By Alister Brown
If someone said to you that you could become a better runner by doing something other than running, would you immediately roll your eyes and divert your attention to what you’re going to have for tea or make up an excuse to leave? But what if it was true? Just think, running all those miles puts a lot of stress and strain on your body from the impact of your feet hitting the ground thousands of times. Giving it a break to do something else to complement your running that’s not so brutal on your joints might not be such a bad thing after all. Cross-training is a vital and often overlooked aspect to a runners training plan and there could be a lot to gain from it such as additional strength and flexibility, reduced risk of injury and can prevent potential boredom by adding something new and different to your routine.
I can speak from experience being a competitive runner, a Great Britain Age-Group Duathlete and having recently ran four marathons in four consecutive days. I know how much your knees can hurt just to even stand after a long run or the feeling of complete brokenness from the fatigue as a result of continuous pavement pounding.
Cross-training, broadly speaking, is any other exercise that you are able and willing to do other than running. So as a runner, good choices could be going to the gym to partake in classes or do some strength and conditioning exercises, cycling, Pilates or swimming. Talking from experience, I’ve found that cycling makes a noticeable difference to my running by improving leg strength and endurance in a non impact way. Gym work such as balance work, squats and lunges (with or without weights or resistance) adds strength to the muscles you use to run, again in a way that is much friendlier to your joints. Pilates is often dismisses such as Yoga, but in fact it is very popular for building good core strength and increasing flexibility which is just what you need as a runner having to keep a good posture and run form. Swimming is more about your arms but it is still adding to your overall aerobic fitness and therefore will still benefit you when you come to run, especially with your breathing.
Just doing one session of cross-training every week or two is a good way to break your running schedule up or stop you getting too bored. and the non-impact element can certainly benefit our ever ageing bodies in the long run (excuse the pun)!