Why You Really, Really Need to Cross-Train
Cross-training offers runners a variety of benefits including improved fitness, active recovery, and helps to avoid injuries, so why don’t we do it more often?
Like all good runners, I love to run and often consider cross-training as an afterthought. Sure, biking and swimming are fun, but they’re no match for my relationship with running. But after two big marathons and subsequent marathon training cycles, I was struggling to recover and bounce back in order to train for the Boston Marathon. Suddenly, my cross-training perspective needed to change.
My body was desperate for a break, but of course, I needed to continue training. I tried to jump back into a running routine and quickly realized that as much as I love the sport, it did not love me back in the moment. What to do? Cross-train of course!
How to Cross-Train
I am thankful to have a great coach who knew when to pull back the reins when my runs weren’t going so well. Much to my horror, she quickly took running off the table and replaced it with copious amounts of cycling, swimming, yoga, and strength training. I wasn’t crazy about the idea at first, but as my body slowly recovered with my fitness still intact, I became grateful for the break from running and excited about the different fitness I was gaining. Eventually, I kicked myself for not including cross-training in my schedule sooner and now opt for a bike ride or a swim instead of an easy run once a week.
In general, good forms of cross-training for runners are any type of cardiovascular exercise. I personally prefer cycling and swimming but skiing, hiking, EliptiGo-ing, eliptical-ing, or group classes are all excellent options. Cardiovascular activities other than running work to improve your fitness while taking the stress off of your (often overused) running muscles.
To include cross-training in your training schedule, replace one easy run a week with an equal amount of time of another form of activity such as swimming or yoga.
3 Reasons You Need to Cross-Train
Here are three reasons to add cross-training to your regular training schedule:
Avoid Injury and Burnout
Adding cross-training to your weekly training regime is a great way to stave off injury and avoid burnout. For starters, exercising in other ways will force your body to develop strength in different muscles and areas of your body that otherwise get neglected while running. Plus, changing things up will help you to avoid overuse injuries and strains caused by repetitive motion.
Additionally, cross-training will shake things up from your normal routine and could help fight burnout from running. Back when I was training for Boston, the break allowed me to take some time away from running amid a 12-month period in which I raced three marathons (not recommended!) By the time I was ready to lace up my trainers, I was refreshed and eager to put in the marathon-training miles.
Increase or Maintain Cardiovascular Fitness
The number one reason my coach threw weeks of cross-training my way was to maintain my fitness. I had a heck of an endurance base, but all those miles were futile if I couldn’t run without serious discomfort or fatigue. Instead, I used cross-training to maintain my fitness (and let’s be honest, to keep the crazy at bay) while I wasn’t running. The result? When I started running again it felt as if almost no time had passed. Sure, my legs had some catching up to do, but my lungs and heart felt great.
Cross-training is a great tool for maintaining fitness when you’re sidelined and even better at improving fitness when your body just can’t hang for dozens of road miles.
Aid in Recovery
Fun fact: the body has an easier time recovering when you’re active! Consider your recovery jogs in between reps during track workouts or the shakeout run before a marathon; these are both types of active recovery! Getting your body moving increases blood flow and helps to literally shake out the “junk” in your legs.
Of course, going for a short and slow run isn’t always the most appealing option after a hard workout or race. Instead, try riding your bike, going for a long walk, or hopping in the pool. The activity will improve your recovery rate the same as if you were running without the added stress.
Incorporate Cross-Training into Your Training Schedule
Cross-training is the easiest and best way to continue running healthy and happy. After taking a step back from running in January, I went on to PR in a challenging 15K race and then completed the Boston Marathon. Don’t wait until you’re injured or sidelined to include cycling, swimming, or other activities into your training! How do you incorporate cross-training into your weekly schedule?