Training

5 Run-Improving Exercises You Can Do During Daily Life

Improve your running by integrating these strength, mobility and balance exercises into your daily routine—so you'll be sure to do them regularly.

We all know we could benefit by doing exercises that compensate for the weakness and mobility issues caused by our lifestyles. But finding time to do them and doing them regularly enough to make a difference is difficult.

Single-Leg Brushing and Dressing

Standing on one leg develops balance, proprioception and muscle activation required for effective running—which is, itself, a series of one leg stances. One easy way to integrate this into a daily habit is to stand on one leg while brushing your teeth every morning and night. Alternate legs, and as it gets easier, integrate some side leg lifts, swings and hip circles with the raised leg.

Another option I’ve found easy to make a habit is to stand whenever putting on pants, shoes socks and shoes. This provides a built-in dynamic challenge as you pull on each pant leg, reach for each sock, tug it on, reach for a shoe, get it on and tie it. Alternate which foot you start with, so each day you’re balancing barefoot on a different side. Once it becomes a habit, you don’t have to remind yourself to stand: It is just what you do to get dressed. You know you’re getting good when you can balance on one foot while putting on Injinji toe socks.

Glute Exercises with Coffee (or Tea)

Glutes, which are the largest and most fatigue-resistant muscles in running, get ignored and lazy during our days of sitting. But adding exercises to our days sometimes seems like too much, and hard to remember to fit into a busy schedule.

For several years I’ve been doing air squats while grinding coffee beans with a hand-crank grinder. At first I had to focus to do 10 effective squats that used my glutes, not my quads. Now I can finish 15 bilateral squats and 10 single-leg squats on each side while cranking enough for an espresso.

Air squats while grinding coffee
Air squats while grinding coffee

Lately, I’ve alternated single-leg deadlifts and Tippy Twist exercises for the squats on some days. Most importantly, I can’t grind without doing exercises; it’s part of the same action in my mind.

Another option is to do exercises while your coffee (or tea) is brewing. Making coffee is something you do every day, and you have to wait for it anyway. Link the wait time to a habitual exercise and you’ll be more consistent and effective than ever at activating and strengthening target muscles.

Hip Flexor Stretches at Your Desk

Sitting puts our hips in a perpetually flexed position, so that our hip flexors become shortened and we lose essential hip mobility. Most of us can benefit from regularly stretching our hip flexors, but who has the time to take 3-5 minutes several times a day to focus on this?

The solution? Do the stretch at your work desk. Just push the chair back or to the side and kneel in a lunge position in front of your desk. Lift your torso tall, straighten the curve of your spine and rotate your pelvis backward—imagine an axle sticking straight out of your hip bone and you are rotating your hip around it, so that the front comes up and the back goes down. You should feel the stretch in the muscles at the front of your hip over your kneeling leg, and feel your glute contracting on that side.

hip extension stretch as part of daily life
Hip flexor stretch at desk

Hold this position while you work on your computer. Five minutes per side goes quickly during the work day. I try to do this two or three times per day: mid-morning, after lunch, and when I need a change to loosen up and wake up during the late afternoon.

Short Foot Exercises at Work

Feet also get ignored and coddled, with hours idle and stuffed under desks. It doesn’t take much focus to do regular foot exercises to activate and strengthen intrinsic muscles used for stability and propulsion while running—and no one needs to be the wiser.

Three easy exercises are the short foot, foot splay and toe yoga. For short foot, pull the ball of your foot toward the heel while keeping your toes flat and relaxed, doming and contracting the arch. Hold for 8 seconds and relax. Repeat whenever you think about it (or use a reminder, like every time you check email) and feel your arch getting stronger throughout the day. Toe splay, which is simply pulling the toes apart as wide as you can and holding, also activates and strengthens the arch effectively. Toe yoga involves pushing your big toe into the ground while lifting the others, then reversing and lifting only the big toe. Toe yoga enhances foot control for improved balance and stability.

Foot splay exercises under the work desk
Foot splay exercises under the work desk

All of these are easier and more effective if you can surreptitiously take off your shoes, or, at minimum, have shoes that allow your toes to move. Minimalist models with ample toe boxes not only enable more natural foot movement all the time, but their low heel lift also helps strengthen your achilles in a safe—and effortless—manner as you walk around during your day.

Posture Improvement While Driving

When you’re at the wheel, you can’t work on your hip position—since you are sitting—but you can work on posture from the waist up by sitting as tall as you can. Bring your chest up and shoulders back, tighten your lower abs and reduce the curve of your spine. Lift your head straight and high. You’ll notice that you’re several inches taller.

I set my rear-view mirror for this height—so every time I slouch it gets out of line and reminds me to get tall again. You’ll find your upper back and lower abs get tired; keep working at it to improve your postural endurance which will help you run tall and balanced for longer.