The other day I sat in the doctor’s office, listening to his advice and guidance. It had been about a week since I last ran. I’ve been struggling with a heel injury for the past couple of weeks and I finally went to the doctor. He strongly encouraged me to start adding cross-training to my running.
I’m a runner; I have been since I was 14. I like other sports, and I do try to incorporate other activities in my training. But when it comes down to it, I love running. I don’t want to stop running.
But as the kind doctor reminded me, I’m getting older. And as I continue to run, I will experience muscle imbalances, and overuse injuries if I don’t make the effort and focus to strengthen my whole body, not just my running muscles.
It got me thinking. Runners do have a tendency to be solely focused on their running. We may add some yoga or weight training twice a week, or maybe try some body weight exercises, but we love to run. I don’t know about you, but 5-6 days out of the week, my workout or activity is running. And while running is a great workout and I don’t plan to stop, I was gently reminded something that I already knew but ignored for a long time: in order to perform my best and avoid injury, I need to cross-train.
Correct Muscle Imbalances
Doing repetitive motion over and over again, strengthens the same muscles. Running is great for building muscular endurance and can strengthen the muscles of your lower body. But running can also lead to muscle imbalances. Whether it’s strengthening quadriceps (the thigh muscle in front) and leaving hamstrings and glutes weak, or having a strong lower body but a weak core and upper body, muscle imbalances can lead to injury or poor overall fitness. Cross-training helps develop muscles that running leaves underused.
Because of things like muscle imbalances or overuse, injury is a VERY common problem with runners. I’ve struggled with knee issues, IT band issues, hip pain, and plantar fasciitis. Cross-training protects joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons from over use, while strengthen other muscles that are often neglected with running. This all helps you avoid injury.
Due to the strengthening of other muscles groups and the reduction of the risk of injury, cross-training offers a huge boost to performance. But cross-training also gives you the aerobic base needed for endurance with out all the additional pounding the logging more miles would.
Increase Total Body Fitness
Fitness is far more than just how fast you can run three miles. Overall fitness is measured by aerobic capacity, agility, flexibility, muscular strength and stamina, and balance. By adding in a variety of cross-training, you can improve your fitness in all areas. Yoga, biking, weigh training, swimming, Pilates, Cross Fit, even walking are all great ideas that work on different areas of fitness.
After miles and miles of running, even the most serious runner can get burned out and bored. Adding in different workouts and activities can keep you energized, decreasing levels of boredom. Cross-training not only keeps your muscles guessing, but can keep your brain and interest guessing as well. It’s far easier to stick with something you find engaging, and cross-training can keep you engaged.
Maybe like me, you’re struggling with an injury. Maybe you’re noticing that you don’t bounce back as easily from your workouts as you once used to. Or maybe you’re getting bored and want to try something new. Whatever the case may be, try adding in some cross-training into your workouts. Make it a priority! The benefits are so worth it.