When you start to love an activity it can be hard to do anything BUT that activity. Running is no exception to this rule! Although I would have considered myself crazy a few years ago running has become an activity I truly love, despite the challenges. It’s an important and well-loved part of my life which keeps not only me but my family and pets healthy too! Cross training for runners used to be a controversial topic. Many trainers felt that people should focus all of their energy on one singular activity. Cross training was often considered pointless and a waste of time. More current research and mindsets, however, deem it a necessary component to our overall health and training.
Cross Training for Runners, Should you be doing it?
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of the links I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
I can honestly say that I noticed quite a few beneficial results when I added both yoga and strength training to my running regime. While I enjoy yoga and don’t necessarily hate strength training anymore they are not activities that I love. At least not as much as I love running. But while these activities make me a better runner I don’t necessarily consider them ‘cross training’. Strength training is essential and should be done by all athletes. Yoga is a supplemental tool which helps me relax while running, focus on my breathing and stretch out sore muscles.
Cross training are activities that offer similar benefits to running but can be done instead of running. There are numerous reasons that you might need a break from running – weather conditions, injuries, time or family constraints and even boredom! Adding some cross training to your running means you have many options to stay active and won’t backslide on all your hard work when any of these occur.
Cross Training for Runners – What are the Benefits?
- Injury Prevention – Strengthening our bodies, including those muscles and ligaments not used in running, will make you a more balanced athlete. A balanced body simply works better. Think of your body as a puzzle, even one piece out of alignment can mess up the entire picture.
- Improves Performance, Reduces Over Training – If you are training for a race then cross training can help you achieve better race day times without increasing your chance of injury. Many cross-training choices allow for a good cardiovascular workout without adding more impact miles to injury prone area’s. Overtraining is one of the leading cause of injuries among most runners and adding cross training to your regime can help you prevent these injuries.
- Allows for Injury Rehab – Everyone gets hurt from time to time. As with any athletic activity, even something as simple as one wrong step can have you hobbling home. It can be frustrating to get injured and feel like you are about to lose all of your hard work – but cross training can help with that! Cross training will allow you to keep and even improve your current fitness level without aggravating an injury.
Cross Training for Runners – What are Some Good Options?
I know what your thinking, how is walking going to improve my running? Surprisingly many ultra and marathon plans build walking intervals directly into the training program. There is a surprising amount of research which shows that even short walking breaks during long runs or uphill climbs can actually improve your end times. Runners who incorporate walking breaks into their race plan don’t tend to tire out and slow down as they near the finish line. Of course, the mental motivation of breaking your long run into chunks (If I run 4 miles I can walk for a bit!) can also help those who struggle with daunting distances.
If walking is so beneficial then it’s easy to see how Hiking, which is basically walking on steroids, can also be helpful! Hiking generally takes place on uneven trails and terrain with both uphill and downhill sections. This activity can help prepare your muscles and ligaments for those odd trips and missteps we might take on the road. Hiking will still help build endurance due to challenging terrain and you can add strength benefits by hiking with a backpack. It can even be used as a part of injury rehabilitation when you want to start regaining strength but avoid excessive joint impact.
Hiking is an activity that can be enjoyed by the entire family which means you can use it as both an exercise alternative and family bonding time if your babysitter falls through last minute and you don’t want to take your kid out for a 5-mile road run.
It’s pretty easy to imagine why cycling is a good option for cross training. Cycling works many of the same muscle groups as running and also provides a good cardio workout. There are a few added benefits to cycling that would be beneficial to most runners, especially those who suffer from knee or hip problems. Biking tends to work the quads/hips and glutes a muscle group that some runners neglect. These muscles play a big part in stabilizing our various joints when we run. Weakness in these areas can lead to various problems including Iliotibial band issues which are notorious for frustrating runners.
Like hiking, cycling is an activity that can be enjoyed by many ages and most kids love bike riding! It’s often easier to convince someone to go for a bike ride with you then a run which can make it a fun social activity for family and friends.
Swimming is a popular cross-training choice! I mean, who doesn’t want to go swimming on a hot summer day? Of course to reap the benefits of swimming as a cross-training option you can’t just splash around playing games or float on your back. Learning even a few basic swimming strokes will provide you with a great upper body and core workout with zero impact on those joints you might have stressed while running. We have already learned about the importance of strengthing our entire bodies when it comes to cross training!
If you are in the middle of injury recovery then swimming is a great choice to help you maintain your endurance while you’re off the road. It’s also a great activity for the day after a long hard run as the cool water and movement will aid in muscle recovery.
Maybe the weather is terrible but the thought of doing a treadmill run has you completely unmotivated. I get it, I am not a fan of the treadmill either! Maybe you should consider the Elliptical. The elliptical machine offers a cardio workout that is very similar to running. You’re still at a gym and you’re still inside but you are doing something different. Sometimes that’s all we need.
Like most cross-training options the elliptical is easy on your joints and muscles. This makes it a good supplemental activity when you are rehabbing an injury or just want to avoid overtraining. The elliptical can be a great tool for those runners who are prone to lower leg or joint injuries.
Cross Training for Runners – How often?
Training plans differ and you should certainly take your own fitness level and body into account. The general recommendation is the following.
Recreational Runners – Should run 3-4 days a week with 2-3 days of cross training
Competitive Runners – Should run 4-6 days a week with 1-2 days of cross training.