14 Ways to Strengthen Your Body Without Working Out

After these habits and motions have become ingrained, every run works to improve our skill, flexibility, strength, and ability to maintain a more effective stride.

April 27, 2017
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Adapted from Runner's World Your Best Stride

More important and more successful than adding elements to your running routine is the process of integrating posture, mobility, and strength work into your everyday life. You can work on many of these skills all day, every day. 

More: 5 Essential Stretches You Should Do Daily

Most of the stretches and exercises can be integrated into your everyday life outside of running. Here are a few suggestions.

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Balance on one foot when brushing your teeth

One of the most common suggestions seems almost too easy. This time is already scheduled and you likely don't need the mind space to focus on the act of brushing. The trick is remembering to do it early in the morning, and making it habitual. 

More: 10 Morning Moves That Will Better Your Body

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Balance on one foot while putting on your socks and shoes

Don't sit. Stand and balance on one leg while you reach for and pull on your sock, then your shoe. Stay balanced while you tie the laces. Then switch feet and repeat. Alternate which foot you start with, so that each day you're balancing barefoot on a different side.

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Do glute exercises as part of your morning coffee or tea routine

When I bought a hand-crank coffee grinder a few years ago, I started doing air squats during the time it took me to grind the beans. Now I can finish 15 to 20 squats while cranking enough for an espresso. It was the first time I was ever that consistent, and it made a huge difference in my glute strength and activation. Now I can't grind without doing squats. It's part of the same action in my mind.

Caspar Coppetti, one of the founders of On shoes in Switzerland, does clamshells while his espresso is brewing. "I'd like to just drink the coffee," he says. But he tells himself, "If you don't do the clams, you don't get the coffee." He credits the resulting strength and form improvement with saving his running.

Be creative, but find something you'll do that doesn't require a decision everyday. Make it part of your quotidian routine. 

More: 5 Simple Moves For Long, Lean Legs

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Sit tall while driving

Even though you are sitting in the driver's seat, you can work on posture by sitting as tall as you can: Bring your chest and shoulders up, tighten your abs, and reduce the curve of your spine. Pull your head back and high. Set your rearview mirror for this height—every time you slouch, it will remind you by being out of line.

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Pull your shoulders back and raise your head high every time you see a certain color or walk through a doorway

Athletes as excellent as world-champion marathoner Mark Plaatjes and Olympic medalist Deena Kastor use such mnemonic devices.

More: 14 Easy Ways to Lose Weight All Day

 
 
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Do ab contractions or short-foot exercises while driving

When you get bored on a long drive, try contracting your TA muscle (the inner abdominal one between your hip bones) and holding it tight as long as you can, timing it with the dashboard clock. Or, with the cruise control on, do short-foot contractions.

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Play with your balance and hip proprioception while standing in line at the coffee shop

Or when you are waiting for the subway, standing in line to board a plane, or waiting to order a sandwich. Essentially, any time you are standing, think about rotating your hips so they aren't spilling out the front and getting your balance over your feet, not locked back on the heel. Do it during the national anthem at your kid's Little League or basketball game. While you're at it, stay standing during the game if you can find an unobtrusive place, keeping good posture for as long as you can (or try these yoga moves for better posture).

More: 3 Ways to Take Your Walking Workout to the Next Level

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Cue your glute activation when walking the dog

Any time you're walking you can consciously activate your glutes. Get tall and clench your butt on each side with each stride, pushing each leg back with a slightly exaggerated motion and landing beneath you, not reaching out in front.

 
 
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Do hip extension stretches while working on your computer

Just push the chair to the side and kneel on one knee in front of your desk. Get your hip rotated and hold it while you check email. Five minutes per side goes quickly during the workday. You can do it 2 or 3 times: in the morning, after lunch, and during your final few, last-check minutes of the day.

More: Beat Tight Hips With These 5 Opening Yoga Poses

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Do foot-strengthening exercises at your desk

Even with your shoes on, you can do the short-foot exercise or isometric pushes against the floor and the sides of the desk. Conenello suggests stretching the top of your foot and shin at your desk. They get tight from driving and always being held in a flexed position—bent toward the leg—rather than extended down and back. "Take your foot, put it behind you with [your] toes extended, and push down," he says. Or, he suggests, "Focus on pushing your big toe into the ground during a lecture." Add toe yoga and pick-up exercises any time you can take off your shoes under your desk.

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Do a standing hip stretch while on a conference call

Lift one leg onto your chair, make yourself tall, and push forward on the supporting hip. No one can see you, and it doesn't require heavy breathing. Or balance on alternating legs—just make sure you don't lose your balance, fall, and make a crash.

More: 3 Stretches That Un-Slouch Your Back—All You Need Is A Doorway

 
 
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Do stretches, bridges, or foot strengthening while watching TV or reading in the evening

It's private, it's downtime physically—you can do just about anything you want. You just have to get your butt off the couch. 

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Squat whenever you'd usually bend

Rather than bending down from the waist, stick your butt out and lower into a squat when you're weeding the garden, picking strawber- ries, petting your dog, picking up the kids' toys, or rearranging the bottom bookshelf. Squatting feels like more work at first, but for extended tasks you quickly note how it moves the stress from your back to your glutes, and you're changing the way you move. Be careful to maintain good form, with your knees never extending in front of your toes. Your knees should not hurt and you should not force a squat.

More: 10 Secrets to the Perfect Bodyweight Squat

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Work on hip extension while sleeping

If you sleep on your side, you likely pull both legs up into a fetal position. I've found that if I straighten the lower leg while keeping the upper bent, then roll forward a bit, I can stretch that hip flexor and lie comfortably balanced. I can even fall asleep in that position.