Sometimes, it’s what you do when you’re not running that can give your training an edge. That’s the case with cross-training. A weekly nonrunning workout gives your muscles and joints a break from pounding the pavement while producing specific benefits that carry over to your running. “If you only run, you’re essentially using the same muscles within the same plane of motion over and over again,” says Shannon Colavecchio, CEO of Badass Fitness in Tallahassee, Florida, who trains runners in cycling, rowing, and core-strengthening classes. “Using different muscles and movement patterns can help you prevent injuries and also help you build speed and endurance.”
While you can get a good cross-training workout from many activities, some exercises are particularly useful in helping you achieve certain running goals. Here are the best cross-training/running pair-ups.
To Train Hard Try Pool Running
If you’re focused on an ambitious goal, you might be eager to take on extra training kilometres. But you could risk injury if you tackle too much. That’s why Jason Fitzgerald, head coach at StrengthRunning.com and a 2:39 marathoner, recommends pool running as an extra workout. “it’s the exercise that mimics road running the best–you’re working the same muscles you need to develop as a runner–without any impact.” Studies show that as long as you keep your heart rate up while pool running, it’s an effective substitute for dry-land running.
Wear a pool belt to help keep you afloat and vertical in the deep end of the pool. Simply run using the same motion you do on the road, maintaining good posture while pumping your arms, and keeping a high cadence. Trying to take slow strides in the water could cause you to overextend your legs, which could irritate your hamstrings. Aim to do once a week for 45 minutes to an hour. You can pool-run at a steady pace, or try short sprints (go fast for 15 to 30 seconds, recover, repeat) and long sprints (go at a moderate intensity for 5 to 10 minutes, recover, repeat).
To Nail a PB Try Weights
Sure, there’s no substitute for traditional running speedwork. But strength training can also help you set new records. Strength training builds leg power, which carries over to faster running times. Any strength work is valuable. But lifting weights that really challenge you has value: One study showed that runners who lifted heavy versus light weights improved their performance in a 5-K race. Bonus benefit: You’ll get out of the gym faster. “You’re doing fewer reps, but getting more benefit; it’s a better bang for your buck,” says Mike Young, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., founder of Athletic Lab, a research and training facility in North Carolina.
If you are new to resistance training, start with a light weight, one that allows you to do about 12 reps of your chosen exercise comfortably. Gradually increase the weight and reduce reps over time (while always maintaining good form). Your ultimate goal is to pick a weight that makes it a challenge to eke out six reps. Check out our runner-friendly routine here.
To Finish Strong Try Rowing
In the last kilometres of a long run or race, many runners can’t seem to hold themselves upright. Running with your body hunched over causes you to breathe more shallowly, which can decrease how much oxygen you take in. You can improve your performance over those final kilometres by using an indoor rowing machine. “You’re getting a great cardio workout and strengthening your legs–rowing is like doing leg presses over and over again–and that all carries over to improved endurance running,” Colavecchio says. “Rowing also strengthens the core, back, and arms, which are common weak spots in runners. Building strength in those muscles can help you maintain good posture and form.”
Will Kirousis, the codirector of Tri-Hard Endurance Sports Coaching and a USA Triathlon-certified coach and strength specialist in Leominster, Massachusetts, recommends the following workout for runners. Rowing Intervals: 5-minute warmup, going from easy to moderate effort; 8 minutes of alternating 20 seconds at very intense effort and then 10 seconds at easy effort; 2 minutes easy effort. Do that 8-minute set two more times; finish with a 5-minute cooldown.
To Prep for a Hilly Race Try Cycling
“Cycling builds muscle endurance and powerful quads, hamstrings, and glutes–all muscles that runners need for hill climbing,” Colavecchio says. “Runners who do hill climbing on the bike will see the benefits on foot. They’ll have an easier time summiting hills.”
To get the most out of an outdoor cycling workout, try to find rolling terrain where you can power up an incline, pedal fast when it flattens, and then charge up another incline. Colavecchio says that a Spin class or stationary bike is also a good option, since it allows you to better control your workout–and not coast on downhills too much. Create your own ride: After a warmup, do 6 sets of 3 minutes at hard resistance with 1 minute of light resistance in between. Finish with 2 minutes of a fast pace at medium resistance to simulate the end of a race, when your legs are fried but you need to finish strong.
To Get Flexible Try Yoga
You might have the ability to run fast or long. But reaching your shoelaces? That’s a different story. Runners need enough flexibility to be able to move fluidly through proper range of motion, says Sage Rountree, yoga instructor, triathlon coach, and author ofThe Runner’s Guide to Yoga. “Stiffness in your hips can shorten your stride and limit your speed,”+ she says. “And tightness in a specific muscle can cause gait modifications that can lead to injury.”
Find a style that’s appropriate for your level of experience and works well with your training schedule. During a period of demanding running, opt for a more relaxing yoga practice, like hatha, Rountree says. But in an off-season when your mileage is less intense, you could do a more challenging session, like Ashtanga.