• Top Reasons Why Runners Should Cross-Train
If you’re a runner, chances are high that all you want to do is run. Many runners think in this way: in order to become faster, fitter, stronger, leaner, it behooves them to run as much as possible. Any time they spend away from running - any time they spend doing an activity other than running - it is to their running fitness’s detriment.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, runners are routinely injured. Talk to 10 runners, and I bet that all 10 of them would be able to recount to you a time or two that they were beset by an injury of some type -- something annoying and inconvenient like iliotibial syndrome (ITB) or something more nefarious, like a stress fracture or a stress reaction.
Though running isn’t a contact sport in the sense that football is, since it doesn’t involve bodies flying and banging against each other, you could still argue that running is a contact sport because of the forces and physics involved. Basically every time your foot strikes the ground, you send in the upwards of four times the amount of your body weight in force through your body via shockwaves. Even on your super easy run days, the days that you feel almost uncomfortable because you are moving “so slowly,” you’re still sending tons of stress through your body. When you begin to think about these physics in all the miles you’re putting in day after day, week after week, or month after month, it becomes a lot more clear as to why runners often find themselves getting injured.
Many runners don’t realize that they stand to benefit -- a lot -- from doing other non-running activities until they get injured or are feeling mentally or physically burnt-out. I’m a huge advocate for cross-training for runners -- for getting runners to include other non-running activities in their training to supplement their fitness, to give their bodies a break, and to build strength -- and I think that I’m not alone here. While yes, it’s true that in order to become a better, stronger, fitter, faster, (insert word here) runner, it behooves you to run, it also behooves you to remain injury-free for as long as possible and to get as strong as possible -- both things that cross-training can do for runners.
In case you’re a runner and are at all on the fence about whether you should include cross-training in your training program, below, I’ll include a small sample of reasons that’ll help you with your decision.
Just a few reasons why runners should cross-train:
Cross-training is good for your mental health. Even the most enthusiastic runners will admit that sometimes that running gets pretty boring. Running the same routes, doing the same workouts, or even participating in the same races can get mentally pretty stale pretty quickly. If you regularly include cross-training in your training program, you’ll have something new to look forward to each week. Variety is the spice of life after all, and this is particularly potent when it comes to training.
Cross-training can help give your running muscles a break. Running is hard on the body; there’s no doubt about it. Like we said earlier, even on your “super easy” days, your body is still working hard to mitigate the forces and all the physics involved in the running motion with each footfall. Fortunately, there is no shortage of cross-training activities out there that runners can take up, and in particular, runners can really benefit from cycling, swimming, pool running, and weightlifting. These types of activities are little or no-impact in nature and can give runners a solid, whole-body cardiovascular workout.
Cross- and strength-training can be like insurance for your strength.Running is a whole-body activity, since you basically use all or most of your muscles during the running movement, but it definitely favors some muscles (legs, lower body) more than others (arms, upper body). Regularly cross- or strength-training is like giving your body an insurance boost, since it’ll help to basically fill-in the gaps where your strength or flexibility is lacking from the benefits you incur from exclusively running. Don’t get me wrong; you can definitely get stronger “all over” from running. However, incorporating cross- or strength-training can do a better job of getting your strength to be more well-rounded. In addition, don’t worry about getting “big” from cross- or strength training. Science tells us that it’s basically impossible for that to happen, particularly if you are a woman. If your focus is on running, as long as you keep your strength or cross-training exercises as supplemental activities, your running successes shouldn’t falter. You need not worry about getting “big” from lifting weights or cycling a couple times a week. Think of it in these terms: professional runners spend a ton of time each week doing cross-training types of activities like weightlifting or using an Elliptigo. They (obviously) wouldn’t be partaking in these activities if they thought they’d be detrimental to their running careers.
Cross-training can be a great way to get the kinks out. If you run a lot, or frequently, you’ll begin to notice rather quickly that running’s cumulative effects can build up quickly. You may begin to notice some muscular tightness or tenderness, soreness, or maybe even slight discomfort or pain (but hopefully not!) as your running volume gets heavier or tougher. Cross-training activities can help you work through these “niggles,” and some activities like yoga or pilates can be especially helpful if you’re feeling very tight or sore.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of cross-training options out there for runners to choose from, and most coaches and runners alike would agree that the benefits to cross-training outweigh any perceived “risks” of doing it. If you want a long, rich running tenure, taking the time now to regularly incorporate some semblance of cross-training is in your best interest. It’s ultimately that whole “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” adage that your parents taught you growing up. Little did they know that their words of wisdom would also apply to your running exploits.
Dan Chabert: An entrepreneur and a husband, Dan hails from Copenhagen, Denmark. He loves to join ultramarathon races and travel to popular running destinations together with his wife. During regular days, he manages his websites, Runnerclick,Nicershoes,Monica’s Health Magazine and GearWeAre. Dan has also been featured in several popular running blogs across the world.