By Jessica Smith for SHAPE.com
Mix up your running routine with these free expert ideasHas your running routine become, well, routine? If you've exhausted your go-to tricks to get motivated--a new playlist, new workout clothes, etc.--and you're still not feeling it, you're not doomed to a lifetime of colorless cardio. We asked running experts to share their most creative (and totally free!) ideas to up the fun factor and help you look forward to lacing up your sneakers.
1. Run with a frisbee: Instead of steadily plodding along the well-worn path at your local park (how many times have you done that before?) head to an open grassy area, toss a Frisbee (as if you had a partner), and sprint after it. See how long you can go before letting it touch the ground-you'll be forced to change directions quickly, run in different patterns, and vary your speed, all of which can help you burn more calories and engage your muscles in a new way. Plus, it's fun!
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"By making it more of a game, the time flies by!" says Jennipher Walters, a certified personal trainer and co-founder of FitBottomedGirls.com.
2. Perk up with parkour: Nothing beats boredom like turning yourself into an action hero! Try perking up your boring run with a little parkour (or "free running"). Parkour is the term for "the most efficient way to move from one place to another, no matter what stands in your way." That might mean jumping over fences, rolling on the ground, or scaling building walls.
"Parkour brings out the kid in each of us and has runners forgetting about looking cool or normal. Instead, you're jumping, running, hopping, and even rolling when you feel the need," says Taylor Ryan, a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant in Charleston, SC. "It's almost artistic, as it allows the runner to express themselves without fear or embarrassment."
If you've never tried parkour before, start small (try scaling fire hydrants or jumping over benches) but think big with your energy (really become that action hero-anyone who gives you a weird look is just intrigued and impressed). If you love it, consider taking a class (find one near you through the World Freerunning and Parkour Federation) to learn safe techniques and tips for advancing your skills before you try taking on any fences or scaling any walls.
3. Ditch gadgets: While we're crazy for all the latest high-tech mileage trackers, calorie counters, and heart rate monitors, it's easy to get bogged down with the stats-and it can make running feel a bit tedious. Every two weeks or so, try going for a tech-free run to re-connect with your love of the movement.
"Sometimes runners get too focused on the numbers: the pace, the time, the distance, the calories. It takes the fun away and will eventually turn you into a robot," Ryan says.
While using tracking devices is important to your overall training plan, it's equally important to allow yourself a few "free runs" to simply focus on the activity and on yourself. Take in each stride, observe your surroundings, give yourself permission to just run for the fun of it. Having the ability to lace up your sneakers and tackle any run is a blessing, but with the Garmin and iPod attached to us, we can forget this, Ryan says.
Boost the benefits of your run even more by taking it outdoors. Exercising in a natural environment that includes blue or green (like the park or by the ocean) can improve mood and boost self-esteem, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. What's more, it only takes five minutes of "green exercise" to reap the mental health benefits!
4. Make it a race: Sprinting solo isn't always the most exciting (or motivating) workout. A simple solution: Chase something! If you're running roadside, race with a car, suggests Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and author of The Marathon Method. "When you see a car coming, speed up until it passes you. It's a great way to burn more calories and, if a friend is driving, they'll be impressed by your speed," he says.
Not near traffic? Holland recommends competing against your personal best with an "out-and-back" course: Time yourself while running to a certain spot, say two miles from home, then run back the same route, trying to shave a few minutes off your time on the return trip.
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5. Smile while you hit your stride: Put on a happy face before you hit the road. It may sound ridiculous, but studies show that the simple act of smiling (whether you feel like it or not) can instantly improve your mood. It might boost the health benefits of your run too. When researchers at the University of Kansas asked subjects to smile during anxiety-inducing activities like submerging their hands in ice water, their heart rates dropped faster afterward, compared to those instructed not to smile. Smiling is a helpful coping mechanism for stressful situations, the researchers say. And while running is beneficial in many ways, it's still a source of stress to your body.
6. Dash with your dog: Research shows that dog owners are more likely to be regular exercisers and to make healthier lifestyle choices than their pup-free counterparts. And many breeds make excellent running partners! "Dogs are the best workout buddies-they're always excited to go for a run or a walk and just love being active. We should all aspire to live more like them," Walters says. A pup's enthusiasm can be contagious and inspire you to go the extra mile without much extra effort.
Don't have your own pup? Ask a friend if you can start training with hers, or better yet, invite her to join you too. Just remember that dogs, like people, should ease into running longer distances so keep your first session under five miles, says Walters, who recommends checking with your vet to see which workouts are best for your particular breed.
7. Skip and hop: Put some spring in your step with "happy intervals" like hopping and skipping. Swapping out your regular running intervals for these playful plyometric moves not only makes you feel like a kid again, it offers plenty of fitness benefits-building bone density, improving agility and coordination, and increasing your cardio intensity.
"If your workouts are feeling boring and tedious, adding bursts of skipping and hopping can liven them up and boost your calorie burn," Walters says. "And seriously, is it possible to not be happy when you're skipping? I think not!"
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By Jessica Smith for SHAPE.com
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