Since quarantine began, finding time to sweat every day has been my saving grace. Each day, I spend thirty minutes or more moving my body in an Obé dance class, jumprope workout, or on my Peloton. It's easily the best part of my day! Where I have a bit more trouble is strength-training. Those slow and steady exercises intended to build muscle, like holding planks or weight lifting, are just way less fun than biking or dancing in my living room (to me, at least!). But they're vital for strengthening your body and avoiding injury, especially if you're doing the fun stuff like dancing!
When I trained for the L.A. Marathon a few years ago, I put plenty of miles under my sneakers but completely ignored stretching and strength-training. A month before the marathon, my foot began to hurt a lot and I learned from an MRI that I'd torn most of the ligaments and tendons in it as a direct result of my single-track training. I spent the month before the marathon in physical therapy strengthening those connections enough to endure the race. When my foot began hurting in a similar area a few weeks ago, I knew I had to prioritize strength-training again if I wanted to avoid injury and keep enjoying my sweaty workouts.
I reached out to Emily's friend and Boston-based pilates instructor, Sarah Rapaport, with my dilemma, and she suggested squeezing workouts into my day during times when I'm naturally waiting. Similar to how I do an arm workout every day while my breakfast cooks, Sarah recommended that I do calf-raises while brushing my teeth, planks during my daily viewing of The Office, and stretches while water boils for tea. Here are Sarah's suggestions for squeezing 8 mini strength workouts into your day:
The move: Planks (classic and side)
What it works: Core
What Sarah says... PLANKS! This works really well during show intros and commercials to build up endurance. There are also a ton of variations for planks so it’s doesn't get boring: Start with the basics and build your way up to other variations like reverse planks (almost like you're crab-walking in table-top), mountain-climbers, and side-planks. You can be on your hands or forearms, if you have any wrist problems, but you want your shoulders to be over your wrists. Think of pulling your belly button up toward your spine, and pretend like you're squeezing a clutch under your armpits. You'll notice you're engaging your lats. Your legs can be shoulder or hip-width apart.
I like doing five planks for a minute each, but you don't want to do anything that hurts you. If it hurts (rather than burns), stop doing it. Otherwise, build your way up, from 30 seconds to longer! You may find that you want to keep going even after the commercial or show intro is over...
The move: Standing Roll Down
What it works: Spinal Mobility and Abs
What Sarah says... A good way to start the day (and with relatively short time) are standing roll downs. Tuck your chin to your chest and picture yourself pulling your belly button in, as if you're rolling over something like a huge ball in front of you. Really draw your abs up (think "navel to spine"), and roll forward slowly and with control. It's invigorating to be upside-down. Take a few deep breaths, then come back up or, if the spirit really moves you, walk your hands out to a downward dog which gives you more of a stretch in your legs. Repeat.
The move: Small Barre Movements
What it works: Quad, hamstrings, and glutes
What Sarah says... Do calf raises, with your feet either parallel or in first position (heels together toes apart). If you find stability to be a challenge (and worry about falling and impaling yourself with a toothbrush like I do), move to a wide second position, for a plié. Bend the knees, bringing the thighs parallel to the floor (it’s ok if you can’t go all the way down). Hold there, or pulse (bend/straighten the knees just an inch). Track your knees over the toes, keep the abs pulled in, and try not to arch your back. It’s a great workout for glutes and hamstrings.
The move: Resistance Band Lat Pull
What it works: Pectorals and lats, the depressor muscles in your back
What Sarah says... If you can go outside, bring a resistance band with you (which is more enjoyable than carrying weights). You can do one of a few things, but a chest opener I recommend is to hold the band out in front of you. Make sure you keep collarbones wide (your chest open) and are drawing your shoulder blades back and down to work your lats. Everyone sits with their shoulders hunched up, so it feels good to pull your shoulder blades back and work your upper back muscles. Lift the band in front of you, and pulse your arms out ten times, in each of these three positions: palms facing down, palms facing each other, palms facing out. I’d suggest tricep dips on benches along the way, but no one wants to touch any public surfaces these days!
The move: Chair-Assisted Ab Works
What it works: Low abdominals
What Sarah says... Lying on your back doing ab curls (crunches) is a good way to work the upper abdominals. But chairs are great for getting into the transverse, which are the lowest and deepest layer of abdominals. Sit up straight in your chair, and slowly lift your feet off the floor—the straighter they are, the more difficult this move will be. If this hurts at all, keep one leg bent with your foot on the floor, and do one leg at a time. I also recommend keeping one foot on the floor, and bringing a leg up to reach out to touch one foot with the opposite hand. This works the inner thighs as well as your obliques. Do short sets of these because they're good, but hard!
The move: Calf Raises
What it works: Calves and cores
What Sarah says.. Keep your abs pulled in with a slight tuck of the tailbone, so you aren’t overarching your back or sticking your butt out. Think about engaging your pelvic floor and imagine zipping up through the inner thighs all the way up through your midline. Lift the heels slowly, controlling the movement on the way up and on the way down. For more of a challenge, keep the heels lifted while you bend and straighten the knees. Squeeze the glutes as you straighten. You’ll feel this in your quads too.
The move: Teaser Variations
What it works: Core
What Sarah says... This is one of the hardest moves in pilates, but also among the simplest to modify. While balancing on your sit bones, bring your knees into your chest, then extend them away. Just be aware that, especially if you're holding a phone, your shoulders should be down and back. The further you move your limbs from the center of your body, the greater the challenge to your core. Work up to straightening the legs away. If the move is only a few inches, that’s ok. Just be conscious that you are drawing your shoulder blades down your back and keeping your collarbone wide. If this is too difficult, try modifying by lying on your back with just your head and shoulders lifted off the mat. Another modification is to just lie flat on your back and bend and extend the knees.
Also, be aware of your ribs. If I'm lying on my back lowering my legs down, the minute my ribs pop up, it's straining my back. If you're losing control and compensating by straining, you're going to mess up your back, so this movement might be really small. Only reach your legs as far away from you as you can while keeping your core and abs engaged.
The move: Bicep Curls
What it works: Biceps
What Sarah says... These are pretty basic, but you want to make sure, again, that your collarbone is wide. Draw your shoulders down and your abs in (as long as you've got your foundation set up, you'll sculpt your extremities). Lower the bottle from chest level down and be careful not to drop the bottle—it can be especially slippery if it's cold, fresh out of the fridge.