I write an interactive fitness column for one of my local newspapers in which readers submit their fitness questions. Below is a column recently published on the topic of cross-training. Some of you have asked me to share . . . so here it is! And, if you have any questions to submit, I welcome them! Please post your questions on my Facebook Page, "Triathlon Mom" https://www.facebook.com/triathlonmama. Thanks for reading. Train safe and be smart!
Q: “Most race training guides recommend cross-training. What are the best cross-training routines for runners?” — Christine W.; Franklin, MA
A: As a multisport enthusiast, my immediate reply is “Triathlon!” Fortunately, this is not merely my biased opinion but also a fact supported by numerous sources that site cycling and swimming as top cross-training alternatives for runners.
Put simply, to be a better runner, you have to run. However, in sparkpeople.com, running coach Nancy Howard says that “cross-training should be part of every fitness plan because it helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries, improves muscular balance, targets your muscles in new and different ways, and aids in muscle recovery.”
Specificity, or how specific a certain exercise is to running, should be your top criteria when choosing an effective cross-training exercise, notes an article in runaddicts.net. Cycling, deep water running or aqua-jogging, cross-country skiing or using an indoor cross country ski machine such as a Nordic Track, and using the elliptical trainer are activities that utilize the muscles, connective tissues and joints in a manner similar to running but with lower impact on the joints.
Complementary cross-training activities, such as swimming, rowing, stair climbing, plyometrics, and walking, use the primary running muscles in alternative ways and engage additional muscles not typically used in running. This diversity will allow you to build greater muscle strength and balance, which reduces your risk for injury.
Given that cycling and swimming are two of the best alternative exercises for runners, taking a break from a strictly running-based program to train for a triathlon would not only complement your running, it would also add variety to your workouts and keep burnout at bay.
Weight lifting is another important piece of the cross-training puzzle. According to runaddicts.net, lifting heavy weights uses more muscle fibers and increases strength, making you more impervious to injury, and allows your legs to apply more force to the ground in a quicker time frame, which means you will get faster. The article goes on to state that runners should “perform exercises such as dead lifts, pull ups, military press, bench press, squats, lunges, and overhead press that focus on multi-joint, compound movements that build functional strength.”
Adding yoga to your workout regimen also will prove beneficial in all facets of your life. This mindful practice, performed in a responsible and respectful manner, increases flexibility, strength and balance, sharpens your focus, fights fatigue, reduces stress, improves oxygenation and circulation of blood, builds a stronger mind-body connection and fosters a sense of overall well-being.
In short, running too much, pushing the mileage envelope, can lead to injuries. By adding alternative workouts to your schedule you give your muscles and joints a break from the pounding that’s associated with running while still burning calories and developing cardiovascular fitness. Aim to add up to three cross-training sessions each week without compromising scheduled rest days, which are as vital to your training as your workouts are.
By mixing cross-training workouts with running you can elevate your races to the next level and ultimately become a better runner.
My first triathlon was over a decade ago. It was a sprint distance and I raced on a mountain bike. I took a break from the sport to raise my children. When the baby turned two, I decided to rediscover my own interests again. Four years later, through equipment changes, injuries and the challenges of raising a family, I've set my sights on the Iron Man and would like to share the journey--however long and painful it may be. Hope you enjoy the blog and thanks for reading.