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December Challenge: HOTR Abs

This summer, before marathon training took over all my workouts, I was {trying to} strength train regularly. It got to the point where I was consistently lifting at least 2 times every week. I know this may not seem like much at all to people who train with weights as their main form of working out, but it was a huge improvement for this runner. And after just a few months, I realized that doing some sort of core strengthening workout 2 – 3 times a week was enough to make a difference – a difference visible enough to keep me motivated.

HTC leg1

….for a little while, at least. Sometime before Hood to Coast, I sort of lost my thunder. When it’s so much simpler (and preferable!) to just go out for a run, it’s easy to start skipping the weights more and more frequently. As marathon training continued, it only got worse. By the time I ran MCM, strength training had become a distant memory yet again.

I’ve never been great about sticking to my routine during the entire marathon training cycle. The increased mileage and need for my legs to be fresh for workouts make it easy to give it up a few months in. But since I’m now technically in the off season, I no longer have any excuse not to strength train several times per week (the fact that I don’t really love doing it doesn’t count).

Since my mileage has now gone way (way) down, I’ve been dragging my butt to the gym several times per week to focus on cross training and strengthening my core. I know that continuing to focus on building up other muscles (and not just my quads that appear to do all the work when I’m runing) will make me a better runner in the end. But since I’ve already admitted that the vanity reasons are more motivating than the running improvement reasons, I can also say that I figured December –  a month typically filled with too many cookies and cocktails – is the perfect time to focus on toning up instead of filling out.

Plus – after a year of training, I was in major need of a new non-running related challenge to keep me motivated.

So with that in mind, I have instituted the December “HOTR Abs*” Challenge. So far I am the only participant and the prizes are nonexistent, but I figure if I formally challenge myself, I’m more likely to stick with it. Right??

*yes, that play on words was intended. And no, I don’t  really think that highly of myself.

HOTR Abs Challenge

To stay motivated to lift regularly this month, and get into the habit now so that I can sustain it during marathon training, I am challenging myself to 2 – 3 days of strength training/core workouts per week. What follows is my routine.

[But before I proceedplease remember that I am not a personal trainer. Just a runner whose naturally curvy body needs regular strength training to keep it {somewhat} reigned in.]

The workout below is the one that I have found works best for me. I’ve tried other routines, but have always come back to this because:

  1. I can get it done quickly (30 minutes or less is all the time I want to devote to strength training)
  2. The quick movements get my heart rate up while I’m lifting, so I feel like I’m getting more of a workout
  3. Results are fast. And I mean fast. I’ve only been back into lifting for a few weeks and can already notice a difference. I haven’t yet found another routine that seems to do the job so well.

1.) The Core

Yes, I’ve been touting the benefits of this workout since I started the blog. I have a love/hate relationship with it, but I can’t deny that it works. So at least two days per week before running or doing any sort of cardio, I’m going to do “The Corewith a couple of modifications (yeah I know those pictures of me in my parents’ basement aren’t the best. But hopefully you get the idea).

  1. I no longer do the stiff-legged deadlifts. I have issues with my lower back and found that this exercise was only exasperating them.
  2. I use lighter weights for the initial “pre-core” warm up exercises and focus on keeping my arms straight for each one. This works out my back and shoulders much better.
  3. I do one armed dumbbell swings on each side after the HOTR-Dad dubbed “Here Comes the Bride” move (which is really just a dumbell swing with two hands). Apparently you can also do these with kettle bells, but since I’m not trained on them I stick to the old school hand weights.


2.) Super-Powered Ab Moves

The Core is good because it focuses on movements that work multiple muscles at once (legs, arms, shoulders, core) but I also like to do a couple of exercises that focus just on my abdominal muscles. So at least two days per week, after The Core, I’m going to add on these two additional moves:

a.) Standing side bend (with dumbbells). Similar to the exercise described here, but I do it with one weight and just focus on one side at a time.



 b.) Dumbbell Pullovers. This one never fails to leave my abs screaming. I do them lying sideways on the bench, as demonstrated here. To make it a little easier, you can also lie lengthwise on the bench, letting your head hang off.


Disclaimer: My abs do not look like this


Some people have asked why I lift before I run. Although lifting first makes running more difficult, I find it’s really the only way to make sure I do it. If I go through The Core first, I look at it as my primary workout instead of something that I’m just trying to squeeze in after a run. That way if I’m tired and need to cut back on something, it’s the cardio that gets cut, not the weights.

3.) Pilates or Yoga

One day a week, my goal is to get in some sort of cross training that focuses on building strength through increasing flexibilitiy and lengthening my muscles. I’m pretty tight normally, so when I throw weight training into the mix it gets even worse. I know once per week isn’t a lot of time spent doing these activities, but it’s better than nothing. Plus, I’m hoping that if I make it a habit now, I’ll actually stick with it during marathon training this winter. But we’ll see…

My sucess with this super official challenge is only going to be determined by how well I stick with it. I haven’t taken any sort of pre-measurements to track my progress. I suppose that would’ve been interesting to know, but for now, we’re just going to go with how my clothes fit. And as long as my decreased running and increased cookie intake doesn’t lead to holiday weight gain, I think we can dub the HOTR Abs challenge as a success.


35 Responses to December Challenge: HOTR Abs

  1. This sounds great! I definitely need to do some kind of core/strength training. I have no upper body strength and no abs to speak of. The only problem is that I’m kind of afraid of the weight room at my school’s gym. There are so many scary football-playing types there admiring their muscles in the mirror, I feel kinda wimpy with my stick arms and 10 pound weights. I guess I just have to remind myself that they probably don’t run as much or as far than I do, so I can feel good about that at least!
    Sarah K´s last post ..Tempo Run Triumph

    • I know the feeling! When I first started doing the workout in grad school, I just had this tiny little weight room to do it in. It was super intimidating to pick up my tiny weights and stake out a spot when the room was filled with kids from the university football team. But after awhile I realized I had as much right to be there as they did, so I just put on my headphones to block everything out and then just went about my routine. I found that if I avoided all eye contact, it was easy to pretend they weren’t there. It gets easier as time goes on. :)

  2. I am in in some form or another. My coach/pt makes up my schedule but I really want to work on my abs. i generally do one day a week of strength training and two to three days of cross training but this week i am going to tell him i want to do more abs for sure :)

  3. This looks awesome. I need to strengthen my abs (and whole body) and am tempted to jump into this challenge with you! Keep us posted on your progress, and I’ll let you know if I do it too!
    Lizzie @TheWeekdayVegan´s last post ..Thankful for: Friendsgiving!

  4. I need to get back into doing strength training and core too. I feel like now that I don’t have a race on the horizon for the next two months, it’s the perfect time. You are motivating me to get back and hit the weights!
    Jessica´s last post ..SPIBelt Review – Win a SPIBelt!

  5. I’m right there with you – I plan to run 3x per week (10-15 miles per week) and strength train a minimum of 2x per week for the month of December. Of course, I’ve missed a few days already so this challenge starts today! :)
    Janine @ThePurpleGiraffe´s last post ..“Muscle weighs more than fat”

  6. nice header!

    just last week i started strength training (i wish i could add “again” but i never really started…ever). i’m aiming for twice a week for an hour. and if i start now by the time boston training begins my body will be used to ST so it won’t affect my running. good luck!!!!
    Kristy@RunTheLongRoad´s last post ..Great Destinations

  7. I like this challenge! I am just starting to train for my first ever marathon and I’m definitely scared of dropping my other workouts, so we’ll see how it goes. I do the kettlebell swings whenever I remember haha – it’s a great workout!
    Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic´s last post ..I’m Running the Boston Marathon in 2012!

    • Training and socialization is an exlencelt start. Akita’s are a breed that absolutely need to be properly socialized and do best with obedience training as well. They tend to be a dominant breed, so be sure to properly establish yourself as the dominant one and never waiver on this and give in if he begins to demand something from your (i.e. attention) or shows even the smallest sign of dominance over you (this includes passing through a door before you, pulling at the lead, pushing at you, suddenly cutting constantly cutting you off or pushing past you). Ed Frawley at leerburg.com and Cesar Millan are both two people who know what they’re doing when it comes to dominant and aggressive dogs (which Akitas can be).Also, though I haven’t heard it myself, Akita’s tend to talk to their owners with a growl/mumble sort of sound that it may take you a while to realize what it is (but is apparently very amusing once you recognize it).Good luck with your Akita, they’re a very fine breed.

  8. YAY for strength training!! I agree with you that running>lifting…but in the past 3 months I have gone out of my way to add in weights and it has helped my running so much! LOVE these ab moves! I hope your week is off to a great start! xoxo!
    Lizzy´s last post ..The California International Marathon 2011 recap

  9. Wow, it took me way too long to figure out what HOTR was. The only thing I could think of was “Hot Abs of the Rings?” I’m slow.

    I actually did “The Core” the other night since I had seen it on your blog a while ago and finally bought weights, and it was intense! I’m actually still sore 3 days later, and I did a very toned-down version or what you described. That probably says more about my current level of fitness than anything else but still, it was hard! I’m determined to keep doing it though. I’m glad you added a bit more ab work!

    First-time commenter-love your blog!


    • haha, sorry, I guess I didn’t really explain it. :)

      I’m excited that you tried The Core! It’s definitely a tough workout – whenever I get back into it after not having lifted for a long time it makes me sore for days! I have to remember to ease into it and build up strength as I go. The good news is that even though it always wipes me out, it doesn’t make me quite so sore as time goes on.

      Thanks for the note about the blog!

  10. I recently found your “The Core” workout and decided I would use it to help me strength train too. My tight hamstrings and calves are screaming for me to do something! Good luck to you and to me!

  11. I’m *so* going to do “The Core” workout! And make Colin do it too (laughs evilly). If I have time to watch tv I definitely have time to work out while I’m doing it!

  12. Exciting!! What a difficult challenge in December! I’m there with you!!

  13. I like a good challenge…I’ll try to give it a go (or at least the ones my IT band will take!).

    Love the new header. how did you do that?!?
    Meggie´s last post ..I Got PPS-ed Today at Physical Therapy

    • Magic. :)

      Thankfully I have a boyfriend who is way more skilled with graphic design programs than I am. EC did the work in Adobe Illustrator while I sort of just watched and gave directions.

  14. I have such a hard time sticking to a strength/core routine! If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to make this a December challenge for myself too!
    Nancy@triathletestrials´s last post ..Back At It!

    • Of course! I started this as a personal thing because I’ve been so bad about sticking to a routine lately, but I’m excited that others want to do it to. Keep me posted on how it goes!

  15. I’m trying it out!!! I’m doing “Operation Christmas Cookie”, aka working out and eating super healthy so I can have cookies with my coffee! :-) ill be trying the core in my house today. THANK YOU FOR POSTING!!!
    Kristin miller´s last post ..I am thankful for my Grampy

  16. I like this challenge! With my increased gym time lately (boo injuries), I’ve been trying to experiment with different weights, the exercise ball (some ab workouts using that thing are HARD!) and machines. I definitely wouldn’t take the time to do so if I were running a lot! Even thought I do keep up a pretty decent core routine when I’m training.

    I’m also loving doing more yoga lately and really want to keep it up once I’m running again. I think you’ll succeed in this challenge :) And amen to increased cookie intake thsi mo nth. I am SO looking forward to that!
    Kelly´s last post ..On Graston & Race Prices

  17. I love a challenge! I’m joining in! Once this semester is over I’ll be able to blog again so I’ll be sure to update how this challenge is going in about a week!
    Sarah´s last post ..Marathon High?

  18. I struggle with fitting in strength training as well. I just feel so much more accomplished from running miles rather than doing these absurd-looking moves in front of a mirror. However, I know it’s a necessary evil. Twice a weeks is all I ever manage.

  19. I think I’m going to try it, but after this weekend’s race. I have a feeling doing it the first time will probably cripple me for a few days, so I’m not taking chances :-)
    Charlotte´s last post ..HBBC week 1

  20. Those are some hot abs, Buckel.
    Ali´s last post ..Onto The Next!

  21. I really wish I liked strength training. I really do. But I HATE it. Running for hours is not problem, but ten minutes of weights leaves me hating it. I’m not sure how much it would help my running (couldn’t hurt?), but I would only do it for aesthetic reasons as well. Who doesn’t want nice abs?

    I love your new header! Did you make it? (Also, I realize you might have changed it a long time ago and I’m late to the game…)
    Susan´s last post ..Hot Chocolate 15K Race Report

  22. Thanks for posting this, I too am working on reacquainting myself with strength work now that it’s in between race training. I want to get a stronger core, more balanced/stronger legs and hips, and more toned arms. I’ll def use your tips!
    KathyQ´s last post ..Santa’s Motorcade

  23. […] Lauren summarized why we slack on strength/core training during a marathon pretty well. “When it’s so much simpler (and preferable!) to just go out for a run, it’s easy to start skipping the weights more and more frequently. The increased mileage and need for my legs to be fresh for workouts make it easy to give it up a few months in.” […]

  24. […] finished up my workout with some abs from the December Ab Challenge and headed out of the gym by 11:30am. T-minus 3.5 hours till the final! There ya go workout + […]

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