Do you cross-train? If you don’t, you’re missing out. Check out Podcast 108: Cross-Training Basics for more on this topic.
I’ve got eight great reasons why every runner should cross-train:
- More fun. Seriously, cross training adds variety. Consider that any exercise beside running could be considered cross training. How about roller-blading, swimming, stand up paddle boarding, cycling, soccer, elliptical? Yes! You get the idea. Running is great. It’s our favorite sport, but variety is the spice of life, and spending some time doing other forms of exercise is a nice change even for me.
- Other forms of exercise strengthen different muscles while giving running muscles more rest. Exercises such as running and biking, because they’re not load bearing, provide an opportunity for more aerobic conditioning with much less risk of injury. In this way they allow you to increase your training and improve your running fitness.
- Builds different functional movement patterns; some, such as cycling (or spinning), will have a great impact on improving your running form. For this reason, I recommend biking to all runners.
- Enables you to work around less than optimal weather conditions. Swimming and biking, for example, are more bearable in summer’s hottest months. And training on an elliptical or working out at the gym is possible even in the worst weather.
- Creates opportunities for family involvement. Cross training can include the whole family. Vigorous hikes can be a family adventure. Snorkeling, especially with fins, is an excellent leg workout. Those fins help improve flexibility in your ankles. If you have kids, then they probably have jump ropes. Get in the habit of jumping rope with them every day. We used to have competitions to see who could jump the most times without missing. And how about hoola hoops? Do you remember those? Did you know there are adult hula hoops, now? Yep. They’re bigger around. You can actually make them out of tubing that you buy at the home improvement store. I used to have a dozen of them, and I’d have my runners hula hoop for one minute between running repetitions. If you have kids of elementary age, they will love the hoops or jumping rope. Biking, too, can be a family activity. Look at cross training as a way to sneak in more exercise time while also being with the family.
- Some forms of exercise will greatly improve your power, and greater power means less ground time with each running step. I’m talking about plyometric exercises. These are jumping exercises. Depending on your current fitness level, you may need to start with just hopping across a room before moving to hopping up on a box. Then move up to box jumps. Start with a small, low box, and build up to a higher box later. This is intense and inappropriate for anyone who is not already fit, but it will have a great impact on your running if you are up to it. Take it slow and easy and don’t overdo, though. Most gyms will have different sizes of boxes for this purpose.
- Buy yourself an agility ladder agility ladder. These look like a rope ladder, except instead of ropes they’re made of heavy duty nylon straps. You can buy these online for around $20. You don’t climb them. You stretch them out on the ground and run through them stepping in and out of each section in different patterns. This is harder than it sounds and will really get your heart rate up. These have been used by running coaches as part of running workouts for years. Greater agility will certainly improve your running form, help to prevent injuries, and reduce ground contact time when you run, resulting in faster running. Every agility ladder will come with suggestions of different agility exercises, plus you can find plenty of You Tube videos with examples, but you don’t even have to buy an agility ladder. It’s easy to actually draw an agility ladder on the driveway with chalk. This is another activity that the kids will love doing right alongside of you. Be prepared, though. They may be much better at it.
- Reduces injuries by strengthening muscles in ways they’re not strengthened by running, creating better balance of strength. Muscle imbalances are a major contributor to injuries. So, a wide variety of other exercises will be a hedge against this problem by not only strengthening other muscles, but also using them through a greater range of motion.
Now, if you’re still not convinced to get out there and cross-train, here is one more reason that’s bigger than any of those above:
If you’ve been running long, then you’ve probably already done most of the things people do to get faster – which is what most people want to do. Why not do a little less running and a little more cross-training? You might be surprised with a shiny new PR in your next race.