THE BLOG
10/31/2014 05:15 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2014

The Ultimate Half Marathon Workout

Dirima via Getty Images

By: Lindsey Benoit, Women's Health Director of Communications and Special Projects

Training for my first half marathon has been exciting and challenging. Because I hadn't run much more than four miles leading up to my training, adding miles also starting taking a toll on my body. Muscles began hurting that never did before. With preexisting lower back issues, I knew that I needed to be careful when embarking on the runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon I will be running this November.

I turned to one of my favorite trainers, Rebecca Heiberg, a New York-based personal trainer and athlete who has worked prepared clients for races. Her goal is to help me get strong before issues begin flaring up and providing a workout program to keep me safe and get ready to run that 13.1 miles in Disney!

Pre-Run Warm-Ups are Essential:

"When your body is going to be in motion then you need to warm it up in motion -- your muscles need to be prepared for what you are about to do," says Heiberg. "Your stretching routine should consist of "dynamic" stretches which are stretches performed on the move that mimic movement patterns similar to the sport or activity you are about to engage in." The top five include:

  1. Walking Knee Tugs: Bring one knee up to your chest as high as it can go then with both hands, pull your knee into your chest. Alternate legs while slowly walking forward.
  2. Frankenstein Walks: Step forward and kick one leg up to waist height or as far as you can. Be sure to keep your hips level and have no bend in the knee. Repeat this as you walk forward. Be sure to stand up tall to maintain a neutral spine and only raise the leg as much as you can without hunching over and rounding your back. Do 15-20 reps on each side.
  3. Lateral Band Walks: Put a latex band (they vary with resistances) around both ankles. Start with the your feet hip-width distance apart and maintain tension on the band at all times. Keep knees slightly bent, chest up and hips back. Step out to the side with your heel slightly leading the way. Bring the other leg back to the start position. Repeat 8-10 reps on each side. If your tushy is burning then you are doing it right!
  4. Kick Butt Walking Lunges: Step one foot forward into a lunge. Bend the knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor and the knee is in line with the ankle. Push back upward and lift the back leg off the floor and drive your heel into your butt. Take that foot and step into a lunge to continue on to the opposite side. Do 10-15 reps on each side.
  5. High Heel Walks: Take small steps forward on your tippy toes as if you were wearing a pair of high heels. Continue to walk like this until you have taken 15-20 steps on each leg. (That's right boys, feel our pain!)


Don't Forget that Post-Run Cool Down:

"Static stretching, which is done while the body is at rest and the lengthened muscle is held for at least 30 seconds, is the key to help those muscles recover," adds Heiberg. Remember, never stretch an injury and be sure to hold for at least 30 seconds but no longer than two minutes. Don't forget to breathe during these stretches! Rebecca's five post-run stretches include:

  1. Standing Calf Stretch: Calves can be stretched in a number of different ways but I find this one to be easy and very efficient. Place the foot on a small step. Let the heel fall towards the floor. Keeping your back flat, lean forward over the front leg for a deeper stretch. Remember to hold for at least 30 seconds and repeat up to three times per leg.
  2. Single Leg Hami Stretch: Lay face up on the floor. Lift one leg without bending the knee. Keep the foot of the elevated leg relaxed and keep the toes of the leg on the floor pointing up to the sky. Grab behind the quad of the elevated leg with both hands and pull the leg gently towards your head. Hold here for 30 seconds. Repeat three times on each side.
  3. Standing Quad Stretch: Standing up with feet shoulder width apart, lift the right foot up toward your right glute. Pull your foot gently toward the glute with the right hand. For a deeper stretch, push the foot into the hand. This will activate the quad and give a deeper more intense stretch. Feel free to use a wall or a stationary object to hold on to for balance. Hold for 30 secs and repeat three times on each leg.
  4. Thread the Needle: This one is my favorites. It really targets the glutes and loosens them up after a long run. Lay down on your back. Place your right ankle directly above your left knee. Your right knee is now bent and forms a space between your legs. Place your right hand through the hole and your left hand to the outside of the left leg. Now, grabbing behind the left leg with both hands, pull the left leg off the floor and toward your chest. Hold 30 seconds to one minute. Repeat 2-3 times per leg.
  5. Butterfly Stretch: Sit on the floor and place the bottom of your feet together. Sit up nice and tall. Grab your ankles and press your elbows on the inside of your thighs. Push the knees down with the elbows and lean forward maintaining a flat back. Be sure not to bounce but apply steady pressure. Hold 30 seconds to two minutes. Repeat 2-3 times.

Pay Attention To Your Legs:

You will be logging a lot of miles when training and common issues are in your calf muscles and shins. I personally have issues with both. Try Rebecca's moves to work on these areas:

Strengthening Your Calf Muscles: The calf muscle is made up of two different muscles -- gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. There are two different types of exercises that will target each muscle. The standing calf raise will target the soleus muscle and the seated calf raise which will target both the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles. Perform both exercises to properly strengthen the calf.

  • Standing Calf Raises: Find a stair and place both feet approximately hip width distance apart. An easy way to check your form is to make sure that your knees and hips are stacked over your ankles. Bring your toes to the edge of the stair and let the heels come off and lower to the floor. Press down in to the balls of your feet and raise your body up towards the sky. Lower back to the start position and repeat 15-20 reps, 2-3 times. A progression to this exercise is a single leg calf raise. Follow the same rules above but use only one leg at a time. Do not overdue it. Listen to your body and choose the number of reps accordingly. Feel free to add weight for an additional progression.
  • Seated Calf Raises: Find a chair and have a seat. (or use a machine at the gym) Place both feet on the ground with your knees stacked above your ankles to ensure proper alignment. Sit up nice and tall and engage your core. Raise your heels off the floor coming on to the balls of your feet and return back to the floor. To make it more intense you can add additional weight on top of your thighs. Repeat 15-20 reps, 2-3 times.
Shin Splints: "If you are experiencing shin splints, ice and rest are best," says Heiberg. "Training through the pain is not a smart idea and can lead to further and more severe injuries." To keep those shins strong, try the below to help strengthen:
  • Toe Crunches: Sit in a chair with feet on the floor. Use a dishtowel or any cloth and place on the ground in front of foot. Keep your heel on the ground and use your toes to grab the towel and pull in toward the foot. Flex the toes point the toes over and over until the towel begins to move and scrunch up toward the foot.
  • Flex and Extend With Resistance: Sit down on the floor with legs extended in front of your body. Place a towel or resistance band around the bottom of one foot and pull lightly toward your body. Now point your toe away from the resistance. Repeat 15-20 reps, 1-2 times on each leg.
  • Foot Pull-Ups: Usually there is a few inches of open space at the bottom of a couch. You'll need a space just like this for this exercise. While standing, take one foot and place just your toes underneath the couch. Pull your toes up toward the sky (flexing the foot) and hold for two seconds before releasing back to the start position. Do 10 reps, 2-3 times on each leg.
Happy and safe training!