What is Cross Training for The Runner ?

What is cross training for the runner ? It is a term that is freely tossed around the exercise world. If you visit a sports store you can find “cross training” shoes, clothing, and even videos. It sounds important – even exclusive - so maybe it is only for serious or conditioned runners? 

Well, don't let its title scare you away. Really, cross training is just a fancy way of describing a very basic concept. Quite simply, it just means that you are including different types of activities in your exercise regimen. 

People training for competition in specific sports (marathon, basketball player, weightlifter) will have a more structured cross-training program; but, for most of us, it just involves mixing it up a little.

How can Cross Training Help?

When we like something, we tend to do it all the time. However, this can be hard on our bodies. Not only do we risk overuse of certain muscles and joints, but we also create weaknesses in the areas that aren't being worked.

This is why so many runners have issues with their hips or lower back. Yes, they may have beautifully toned legs, but if they neglect their core, they may create an imbalance that makes  this area vulnerable to injury. 

cross training fitness plan
group tricep dip workout

Benefits of Cross Training

  • Improved Overall Fitness: You have been faithfully attending your spinning class five days a week and have even graduated into the advanced program. You think you are in pretty good shape.....until you have to climb 8 flights of stairs because the elevator in your office building is out of service. 

    Or, maybe you have been doing Yoga regularly and you feel great. Your stress level is reduced and your skin has a beautiful healthy glow. You think you are quite fit.....until you attend your cousin's wedding and become winded after only 5 minutes of dancing. 

    When you focus on only one type of activity, you only train the muscles needed for that activity. Professionals used to think that the best way to prepare was to work primarily on the muscles needed for their specific sport. But, the number of injuries (and re-injuries) and long recovery times have changed that approach.

  • Weight Loss/Maintenance: When you first begin an exercise program, you usually notice marked resulted fairly quickly. If you go from being a couch potato to running three times a week, you will likely notice the pounds melting away at a rapid rate. But, all of a sudden, it seems to stop working.

    You are doing what you have always done, but you don't seem to be getting the results you have always achieved. Well, after months – or even years – of doing the same thing, your body becomes very accustomed to performing particular movements. It's not being challenged anymore so it's adapting.

    In fact, it can become so efficient that you might actually start to gain weight while still running the same 5K that you have always done.  Cross training keeps your body guessing. It puts different demands on various muscles and joints so they have to work a little harder, rather than functioning like a robot on auto pilot.
  • Prevent Injuries: Not only can doing the same thing every day become less effective, but it can also lead to the overuse of particular muscles. Overusing, overworking, or overtraining any muscle can greatly increase the risk of injury. 
    In fact, many injuries are re-injuries because the original damage wasn't healed properly.

    Cross training is a way to stay fit while also giving each muscle group some time off to rest and recover.
    So, rather than jogging 5 times a week, cut it back to three longer sessions and find a non-impact activity to do on the other two days such as Yoga, Pilates, or strength training. 
running race pictures
  • Injury Recovery: Sometimes, despite your best efforts to build a strong, balanced body, injuries do happen. And, we all know that the best thing for a damaged muscle or joint is rest. If you pull a hamstring or twist your knee you may not be able to run for several weeks.

    If you tear or strain a rotator cuff muscle you may not be able to weight lift for a while. But, that doesn't mean that you have to compromise your fitness level. Cross training will allow you to stay fit while still giving the damaged muscles or joints ample time to recover.
  • Motivation: Let's face it – as much as you might like cycling, doing the same thing every day can become monotonous. Dare we say....boring? Sometimes it is just nice to do something different. Adding some variation to your workouts will ensure that you look forward to exercising and increase the likelihood that you will actually carry through with your good intentions.
  • Stay Fit During Pregnancy or After Surgery: Things like pregnancy or surgery may put limits on the types of activities you can perform, but there is almost always something you can do. No, you  may not be able to do that 45 minute power walk that you are accustomed to, but a Yoga class or some light weight training may be quite acceptable.

    Since cross-training allows you to be flexible in your training options and workout schedule, you can usually find something that will allow you to stay active.
  • Make Everyday Tasks Easier: Even if you aren't an accomplished athlete, cross training will help you improve your entire body which will make the performing and functioning of everyday tasks much easier. Climbing stairs, cleaning your house, carrying children, or washing the car will no longer leave you winded, exhausted, or grabbing your back in pain.

Tips for Cross Training

  • Variation. The key is to make sure that your activities are different enough. While changing your daily jog to brisk walk may seem like a huge difference to you, it really isn't working your neglected muscles or giving your overused muscles and joints a rest.

    Try replacing high-impact exercises with lower impact options. For example, instead of running you could try swimming, or Pilates, or an upper body weight training program.
cross training exercises
  • Try Something New. Since you have to take a break from your regular routine anyway, why not try something completely different. Take a dance class, buy a bike, try anti-gravity yoga, or maybe check out that Zumba class you've been hearing about.

  • Find What Works For You. Cross training can mean varying activities from day-to-day, or you can include two or more activities in the same workout. For example, you may run three days a week, and do weight training two days a week.

    Or, you may do a 30 minute run followed by a 15 minute Yoga and stretching program three days a week and a 30 minute bike ride followed by a 15 minute weight training program two days a week.

  • Remember Cross Training Is Not Circuit Training. Circuit training is a series of exercise performed one after the other in a sequence. Cross training is combining two or more types of exercise into your training program, either on the same day or on different days. 

Other pages that might interest you:

I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.

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