Top 5 Tips for Creative Run Workouts

By: Tristin Hopper

Mixing things up on runs can keep your motivation high.
Mixing things up on runs can keep your motivation high.
Hemera Technologies/

Why jog when you can chase? Every week, thousands of "Hash House Harriers" meet around the world to do just that. The groups run "hashes" -- an event loosely structured like an English fox hunt. A small team of "Hares" run ahead to break a trail, and a pack of "Hounds" struggle to catch them. Runners show up in costumes, and they sometimes show up in red dresses. After the run, most of the groups will kick back with a social event known as an "On-In." The On-In could be a pub crawl, a barbecue or a simple kiddie pool filled with refreshments.

The runs are fun, they're social and they're zany -- which is probably why they're so popular. In 2010, there were 1909 Hash House Harrier running groups in 183 countries [source: Hash House Harriers]. In urban centers such as New York or Chicago, a single run can bring out more than 1,000 "hashers." According to hashers, the idea of the run is to recreate the childhood feeling of running for fun -- rather than for exercise.


It's not always easy maintaining a regular workout. Sure, you can hit the trails when it's sunny and warm, but if you're tired, busy or sore from spending last night on a lumpy futon, that pair of running shoes gets a little harder to lace up. That's why, just like the hashers, it's important to make sure you keep your running routines fun and enjoyable. Be inventive -- keeping your workout fresh is the best way to ensure you keep it a routine.

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1: Change Your Routine

Some subtle tweaks to your workout routine might be all that you need to spruce up your run. Start by changing the time of day you run. If you jog in the afternoon, think about running first thing in the morning, when it's cooler. If you jog in the morning, consider jogging in the afternoon to give yourself an extra hour of sleep.

Instead of doing your run nonstop, break it up with other exercises. Stop in a grassy area to do crunches, sit-ups or pull-ups from a nearby tree. You may also find it easier to run if you have a destination. Run to the store for some groceries, run to a cafe for a cup of coffee, or, if your workplace has a shower, you can even jog to work.


If you aren't already running with an MP3 player, this is a guaranteed way to add spice to your run. It can also make you a better runner. In a UK study, researchers found that listening to carefully selected "motivational" music, such as Queen and Madonna, could increase endurance by 15 percent and improve the mood of the runners [source: Brunel University].

Don't worry if your music collection is a bit thin. There's a growing number of record labels geared toward workout music, and Web sites and podcasts create endless mixes for runners. If you're going to be plugging up your ears, though, just make sure to be extremely careful of dangers. In South Carolina, for instance, an iPod-wearing jogger was struck and killed by a small plane making an emergency landing. Because of his iPod headphones, the jogger was unable to hear the approaching plane [source: Associated Press].

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2: Make It Social

Running with friends can make the workout lots more entertaining.
Running with friends can make the workout lots more entertaining.
Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Jogging alone could be bad for your brain. Running is stressful, and going it alone could be preventing the production of new brain cells, according to a study from Harvard University [source: MacRae]. The antidote? Find a jogging buddy.

With a jogging partner, running becomes a stimulating, social event instead of a personal trial. When you do it with a friend, a run is a good time to catch up and chat -- albeit with a bit more heavy breathing. It'll also give you a good dose of social pressure to keep up a routine. When solo runners feel like throwing in the towel, all they need to do is hit the snooze button. Social runners, on the other hand, know that skipping a workout means standing up their friend [source:]. Just be sure you pick a friend who's roughly at the same skill level as you. You don't want to burn yourself out by keeping up with a three-time Ironman winner. Nor do you want to be held back by an out-of-breath slowpoke.


If your Rolodex is a bit short of running partner candidates, you may also consider a running group. Whichever city, town or village you live in, chances are that there's a running group near you. Even the small Arctic Ocean town of Inuvik, Canada has enough runners to hold an annual half marathon [source: May]. Ranging from serious trainers to fun runners, you should be able to able to find a group that fits your specific running needs. Check with your local community or health center to see what's available.

You may also decide to go with a non-human jogging buddy -- although they may slow you down for the occasional call of nature. Dogs are great running partners, provided you find one with some stamina. Chihuahuas will collapse at anything faster than a brisk walk, but a collie, dalmatian or Alaskan husky will easily be able to keep the pace. Dogs most likely won't show signs of pain, so keep a close eye on whether you're running too hard. And thanks to a year-round fur coat, dogs are more sensitive to hot weather than humans. If it's a sweltering July day, you may want to leave Rover at home.

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3: Change Your Difficulty Level

Maybe you're just under-challenged. After months of sticking to an exercise routine, you've finally outgrown your running workout. Your lungs are tougher, your legs are stronger -- and 30 minutes around the neighborhood just doesn't cut it anymore. It might be time to ratchet up the difficulty level.

Start with some good, old-fashioned resistance. A backpack stuffed with filled water bottles is an easy way to burn a few more calories without increasing your run time. To pack on the pounds without putting undue pressure on your back, pick up some ankle weights, wrist weights or even an adjustable weight vest. Some retailers can even set you up with a full-body "heavy suit."


Instead of maintaining a steady pace throughout your run, switch it up with some sprints. Midway through your run, launch into a 30-second, all-out sprint before returning to your normal pace. Once you've recovered, do it again. Not only is sprinting exhilarating, but it's an exponentially better workout that jogging. Researchers at McMaster University found that, fitness-wise, doing four to six sets of 30-second sprints was as effective as doing 40 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise [source: Parker-Pope].

A run is also a great time to start working on your upper body strength. There's much more to running than your legs, and a strong upper body can help your speed and endurance. Also, with a strong central "core," you'll be less at risk for joint and spine injuries typically associated with jogging [source: Greenwald]. Not convinced? Take a look under the shirt of any Olympic sprinter and you'll see an immaculately sculpted six-pack [source: Wood]. During your run, take along a set of bar bells. The natural movement of your arms should give them an ample workout.

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4: Seek New Terrain

Jogging is a scenic activity. The sights, the sounds, the smells -- it's probably why you're taking to the streets instead of hoofing it on a treadmill. After months of traversing the same streets and the same neighborhoods, it might be a good idea to switch up the landscape. Jog in a different direction, jog a different route, or, instead of jogging in a loop, hop aboard a bus and then jog home.

Or better yet -- head for the hills. Running up hills makes for a completely different workout than running on flat surfaces, and it's also a great way to strengthen your knees against injury. It may be tricky to jog up inclines at first, so approach hill climbing in stages. At first, stop jogging and take the hill at a quick walk. As you improve, you'll gradually be able to do hills at a jog, and eventually, at your normal pace [source: Leigh].


To really treat yourself, take an evening to jog through a nearby park or nature preserve. Nature was where we were designed to run, and it's where you'll be able to squeeze the best performance out of your run. The air is fresher, the spaces are wider, and you won't have to worry about traffic or chatty neighbors. Navigating uneven forest trails or windy dirt tracks is a great way to break the monotony of a run, but be warned: All it takes is a stray root or a loose pebble to leave you with a sprained ankle [source: Silence].

The enjoyment of your workout can be affected not only by where you're running, but also what you're running on. Concrete or stone is extremely unforgiving, putting plenty of stress on your joints, knees and ankles. Spend too many years on the sidewalk, and you may start to experience injuries. Whenever you can, jog on asphalt or grass. Beach sand is also a good cushion -- and you're usually guaranteed a scenic waterfront view. However, running in sand requires twice as much energy as running on pavement, so make sure you're up for the challenge [source: Fishman].

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5: Alternative Workouts

If your knees are a bit sore, or if the weather forecast is predicting heavy snow, you can be forgiven if you think twice before picking up the running shoes. Luckily, there's a world of workout alternatives to match any of your fitness needs.

You might consider adding some wheels to your workout. Skateboards, roller skates and roller blades can help get some wind in your hair. They also make for a smoother ride, which means less injuries. However, roller blades and roller skates will put much more pressure on your ankles, so make sure they're strong enough to support roller-blading roller-skating as your regular workout [source: Brown].


When the weather turns sour, there's always the treadmill or the exercise bike, but if you abhor the idea of running in place, there are several other ways to break a sweat indoors. Enroll in an aerobics or dance class -- even ballroom dancing can give you as much exercise as a run or a bike ride [source: United Press International]. Tae Bo has been the butt of many a joke, but it still remains a grueling cardio workout. Or join a sports team -- minute for minute, playing an aerobic sport such as soccer will actually give you a better workout than jogging [source: University of Copenhagen]. It can be much more fun, too, since you'll be focusing on the game instead of the next hill.

If you've got easy access to a swimming pool, consider taking your jogging routine underwater by becoming an aqua jogger. Simply immerse yourself in the water and run normally, extending your legs and pumping your arms exactly as you would on land [source: Brown]. The water will keep you cool, and the extra resistance will translate into more vigorous exercise -- all without the sore feet.

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