When I first started running I went from zero to running 4 to 5 times a week. Some of my colleagues convinced me to join them for a relay marathon. I agreed only because they really needed me, not because I had much interest (at all) in running. In fact, I spent most of my life hating running. I only did it for the “greater good” – like if I was being chased or if I was playing a sport with a ball (which I enjoyed).
At the time, I had no aerobic base and I wasn’t doing much of anything physical except walking to and from work each day. Running regularly felt like a big deal and a big change so I couldn’t fathom adding in more activity. Cross-training? How does that benefit me? I didn’t know. Adding more training time? Nope. I was running 5x a week and that was it.
Of course, you know how the story goes. My body held up great for the first year or so, but soon enough, it started to break down. I can’t know why, of course, but I firmly believe that I had some muscular imbalances. And because I was only running, I was never strengthening non-running muscles, and I wasn’t building a durable runner’s body.
What is cross-training?
Any non-running activity where you’re operating in your aerobic zone. Think: your heart rate is up, but you are still able to speak or sing your favorite tune.
Historically, coaches and athletes have debated the value of cross-training for runners, but the data shows that the appropriate amount of cross-training is beneficial. It results in more power, better aerobic fitness, and greater efficiency. Cross-training also reduces your risk of injury and can aid in rehab. It is NOT A REPLACEMENT for running, but cross-training should be part of any healthy training program.
Here are a few of my favorite activities for when I switch it up:
- Cycling – If you’re cycling right, you’ll be engaging not only your quads, but also your hamstrings and your glutes. And, if you’re biking outdoors, you’re engaging your back and core to stay upright. Keep your shoulders down and your arms slightly bent to get the full core benefit. The muscle groups you’ll work while cycling are similar to the ones you use running.
- Deep Water Running – it looks like water aerobics, but it is not for the faint of heart. You wear a floatation belt and you make run-like motions in the water. The water offers a surprisingly high level of resistance. When I tried it, my heart rate shot up. I was working! This is also great if you’re injured and cannot run. But, of course, you need access to a pool.
- Swimming – Ah, the sport I wish I learned as a kid! Swimming is great because it elevates your heart rate, but it’s easy on your body. No impact. In addition, to cardio benefits, swimming helps build muscular strength and endurance. The emphasis on core strengthening is great for run performance.
Other popular types of cross-training include: cross-country skiing, elliptical trainer, and rowing. Walking and hiking counts if you find your heart rate elevating during activity.
What’s your favorite way to cross-train?