Cross-training is the concept of doing workouts other than running in order to improve your running ability and overall athleticism. Most training plans come with rest days built into them, and those days are great for cross-training. Some pretty common cross-training activities include yoga, weight lifting, swimming, HIIT workouts, and more. We’ll delve a little more into options that are better suited for specific cross-training goals below.
It might seem counter-intuitive to take days off from running when you’re trying to improve your speed or distance, but there are a lot of benefits to using your rest days as cross-training days. For many runners (especially new runners), it’s tempting to take those days completely off from all activity, but that could hinder your progress. Also, if you rest your muscles too much after a few training days, your muscles will start to get sore and tight. That’s no fun, and it’s tough to get back into your training runs if your muscles are tight.
Use your cross-training days as a chance to develop muscles that don’t get much use when you’re running. It’s a great opportunity to work on your upper body and core.
If you aren’t specifically looking to improve your running through cross-training, but you still don’t want your running muscles to get sore, you can use your rest days as a chance to practice another sport or hobby. Though you might not want to practice something that also utilizes your leg muscles, it’s a great chance for anything focusing on other large muscle groups. Something along the lines of yoga, climbing, or paddlesports are great alternate activities.
If you are trying to use your cross-training days specifically to improve your running ability, participate in activities that compliment your running muscles. Swimming and biking can be great activities that still involve your legs but in a much different way.
Adding some other activities to your workout routine will actually help keep you interested in running. While some people never seem to lose interest in running, most casual runners will start to dislike running if they focus on it too much. People typically need a little diversity in their routines in order to maintain interest.
As opposed to just getting the nice benefits from cross-training, it’s important to know the reasons you DEFINITELY SHOULD cross-train. It’s not just a nice thing to do. It’s imperative if you’re trying to improve your running ability.
In addition to keeping your training routine interesting for your mind, you actually have to keep it interesting for your body too. When you work out the same muscle group over and over, your muscles get used to it and start to plateau. If you keep doing the same running exercises without mixing it up, you’ll stop seeing improvements.
In order to keep getting stronger, you have to give your muscles a chance to rest and rebuild. Doing some cross-training activities will keep your muscles moving without fatiguing them as much, which allows them to come back strong after your rest day.
Several very common running injuries develop from one of two things:
- Overuse of the muscles you train with when you run
- Underuse of the muscles that don’t get used when you run
There are a lot of really important muscle groups that don’t get much of a workout when you run. Since that’s the case, those muscle groups will start to weaken if you don’t purposefully train them, and you could risk an injury.
When you’re super intent on training for an upcoming event, spend some time focusing on your lesser-used muscles as well. This will add increased stability and support to injury-prone areas when you’re running.
The amount and difficulty of training that you do on your cross-training days should be specific to your goals and your ability level. So, try a few activities that seem like a good match and see what makes you feel the best.