Running is an amazing form of exercise. It burns calories, can be immensely meditative, and is one of those workout forms that you can do on your own or as part of a group.
As great as it is though, if all you do is run you might be leaving a lot of your performance potential on the table. If you want to enjoy running more by being pain and injury free and even venture into breaking your personal records, cross-training might just be what you need to become a better and stronger runner.
What is Cross-Training?
Cross-training is simply doing exercises that are outside of your primary mode of working out. Based on this definition, it can be used by runners and other sportswomen alike. Its primary purpose is to foster balance in any training plan and in doing so it aids recovery and can even help you be a better athlete in your chosen activity (or sport).
As a runner (or jogger), the primary muscles you use are the muscles of your lower body all the way from your butt to the small muscles in the base of your feet. A cross-training regimen for you can involve strength training to help build stronger leg and butt or glute muscles, and also for your upper body to support your running goals.
Why is Cross-Training Important to Your as a Runner?
Constantly training the same muscles in the same way will eventually lead to what is called a plateau. What this means is that you will eventually stop seeing the progress that drew you to running in the first place. So if your goal is to lose weight, your weight loss might stall; and if your goal is to continue to improve your personal best times, you might find yourself looking at a lack of improvement in your times.
There are several reasons why plateaus occur, but the primary cause is that you don’t run as hard as you used to. Here are three possible reasons why:
- Overtraining: This can occur if you run increasingly long distances close together without giving your body the chance to rest. Your muscles and even your mind can eventually get tired from the continuous effort and you might find yourself falling out of love with your favorite form of exercise.
- Boredom: This can come on its own or pair up with overtraining. Being successful with anything in life requires engagement and when you are doing the same runs on the same trails to the same music over and over, you might find yourself getting disengaged (i.e. bored) with your love.
- Not Tapping into Your Full Potential: A runner is so much more than the strength of her legs. Being able to run fast or long requires muscular endurance, good lung capacity, and a strong core. While running can help you build these, there are other forms of exercise that do a better job of helping you build these components of being a strong runner.
What Types of Exercise Qualify as Cross-Training?
Any form of exercise that isn’t running qualifies as cross-training, but for the purpose of this article we’ll focus on forms of exercise that can help you increase muscular endurance, core strength, lung capacity, and speed.
- Strength Training: Strength moves such as squats and lunges work all the major muscles used in running. Stronger leg muscles will leave you less prone to injuries that can keep you away from the sport you love. On the other end of the spectrum strength moves like core planks and pushups can be used to build core strength while crafting a more balanced physique.
- Yoga: While yoga is associated with the interesting positions, the practice is a great way to improve your lung capacity. Breath work is an integral part of a yoga practice and all breathing is required to be done through your nose. When you are in a yoga class and feel the urge to breathe through your mouth, the instruction is always to slow down and return to the practice when your breath has calmed down. This learned skill will improve your running first by helping you increase your lung capacity over time from deep breathing in interesting positions. It also has the advantage of helping you stay in tune with how you feel during your runs. This means that you know to slow down when you need to and speed up when you feel like you have recovered, and you will have enough gas to race past your personal finish line.
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): This form of training can be a huge calorie burner and isn’t exactly a recovery workout, so when using this as part of your regimen go for short sessions of 15 to 20 minutes to get the benefits.Using agility drills that require you to change direction laterally as part of your workout can help strengthen your inner and outer thighs and improve your ability to overtake other runners when in the middle of a race.
How Can I Fit a Cross-Training Routine into My Already Busy Schedule?
If you haven’t been doing any cross-training activity in the past, you will start to see some benefit with even the smallest additions to your training schedule.
A small training addition can be as little as ten minutes of strength training. For example, doing ten minutes of upper body strength moves after your run on Monday and doing ten minutes of lower body moves after your warm up but before your run on Wednesdays is a good start. The key is to start small and build as you start to feel more confident in your ability to carve out the time.
For now your task should be to identify the parts of your current exercise regimen that can count as cross-training. If you don’t have anything yet, start to map out how can you incorporate non-running movement forms in your regimen to make you a stronger runner.
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