Mix It Up!
If your exercise routine up till now only includes running, it’s highly recommendable that you start including various other types of activities to your schedule. Cross-training is important for a couple of reasons. Aside from beating boredom, mixing up your exercise can help you prevent developing overuse injuries. Here, we explain a little bit more about cross-training to get you started on it.
What It Is and Why You Should Do It
The two key types of cross-training for runners are: aerobic and strength training. They each serve different functions, and should not be used interchangeably, unless it’s a sport which ticks both boxes.
Aerobic exercises are anything that gets your heart pumping. The most common cross-training choices for runners are cycling and swimming. Swimming is ideal as it is a non-weight-bearing aerobic exercise, which means you get to raise your heart rate without stressing your joints and muscles. Cycling is a complementary exercise to running, as it strengthens the quadriceps, a muscle group which often doesn’t get trained as much during running.
Another two good aerobic options at the gym are the elliptical trainer and the Stairmaster, as these mimic the motions of running, but once again, without the high impact that comes with it.
Strength training often tends to get overlooked by runners, much to our detriment. We tend to imagine strength training as pumping iron in the gym, and most runners tend to avoid bulking, as extra mass, especially upper body mass, only serves to create additional weight that slows our running.
Runners should focus on developing a strong core, with exercises for the lower back and abdominals. These muscles help support and maintain a proper posture while running, to prevent unbalances in the body that result in injury. The easiest core exercise is the plank.
Lunges and squats help develop strength in the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings, while the humble push-ups are enough to help develop some upper body strength. For more ideas on strength training, speak to a fitness instructor, who will be able to guide you properly.
How to Choose
People you speak with will have many opinions on which exercise you should try, but the best cross-training activities to incorporate into your exercise routine are the ones that you actually enjoy doing. For instance, there is no point swimming if you dislike the water.
Our examples above are only a few ideas – there is no reason not to try rowing or rock-climbing if that’s how you prefer to cross-train. Even a game of basketball counts! Just remember to take into account that certain sports or games that include jarring actions may cause micro-tears and stress your muscles, which require more recovery time and may impact on your next running workout.
When to Cross-Train
Most of us are pressed for time, and can only realistically expect to dedicate a certain number of hours per week to sports. Like running itself, introducing a new activity will require a transition to slowly adapt to the sport, through base-building and familiarising.
In the beginning, swap out one of your running sessions for an aerobic cross-training activity. After a month or two, if your schedule permits, reintroduce the run so you now have your usual number of runs, plus one cross-training session.
The strength-training session should not replace any runs. The best way to include it to your routine is to tack on an extra 20 minutes after one of your runs to perform your strength training exercises. Alternatively, fit it into one of your spare pockets of time, such as while you’re watching television, or during your lunch break. If you are really, truly squeezed for time, shorten a run by 10 minutes and do the strength training.
Incorporating cross-training activities will take some time getting used to, but will ultimately improve your performance as a runner.