Whether you are injured or not, or training for yourself or to perform on the world stage, cross training can have many benefits to running. Gradually, more and more people are employing cross training as part of their standard running training schedule, but why is it so good? And what benefits can it have?
Less impact. As obvious as it is, running is a high impact sport. With every stride, a lot of impact and force goes through each leg. As a result, our body can take quite the battering on a regular basis. If you want to increase your mileage, but don't quite have the body to withstand higher mileage, cross training can be a life saver. It allows you to increase your training volume, whilst limiting the amount of extra impact on your body. Instead of adding an additional easy run, you could get in the pool for half an hour, or do an easy spin on the bike. This can have the same cardiovascular benefit, but without putting your body under too much extra stress, something that would come with adding more mileage.
Refresh legs. If training is starting to catch up with you and your legs are really feeling it, opting for a cross training day can be immensely beneficial. If you allow the strain of running to be taken off your legs by having a cross training day when you’re feeling tired, you won’t regret it the following day. Just giving yourself that little bit of extra time to actively recover can be the difference between having another sub par tired session, or feeling fresh and ready to get after it. I tend to solely cross train on a Saturday because after some big sessions during the week, it allows my body to refresh and recover ahead of my long run on a Sunday. I have had many a time where I have been so grateful for this, because it’s allowed me to feel strong going into my long run and help avoid injuring something from running on tired legs.
Works different muscles. Us runners love to run. If we always did what we wanted when it comes to training, we would run miles and miles. Consequently, our bodies get very good at using the same muscles. Of course this is great when it comes to improving our running, however, if we put some of our non running muscles to work, we may find we actually improve even more. For example, cycling uses different muscles to running, and working these too, can add benefits to our running that we didn't know we needed. It also allows those running muscles to recover, whilst using other muscles.
Mental variation. Whilst you may not think you need it, sometimes it is good to spice things up. Our brains are lazy, and once they figure out how to do something more easily, we can become complacent without even realising. Cross training allows us to work at intensities we aren’t used to, and therefore allows us to push ourselves more at times without realising . It therefore keeps our brains able to work our bodies hard without always knowing where our limits lie.
Whilst we LOVE to run, we all need a bit of a refresh from time to time. Adding a form of exercise that isn’t running gives you some time away from the sport, enabling you to enjoy those moment spent running even more. When you may start to feel tired, and your motivation may begin to slide a little bit, replacing running with cross training for a day or two reminds you how much you love it. You therefore approach your next run with increased motivation.
Other social circles. It sounds crazy, but not everyone likes to run. However, most people enjoy keeping active. Opting for a bit of cross training allows you to get some time in with friends who may not like running. I find having a bit of non-running chat also allows me to keep perspective whilst appreciating other forms of movement that people do outside of running.
Next time you're tempted to increase your mileage, but you don’t think your body would thank you, choose a form of cross training. Any movement is good movement, and all forms of cross training will benefit your running in some way, so get stuck in, and enjoy doing something a little bit different.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!