What are the benefits of cross training for runners?

Cross training is the term used for two or more alternative types of exercise done to benefit a chosen sport. Whether you’re an elite athlete or have little to no experience, cross training is a great method of improving both fitness and consistency. Read on to find out where to start and how you can progress to get the most out of yourself!

Why cross train?

There are multiple reasons that we might choose to cross train, here are a few:
  • Injury-prone - If you’re consistently injured, it may be time to reduce the run mileage to a manageable level for your body and supplement those extra miles with cross training. If you’re looking to increase your run volume in the long-term, then speak to a physio about doing this gradually alongside cross training to prevent future injury.
  • Low mileage background - Your next goal is to complete a marathon, but you’ve never run more than 20 miles per week?! Not to worry - just use cross training around your runs to improve fitness, whilst not overloading your joints and muscles. With a goal as big as running 26.2 miles, ensure to also seek advice from an expert to get the most out of yourself!
  • Enjoyment and motivation - Some of us need a bit of variety to maintain motivation, so make sure to choose your favourite cross-training methods to keep up the enjoyment. Maybe it's swimming you enjoy, cycling or attending a spinning class? Life is too short to not enjoy what you’re doing!
  • Maintaining fitness during pregnancy - the impact of running is another example of when cross training might be an appropriate training method, but definitely seek expert advice about how best to go about doing this.
  • Physiological benefits - A combination of different cross training has the potential to improve your cardiovascular system, strengthen different muscles, and improve posture, all of which are known to aid running performance.
  • Active recovery - Whilst ‘resting’ from running, you’ll simultaneously be able to gain extra fitness through other forms of exercise and allow your muscles to recover for your next run.
  • Biomechanical benefits - One way to improve your running technique is to speak to a professional and complete any specific strength and conditioning exercises they recommend.

What are your options?

Ultimately, most of us exercise to improve our physical and/or mental health. Consistency is the key to both things, so, when planning our exercise routine, we should take a few factors into account.
Start by asking yourself a few questions:
  • What is my schedule and how much time do I have to exercise around work, social life, and hobbies? This may vary day-to-day, so work out a routine that suits you and learn to be flexible when needed.
  • What do I enjoy doing?! It’s going to be much more difficult to keep up a habit that you don’t enjoy! Luckily there are a few options to choose from
  • Is there anyone that I can exercise with? Having a friend to exercise with has lots of benefits, including motivation to get out of the door and act as a distraction from how hard you’re working!
  • Alternatively, you may prefer to exercise alone with music. Check out our running playlist over on Spotify.
  • What is my budget? Different sports have varying costs so ensure to be aware of that when planning which ones to mix to allow you to be consistent.
  • What is my aim? If you’re looking to improve certain areas of your fitness, then it might be worth choosing cross training specific to those aims. 
Finally, when it comes to choosing which cross training is going to be best for you, there are few options out there.
Some of the most popular in the UK are:
  • Aqua jogging - Simply grab yourself an aqua belt from your local pool (if they don’t have one available then you can buy them relatively cheaply online) and get to work! Always remember to stay in the deep end so your feet don’t touch the ground; and if things become too easy with a belt you can progress by jogging without a belt! When done correctly, aqua jogging is essentially running with resistance and no impact, reducing injury risk.
  • Cycling - This can be done using your bike (if you have one) or heading to the gym. Cycling is great for your aerobic system and strengthens the muscles in your legs, which is obviously great for running! Be mindful that your seat and handlebars are adjusted correctly to avoid any injury problems.
  • Swimming - This is an ideal option for working the aerobic system whilst also being completely non-weight bearing. It can be used to supplement your run programme or to maintain fitness during injury.
  • Elliptical cross trainer - Just like aqua jogging, using a cross trainer requires a very similar technique to running and significantly reduces the impact on your joints. Bear in mind that you will need either a high cadence or high resistance if you’re going to reach a sufficient heart rate.
  • Weight training - This is less of an aerobic building method, and more of a way to become stronger and more robust. Definitely consider incorporating strength training in your programme if you’re looking to reduce your injury risk, improve running technique and elevate overall performance. Using the correct technique and doing exercises specific to you as an individual is vital so always check this with your physio first!
  • Yoga - Yoga is not only an avenue to go down for mental well-being but also physical health. There are plenty of benefits, including relaxation, recovery, and increased strength and posture. Plus, it’s super time efficient and free to do - just make a space in your home and search for yoga tutorials online!

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How can a physio help you? 

Physios are not just there to help you return from injury as quickly as possible. They’re also able to provide advice on how to prevent future injury and find ways to benefit performance. This could include a bike fit, for example, or prescribing exercises that are specific to you as an individual.

Volume and intensity of training very much depend on your current level of fitness and what it is that you’re aiming towards. Always ask a physio or coach when deciding upon which sessions you should try and which ones you can aim to reach in the future.

Using cross training is a great way to achieve your goal. How you use it is up to you - just make sure to speak to a professional whenever you need any help or advice. And always remember to create an exercise routine that you enjoy! Have fun!
 

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