Cross Training Suggestions
Cross training can help strengthen the heart, lungs, and/or muscles, depending on the type of exercise performed. Cross-training can involve cardio or aerobic exercise that is low or high impact or exercises that focus on improving strength specifically. Cross-training not only boosts a runner’s performance, but it also adds variety to a routine that can otherwise become stale or boring. To get the most benefit from cross-training for running, runners should understand what some of the best exercises are and how they can boost one’s performance.
Pool Workouts and Swimming
Water-based workouts such as swimming are an effective contribution to the cross-training routine of runners. Workouts in the pool give the legs a break, serving as a type of recovery from more high-impact exercises. While it is lower-impact, it is highly beneficial in that it helps build the runner’s breathing or oxygen capacity. In addition, it helps the runner to improve their endurance and generally provides a workout that benefits muscles that are not generally strengthened with running alone. Exercises such as pool running or aqua-jogging are no-impact and can mimic workouts that are done outside of the water. Swimming laps and alternating between different strokes, such as breast stroke or freestyle, are also beneficial in providing good workouts for the legs. People should also include stretching while in the pool, which will give them good range of motion. Equipment that will prove useful with aquatic cross-training includes goggles, fins, a flotation belt, and a kickboard.
Cycling and Spinning
Arguably one of the best cross-training routines for runners is cycling. Cycling takes the athlete through a complete range of movement and motion that primarily works the lower half of the body. Because it works the muscles, specifically the quads, buttocks, and shins, differently than when running, it helps prevent an imbalance in the muscles. Cycling also helps to strengthen the athlete’s heart and improve lung capacity. For a workout that is as low-impact as cycling but more vigorous, runners may turn to spinning. While cycling can be done indoors or out, spinning is an indoor activity. Training indoors is often a good option, as it provides greater control and allows athletes to train in an air-conditioned, element-free environment year-round.
Plyometrics is a high-impact routine that is a type of strength training. It utilizes jumps and hops in fast bursts. This type of exercise is designed to improve upon the energy that is created by a runner so that they are running more efficiently. In addition, these types of strengthening exercises help to improve the runner’s lungs so that less oxygen is used. As a result, a runner who does plyometrics may improve their stride, their ability to jump, and their running times.
Yoga may seem like a surprising cross-training routine; however, it is also a highly effective one. Yoga is a series of poses and stretches that utilizes the athlete’s body for resistance. This proves beneficial to runners in several ways. It helps the joints so that they are loose and less susceptible to injury. Yoga uses all muscles and helps to improve flexibility. Just as important, yoga improves concentration as well as muscle mass and builds the athlete’s strength.
Strength training is as important as cardio training to runners. Often, it involves weight training, or the lifting of weights for endurance and strength and to build muscle. Strength training may also entail workouts that do not require weights, such as push-ups, lunges, or squats. Runners should work out both their upper and their lower body when doing strength training. Optimal results can be achieved by incorporating strength training at least twice a week. Here is a suggested sequence from Runner’s World:
Works: core, lower back, shoulders
Start on all fours. Lower onto your forearms with shoulders directly over elbows. Step feet back into a plank position. Draw your shoulders down and back—not hunched. Engage abdominal muscles tight to keep hips in line with shoulders so your body forms a long, straight line. Squeeze legs and glutes for support. Hold this position for 45 to 60 seconds. Gradually add time as you get stronger. Repeat for 3 to 5 reps.
Make it easier: Drop to your knees.
Works: core, obliques
Make it harder: Keep your legs straight, lift heels off floor, or add a dumbbell as shown above.
Works: abs, hips, back
Start lying facedown with your arms out to sides to form a T, thumbs pointing up, and chin rested on floor so your neck is not strained. Bend left knee then swing leg to right to try to touch left toes to right shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, then return to starting position. Repeat on opposite side with right leg. That’s 1 repetition. Perform 3 to 5 reps.
Make it easier: Simply reach toe to opposite hip instead of shoulder. As you gain mobility and flexibility, you can progress to reach for shoulder.
Works: lower back, glutei, middle back, shoulders
Lie facedown on a stability ball with feet spread wide for balance. Elbows should be bent with hands placed lightly behind ears. Squeeze glutes and lift torso up until your body forms a straight line. Hold for one to two seconds. Release back down to the starting position. That’s one rep. Perform for 10 to 12 reps. No stability ball? You can do the movement on an exercise mat: Raise your thighs and arms off the ground while your torso stays in contact with the ground.
Make it harder: Hold light dumbbells.
5. Squat To Overhead Press
Works: glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, upper back, shoulder
Hold dumbbells with both hands racked at shoulders. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Send hips back and lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. As you stand back up, press the dumbbells overhead. Return to the starting position. Complete 10 to 12 reps.
Make it easier: Do the squat without the dumbbells, or just hold one dumbbell at your chest and perform squats without the press.
Works: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, core
Start standing, holding one dumbbell straight above your shoulders, with your arms straight and elbows locked. Step forward with your right leg, and lower down until your right knee is bent to 90 degrees. Press through right heel to return to the starting position, then repeat with left leg. That’s one repetition. Perform 6 to 8 reps on each leg.
Make it easier: Perform the forward lunge without a dumbbell or hold it at shoulder level.
Works: shoulders, core
Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists, but instead of placing your feet on the floor, rest your shins on a stability ball. Engage core to pull the stability ball toward your chest and lift hips up as you roll the ball forward to your feet. Return to starting position and repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
Make it easier: Pull your knees as close as you can to your chest without lifting your hips into the air, and return to the starting position.
Works: hamstrings, glutes, core
Lie faceup on the floor, with hands at sides on mat and and feet on a stability ball. Keep arms to sides for support and balance. Push your hips up so that your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Without allowing your hips to sag, roll the ball as close as you can to hips by bending knees and pulling heels toward you. Repeat for 6 to 8 reps.
Make it harder: Do the exercise with just one leg, holding the other leg in the air above your hips.
Works: shoulders, triceps, core
Stand holding a pair of dumbbells racked at your shoulders, with palms facing each other. Press right dumbbell overhead as you rotate from the hips to your left. Lower the dumbbells as you rotate back to center, then press left dumbbell overhead as you rotate to the right. That’s one repetition. Repeat for 6 to 8 reps.
Make it easier: Do half of the repetitions without the rotations.
10. Alternating Row
Works: middle back, biceps, core
Start standing with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other. With a micro-bend in your knees, send hips back and lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor. Keep arms straight as you bend at hips so the dumbbells hang straight down. Bend left elbow to pull the left dumbbell to left rib. Lower and repeat with right arm. That’s one repetition. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
Make it easier: Perform the move with both hands at once, which requires less core stability.