Fitness pros are always saying that the best kind of exercise is the one you enjoy, and, you know, will actually do on a regular basis. And that’s true. But there’s also a saying about variety and the spice of life, am I right? Meaning that if running is your One True Love, and you do little else, it’s basically the workout equivalent of only eating kale for the rest of your life. Seems like it should be good for you, but it’s not.
Just as you’d be nutritionally deficient on a kale-only diet, you’ll be physically deficient, likely at risk of injury and muscle imbalances, by sticking to one activity all the time. If you love running, by all means, keep on running! Just be smarter about it by mixing in exercises that complement the workout you heart. To help you get started, we've got an activity-by-activity breakdown below to show you the one strength move you should be doing to get the most bang for your buck.
If you love running:
Try moves that strengthen your posterior muscles (the ones on your back body such as glutes, hammies, rear delts) and core exercises that involve hip flexion. Sounds kind of complicated, but it’s not. Here’s the deal: Running mainly works the muscles on the front of your body (like your quads), so you need to show the ones in the back some love to balance it out. Think: exercises such as deadlifts or kettlebell swings.
“And if you think about the running gait, only a single leg is on the ground at any one time, so doing moves that work your abs, back, and hip flexors will promote stability and make your workouts easier and better,” says Tony Maloney, a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine and fitness center manager at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport in Indianapolis.
Your go-to move: marching bridges, which do all of these things. Lie faceup with knees bent and feet on the floor about a foot from your butt, hands by sides. Keeping abs pulled in tight, lift hips off of floor into a bridge position. From here, lift right foot off of floor (knee bent) until shin is parallel to floor and hip forms a 90-degree angle. Slowly lower foot back down and repeat with left leg for one rep. Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
If you love Spinning:
Try focusing on your core. Your abs and back don’t get as much action in class as your legs do (for sure!)—and you need a strong core to be able to do things like out-of-the-saddle riding or "climbing" with a tough resistance. Plus, many classes include an "upper-body" strength section, so that takes care of your arms and shoulders.
Your go-to move: mountain climbers—a classic and effective core move that also builds upper-body strength and quad endurance, Maloney says. (Win-win-win!) Start in high plank position and quickly pull right knee to chest, then left. Continue to alternate as quickly as possible while keeping abs tight and back straight the entire time. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds, rest for 15 seconds, then repeat 3 to 5 times.
If you love yoga:
Try performing pulling exercises. “There aren’t a lot of them in yoga, and these types of exercises strengthen your back and give you more joint stability, which will help you get more range of motion,” Maloney says. Translation: You’ll be flexier, so your yoga practice will benefit too.
Your go-to move: resistance band pulls for your shoulders, a key link in the chain of so many yoga poses. Stand holding an exercise band with both hands, palms down (the closer your grip, the more challenging it will be). Lift arms straight out in front of chest, then slowly pull the band apart—imagining your shoulder blades coming together to pull the band rather than your arms—until arms are out in a T. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps for one set. Complete 3 to 5 sets.
If you love Pilates:
Try doing jumps (or plyometric exercises) and other power moves. “Pilates is great because it builds strength, mobility, and stability,” Maloney says. “The only things it’s missing are exercises with real load, as well as cardio.” Dumbbells or kettlebells can give you the added weight, and there are a zillion ways to get the aerobic exercise you need—but he suggests the two-for move below.
Your go-to move: box jumps. Find a box or sturdy bench and stand in front of it. Send hips back to squat down then do an explosive jump onto the box, landing in a squat position. Done back-to-back, they’ll really get your heart rate up and set your quads on fire. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps, resting for 30 seconds between each set.
If you love HIIT workouts:
Try anything that helps stretch you out—like yoga or Pilates. As great as HIIT workouts are, Maloney says they can leave you really tight, so working on your flexibility is important. Also key: complementing those intense workouts with ones that are more chill (om!).
Your go-to move: triangle pose, which loosens up your hips, hamstrings, chest, and shoulders. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, right toes turned out to face forward. Extend arms out to a T, then from the hips, reach forward as far as possible before hinging at hips to reach right hand down to shin or ankle. Extend left arm straight up toward the ceiling and rotate chest to look up to fingertips. Hold for 2 to 6 breaths then repeat pose on the other side.
If you love boxing:
Try focusing on lower-body exercises. “Beating the crap out of a heavy bag means your upper-body strength is probably amazing,” Maloney says. “Doing moves that work your lower half will give your body more balance and improve your endurance. The legs are what tire boxers out first.”
Your go-to move: Traveling lunges help amp up your strength and hone your balance—both must-haves for boxing. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then take a big step forward with your right leg and lower into a lunge, knees bent 90 degrees, knees aligned over toes. Keep back tall. Press through right heel to rise up and repeat by stepping left leg forward for 1 rep. Continue to alternate legs as you travel forward for 10 total reps. Complete 3 to 4 sets.
If you love swimming:
Try more ab work. Think about it: Your arms and legs—and even your back—work hard in the pool, but the front part of your midsection can sometimes just be along for the ride. And since all motion originates from your core, strengthening it will improve your swimming game too.
Your go-to move: moving planks, which work all of the muscles that make up your abs (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and the interior and exterior obliques). They also, of course, promote overall core strength. Start in a forearm plank with core tight so your body forms a straight line from head to toe. Then twist body open to shift weight onto right forearm, and rotate body into a side plank. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side for one rep. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps each.