Our fellow runner and resident cross trainer, Monica Boldt, explains why it's important!
Injuries, plateaus, burnouts. We’ve all heard and have been acquainted with most, if not all, of these as runners. Normal stuff, you say. Perhaps, in some degree. But what can we do to minimize the possibility of these, all the while making steady gains in our running performance? Cross-training! Ok, don't roll your eyes! Cross-training can come in different forms, tailored to the individual, and is a major injury, plateau, and burnout prevention tool.
Let’s think about it for a second. Running uses the majority of the same muscles (i.e. hip flexors, hamstrings, calves) in a continuous forward plane of motion for minutes to hours at a time. Overuse of these muscles without balancing out their counterparts (i.e. hip extensions vs. hip flexion) and varying planes of movement in the transverse and lateral field, increases the possibility for injury. Cycling, swimming, yoga, rock climbing, boxing, weightlifting, are all viable cross-training methods. Agility, balance, and strength work are super important in increasing running efficiency and injury prevention. Cross-training can be fun and moves you towards becoming a more well-rounded athlete. For example, taking yoga classes will challenge you to mobility and flexibility, as well as stabilization. You can quickly see how this will translate right into becoming a better runner.
If you're running to lose weight, beat that 5k time, or improve your ease in running, you may think beating the pavement day after day is the key. Often times, the better strategy is less running and incorporating cross-training with an emphasis on resistance training. Pick up some weights and work on compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, cleans and presses, step ups, and push and pull movements. Full body exercises. Your body will plateau with running if that’s all you do. A couple days of added strength work will help change the shape of your body, add power to your stride, and prevent weight loss stagnation.
So, now there’s also the issue of burnout. A dreaded word that can halt all the gains you've made. For example, if you're a year-a-round runner, running in the extreme cold or sweltering heat can zap the motivation right out of you. Add daily struggles with work, relationships, etc. and the running routine can sound miserable. So change! Embrace it! Have other options for training in your bag so you can stay committed with a healthy, active lifestyle all year. This is where cross-training is a great benefit to the mind. Mixing things up keeps you engaged and is a great motivator for reaching goals. If you find you're in a very pressure-filled season in your life, perhaps pushing yourself to PR or run a marathon might not be the best stimulus for your body. When the body is already under stress, your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is elevated and adding more physical stress from your workouts can be detrimental. This is why cross-training is also a recovery tool for times like these. Reaching for activities such as walking, yoga, or light swimming will increase the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and bring the body back into a state of balance.
So, what did we learn? Cross-training is not an activity that takes you away or hinders you from your love of running. It is actually a tool that balances, strengthens, and continuously challenges your body so training for your next half marathon, 50k trail race, or your first sub 8min mile will not be hindered by nagging injuries, stagnation, and mental fatigue.
Monica Boldt is a Camp Gladiator trainer, personal trainer, SFG Kettle-bell instructor, and fellow runner (5K, 10K, half an full marathons). If you have questions, you can catch her occasionally at our Tuesday runs, or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.