Reader To Reader: Cross-Training for Core Strength


With spring marathon training well underway, the cross-training question is heavy on our minds. Do we really have to do it – and if so, what kind and how much? Is it enough to trot up the escalator once a week, or, horrors, do we have to hit the gym?

"It's time to face the cryptic 'cross-training' references on my marathon schedule. What should I do? There's so much choice! Whenever I run more than about 14 miles my upper body gets tired, so I know I need to develop my core strength, but what's the best way? My new year's resolution might be to go swimming twice a week. Is that enough to strengthen my top half, or should I brave the gym?"
Mightyfish

Your best answers...

  • If your upper body is getting tired, perhaps your running posture is wrong. Either way, pilates will help. You do need an instructor, though, to ensure you're doing it correctly. Swimming is also good for the strength of some upper-body muscles, but it emphasises some at the expense of others. Some swimmers therefore have very bad postural problems. A good pilates class will attend to important little muscles you didn't know you had. – Skinny Old Geezer
  • If you like gym classes, pilates and body balance would be appropriate. If you'd rather do resistance work, there are a lot of exercises you can do at home without any special equipment, and a lot more that you can do if you invest in a gym ball and some dumb-bells. But the best form of running-specific core training is probably to put on a pair of fell-shoes and gallop up and down some muddy tussocky slopes. – Velociraptor
  • I'm not keen on the gym and never been co-ordinated enough for aerobics classes. However, friends persuaded me to try body pump earlier this year and I love it. It's a great way to weight train: you hardly know you're doing it, as it's such fun. I certainly feel it's benefited my running, posture and overall body shape. – Twitchie
  • The cyling circles rave on about power yoga, though I haven't tried it. If so many cross-discipline atheletes buy into it then it must be worth a try. Not sure why I haven't... well OK, it might be because it looks like hard work! – Craig Llewellyn
  • Try circuits once a week and do some abs exercises and squats twice during the week. You'll soon notice the diffrence to your core strength. – Loon Dod
  • Crunches, some with a twist at the top of the crunch and high reps, help core stability. You could throw in some press-ups – when doing them try to keep your whole body absolutely straight, so your arms should be the only thing moving. I don't think you need to do anything fancy, and I don't think there are any short-cuts. Just stick to the basics! – andrew sumpter
  • "Explosive" anaerobic circuit training and plyometric work really help with overall fitness, lung capacity and recovery times. – Donald Reid
  • I would recommend getting a fitball. You can pretty much exercise any muscle group. They're cheap to buy (Argos/Decathlon/eBay), you can find heaps of exercises by simply Googling – and you don't have to go to a gym. But you have to be disciplined to stick at it. – Nick L
  • Do you work in an office? Try sitting on a swiss ball instead of your normal chair. It will improve your core strength and posture. Also, I used to have a core of steel when I was a ballet dancer, so a ballet class may be worth a try. Pilates is the real basics of ballet posture and movement. – Racheyray
  • Tai chi gradually improves posture, and is very relaxing too. You'll find yourself moving very gracefully in your normal day-to-day activities. – Nixy
  • Rowing. But take a cushion unless your backside is sufficiently padded to start with. – Snapstinget
  • I learned the hard way that it's essential to do cross training to maintain running capability. I ran a lot from 1985-2000, 40+ miles per week and races once a month. All I did was run, run and run (oh, and a little cycling). I'd get niggly injuries, but would generally run through them. By 2000 I was in a very bad way, with back and leg problems that just wouldn't go away. Eventually I stopped running altogether – something every runner dreads. In 2003 I discovered the gym, and I've been going now for three years, 2-3 times per week: cardio 60 mins and resistance 30-45 mins. This year I started running again, three times a week, and I haven't triggered my old injuries. I'm convinced that if I'd been doing some strength work all those years, I wouldn't have had to stop running. – nhojsllih
  • This month's Mens Health has a free book about training at home. It's worth a read, and at £3.50 it's cheaper than joining a gym! As for cross-training, the great NZ coach Arthur Lydiard said: "no amount of cycling, swimming, weights etc will make you a better runner. Only running further and faster will make you a better runner." – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh-beetle


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