Many people talk about cross-training in the winter and even throughout the running season. Does this mean to include swimming and biking? Why is it important? How can you benefit from cross-training?
Cross training does include replacing running with lower impact activities, such as swimming and biking. However, it also is stretching and strengthening.
Cross training can lead to:
Benefit #1: Fewer injuries
Overuse injuries are the curse of the running life. Many overuse injuries can be prevented or at least prevented from returning. Outside of not allowing proper recovery, poor training habits, and poor shoe wear, many of these injuries are caused by instability in the hips, knees, and/or ankles. Inadequate strength in the stabilizing muscles, such as the hip abductors, may lead to biomechanical abnormalities. Running often occurs in one direction: forward and is a very repetitive activity. Therefore, muscle imbalances and mechanical errors will often eventually cause something to give. For example, hip abductors, the muscles on the outside of the hip, assist in stabilizing the pelvis, hip, and knee. When they are weak, there is undue stress placed on the hip and/or knee.
Therefore, strengthening of specific muscles will help prevent injury or re-injury. Having an endurance specialist observe your running may also be beneficial to spot any biomechanical faults and help determine with exercises and drills you may benefit most.
Benefit #2: Quicker rehabilitation
When an overuse injury does develop, cross-training comes to the rescue in two ways: by helping you maintain fitness despite being forced to run less or not at all and by correcting the cause of the injury. The best alternatives for running are biking, swimming, and the elliptical because they closely simulate the demands and action of running while decreasing the impact.
For example, with a calf strain or Achilles tendinitis, the calf muscles may have difficulty absorbing all the impact forces with your normal running plans. Outside of treating the injury with eccentric strengthening and honing in on any other impairments, performing these other forms of cardio will allow you to maintain your cardiovascular endurance while allowing time for the calf to rehab and heal.
Even Olympians, such as Meb Keflezighi, has had great success with replacing some runs with bike/ElliptiGO workouts to avoid injury. http://www.runnersworld.com/newswire/how-meb-keflezighi-trained-to-win-the-boston-marathon
Benefit #3: Greater Aerobic Fitness
Running inflicts much pounding, and everyone’s body can only handle so much. Obviously, some can handle more than others, though non-impact sports like swimming routinely are able to perform twice as much training. By adding non-impact cardio workouts like swimming and biking, you can gain a little additional aerobic fitness without increasing your risk of injury. These cardio activities will also allow your runs to be more effective and efficient.
Benefit #4: More Power A benefit of strength training, like from plyometrics and jumping drills, is greater power. For a runner, this means greater ability to move forward and consequently faster race times. These active-recovery days will allow you to achieve greater gains on your running days from the power and strength you build.
A Swedish study showed trained runners who replaced 32 percent of their running with plyometrics over the course of 9 weeks obtained improved maximum sprint speed, running economy, and 5k time improvement. While those that maintained their normal training schedule showed no improvements. http://jap.physiology.org/content/86/5/1527.long
The power may be gained from various exercises such as box jumps, steps, squats, lunges, squat jumps, sprints, and so forth.
Benefit #5: Greater efficiency
Dynamic flexibility, as mentioned in the last blog, gives your body the ability to move with minimal internal resistance from your own muscles and joints. The dynamic stretches, such as walking lunges, mimic the way your muscles move and stretch when running. Performing dynamic stretches regularly can improve the efficiency of your stride by reducing resistance.
A few other benefits of cross-training include: decreasing the monotony training may become and allow you to enjoy other sports/activities.
I hope this is convincing for making the transition to including some cross-training into your program. It’s a tough sell, because it’s running that we love to do most. Your love of running can be the very thing that motivates you to begin cross-training once you realize how much this approach can benefit your running health, fitness, and performance.