The Importance of Cross Training for Runners

I have spoke to a few groups lately on this topic and as a runner and a gym addict, I want to show people how adding in one or more extra activities to their routine can benefit their overall fitness.

So lets get the captain obvious point out of the way. Running can be hard on our bodies. It is high impact and can often cause tenderness to our joints. Cross training can help us avoid injury by supplementing in low impact work that still increases out fitness. It can also help avoid over training, give us a little mental variety and help keep our fitness up if we are recovering from an injury. With so many benefits it stumps me when I hear runners saying cross training couldn’t benefit what they are setting out to accomplish. Their punchline is that if they want to improve their running they must run and I am not refuting that. But by adding another activity or two into your routine you can increase leg speed, finish runs with little to no tenderness in the hips or knees, create a more powerful push off and create greater range of motion in your joints.

What activities should I look at when cross training for running?

1.) SOMETHING YOU ENJOY
I find people will not keep up with an activity more often than not because they hate doing the activity. No one is forcing you to do that one activity! There are tons of options out there! Take up swimming, spin class, cycling, weight lifting, group fitness classes, yoga, cross training, you name it! Most facilities have a great policy when it comes to your first class or first time using the gym, try it out and see if that is something you want to keep up with!

Find something that could improve over all fitness
As runners we are bad for neglecting our upper bodies. The only time I recall using my upper body is when my legs are completely shot on the last few kilometers of the marathon distance. Here are a few examples:

Swimming is a great cross training activity as it works the muscle groups we often don’t use, its low impact and yet still aerobic like running.

Pilates is a great cross trainer as it can have a lot of focus on the core and many runners, again, tend to neglect doing core work. Sometimes lower back pain in runners can be caused by a weak core and/or taking strides that are far too long for them.

Yoga is an AMAZING cross trainer since flexibility has been linked to increase your speed as it opens up range of motion in your hips and allows for a stronger stride.

Cycling is great because it helps develop your quadriceps at a better rate than running. Runners hamstrings tend to develop much faster than the quadriceps. When there is a significant muscle imbalance, injuries become much more prevalent. Cycling is low impact, works many of the same energy systems as running, improves hill running and increases leg speed. Not too shabby! If cycling on busy streets just isn’t your cup of tea, take up a spin class!

Plyometric work! My favorite. Plyometric movements are explosive jumping type movements. Some of these movements are performed laterally which is very different from running (so I highly suggest not performing these in your running shoes since shoes designed for running are not built for this type of movement and you will ruin your runners!). Movements like jump squats, burpees, switch lunges and so on! (AKA SUPER HAPPY FUN TIME WORKOUTS!) They help increase power, lactic threshold, and push off!

3)Low impact vs high impact
This is just personal preference but on days that I am not scheduled to run, I look for low impact exercises to give my joints a little bit of a break. These are the days I work on strength, yoga, or cycling.

Feeling overwhelmed with how you will fit it all in?
– Plan ahead! Print off or buy a calendar where you write down your schedule at the start of each week. Bring in the post its and highlighter brigade!
– If you are weight lifting, write out what muscle groups you want to target and don’t work them out two days in a row (them muscles need time to repair so they can grow back stronger!)
Write out what day is your rest day! Rest is EQUALLY if not MORE important when it comes to working out!
Make sure you have flexibility in your routine somewhere even if it is just post workout. Stretching is VERY important!

For those who cross train with their running routine: What is YOUR favorite cross training activity?

For those who don’t cross train: What is holding you back from doing so?

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