The only way to become a better runner is to run, but the more running replaces other exercises in your fitness program, the more likely you are to become injured, suffer from burnout, or develop muscular imbalances. So what's a runner to do (besides run, of course)? Cross train.|
Cross-training, or taking part in alternative forms of exercise, should be part of every fitness plan because it helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries, improves muscular balance, targets your muscles in new and different ways, and aids in muscle recovery. In addition, cross-training can also prevent burnout and add a little fun and variety to your workout routine, while still helping you stay aerobically fit.
In this article, we'll outline two approaches to cross-training for runners: 1) activities that complement running and 2) activities that enhance running. Depending on your training and health situation, you can select the activities that will work best for you. Try to include some form of cross-training at least one to three times per week for optimal results.
Because swimming is a non-weightbearing activity, it gives the joints and connective tissues a break from the impact of running while allowing you to maintain aerobic fitness. Swimming can be a beneficial cross-training activity all runners, especially those recovering from injury. By targeting all the major muscle groups (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abs, lower back and upper body), swimming allows your legs a break while developing the upper body musculature that is often neglected in runners.
Cycling indoors on a stationary bike, at the gym in a Spinning class, or outdoors on the road or trail is another low-impact activity that can give your body a break from the high impact of running. Biking targets the quadriceps and shin muscles, which are slower to develop in runners and helps strengthen the connective tissue of the knees, hips and ankles, which may reduce your risk for injury. However, some running experts advise against cycling on non-run days because it can still be strenuous and exhausting to your muscles. So what do you do? If you want to cross train with biking, include it on your running days by running first and then cycling later in the day.