Why Runners Should Cross Train
Cross Training is a valuable tool then can aid athlete’s in getting their best performance. It is the action or practice of engaging in multiple sports or training practices in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport (1). Runner’s in particular can often utilise cross-training to provide numerous benefits to their running performance. Let’s go through why cross-training can be a useful additional to one’s training.
1. Improved Fitness Markers
Cross-training can be used as a tool to increase ones overall fitness. Some of the most important markers of fitness are the maximal amount of aerobic work one can do – called VO2 Max and the amount of work one can do at ventilatory threshold – when metabolic bi-products of exercise start to rise. It is of no surprise that you can work on your aerobic engine in any number of ways – running, cycling, swimming, nordic walking, cross country skiing and rowing just to name a few. Using more than one of these modalities can thus help increase the amount of overall volume of training you can do, and in turn improve markers of fitness. You may be increasing your running gradually to minimise risk of injury, so rather than risk overloading lower limb tissues by adding more running you could add in some swimming and cycling which will challenge your overall anaerobic and aerobic fitness, without the same lower limb loads.
2. Change Patterns Of Loading
One of the most common contributing factors to injury is doing too much, too quick, too soon. This can be the total volume of one form of training, say too many kilometres ran or rodel or it may be more specific such as too many hills, too much high intensity. Sometimes loads haven’t increased but the same loads have led to injury because of increased other stress or reduced ability to recovery. These are often termed overuse injuries and are a result of one or a combination of too much, too quick, too soon. By using a variety of training modalities the body is stressed in a number of ways, which if training is structured smartly may help you avoid the overload trap from just one training modality. The use of cross-training also provides variety to your training, which can help to increase enjoyment and also leads to a variety of different adaptations.
3. Reduce Muscle Soreness
If you are potentially walking the fine line of doing too much, changing how you are stressing your body can be beneficial. For example if I have done too much speed work and my calves are sore, I trial an easy run and they are still sore. I might consider riding, deep water running or a hike to reduce loads on my calf yet still get the benefit of an easy aerobic session or recovery session. As with any recovery session, the purpose is to feel better afterwards than when you started. Using a cross-training stimulus may help you achieve this due to the different patterns of loading, whilst also still providing benefits on your aerobic system.
4. Improved Mental Strength
Physical training is also great mental training. Doing something that is hard or you aren’t good at is a tool for developing grit and mental resilience. Yes you can do this without cross-training. However doing this over multiple varieties of training stimuli can be an opportunity to work on your mental strength in a different manner. Additionally you might tolerate more high intensity work across a number of disciplines rather than just one alone; for example three high intensity runs might be too much on your legs, yet you could add a high intensity swim session without the same lower body loads. Hard sessions are always great to work on mental strength, just be mindful that more hard sessions require in some ways more recovery.
5. Familiarity for when Injury Occurs
As much as we try to reduce the risk of injury, unfortunately athletes occasionally get injured. For example estimates of running injuries range between 19-72% every year. This can require anywhere from weeks to months away from your chosen sport or activity. In this time other forms of exercise are integral to help keep fitness, maintain strength and reduce stress. There are a myriad of reasons why people run or exercise in their chosen sport, so keeping active in one form or another is vital to help provide the same or similar benefits. The process of transitioning into another form of activity due to pain or injury can be much smoother if you are familiar with or complete it on a regular basis.
So there are some good reasons to get familiar with multiple types of cross training activities, go ahead and give it a try. For those who are stuck for ideas here’s a few suggestions:
- Nordic Walking
- Bike (Stationary, Spin, Mountain, Road, TT Bike)
- Ski Ergometer
- Deep Water Running
- Alter-G running
- Stand Up Paddle Boarding
- Board Paddling
- Gym Work
Lewis Craig (APAM)
Masters of Physiotherapy
Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog
- Wilmore JH, Costill DL. Physiology of Sports and Exercise. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics; 1994.
- Buist, I., Bredeweg, S. W., Mechelen, W. van, P., K. A., Pepping, G.-J., & Diercks, R. L. (2008). No Effect of a Graded Training Program on the Number of Running-Related Injuries in Novice Runners: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 36(1), 33–39. https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546507307505