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Cross Training For Runners

What is Cross Training?

Cross training is a broad term that is commonly used to refer to any exercise outside of your primary sport, but I like to be a little more specific when it comes to cross training. I like to think of strength training and cross training as separate entities and cross training when in reference to running should be any activity outside of running that improves your aerobic fitness. Exercises such as cycling, swimming, and hiking are good examples of cross training. Exercises such as weight lifting and yoga should be considered as supplemental strength and mobility training rather than strength training.

Why Do We Need Cross Training

Improving Your Aerobic Base

Cross training can be used as an alternative to running to improve your aerobic base without the impact that running may have. This is a good way for new runners, injury prone runners, and runners coming back from injury their aerobic fitness without the high impact stress of running. ​ When Injured and Preventing Injury Cross training is a way to maintain you aerobic fitness while you're unable to run. Injury can sideline you as a runner, but if you do no form of aerobic exercise it may be hard to come back. Using a low impact form of cross training can help you maintain aerobic fitness while you are recovering. Pick cross training activities that do not irritate your injury. Depending on the injury, some types of exercises may put too much strain on the injury which will prevent it from healing. Some runners cannot handle high mileage due to the impact of running on the body so cross training is a good way of improving aerobic fitness while giving your muscles and joints a break reducing the likelihood of an overuse injury. Cross training allows you to work different muscles which can help strengthen muscle imbalances that may be present as well which can help prevent injury as well. To Add Variety to Your Training Some runners just need to add variety to their routine to keep things fresh. These runners thrive when they have a variety of different exercises to do rather than just running. Having cross training as an option allows you to continue to improve you aerobic fitness while getting some variety in, but it is good to remember to not go too hard on cross training days and to focus on your primary sport. ​

Common Types of Cross Training

Cycling: Cycling is a great way of cross training. Cycling works out the major muscles in the legs while working your cardiovascular system. Cycling is a low impact activity and the motion of pedaling may even improve your cadence! Bikes such as the ElliptiGO are even better than a standard bike because the more closely mimic the motion of running. ​ Swimming: Swimming is a good full body option for cross training. Although swimming is less specific than other forms of cross training it is still a good option for cross training, especially when you're injured. When you're in the water there is little to no impact on your joints when you are exercising, so if you are trying to nurse an injury it is a great option to keep up your aerobic fitness without straining the injury itself. Elliptical: The elliptical mimics the motion of running very closely but minimizes the impact to your joints. When using an elliptical make sure to add enough resistance and incline to get in a good workout. Hiking: Hiking can be a really good cross training activity especially if you're trekking a trail with lots of obstacles and elevation gain. Hiking up steep trails strengthen the glute muscles which are vital for running strong up hills and hiking back down the trail can strengthen your quads which need to be strong for running downhill. Hiking like the elliptical closely replicates the motions of running. Aqua Jogging: Using a aqua-jogging belt you can "run" through water. Aqua jogging is one of the most effective types of cross training for runners because it very closely represents running form while giving your joints a break. When aqua jogging make sure you are running with correct form. ​

Best Types of Cross Training For Runners

The "best" type of cross training is subjective and is dependent on what you're looking for in a cross training activity. If you're injured the best type of cross training is the kind that doesn't strain your injury and doesn't cause any pain. Swimming, cycling aqua jogging are good options for this because they are non weight bearing activities. As your injury starts to heal you can move more towards activities that mimic the motion of running such as using the elliptical. If you are still worried about straining your injury aqua jogging would still be a good form of cross training here as well. If you are looking for an exercise to change up your routine, then do an aerobic activity that is new and exciting to you, but remember that cross training should be supplemental to your running not replace it. ​

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