Cross Training for Runners
Runners often look into cross training when they are injured, and it's certainly a great way of keeping yourself physically and mentally health when you are unable to run. But cross training can add real benefits to your running when done alongside your run training, this post explores what you can do.
If you are injured at the moment please see a medical professional or physiotherapist about your injury first to get specific advice on what you can and cannot do and advice on treatment. They will usually prescribe exercises to help fix the issue, and this post is not intended to replace any of that. Depending on your injury some of this advice may or may not be appropriate so check with your physio of medical professional first.
Runners are often weak in the foundational elements of being a good athlete; agility, balance, coordination and strength. So improving these elements will improve and injury proof your running.
You can start with simple things like standing on one leg when brushing your teeth or washing up and progress that to gentle one leg squats in front of a mirror to make sure your knees are not collapsing inwards.
Try standing up on the train or bus for part of the journey; balancing without holding on to anything.
Play with children or a dog at games of catch, fetch or tag; great for developing agility and coordination. Even trying other sports like badminton and squash; anything that gets you changing direction quickly and asking your body to coordinate itself quickly to react to something.
Exercises to do at home include the following; try to do these in front of a mirror to watch your technique and check any you are not familiar with out on YouTube first!
- Squats; start with a standard squat then progress to sumo squats to add in some stability/core work as you work with a weight in your hands overhead
- Lunges; start lunging forwards, then backwards, then walking and finally adding in these rotation when at the lowest point in the lunge
- Calf raises; one leg at a time raise from heel on floor to tip toes
- Glute work, an area of weakness in most runners! Start with clams and bridge pose, progress to one leg bridge and monster/side step walking with a Thera band. You can find out more about these exercises in a separate blog post; https://www.ontherunhealthandfitness.co.uk/blog/stronger-glutes-for-runners
- Build a strong core with plank and side plank, crunches including obliques and superman poses for the muscles down your back
- Working on your upper body does not mean building bulk, necessarily. But building strength here can help build strength and transfer less rotation down your body into your hips, knees and ankles. Try dynamic kettle bell exercises, light free weights and body weight exercises to build coordination and balance at the same time
So what about the aerobic stuff? How can your keep your cardio vascular system ticking over and your fitness levels up when not running, or as part of your schedule to train without the impact of running?
The classic is to get on your bike; you can replicate interval sessions, tempo workouts, hill sessions and the long run on your bike on the roads or in the gym. I would suggest also trying mountain biking as that also helps improve agility, balance, coordination and core more than road and static bikes. Any option will keep your cardio fitness up and work some of the leg muscles runners use, but they are not a like for like match to running muscles.
Swimming brings loads of benefits; cardio, muscular and core and upper body strength without the impact is fantastic. You can use swimming as key training sessions or easy recovery.
If you have access to a gym try the elliptical trainer or cross country ski machine; the closest to a running action so maximising your running muscles with the cardio workout and no impact.
Rowing machines are great too, activating and building power in all the muscles down the back of your body; glutes, legs and back, which powers up your running.
Don't underestimate the power of walking too; could you replace your long run with a hike somewhere. Walking up and down hills, if your injury allows, is fantastic training and something more friends and family can join you in!
If you need any help or advice on how to include cross training in with your running to improve your fitness just drop me a line on email@example.com