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.
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.