Kudos for cross-training

Posted on October 17, 2012

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Written for Fitness Link, a new online platform for the UAE fitness industry, soon to be launched – October 12 

When you tell people you run long-distance, the first thing they tend to ask is ‘how far?’ The runner replies and then the common response is ‘HOW FAR?!?!?’ The conversation that follows normally revolves around the runner trying to convey the rewards that come from setting and achieving great, hairy and audacious goals, the satisfaction one feels when raising your personal bar and the benefits that leak into every area of your life when learning to deal with pain, adversity and challenge. 

Chat then continues to training. ‘How do you train?’ they ask. ‘Do you just run all day long? Don’t you get injured?  Don’t you get stiff?  Man, that CANNOT be good for you!’

Of course these questions are valid which leads me nicely on to the point of this article.

In order to be good at any sport, you must train in that sport. To be a better runner, you have to run. Simple! And to be a better long-distance runner, you have to run long. Simple! You must teach yourself to manage your body, mindset, nutrition and hydration through fatigue. You must learn what it feels like to run on tired legs. You must practise at pulling yourself through rough moments when your body is telling you to stop … sorry, yelling at you to stop.

But … and there’s always a but, for a long-distance runner, the impact on your body is harsh and the chance of injury is high which means that cross-training is not only a nice supplement to training but is an essential given. Pushing the mileage envelope too much too fast, will only result in over-reaching at best and full-on burnt-out at worst. It’s also more enjoyable if you have the opportunity to mix up your training, allowing you to bridge the gap between the mileage you can currently handle and that which you want to do.

Which cross-training to do though?  Which non-runner activities are best for runners? The key criteria to consider is specificity i.e. how specific a certain exercise is to running. Passionately pursuing the art wrestling for example is not going to bring down your 10k time whereas weight lifting will build on your functional strength, which will have a direct and beneficial impact on your running performance.

Tori’s top cross-training activities are as follows:

Pumping Iron

Really? YES! Focus on multi-joint, compound movements that build functional strength with exercises like dead lifts, pull-ups, squats and lunges. The heavier you lift, the more you will benefit your running as you’ll use more muscle fibers and therefore get stronger and more resistant to injury. You’ll also improve your running economy which means you can run faster with the same oxygen intake.

Yoga

I can’t stress enough the benefits of yoga to the runner.  Think improved balance, increased strength, better core strength, development of under-used muscles, improved co-ordination and flexibility and most of all, an acute understanding of the mind : body connection and the importance of being able to engage and disengage from your physical self. This, in a long distance race, is an absolute pre-requisite to crossing that finish line.

Pool Running

Pool running is a great cross-training option if already injured as the impact on your body is nil. You will however have to work extra hard to ensure your heart rate is at a high enough level which makes it a great opportunity for some aqua-based interval training.  In fact, water-based sports full stop are an excellent antidote to pounding on pavements so take your pick between swimming, aqua-jogging, paddling, SUP’ing … or just floating on a hot summers day!

Cycling

Whether a road bike alfresco or a studio-based spinning class, cycling is super specific for runners so the fitness you will gain will carry over well. It also works your muscles slightly differently which helps to protect against muscular imbalances and prevent injury. Cycling has no impact forces either so again, injury chances are small.

Walking

Good old walking is great for stretching your endurance levels, whether incorporated into your long runs or just trying to walk more in your regular day-to-day schedule. It’s low impact but targets the same muscles and connective tissues and is a great recovery option post a hard running session or race. Try to keep your pace brisk enough to reap the cardio-respiratory benefits and pump your arms to burn more calories (and get super svelte & sexy arms)

Stair Climbing

An excellent cross-training option, stair climbing is easy here in the UAE what with our endless supply of high-rise buildings. It’s great for the quads and the hip-flexors, a brilliant cardio option, improves muscle balance and is the closest you can get to uphill training when mountains are in short supply. I attribute much of my mountain-running success to Media City stair climbing sessions!

Ultimately, and back to my earlier point … to be better at your chosen sport, you must train in that sport … the physical training, the mental component, the muscle memory, the building of stamina and so on, but equally important is a good all round base which is where cross-training comes in. Try the above or opt for whatever floats your boat. Find what works for you, stick to it and over time, your running will no doubt improve.

Final note: don’t replace your rest days with cross-training. Rest is just as vital to your running and your cross-training … something us type-A runners are often keen to neglect … but it’s during this recovery time that your body begins the adaptation process, leaving you a better and more efficient runner. (Note to self!)

 

 

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