Cross Training for Runners
By Liam Murphy
The benefits of cross training to improve your running are well known . I’m not going to argue the pros and cons of cross training , I might just give you an insight to what I have tried over the last few years and just be honest about what has worked best for me. Cross training for me was something that really happened by accident because of running injuries.
Swimming is a sport I have enjoyed since I was very young and the benefits of swimming are well known. The front crawl and breast stroke will really build upper body strength and also improve your aerobic capacity. The pool is a good place to go if you are injured and you want to maintain aerobic fitness but it is unlikely to improve your running.
From an aerobic and legwork point of view cycling is probably the closest training to running that you can do. Cycling will without doubt improve your leg strength, aerobic capacity and general fitness. One or two consistent spins a week and you will reap the rewards in your running , the only downside is that you will need to spend 2-3 hours in the saddle to get the same output as a 1 hour run , that is a big ask for most people. That being said , if you get injured and that can be a frequent occurrence in the early years of running , your first option to maintain your hard earned fitness should be to start cycling 3 to 4 times per week.
The importance of strength training can often be overlooked. Again I stumbled across this by accident . I got an ITB injury over a year ago which ruled out cycling and I was looking at 6 weeks out. The Physio advised me to build strength in my glutes to avoid further ITB injuries. I joined Crossfit82 in Newbury and started doing standard Crossfit workouts 3 to 4 times per week. These workouts focus on core strength , quads, mid section, chest and shoulders. The frequent exercises used such as burpees, box jumps, pull ups, push ups, rope climbs and all sort of sit ups – crunches , Russian twists , V-ups , Wall Ball Sit Ups….and the list continues. These are combined with weight training such as Squats , Deadlifts , Cleans , Push Press, Thrusters etc.
I can only speak of my experience but strength training 3 times per week combined with 40 miles running per week has delivered the most improvements for me in the last few years. With a stronger core you will run more efficiently, with better form and faster. After about 8 to 10 weeks of strength training the first noticeable difference you will see is a reduction in body fat and a tightening of your mid section , improvements in your running times should follow if you put the mileage in with improved core strength. In 2016 when I added strength training on a regular basis I got PB’s at every distance from 5k to Marathon.
In summary, strength work with weights should be an essential extension of your running training and if you get injured try cycling or swimming to maintain your aerobic fitness.