As a runner I used to think that I ‘only’ had to keep running and I would improve. After being side-lined with several injuries that were eventually put down to over-training, I am now a huge believer that every runner should cross-train. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, or a professional athlete. Cross-training has so many benefits both physically and mentally and is now an essential part of my training program.
What is cross training?
Cross-training is when a runner does another form of fitness to help with their running. This can be cycling, swimming, strength training, gym work or fitness classes.
Here are my top 5 reasons why every runner should cross-train:
1. Mental Stimulation
Running can be quite monotonous for some people. Whilst it is my thinking and mediation time, many people find it boring. Cross-training such as cycling is more social than running so you can maintain your enthusiasm and focus for the event you are training for by breaking up the routine. Running can often be a solitude sport whereas hitting the gym or attending classes can sometimes bring new social connections.
2. Builds Strength and flexibility
Strength exercises that use your own body weight are invaluable for runners. These workouts will increase core-strength which will make you a more efficient runner. Studies have also shown that by introducing plyometric exercises into your weekly routine, your speed and efficiency increases compared to control groups that don’t change their training regime.
Runners will often have tight hip flexors and yoga is the perfect answer to improve flexibility in this area.
3. Increases overall fitness
Cross-training can increase cardiovascular and muscular fitness. Swimming is a wonderful way to increase cardiovascular fitness without loading the joints. This therefore minimises your injury risk also.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that high intensity interval training (HIIT) on a bike, with minimal rest improved running speed. This was also only during a two week period so imagine what a longer period of cross-training could achieve.
5. Injury prevention
Runners build up strength in certain muscles only and injuries tend to occur in the same areas.
Cycling, whether out on the roads, in the bush or in a spin class at the gym is perfect for cross-training. It is low impact and non-weight bearing. It also works more on strengthening the quads whilst running is more focused on calves and hamstrings. The biggest benefit for runners is to aim to cycle at a cadence of about 80-100rpm.
Cross-training will allow you to exercise more frequently and for longer periods without overloading vulnerable areas, particularly knees, hips and back.
6. Improve recovery
If you do get injured, cross-training will allow you to maintain your fitness whilst being able to heal your injury also. For example, water running is also a great work-out and a wonderful way to give your joints a break. The reason I took up cycling was because I suffered stress fractures (from over-running) and still wanted to maintain my fitness. I didn’t even own a bike before I got injured and now can’t imagine not owning one.
I hope that this shows you enough evidence and convinces you to vary your routine. You never know; may also find another sport that you like too!