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Cross-Training for Runners - A Healthy Perspective
Cross-training is an often discussed topic in the
Is it good to do some cross-training ?
Is it beneficial for you to do cross-training ?
How much cross-training should you do ?
There are as many runners as opinions it seems. In
this section the following topics will be covered:
Types of cross training for runners
Cross training routines I use
Types of Cross Training for Runners
Cross training is simply any kind of exercise which
is not running. So whatever it is, you name it, when
it is exercise, it's cross-training.
Cardiovascular cross-training is training that
provides a good workout for your cardiac system,
your heart, your lungs, etc.
Examples of cardiovascular cross training:
cycling, pool running, swimming, soccer, walking,
rowing, aerobics, spinning, circuit training, etc,
Non-cardiovascular cross training is any exercise
that is not aimed at providing you with a cardio
boost. The emphasis is usually more on strengthening
Examples of non-cardiovascular cross training:
weight lifting, core conditioning, pilates, yoga,
Who said cycling isn't great
Specificity Principle and Cross Training
In relation to cross-training many runners point out
the specificity principle. The specificy
principle goes as follows:
"every type of training produces specific
So when you want to become a better runner, then
Want to become a better cyclist, then cycle.
Don't mix and match, it says.
And it can be
argued that any training devoted to another
activity than running, could better be replaced by
running. Cross-training can therefore never
be better than running. For a runner.
By the way, the specifity principle also
applies to running training itself.
Different types of running training produce
Every type of run you do (long run, easy
run, tempo run, intervals) serves different
purposes. It stresses different systems
within your body.
Therefore, when training for a marathon you
need a different kind of running training,
than when training for an 800 meter race.
The best, slightly funny argument against
cross-training is the following:
"Have you ever seen the Kenyans cross
train? No! So, why should we?"
Do you lift weights ?
Why Do Cross Training Then?
I agree with the specificity principle. When running
replaced by cross-training, then you are
not doing the maximum to become a better runner.
Despite of all this I still see a place for cross
training in 95% of the runners training schedules.
There are, after all, not many runners who are able
to run 13 times a week. Who are elites or
For you, cross training can be a fun, healthy
activity with a good chance of it paying off in the
end as well. I’ll give you a few reasons why cross
training is beneficial for you:
Reduce Chance of Injuries
Adding another running workout to your running
schedule might be
too taxing for you. Perhaps you have found
out that certain mileage per week or a maximum of
three or four running workouts per week is the
maximum you can handle.
then be THE possibility for you to exercise
more and not fall victim to a nasty injury.
Take myself as an example. I have found out that I
do my best running when I run about four times per
week and complement with some cross-training. When I
push myself to do more running, I quite often get
niggles and pains and need to take some time off
So, I am just doing
four running workouts max per week and add in
It is reasonably well documented that core training
like Pilates, yoga, abs exercises etc are beneficial
to you. Having a strong core can help prevent injuries.
Many of us get knee
problems at some point in our running
career. However when you do things like cycling which
makes your upper legs stronger, or squats as part
of a weight lifting regime, you can really target
those upper legs. The
extra muscle in your upper legs can help prevent
Variety in Training Schedule
Doing something else than running can be a true
refresher. Of course, we run because we like to do
it. But at times it is nice to do something else as
well. Simple as that.
Next to having great legs, you might want to
work on that upper body as well. Might not make you
a faster runner, but it will make you look better.
And that is important as well!
It Makes You a Faster Runner
Exercise, even if it isn't running, is certainly
healthier and more fun than sitting on the couch
with a bag of potato chips! And despite of what the
opponents say, I still believe that cross-training
helps you, at least a bit, because it helps you get
This is especially true for beginning runners. When
you are unfit, basically
everything that helps build up your endurance or
strength can have a beneficial effect on your
When you are a bit more advanced, then
cross-training can still be hugely beneficial.
Developing your core will help improve your running
technique and running economy which
will make you faster.
And one particular study I have seen
showed that people who did two core
exercise sessions in addition to three running
workouts per week, improved their running way more
than people doing just three running workouts.
So, yes, cross-training is quite good for you, it:
... helps reduce your change of injuries....
... helps prevent injuries....
... provides variety in your training schedule....
... gives you a leaner physique...
... makes you a faster runner.
So, not too bad at all.... :)
Or do you fancy a swim?
Cross Training Routines I Do
Before you read ahead, don’t do as I do. Well, better said: take
a look at what I do, but don't necessarily copy
me. Do whatever you like.
Running is fun and your training schedule should
reflect that. If that means only running for you,
fine. If that means cross-training, please do. Below
I’ll just show you some specific cross-training
exercises I do which might inspire you :
Abdominal exercises / weights
I have got a weak lower back. Whenever I get
sick, whenever I don't sleep enough I immediately feel it
in my lower back. It's my weak point for
Regular abdominal exercises and stretching of the
muscles around the lower back help in reducing
the stress on my back.
And, as said before, research has shown that
improved core strength leads to better running form
and faster running, so good reason to do this type
of training. Also note my Pilates link down below
I also like circuit type conditioning. E.g. a series
of weightlifting exercises done in rapid succession
that gets the heart jumping. For an extra cardio
boost these weight exercises can be alternated with
jumping rope or 400m treadmill sprints.
My wife Liz likes her aerobics classes. She
especially likes Pilates. I did not get it. No
sweating, no heavy breathing, no fun!
After only one month of doing Pilates she
started feeling muscles in places where she did not
even know she had them. The extra toning she
achieved in a short time was amazing.
Yes, core conditioning, upper body training,
whichever name you give it: it will make you
leaner, stronger, better toned and faster.
So, I am converted now. I have started doing Pilates
as well. I don't like aerobics classes. I prefer to
do it in the comfort of my own home. To get me
started I found this great e-book about Pilates
The Pilates Power System.
It is written by Shannon Beaty, a professional
She takes you through all aspects of Pilates in
The Core Program
The Advanced Program
I found it especially convenient that the book is
full with full-colour photographs to take you
through all the moves.
I quite like sitting on the stationary bike now
and then. There are different routines I do. I
usually start with a ten minute warm-up and end with
a ten minute cooling-down. In between I do the
Do short sprints of 400 metres (as fast as
possible), alternated with one or two minutes
To work those upper legs I do the following: I
stand on the pedals and cycle very slowly. I
usually do a 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 workout; so first
stand on the pedals one minute and cycle slowly,
then two minutes, then three and so on. In between
I do recoveries of one minute.
Bit like interval running; do intervals of 800 to
1.000 metres at a pace below your fastest effort,
but which makes your legs heavy enough to feel it.
Do one to two minute recoveries in between.
Example of a
30-minute interval session
Cycle 2 minutes at a low resistance (I
usually put it at 3 out of 8 on my exercise bike);
Then do 4 x 20 sec as fast as possible, with 40 sec
recovery after each time;
Turn up resistance to 5 out of 8 and do 4 x 1 min as
fast as possible with 2 min recovery after each
Turn up resistance to 8 out of 8, go stand on the
pedals and do 2 x 4 min with 2 min recovery after
The possibilities are endless on the bike!
I have played soccer, outdoors and indoors,
pretty much my whole life. Until I got to about
32-33 years of age. I started getting too many
injuries, especially hamstring injuries which took
the fun out of it. I guess I have gotten to an age
where explosive sprints are too much to take...!
I love tough mountain and bush walking. Again,
it is one of those things that I regularly have to
Property Maintenance, Lifting Children, etc …?
I live on a country property. I regularly carry
around my chainsaw to chop up trees, or a
brushcutter to deal with high grass in spots the
mower can't get to.
This is not classified as exercise, but boy, do I
feel my muscles after an afternoon of outside work!
And since I have kids, my arms have definitely
gotten stronger. They sure need their share of
carrying... Well, if lifting children is no
cross-training, then certainly having them must be.
I love my kids, more than anything else, but they
wear me out every single day of the week. It must be
cross-training of the toughest kind ...;)
Hope this section helped in getting a good view on
Cross-training is good for you. Some might
argue not as good as running.
But it is better than doing nothing. And I dare to say that
for many of us it is better than adding another
running workout to our running program.
Do as much cross-training as you think you need. Not
only to be a better runner necessarily.
After all, variety is an important key to mental
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