In this piece, we explore various aspects of cross-training: what is cross-training, why do we need it, what are the key benefits of incorporating cross-training in a training plan and more. Read on
What is cross-training & why is it important?
As runners, we use certain key muscle groups repeatedly, however, it’s also important to engage other unused muscles and strengthen running muscles that will improve our overall muscle balance, make us stronger and minimise injuries. For example, when we play cricket or tennis or golf, we may end up using some muscles which we do not use while running.
The objective as a runner is to stay consistent, set and chase new PBs, remain injury-free, adopt proper recovery techniques and at the same time do not lose the motivation to keep running and improving.
When we cross-train, we are engaging in a different aerobic activity, different from our main sport running.
Cross-training aids in recovery, gives us an opportunity to try a different sport or an activity to reduce boredom and maintain enthusiasm for running.
Key benefits of cross-training
1. It will make us better, stronger, faster, efficient runner by working on running and non-running muscles. By introducing and adopting the right cross-training activity, we can improve our cardio-vascular fitness, strength and flexibility. Adopting cross-training can help to take the right training load and volume, and transition properly from one training cycle to another. For example, we can run efficiently and correct bio-mechanical imbalances by embracing the right amount of strength workouts required for higher training volume.
The ability of a runner to be on their feet for longer duration, withstand training load and volume without getting injured and maintain consistency are key aspects of their running journey.
2. It will help in minimising running injuries. Adaptation and recovery are key elements to remain injury-free. This is where active recovery days are important when we can choose an activity such as walking, swimming or cycling which has less impact on our joints and muscles.
3. It helps to recharge our mind, reduce monotony, keep runners motivated, inspired to stay longer in the game.
We can remain running fit during our holidays, off-season time, when we are travelling. We can maintain our fitness levels by doing activities which are equally intensive, yet having less impact on muscles and joints. It certainly rejuvenates our mind, body and spirit.
4. Cross-training helps in recovery from previous running sessions. Cross-training can be easily fitted into non-running and easy days as a means to recover from the previous intensive running session. Active recovery days are best utilised through cross-training.
5. Cross-training also helps runners to bounce back from injury when they are nursing and rehabilitating from an injury. By performing certain recommended activities such as aqua-running, strength training, working on the weaker areas, swimming, walking, giving rest to the injured muscles, one is still working on cardio-vascular, strength, mobility and flexibility. This approach helps the runners to hit the track with renewed sense of confidence and belief without losing their fitness completely.
6. Highly recommended for beginners who have recently started to pound the pavement by adopting endurance cross-training such as elliptical training, brisk walking, strength training as this will strengthen their muscles, joints and connective tissues.
When should you cross-train and how much of it is good?
If you are running four days in a week, it’s a good strategy to cross-train for at least two days.
There comes a phase in most runners’ lives where our motivation takes a hit. The reasons could be many such as harsh weather, running the same routes, same workout. This phase is common and best managed by introducing another sport that diverts from the main sport of running, helping runners to come back stronger.
What are the different cross-training activities?
Walking: It’s the most common and the easiest activity. Done with proper form and pace can help to enhance aerobic capacity and act as a great recovery activity on a non-running day. It absolutely costs nothing to walk yet offers innumerable benefits. Walking can be done anywhere and everywhere, even without footwear. One can walk barefoot on the grass as well. Apart from the calming and therapeutic effect it has on our mind, body and soul, it has cardio-vascular benefits as well. To add more excitement, you could also take your pet while you walk.
Cycling: Another great activity which has less impact on joints and can improve cardio, help in recovery.
Swimming: Great sporting activity to indulge in on recovery days by maintaining cardio-vascular fitness. Improves core and upper body strength as well.
Yoga: We all know the benefits of yoga which serves as an excellent way to improve our strength, balance, breath-work, flexibility through holding the stretches properly.
Strength Training: Running being a unilateral movement, it’s key to do certain exercises such as lunges, single-leg hops and at the same time work on our lateral movement by strengthening the hips and glutes by doing glute bridges, single leg bridges etc. There are plenty of running specific strength exercises such as stair walk or stair running which not only helps to strengthen our core muscle groups, also makes us stronger and an efficient runner
The above cross-training activities are commonly adopted by runners, but there is more that can be taken up depending on one’s interest, such as:
Working out on an Elliptical Trainer
- Cross-training will make us better, stronger, faster runners by working on our non-running and running muscles, keep us balanced in all departments.
- It can help in minimising running injuries.
- Swimming, cycling, walking, strength/resistance training and yoga are some of the relevant cross-training workouts for a runner to build cardio-vascular endurance, strength, mobility and flexibility.
- Cross-training helps during rehabilitation while giving rest to the injured areas.
- It serves as a great diversion and break from running, preventing monotony and keeping us longer in the game.
- It helps us recover our previous running sessions.