The old adage from coaches and athletes alike, is that if you are a sport athlete then train within that sport. Therefore, if you are a runner, you need to train by running and running alone. Cross training is gaining more and more of a following given the supporting evidence of the improvements for the athlete. Some of the best cross training workouts for runners are those that allow for recovery, conditioning, varying intensities, and full body strengthening. Below are some examples of these benefits, including the activities associated with each.
Recovery & Strength
A good cross training exercise that continues to utilize the leg muscles, yet allow for recovery from those muscles and joints from a consistent running workout routine. With the use of equipment will aid in easing the strain of the leg muscles and joints.
- Outdoor Biking or Indoor Spinning are both activities that will continue to use most of the same muscles as running. This allows for continued cardio and muscle strengthening without the amount of stress to the joints that the ‘pounding’ of running creates.
- Cycling can be used as a warm-up and cool-down to your runs, yet can be a standalone workout.
- The workout can be catered to interval strengthening, as well, including changes of speed and gear shifting.
- Inline (Rollerblading) and Skating, including ice, additionally will act as a smoother alternative to running. The same muscle groups are worked to the exercise.
- A great cardio workout, which can be modified with speed bursts and elevation changes. This will have some additional speed and strength training that will help the runner’s speed and stamina.
Conditioning & Intensity (Intervals)
Again, along the line of keeping up with the running muscles groups, the conditioning benefits of these types of activities will allow for use of more of the leg muscles that aren’t as impacted with forward running. This is because these activities have short and intense bursts of energy and side to side movements, in addition to running. If these type of activities are chosen, you would want to be sure to limit yourself given the ability
- Although on your legs and feet, the activity is contained to a court where you are consistently moving back & forth and side to side.
- Short bursts of speed, offset by the serving that acts as a short rest period.
- Concern of muscle strains, particularly strains to the calves, quads and ankles. This, of course, will increase with the level of competition, and one cannot be too careful with high intensity use of the lower body parts.
- This activity can have you running up to or more that some of your weekly runs. With community based matches and leagues there is typically ~1-3 miles of running through the course of a game.
- Running can vary from easy constant to all out sprints. Side to side dribbling of the ball will work additional leg muscles and increase coordination.
- Concerns of injuries as they pertain to feet and leg injuries (ACL is common) and well as the player contact very present in the game setting.
Full Body (Core) & Strength
Even with the activities listed above, there are definite gains to the body’s core through the focused efforts of maintaining balance and hand-eye coordination. The same could be said for the core body strength workouts listed below. The difference is with these aerobic workouts, the core and full body is the focus of the training; with the others the focus is on the strengthening and conditioning specifically the lower body.
- Great workout to get the heart rate going without the use of weights.
- Full recovery from the ‘pounding’ on the legs tied to running.
- Like the other activities, there is risk of injury for two reasons: proper lessons to swim and understand types of water workouts, including technique.
- Good workout for improving flexibility, stability, and strengthening the all muscle groups.
- It is said to be a great workout for dealing with and preparing some extreme heat conditions you may encounter during a run or race.
- Get the heart rate going through moderate to high levels of intensity.
- Will aid in those runners that are running sprints or short distances looking for muscle strength building for speed.
- Targets the body and focuses on all of the body parts, most importantly that aren’t impacted by the running workout.
The above categories focused on three subsets of cross training for runners: same muscles with less strain, emphasis on different muscles with the same level of strain, and full body / core strengthening aerobic workouts. Each functions of cross training can be rotated for weekly or monthly workout regimes. There are many different cardio, sports, and strength training activities that can be utilized to gain the desired outcome and are not limited to the above. Remember that current injuries and potential injuries need to be taken into consideration when determining your cross training plan.
Some individuals, though, may already be involved in sports teams or fitness groups and already have a schedule associated with that. For me, I alternate my running with rollerblading and play on community softball teams. I would generally mix in a different cross training activity once a week, like yoga or tennis. This gives me some variety, even when it feels like my schedule is mostly inflexible with being part of a team. I would encourage the community to include your thoughts about cross training, your experience assimilating it into you routine, and what you feel you could or should be doing to improve.