It’s undoubtedly true that in order to become a better runner, you must run more but there are lots of benefits to be had from cross training too.
The largest benefit of cross training is both injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Cycling helps strengthen the leg muscles, glutes and core with no impact. It also maintains a level of aerobic fitness when we are unable to run. In times of injury and rehabilitation following injury and illness my bike has helped me strengthen muscles, keep my fitness levels up and avoid going stir crazy!
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is great for strengthening those fast twitch muscle fibres (which means you’ll have a bit extra at the end of a race when the slow twitch muscle fibres are worked to their full potential) but is there anything more endurance runners can gain from it? Definitely. HIIT works in the anaerobic zone which increases VO2 Max (how fast your body takes in oxygen and delivers it to your muscles thus meaning you can run faster), increases the body’s ability to buffer lactic acid (meaning your body works more efficiently and your performance is improved) and increases anaerobic enzymes (which means an increase in mitochondria supplying energy to you). When starting out with HIIT you are best having a shorter work period and higher rest and this can be tweaked as your improve fitness. The idea is to work as hard as you can for the work period – you should find it hard to talk – as you push your body to the maximum it can achieve. HIIT can only be performed for twenty to forty minutes as the body will fatigue after this.
Skipping is also fantastic cross training for runners. Having taken up skipping again as a grown up, I can confirm little girls are hard as nails! Seriously, they will skip through break and lunch times just for fun! Skipping is great for strengthening the whole body with less impact than running plus it improves agility, balance, coordination, power, speed and stamina. Ten minutes of skipping is the equivalent of running an eight minute mile.
Strength training definitely has it’s place for runners too. Whether strengthening the core and whole body with squats, press ups and deadlifts or isolating smaller muscle groups with lunges, glute bridges and calf raises. Strength training can be done purely with body weight or you can throw in resistance bands, dumbbells, barbells or resistance machines. There are circuits or pump classes around where you can perform strength work in a group which definitely helps combat the boredom factor.
Form is really important in exercise to ensure you are holding the correct posture and working the muscles correctly as is warming up, cooling down and stretching so seek professional guidance before embarking on a new fitness routine.
Are you a runner who cross trains? I’d love to hear which exercises you favour.