If you’re already reading Run Oregon, chances are you already have some interest in running or walking, but how would you rate your fitness? Are you out of service after your long run or feel incredibly sore after attempting hill repeats? And let’s not even get into how we handle stress!
Feel-Good Fitness by Alysia Montaño is a friendly, approachable guide to raise your fitness foundation. The book starts out with a short, honest and direct introduction that explains it’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to have bad days, and that stretching, hydration, and laughter are as important as your mile split. Coming from an Olympian who races with a flower in her hair and is either smiling or has a look of focused determination, this is reassuring and gives me confidence to live up to my expectations and not those of anyone else.
The workouts are broken into challenges, each of which has a weekly schedule including core, stretching, strength, and speed. My favorite, since I’ve been stuck at home and missing my weekly barre class, was Challenge 6: Stir-Crazy Circuits. This particular schedule is made up of seven 20-ish minute workouts, and meant to be done for two weeks. The longest Challenge is six weeks, and the longest daily workout is a half-hour. These short programs are easy to stick with, and the variety of activities will keep you from getting bored while delivering some real results. You can also pick and choose which Challenges to dive into as your training progresses (or to ward off injuries), or add favorite exercises from one Challenge into other workouts.
What sets this book apart is the wealth of excellent photographs. For movement drills, multiple photos show you what form you’re aiming for over the whole exercise. You will not find a better subject to demo the exercises, either—Montaño is strong, and you can easily see which muscles are engaged with each movement. While I may not have the muscle definition she does (yet), I can at least tell I’m working the right muscles, which is often hard to do when seeing a sketched diagram or a photo of a “fitness model” wearing clothes that are more fashion than function.
The volume of useful photographs is supported by minimal text offering simple descriptions. For example, one hip-flexibility exercise, Straight-Leg Hip Circles, is hard because you need to be strong enough to keep your leg extended while keeping your core stable. A modification shows how to do the exercise with a bent knee, which gives you the same benefit without straining your back.
The workouts in Feel-Good Fitness use minimal equipment—a medicine ball, simple dumbbells and boxes of varying height can be replaced with a small duffel filled with old phone books or magazines, filled water bottles and benches, curbs, and low retaining walls in your neighborhood. The only equipment I think you’d really need for these workouts would be exercise bands (sometimes called “stretchy bands”).
Montaño, a mother of three, is a professional middle-distance runner and activist that recently founded &Mother, a nonprofit to hep women “pursue and thrive in their careers and motherhood.” She’s on twitter (@AlysiaMontano), and her nonprofit is too (@andMother_org), if you want to get more inspiration for your running and beyond. Feel-Good Fitness is available from VeloPress for $24.95, and you can also find it at Powell’s Books or other local booksellers.