Cross Training for Runners
As a runner, it’s very easy to make a training plan from week to week of just running. It makes sense as to be good at something you need to practice that activity as much as you reasonably can. Running is a repetitive sport that requires avery coordinated and practiced movement pattern, which to maximize your potential often takes years of progressive training. To take a step back though, most of your potential can be reached by continuously improving your fitness and being injury free. Cross training can be an incredibly useful tool to help with both of those traits.
To examine those two points again, I like to think of the value of cross training on a few different levels. Cross training should be evaluated on how it can improve your aerobic fitness without risk of injury. It should also improve your ability to get stronger and potentially faster. Above all, these activities are very fun,which should always be one of the highest reasons you do them in the first place. Let’s look at a few activities that can help you.
For many of us here in Bozeman, this is a required activity anyways if you do much trail running. I would look at hiking on a few different levels. Hiking very steep hills at a steady, but not hard effort will increase your leg’s muscular endurance in a way that is more sport-specific than the gym is, and keeps you outside more, which is always a good thing. It also allows you to keep your overall intensity lower on longer efforts, thus keeps you working more on your fat metabolism which is always going to be key for longer races.
Experienced and novice runners would absolutely benefit from adding a steep hike once a week into their routine, and maybe replacing an easy run with a nice, low intensity hike. You may find that you’re getting stronger and feeling more recovered from the two additions to your week. Plenty of trails around here make better hikes than runs for people, and it may allow you to branch out and see more of the hundreds of miles of great trails this valley has.
Much like hiking, biking can offer a great way to strengthen the legs or offer a great reprieve from the impact and general higher intensity that runs offer. Biking is a bit different than running in that it is more of a concentric activity (shortening muscles during contraction) where running is more eccentric activity (lengthening muscles during contraction). Where biking can greatly benefit a runner is on the uphills (which is more concentric than flat or downhill running), where a lot more power is needed out of the quads and glutes to drive your body uphill. While sitting will still make you strong, I’d recommend alternating bouts of standing to closer mimic running.
In terms of recovery, if you can find flatter roads or trails to ride, biking can be one of the best cross-training activities out there. It’s low impact, it’s close to running mechanics, and can offer a great low intensity aerobic stimulus. Unlike hiking, which has a much slower cadence than running, you can maintain a higher rpm to better replicate the recommended 90 steps per minute (per leg) that runners should be aiming for. So, in terms of working on leg turnover, cycling can replicate that better than any other outdoor activity.
I think that for your average person, where time is not always the most abundant part of their lives, few things offer more return for such a little amount of invested time than strength training. Very few of us were blessed to be naturally strong or injury-resistant, meaning the rest of us should absolutely make this a part of our weekly routine. Most of us would could benefit greatly with just a few 30-minute sessions a week.
I would look at strength training of having two goals: increase both general strength and muscular endurance and injury prevention. While I don’t have the space to write specific programs (which everyone needs slightly different ones), I can give broad examples. In terms of the strength and endurance component, look at doing exercises like step-ups, split squats, lunges and variations of deadlifts. Your reps and sets will be determined by your goals (strength vs. endurance) and time available. A lot of us would benefit from just thei njury prevention side of things and focus on doing lots of core, hip and ankle exercises- which can be easily done at home with minimal equipment.
Dewey Peacock is a Personal Trainer at Bridger Orthopedic West, who when not running loves to hike with his fiancé, attempt to keep up with his mountain bike friends and get up early enough to strength train most weekdays before his workday starts.