RW 60-Second Guide: Cross-Training

Wise up to the benefits of trying your hand at other sports and you could become a more efficient runner


Posted: 10 September 2007
by Catherine Lee

If you want to become a better runner, there’s no real training substitute for running. Other sports just don’t cut the mustard when it comes to preparing your body for race day, right?

Right. But in terms of boosting your fitness, balancing muscle groups and preventing injury, taking a leaf out of a triathlete’s book might just prove a surprising ticket to improved running performance.

What are the benefits of cross-training?

Participating in different sports boosts your cardiovascular fitness and burns additional calories while allowing your legs time to recover from the repetitive load of running.

Exercising places stress on your joints and muscles, so concentrating on a single sport (such as running) will mean the same muscles are always under strain. Similarly, repeatedly working just one group of muscles can lead to a strength imbalance within the leg, leaving it more susceptible to injury.

Time spent pursuing sports that work the opposing muscles (such as cycling) will improve your stride and economy; strengthening the other muscles in your body can also have a positive effect on your running.

Activities that call for increased upper-body strength will add power to your running action - useful in the later stages of tough events - while those that work your core muscles will enhance your stability and posture.

Of course, if you’re unfortunate enough to already be sidelined, you might have no choice but to cross-train. Frustrating though it might be not to be pulling on your runners, try not to lose sight of its primary purpose - any activity that gets your heart beating faster will help you preserve your fitness and strength during your rehabilitation period.

Which sports are best for runners?

The best sports for runners are those that target the muscles running neglects. Cycling, swimming, rowing, inline skating and cross-country skiing will all give your cardiovascular system a good workout while exerting different muscle groups to those used in running.

Team sports like football and rugby, or games like squash and tennis are also good calorie-burners but bear in mind these activities – with the twists and turns demanded of the knee and ankle joints - may heighten your risk of sustaining an injury.

Keeping your muscles and joints supple via regular stretching has proven benefits for runners too. Pilates and yoga will not only enhance your flexibility and range of motion, but can also improve your balance, co-ordination skills and kinaesthetic awareness (your ability to react to the space and people around you).

Anaerobic exercise such as weight-training has also been proven to give runners increased strength, speed, and core stability.

When and how hard should I cross-train?

If you’re new to the field of cross-training, take this advice on board before you get started:

1. If you’re trying your hand at a new sport, don’t be tempted to do too much too soon – you’ll only be left with sore muscles that will need extra time to recover. Build up slowly – from as little as 15 or 20 minutes at first.

2. Don’t add lots of extra sessions to your schedule straight away either. To start with, try replacing one of your easy runs with a cross-training workout. Remember rest days are there for a reason.

3. Resist the temptation to replace a speed session or a long run with something different – your running won’t improve if you omit key sessions.

4. Only when your body has adjusted to your new sport should you think about increasing the frequency or intensity of these sessions. Their purpose is to build on your existing fitness, not leave your body overworked.

5. If you wear a heart-rate monitor, accept that it’s normal for your heart rate to be approximately 10 beats per minute lower in sports such as cycling or rowing. Use this figure as a rough guide when gauging the intensity of your sessions – push yourself too hard and you run the risk of injury and fatigue.

6. Listen to your body. If your muscles feel tired, it’s best to avoid exercise altogether, as your energy reserves will be better put to use repairing weary muscles. However, if it’s more likely a case of mental exhaustion, going for a leisurely bike ride or swim could help put a spring back in your step.

Lastly...

Enjoy it! Cross-training shouldn’t seem like an extra chore. Instead, use it to spice up your weekly routine or recharge your batteries, all the while reaping the rewards of its aerobic benefits.

Still after more advice? Here are five informative articles to print and read later...
(RW+ indicates magazine subscriber only) Find out what advice your fellow RW members have to offer in these two Reader to Reader articles:

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Discuss this article


Fairly Fuming ? Steam Coming from Ears ? Just a little Grumpy ?

And how do I cool down after the 60 seconds ? Once I am annoied, I usually stay mad for at least minutes.
Posted: 19/09/2007 at 22:48

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