That’s just some of the ugly stuff, the mental stuff, that I think a person should be aware of when they decide to make this kind of commitment. So why do people do this? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t worth it. It totally is.

There’s no greater feeling than finishing a tough run or crossing the finish line of your first marathon. It’s empowering. It’s the kind of rush you can’t get unless you actually do it. It can be tough to endure weeks and months of hardship for just the one moment but don’t forget: Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.

Do you have any horrific stories to share about training for your first marathon? It’s best to get them all out there so please comment with yours!

Those of you training for your first race, shoot me any questions you have on Twitter @runlikeagirl311.

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Why You Should Be Keeping a Food and Exercise Journal

“There’s something about the ability to write about how you’re feeling and look back on it, especially when you thought you’d never get through it.”

I love to write. Whether it’s pounding the keyboard on my computer or journaling with a good old pen and paper, there’s something very therapeutic to me about getting my thoughts out of my head (it gets crowded in there) and onto paper. It’s also a great strategy for maintaining health and fitness goals.

There’s something incredibly simple yet incredibly powerful about journaling your exercise and food.

My exercise journal: variety, hard work - even rest days!

My exercise journal: variety, hard work – even rest days!

In terms of exercise, it’s great to track progress, plus it’s really rewarding to see all the workouts add up and get a visual of how much you’ve been doing. Flip side, it’s a wake-up call if the journal looks really bare.

As for food, it can create awareness of exactly how much and how many calories you’re eating (as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, “fun-size” candy bars DO have calories and they DO add up). It helps you identify where you have weak spots (maybe you’re like me and always get hungry around 9 p.m.) so you can be prepared and plan. It also gives you accountability, (knowing you have to write down that extra cookie might make you reconsider if you really need it).

In that same breath I will caution that, like anything, there’s a fine line between conscious and obsessed. You can see how easy it is to become too wrapped up in journaling, especially on the food side. You might catch yourself always thinking about every little bite, every single calorie. Worse than that, you might become “THAT” person.

You know, “THAT” guy at happy hour who points out how many calories are in the spinach artichoke dip. Buzzkill. Or “THAT” girl at the 4th of July barbecue who keeps groaning she can’t believe she ate a brownie and drank two beers…and won’t shut up about every additional thing she consumes. Annoying. I’ve been around “THAT” person and, trust me, you don’t want to become him/her. You’ll drive everyone nuts and ruin their good time. Double fault.

But it can happen on the exercise side, too. You may find yourself thinking, “Just 10 more minutes on the Stairmaster,” or “Just one more set of squats.” Again, not the point.

Becoming obsessive with what you eat and every workout isn’t the goal here. The goal is to eliminate mindless eating and make sure you’re eating enough of the right foods. It’s to  figure out your own eating patterns and set yourself up for success as much as possible. The goal is to help plan balanced workouts and stay on top of strength goals. It’s to keep track of mileage and make sure skipping leg day “just this once” doesn’t become too-frequent an occurrence. And it’s to prove treats and rest day are good things and should always be included – if they’re missing from your journals, you’ve got some “work” to do!

Do you keep track of your food and/or exercise? What benefits have you realized from keeping a food or exercise journal? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311.

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A Few of My Favorite Things – Leg Workouts

“You make me feel weak in the knees. Just kidding, yesterday was leg day.”

It’s Valentine’s Day and this is a blog about leg day. I couldn’t resist the above quote to kick it off.

Speaking of all things love, I love leg day. Especially the past few months, as I’ve been preparing for marathon season and a new strategy to build speed, I’ve really been pushing my leg workouts. I used to keep them pretty light and basic, and rely on running to keep my legs strong. In fact, I would regularly skip leg day while training for races and focus my energy on different types of distance and speed work.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that. Me, the person who loves and preaches lifting! But it’s amazing how much the mind can shift from a mentality of “lifting, cardio” to “miles, speedwork, MORE MILES!” when a big race is coming. I think any runner can relate. Not to mention the amount of energy it takes to keep up with all those daily and weekly mileage goals, often there’s not much left over to devote an hour to a good leg session. Plus, the fact there’s no room in the schedule to miss a run due to post-leg day soreness.

But I’ve become more and more addicted to leg day and it’s showing through in my runs, proving it’s something I have to work into my weekly training schedule. Rather than try to fit in a weekly 50-60 minute dedicated leg session, my strategy has been to shoot for one 30ish minute leg workout each week. Thus far, that strategy has been going well! So I’m excited to share some of my favorite leg day exercises. Putting all of these together, it would easily take more than an hour to complete so I’ve been picking a few exercises from each category to get a solid workout in just 30 minutes.

Those of you looking to mix it up or who aren’t sure where to start with a leg workout, do the same! Choose a few and it won’t take long to get in a solid lower body workout. I especially like this option vs. pre-built workout routines you have to follow exactly as they are – Day 2 & 5, these exercises, in this order, yada, yada, yada. Next week, it’s Day 3, 5 & 7, now these workouts, with these weights, blah, blah, blah. It’s hard enough getting people motivated to work out, let’s not complicate the workout to make it less enticing. So choose what you’re feeling (or what’s available at the crowded gym) and go! Just start with the heaviest weights and biggest muscle groups, and work you way down.

Disclaimer: Please excuse the simplicity and poor lighting of the demo photos. I’m uncomfortable taking gym selfies (and I judge people who do it for the sake of their own vanity) so I had Chris take these in our basement with his phone – which is also why there are no bars, weights or equipment, but I think you’ll get the idea.

The foundation of any lifting program is typically squats. Obviously, they’re awesome for your butt and legs, but did you know squats are among the best ab workouts too? Think about it: You have to keep your body perfectly stabilized and engage your core the entire time.

Just as with real estate it’s location, location, location, the key with squats is form, form, form! Good form is essential for getting the most out of your squat but, more importantly, to avoid injuries. Engage your core and imagine you’re about to sit down in a chair. That’s how you should squat. Stick out your butt, keep your chin and chest up, and don’t let your knees cave into each other.

1. Standard Back Squats
Load up a bar or grab a couple dumbbells and you’re ready to go. Keeping good form, lower into a squat, pause, then pop back up.

Dumbbell Squat Step 1 and Step 2

Dumbbell Squat – Step 1 and Step 2

2. Dumbbell Squats
Grab a set of dumbbells, a little lighter than what you’d choose for a shoulder press, a bit heavier than what you’d choose for curls. Using an overhand grip, balance the weights on your shoulders, elbows out and perpendicular to the floor. Perform a standard squat, keeping your elbows stabilized.

3. Pulsing Kick Squats
A form of a goblet squat, these add a little extra “kick” for your inner thighs. Grab a dumbbell and hold it at your chest. Lower into a squat but rather than pop back up, pulse it for two beats, then explode up with all your weight shifted to your right leg, kicking your left leg out to the side, punching with your left arm. Come back to the start. Do your reps, then switch sides.

Another staple in most exercise plans, lunges are obviously good for your legs, but offer additional benefits. They’re great for balance, strengthen your hip flexors (crucial for runners) and some types are a functional exercise (i.e. walking lunges) that give you more bang for your buck.

As for form, it’s pretty basic. Keep your chin and chest up, and don’t let your front knee get past your front toe. When doing static lunges, approach them in a “train tracks” stance, meaning allow some room between your feet, don’t try to place your back foot directly behind your lead foot.

1. Standard Lunges
Again, load up the bar or grab some dumbbells and you’re set. Keeping good form, lower into a lunge, pause, then pop back up. Repeat for both sides.

2. Walking Lunges
That whole idea of a functional exercise? Here it is. Grab that loaded-up bar or some dumbbells. Step forward, drop into a lunge, then push up and end with your feet together. Alternate sides.

Curtsey Lunge - Step 1 & Step 2

Curtsey Lunge – Step 1 & Step 2

3. Curtsey Lunges
Stand feet hip-width apart, dumbbells at your sides. Keep right foot planted, swing your left foot behind you and lower into a “curtsey” motion, keeping your arms stabilized at your sides and your back straight. Pop back up and step back to starting position. Repeat for all your reps, then switch sides.

Ask any expert in the fitness world for his or her top three exercises, you’re likely to hear deadlifts on that list. These are among the best strength builders for your lower body but they offer some upper body benefits too. Plus, they’re a real-life exercise – what does that mean? Well, remember in school, when knew you needed to learn trigonometry but were unsure of when you’d actually use it in real life? The deadlift is the exact opposite of that. You’ll use that strength and motion all the time in real life – think lifting boxes, groceries, even your children.

There are a couple variations you can do; some add a little more focus to your lower back and balance.

1. Standard Deadlifts
Grab a bar or dumbbells and grab with an over or underhand grip, whichever is more comfortable (I prefer overhand, as it helps me keep my knees stabilized and from caving in). Keep a slight bend in your back, bend at your knees until the weights touch the ground. Then, pop back up.

2. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
Don’t take the name too literally, you should have a slight bend in your knees when performing this exercise. Grab a bar or dumbbells; again, you can choose an over or underhand grip. Bend at the waist, keeping the weight very close to your legs. Slowly lower to at least your mid-shins or all the way to the floor, then pop back up.

Single Leg Deadlifts - Step 1 & Step 2

Single Leg Deadlifts – Step 1 & Step 2

3. Single-Leg Deadlifts
This variation of deadlift takes a lot of balance. You might want to start with no weights or just one weight until you get the motion and balance down. Hold a weigh in each hand. Place all your body weight on your right foot. Bending at the waist, lower the weights to the ground, while keeping your left leg straight. When your hands are at the ground, your back leg should be straight out. Pop back up, yet don’t let your left leg fully touch the ground unless you need a balance check.

Box Step-Ups
This is one exercise where the motion is the same, it’s the equipment that can vary. One, you can vary the height of the box you choose. Two, the weight source and placement can vary. You can place a bar on your back, hold a dumbbell at each side or forgo weight entirely. Simply step one foot on the box and, in a controlled motion, swing your opposite knee up. Swing that leg back and step to the ground, then step down with the other. Switch your starting foot and do it again.

Donkey Kicks
The donkey kick is a great booty-builder. There are a few different ways these can be done; the motion is the same so choose the one that fits your abilities and equipment availability (or lack thereof).

1. On the Dedicated Machine
Most gyms will have a machine that’s designed for donkey kicks. Choose your weight, grip the handles and don’t let your back sink in while performing the kick.

2. On the Smith Machine
In general, I’m not a big fan of workout machines, the Smith Machine included. For squats, shoulder presses or anything really, I feel you lose out on the added challenge of maintaining the stability you’re forced to have with free weights. But there are exceptions to every rule, donkey kicks is one of those exceptions. This is a great machine that allows you to load up the weight and be able to safely support it with one foot. Grab a mat and assume a cat-cow yoga pose with a flat back. Position your foot directly underneath the bar, then kick it up and slowly lower it back down.

3. On a Mat
Similar to the position and motion of a Smith Machine, but without the machine. You can do this at home a resistance band or something light weight. If you don’t have a band or weights at home, find something. I once read an article about a former anorexic who couldn’t lift even a 5-pound dumbbell at the gym so she started out by curling cans of soup – trust me, you can find something.

As you see, there’s nothing cutting-edge, complex or fancy here – squats, lunges, deadlifts, those are among the most common workouts and they have been around forever. But that’s because they’re so effective! Plus, you can do a ton of variations of each.

These are just a few of my favorites – what are yours? I’d love to know what you’re doing and I’m always looking to add new options to my leg day workouts! Post a comment or Tweet me, @runlikeagirl311.

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