Smart Cross-Training Tips for Runners


5 Smart Cross-Training Tips for Runners

By: By Paige Smith

Sometimes the best way to improve at running is to take a break from it. That's where cross-training comes in — incorporating a few days of non-running-related exercise into your fitness routine can help you gain strength, prevent injury, and stave off running fatigue. That's a win-win-win.

What Is Cross-Training and Why Does It Matter?

“Cross-training is simply adding one or more exercise disciplines to your current routine," says Rachel Mariotti, personal trainer and running coach based in New York City. Think: strength training, yoga, or swimming.

Not only is cross-training a fun opportunity to mix up your workouts and try new forms of exercise, it's also a vital component of an effective running routine, Mariotti says. That goes for runners at every age and experience level, whether you're a novice, competitive racer, or somewhere in between.

Meghan Kennihan, personal trainer and Road Runners Club of America and USA Triathlon run coach based in LaGrange, Illinois, says the benefits of cross-training are endless: “Improving your fitness without the impact that comes with running, injury prevention by creating a stable core and working on muscles that are weak or imbalanced, and quicker recovery from your runs."

Cross-training can also help you improve your running mechanics. Since running puts a lot of pressure on your ankle, knee, and hip joints, Mariotti says, a good strength and mobility routine can help support and fortify the primary joints and muscles you use during runs. This, in turn, can lead to fewer injuries and a better overall running performance.

If that's not enough, cross-training is also a guaranteed way to prevent running boredom and burnout, Kennihan says.

Ready to get started? Here are five things you should know:

1. First, set an intention

Before you add cross-training to your weekly running routine, Mariotti recommends identifying your goals. Do you want to improve your endurance, cut down your 5K time, or strengthen your core?

Figuring out what you want to achieve is critical “because it will change the dynamics of your training and will determine how much volume and intensity you need," she says.

It's also a good idea to consider the areas you struggle with, whether that's hill training, speed work, or developing a strong stride.

“By focusing on your weaknesses while cross-training, you can build an overall healthier body and mind," Kennihan says.

2. Choose the right type of cross-training

The type of cross-training you choose will depend largely on your goals. If you want to improve your running economy and power, for example, strength training is essential — resistance exercises will build up your leg muscles and help make your stride more efficient. But if your goal is better cardiorespiratory fitness, you should focus on incorporating non-running-related cardio activities—like cycling, swimming, or the elliptical—into your routine to help develop your stamina.

As a general rule, however, Kennihan says you should “try to do other forms of exercise that don't tax the same muscles as running"—or at least not to the same degree. She recommends yoga, pilates, upper body strength workouts, and lateral strength training exercises, like side steps with bands and adductor leg lifts. These moves in particular can help improve mobility in your glutes and hips, two areas that take a lot of impact during running and can become tight after a workout.

Mariotti agrees, and says any running regimen should be supplemented with a strength and mobility routine. Her advice: For every two and a half miles you run per week, set aside 30 minutes for dedicated strength and mobility training.

If you're unsure where to start, refer back to your goals.

“If your goal is to be a speedy endurance runner, keeping to lower weights with higher repetitions will be more beneficial," she says. On the other hand, if you're a sprinter, heavier weights and power drills are key to building up your strength and explosiveness, she says.

3. Keep your workout schedule balanced

The easiest and most effective way to add cross-training to your workout schedule, Kennihan says, is to alternate between activities each day. That means running one day, cross-training the next, switching back to running, and so on.

That said, if you're short on time or need a full day of rest after a tough workout, Kennihan suggests alternating activities within a single workout.

“So, if you have a shorter run, then add a core workout or yoga routine or upper body strength training after your run," she says.

4. Get supportive shoes

It may be tempting to use the same pair of kicks for both running and cross-training workouts, but this strategy won't give you the proper support you need for either activity.

Running shoes, Kennihan says, are specifically designed to protect your feet from constant pounding, while cross-training shoes are designed to serve multiple functions, like riding a stationary bike, lifting weights, or using the elliptical.

These five cross-training shoes are all great picks to help enhance your non-running workouts. They offer support, mobility, and major comfort — style is just a bonus.

  • Reebok Crossfit Nano 8.0: the lightweight design makes it perfect for dynamic movement, while still being sturdy enough for weightlifting

  • inov-8 All Train 215: with a snug fit and lightweight heel cage, this shoe provides comfort, stability, and lateral support

  • Nike Metcon 4: designed to provide traction, grip, and stability during high-powered movements in the gym

  • Reebok Crossfit Speed TR: with a stable base and lightweight support frame, these shoes are ideal for strength training and workouts that require quick movements

5. Check in with yourself

Cross-training is only beneficial if you do it in a way that complements your running workouts, not detracts from them. If you're exhausted, lacking in motivation, or totally gassed at the beginning of a workout, you may need to step back and reevaluate your routine.

Kennihan suggests checking your resting heart rate in the morning to make sure it's not elevated. To find your resting heart rate, hold two fingers over a pulse point (like the inside of your wrist or side of your neck), then count the number of beats that occur in a minute. Standard resting heart rate, according to The American Heart Association, is between 60 and 100 BPM (beats per minute), though your resting heart rate may be closer to 40 BPM if you're an avid athlete.

That said, if your resting heart rate is higher than usual, Kennihan says it may be "a sign of overtraining, which can occur if you add too much cross-training too soon."

Above all, Mariotti says it's crucial to listen to your body.

“If you pay more attention to your body, and try not to get obsessive or extreme about your routine," she says, "you'll be able to find a nice balance without getting injured."

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