Cross-training…do you do it when you are training for a race? For many, cross-training is the easily neglected piece of their training routine. Instead, you might opt for another run or give your muscles the day off to recover from a considerably hard run the day before. Unfortunately, neither of those two options will give you nearly the significant boost that you will get from at least one day of cross-training.
I recently attended an NCSF training as part of my fitness trainer certification renewal that discussed the need to stress cross-training with clients. As you might already know, cross-training allows for increased training without overtraining specific tissues of the body. By repeatedly performing the same movements, you run the risk of developing muscular imbalances, plateauing on performance, and injury through overtraining. By adding cross-training to your training routine, you will boost performance and efficiency, increase caloric expenditure, and improve your body’s ability to regulate temperature.
For runners, the best cross training activities to add to your routine are swimming and cycling. While other cardio classes are also beneficial to train the heart and reduce musculoskeletal injuries associated with running, swimming and cycling have been shown to increase your overall training volume without increasing the recovery duration of the running muscles, and help specific leg muscles used in running to rest and preserve glycogen stores. Also, by adding these forms of endurance training, your heart will also adapt, therefore, lowering resting and training heart rates. Food for thought: a group of 10 moderate-pace runners were followed for six weeks. At the start of the period, they all ran a 5k; group average of 18:16. Over the six weeks of the study, the runners added intense interval cycling workouts 3x/week. At the end of the six weeks, they ran another 5k; group average of 17:48.
And, of course, strength training is a very important cross-training activity, particularly to reduce injury by focusing on the muscles that are at risk for becoming imbalanced from runs. Think about doing toe raises (doris-flexion) to counter overdominate plantar flexors, which can lead to painful shin splints. Or, the popular IT Band syndrome! Add in exercises to stretch abductor muscles and strengthen adductor muscles, such as activities that involve lifting the leg out to the side and crossing it in front of the body.
A few other good cross-training selections are soccer, stair climbing, and deep water running. And it is also important to make sure not to neglect the upper body and core as any runner can attest to how much those areas coming into play during a long or particularly hilly run!
Good luck, and be smart about your training. And make sure to find the cross-training that is the right fit for you or the sport for which you are training (sorry to focus so much on runners…)