Yes, it’s true…I’m a runner and yet I’m a big fan of cross-training.
“Why?” I hear you cry, “when you enjoy running so much!”
Well, it’s like this…while running gets me reasonably fit, helps control my weight and I can lay down a fair amount of speed…it also injures me. And the chances are, if most runners are truly honest; it injures them too.
Running is a repetitive motion. Unless you are blessed with a perfectly designed body and your muscles are attached at precisely the ideal points on your skeleton, then you risk injury unless you work on those little weaknesses. And the best way to do that is through cross-training.
For me, my BIG weaknesses are my hamstings and glutes. This is pretty typical for many deskbound-day-job runners. My hamstrings are short, and running and sitting makes them even shorter. My glutes do as little as possible, and running and sitting let’s them get away with this. Therefore, I need to try to balance everything out during cross-training…here’s some of my favourites:
1. Squats – done correctly – all different types – blast your glutes. Your pesky glutes have to take the strain and do some work. Indeed, any of the olympic lifts, which are whole body exercises, will make a difference to misfiring, under-performing, glutes. Form is key. I’m not trying to end up muscle bound but endurance lifting sets make a difference; and in a flat country, help to build hill-climbing power too.
2. Indoor cycling – here’s one of my favourite UK physio’s cross-training nasties…hop on a spin bike, warm up, and then wind up a moderate hill, hand position two, core in and stand up straight and run. You should just be finger-tipping the bars. Not only will your upper legs want to explode but your core, and cardiovascular system will be begging you to stop too. Aim for two mins, take a break and go again – 40 mins later and you’ll be looking to find physio Claire and kill her (remember to start with just a couple of reps before gradually building up to the 40 mins).
3. Aqua-running – when all else fails and you’re in need of some respite care, head to the pool and get aqua-jogging. A totally non-weightbearing exercise, water running can be done whenever you need to focus on what your legs are doing and where they are going. Yup, it’s boring and you need to find a pool deep enough for you to be out of your depth, but clip on that belt and get your legs moving. Different
cadences help your learn how to lay your power down. More splashing, results in much less forward motion 😉 It’s exactly the same on dry land – more bounding and bouncing in the air does not make you a faster runner – hip drive does.
4. Skipping – simple as. Unwind a rope and build some calf strength. Okay, so this one isn’t exactly non-impact but short bouts of a variety of techniques gets your muscles firing quickly. Ideal for the toe-taping, side-to-side motion, needed on a technical trail or the power to sprint for the line.
5. Core strength – or pillar strength as I prefer to call it is vital for the trail runner who needs to be able to switch stride strength and direction fast and be strong enough to carry a loaded pack. Forget sit ups and crunches, they might make your abs look pretty if done correctly, but they aren’t going to make you a stronger runner. Instead, get down and do some bridges, clamshells, hamstring walk outs, or better still grab a fit ball and get to work with that. The options are endless…
And I guess that’s why cross-training is handy too. Running can also be boring – cross-training adds variety and we all know that variety is the spice of life. Enjoy!