The Art of Cross Training
If there is one thing I’m an expert in, it is cross training. I have suffered from a stress fracture in my hip, to calf strains, swollen ankles, or just about any other running injury you could imagine. And the funny (if that’s the right word) thing is, I always saw it coming – every single time. But I could never bring myself to cross train, as I should have. I have developed a love/hate relationship with the bike, elliptical, and stair master. I love them because they keep me in shape, but I hate them because they keep me inside. Nevertheless, I owe all of these machines a big part of my fitness, because without them, I’d be a few pounds heavier with a not so great aerobic capacity. So for that, thank you bike, elliptical, and stair master.
Cross training can be difficult for some runners for the mere fact that it is not running. Why be inside climbing stairs to nowhere when you could be outside, cruising along to wherever you want? But cross training has so many benefits it is almost unimaginable to not include it in your training plan. The purpose of cross training is to improve performance by doing sports other than running. It works new muscle groups, provides others a rest, and gives your mind a break as well.
I’d like to share two of my personal favorite (and in my mind, most beneficial) forms of cross training, 1) hot yoga and 2) the bike.
Bikram Hot Yoga is yoga taken to an entirely new level. It is a 90 minute class that consists of 26 postures in a room of 105 degrees. Now if that doesn’t sound like fun, I’m not sure what does. There is nothing like trying to do camel pose after having the heat take away your very breath and leave you nothing short of just plain nauseous. It takes your body and pushes it to its max and then some. But the feeling you have when you walk out of that studio, is something like no other – almost like finishing your first race. I remember the first time I completed a class. I just sat in my car and was unable to have a real thought except to just be still and take it all in. I’m imagining that in other yoga classes, that is what they mean when they talk about silencing all of “the chatter” in your life. I couldn’t have had a real thought even if I wanted to (well maybe “What the hell?” passed through my mind once or twice). Once I started going regularly, my body felt like it never had before. My body parts were in alignment. My hips were stronger and I stood a little taller. And of course, all of this translated to better running. It got to a point where Wednesday became my favorite day of the week, because even though I had to set aside 2 ½ hours to go to Bikram (driving there, class, and then driving home), my body thanked me everyday. I highly encourage you to give it a try , or maybe a few tries, to experience what hot yoga can give your body. You just might actually like it. And even if hot yoga isn’t your thing, any form of yoga is sure to offer your running legs some much needed benefits.
My second favorite cross training activity is the bike. Perhaps my inspiration to start biking came after I started seeing people leave a spin class – sometimes I’m not that sweaty even after 10 miles of running. I did some research, started following Lance Armstrong on Twitter and after some post-marathon aches and pains, decided to put my knowledge to the test. My mantra was if it didn’t hurt, I wasn’t pushing hard enough. I also would wear the Livestrong bracelet for a little Lance motivation. Well after incorporating speed intervals on the bike into my training, I ran my fastest half marathon (1:37) with no other real speed work. From that point on, I took two days a week to do something other than running.
If I’ve learned anything in my 10 years of running, it is that every body is different. Some people can run 75 miles a week while others can only run 40. I use to be so upset with myself if I wasn’t meeting the mileage I had planned for the week, but I now know my body can safely run about 50 miles a week, and that is it! Any more than that, and I’m asking for injuries. So instead of beating myself up about it, cross training has given me an outlet and still allowed me to excel at my running.
If you are looking to incorporate some new activities into your workout schedule, try the following:
- Do an activity other than running the day after a hard workout, the day before a long run, or both.
- Do activities that work similar muscles as running – bike, elliptical, stairs
- Keep your heart rate up – if you aren’t really sweating, then you aren’t working hard enough
- Take a rest day – you deserve it after all of your hard work.
Although biking and climbing stairs are not doing what we truly love, they will certainly help to keep your running career alive a little longer. Never underestimate the power of doing something different – the challenge could bring you some very unexpected rewards.
Happy Trails and Happy Running,