How to make strength and cross-training work for you

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Ramp up your strength work

Building muscle improves your health, reduces injury risk and, according to a review in the journal Sports Medicine, improves your running performance. In 26 studies of endurance athletes, strength-training programmes (either plyometrics or heavy weights) boosted fitness, increased efficiency and reduced runners’ times in 3K and 5K races. Design your own routine by picking six exercises: two for each of your major muscle groups (upper body, core and lower body), with one working the front (e.g. planks) and one the back (e.g. bridges), says strength coach Rebekah Mayer. Do them two or three days per week.

1/ Build it in

Incorporate strength moves into your training plans. So, your schedule might read: run three miles, then do three sets of 15 one-legged squats, planks and press-ups. For best results, strength train later on the same day as your more intense or longer runs, allowing a full day of recovery between hard sessions, says Mayer.

2/ Break it up

Try ‘exercise snacks’ – planks when you get up in the morning, press-ups before you leave for work, lunges on coffee breaks etc.

3/ Take a class

Don’t want to DIY? Choose a runner-friendly strength class, such as Pilates. It costs money, but research shows spending can increase the odds you’ll follow through.

4/ Change it up

In about a month, your body will adjust to the routine. ‘Make it harder – more repetitions, more weight or different exercises – or you’ll stop seeing results,’ says Mayer.

Fit in your cross-training

If you’re already struggling to squeeze three or four runs a week into your schedule, don’t worry about adding in other aerobic activities. But once you have a running habit, workouts such as swimming, cycling or rowing can boost your fitness without the impact of running. And by engaging different muscle groups, you can correct imbalances and develop all-round strength. ‘This can increase your longevity as a runner,’ says Mayer. And if you do get injured, you’ll also have a familiar option for maintaining fitness.

1/ Stay consistent

A regular gym class is an easy way to fit in cross-training. And if you prefer going solo, set a regular date and location, such as a local cycling route once a week, to help the habit to form.

2/ Be realistic

Don’t set yourself up for failure by choosing a class you’ll have to rush to attend. Find an option that suits your schedule.

3/ Choose wisely

Chasing a PB? Go with a type of cross-training that mimics running, such as pool running. If, however, your goal is overall fitness, select an activity that’s very different, such as swimming or cycling, says Mayer.

4/ Keep it easy

Treat cross-training like an aerobic recovery day; schedule it after hard running days and keep your effort level low enough to carry on a conversation, says Mayer. But if you’re injured and can’t run, feel free to cross-train harder to maintain fitness.