Five Cross-Training Recommendations While Preparing For Your Next Race 13.1!
If you took the time to survey a large number of runners the top benefits of cross-training, it’s likely that many of them would count injury prevention at the top of their list. While they would certainly be correct, injury prevention is hardly the only one. Runners can us cross training to rehabilitate from injuries, increase motivation, rejuvenate the body and mind, improve fitness, and most importantly have fun! Here’s a breakdown of our top five benefits of Cross-Training.
Benefit #1: Injury Prevention
Overuse injuries are the curse of the running life, a never-ending epidemic among pavement (and trail) pounders everywhere. Nevertheless, injuries aren’t inevitable. Most overuse injuries can be prevented or at least prevented from returning. (More than half of running injuries are actually reinjuries.)
Endurance cross-training can therefore help you ease into the sport, if you’re a new runner, by reducing the amount of impact your body absorbs. And if you’re a veteran runner, it helps you stay in the sport. It isn’t uncommon for longtime runners to lose so much knee cartilage through repetitive impact that they develop osteoarthritis and are forced to hang up their shoes. By mixing in some weight lifting and swimming today, you just might spare yourself the frustration of only being able to swim and lift weights in the future.
Benefit #2: Improve Running Fitness
There are many worthy motivations to run, but the desire to run faster is the most fundamental. Even if you’re slower than most runners and you don’t get too caught up in your race times, you still pay attention to them, and establishing a new personal best still gives you satisfaction.
Cross-training is a very reliable means to become a faster runner. To make an absolute statement might be going too far, but I think it’s safe to say that almost every runner can run faster by cross-training appropriately than by running only. There are three main ways in which supplemental training outside the discipline of running can enhance one’s running ability. Specifically, it can:
- Enhance a runner’s efficiency.
- Increase a runner’s power.
- Increase the amount of time a runner is able to spend training without accumulating fatigue or getting injured.
Benefit #3: Enhanced Motivation
No matter how much passion you have for running, if you do it often enough or with excessive repetition of routes and routines, it will become boring. Most humans are stimulated by variety and turned off by monotony. Cross-training helps you maintain your enthusiasm for your sport, making it possible to train harder and more consistently and ultimately to perform better in races.
Anything you can do to increase your motivation for training is worth doing. In other words, a given training decision does not have to be justified by a purely physical rationale to be a good decision. If doing more cross-training and less running makes the training process more enjoyable, do it! Likewise, if you just don’t feel like running today, but you would be perfectly happy to ski cross-country instead, then ski! You’ll still end up in a better place than the runner who doesn’t cross-train and can choose only, on such days, between running with a bad attitude and doing nothing at all.
Benefit #4: Rejuvenation
No tree can bear fruit in all seasons, and no runner can train hard throughout the entire calendar. That’s just the way nature made us. If you want to run better next year than you did this year, you must give your body and mind a break from formal training after the final race. Coaches call this period of rest and play the transition phase of the training cycle, and every smart runner takes it as seriously (if one can take rest and play seriously) as he or she does any other phase of training.
A good off-season transition phase (which usually coincides with winter) should begin with about 2 weeks of complete rest. Fourteen exertion-free days are just enough to allow your body to achieve a deep recovery from the recently completed training cycle and to restore your hunger to run, but not so much that you seriously compromise your fitness.
After resting for 2 weeks, you should allow yourself between 2 and 8 more weeks of informal training in which you do whatever you want. Play basketball or ice hockey, do yoga, swim, lift weights–and run as little or as much (within reason) as you see fit. Your first priority should simply be to enjoy yourself. As long as you do some form of workout each day and get a cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility benefit from the activity or group of activities you pursue, there’s no wrong way to approach the transition phase.
Benefit #5: Enjoying Other Sports
Endurance is a highly transferable capacity. The strong heart and good lungs that serve you so well as a runner could serve you equally well in swimming, bicycling, skating, cross-country skiing, and other endurance sports. Yet endurance is also highly task-specific, because the only way to develop efficiency in a given activity is to perform that activity often. So while a trained runner would undoubtedly perform better on a bicycle than a couch potato would, that runner wouldn’t fare so well against a trained cyclist.
You never know until you try. And I’m here to suggest that you do try if you have the least bit of curiosity about what it might be like to compete in another endurance sport. You might really enjoy the experience and do well, and if you do it right, training for and competing in a second endurance sport could help you enjoy running more and even run better.
Happy Cross-Training as you prepare for your next Race 13.1!
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*Excerpts taken from an article in Runner’s World by Matt Fitzgerald