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A runner’s guide to the great indoors

A runner’s guide to the great indoors

A versatile workout routine -- a mix of strength training, stretching exercises and high-intensity workouts -- can help runners overcome the frustration of being stuck indoors
Runners love being outdoors, crunching the miles on the running trail. While there is no replacement to that, a runner can opt for high intensity workouts like Tabata, strength and conditioning exercises, when unable to go out for his or her run.
Running on the treadmill, in case you have access to one, is an alternative if bound indoors. Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K

Runners thrive in the great outdoors. From the neighbourhood park and the nature trail to even that canopied road right in the middle of the city, they get their high not just from the physical exertion and the tangible gain in fitness, but also because their routines take them closer to nature, leaving them refreshed.

There is a flip side though — runners are also prey to the vagaries of weather.

Come rain, which invariably leads to flooding these days, or extreme winter or summer days, they are left with no choice but to cool their heels indoors. The frustration of being stuck at home can be immense, not just for those following a strict regimen and preparing for an upcoming marathon or distance-running event, but also for hobby runners who are robbed of an avenue for physical and mental release. Being inactive for a few days can also upset their fitness journey, jeopardising their running performance, muscular and aerobic conditioning.


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Indoor workouts to the rescue

There is, of course, no replacement for being outdoors. Those virtual-reality headsets are useless here. However, runners can maintain their fitness levels and conditioning with indoor workouts revolving around strength training, stretching exercises and some activities that mimic the aerobic exertion running provides, say experts.

Tarun Walecha, an athletics coach from Delhi, says while stuck indoors, strength training, cross training and cardio exercises like treadmill running and indoor cycling using spin bikes can be done to maintain fitness, or as an alternative to running.

“Strength-training exercises include body-weight workout, dumbbells and various isometric exercises like jump squats, lunges, pushups and pullups,” says Walecha. “Yoga also can be used relax and recover, and helps in mobility.”

Mandeep Doon, an ultramarathoner from Gurugram, Haryana, says runners eventually figure out ways to overcome the frustration of not being able to be out there. Yoga and strength-training apart, Doon makes full use of his multistoried apartment building to sweat it out.

“There is an initial frustration in the beginning and later you begin to find your own creative ways to stay fit indoors,” says Doon. “Since I live in a flat, the stairs are always available to run up and down. Sometimes even spot running helps. In strength-training exercises, I prefer doing free-body workouts like squats, pushups and pullups, as these keep the body energised and cover the whole-body movement. As a runner there’s lot of stiffness in the body — that’s where yoga comes. I do yoga postures which help to ease out the stiffness and bring in flexibility.” 

One part at a time

Any strength-training workout should begin with warmup exercises for about 10 minutes. Experts recommend targeted training, sticking to one part or a group of muscles a session/day.

“It’s important to identify five exercises and the body part you want to work on — like upper body, core and leg,” says Walecha. “If the focus is on the leg, exercises such as lunges and squats can be done, and for shoulders one can do pike pushups, triceps dips, military pushups for biceps, regular pushups for the chest and spider pushups for overall muscles.”

Variations are key too, since they help push the body and engage different muscle groups and mimic different ranges of motion. For instance, when it is leg day, variations such as sumo squats, asymmetrical squats, jump squats and inside-out squats can be employed. They provide a targeted workout to different leg muscles.

Walecha suggests three sets for each exercise, with 10-20 repetitions per set. So, if five exercises are planned, the workout will last around half an hour to 40 minutes, including rest in between sets/exercises.

“If a person is doing squats, they can do three sets of squats with five different variations,” says Walecha.

Doon, whose schedule involves a run every alternate day, focuses more on core and leg strength when performing indoor workouts.

“I usually do deep squat and half squat as it increases the thigh strength and helps with strength and mobility of the glutes,” he says. “Similarly, for pushups I do regular pushups as my upper-body workout. I prefer three sets and the number of reps depends on up till when I’m in a good form and gradually increase the reps. It is important to maintain good/right form in any exercise to avoid injuries.” 

From Tabata to active rest

Both coach Walecha and Doon stress on the need for a proper warmup. Compromising or forsaking warmup can lead to injury and a dip in performance.

“I start my warmup, stretching and activating muscles from head to toe,” says Doon, whose usual indoor-workout routine lasts an hour, which includes a 15-minute warmup.

“The neck exercises include rotation and movement of the head — that is, forward, backwards and sideways,” he says. “Then I get to shoulder, with rotation of the joints and the hand. Then comes the back, which involves bending forward and stretching backward. For the hips, it’s rotational movements, and for the legs, it’s knee rotations. Toe exercises [to activate the calf muscles] include toe walk and heel walk. This is typical 15 minutes warmup session. My cooling down includes stretches and breathing exercises to relax my body.”

Exercises can be done for six days a week, says Walecha, focusing on one part or muscle group a day.

Walecha’s typical workout schedule for the week, which he employs himself and recommends for his trainees too, begins with the legs and core on Day 1. Upper-body exercises targeting shoulders, arms and chest are done on Day 2. The routine – which includes yoga exercises — is repeated for the rest of the week. He suggests Tabata workout too.

“If one doesn’t have an opportunity to have a workout routine, they can opt for 20 minutes of Tabata workout — a high-intensity cardio workout which can’t give the running high but does give a good heart-rate workout,” says Walecha.

The coach says that if the weather conditions are temporary, lasting only a day or two, that time can be used to rest, which is also key in a running schedule

“Let the body rest, recover and relax,” says Walecha. “But rest should not mean stopping all forms of activity. By rest I mean, do not overload the muscles. Active rest is what’s required.”

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