Posted by Alison on 29th March 2007
YOU’RE RUNNING, AND YOU LIKE IT AND WOULD LIKE TO GET even better at it. There are a number of other things you can do to become a better athlete and improve your overall fitness, all of which will also make you a better runner. Among your options are cross training (which in itself otters many options), strength training and stretching.
Cross training means participating in a variety of training activities. Almost any activity that gets you huffing and puffing qualifies: skiing (both cross-country and downhill), cycling, swimming, in-line skating, ice skating, hiking, walking, climbing, circuit training and aerobic exercise to music are all excellent choices. By taking part in one of these activities in addition to running, you can increase your overall fitness and build strength in general instead of in areas specific only to running.
The benefits of cross training include resting certain muscle groups while using different ones. Cross training also helps athletes avoid boredom. The variety of different exercises can be a psychological boost.
Cross training will also reduce your risk of injury. Following the walk/run training program will give your body, from your heart to your Achilles lendons, the best possible chance to adjust to the stresses and strains of running. There would be no need for such a program if the stresses and strains weren’t there. But running can be hard on your body, especially if you were born with some biomechanical imbalances (high arches, for instance, or a misaligned kneecap), or if you have ever been injured. Participating in other aerobic activities serves many of the same goals as running - producing good cardiovascular fitness in addition to increased strength, endurance and weight control - but shifts the stress around, so that it isn’t all borne by the same parts of the body. With some sports - notably cycling, swimming, in-line skating and cross-country skiing - the musculoskeletal stress is quite low. Thus by cross training, you’ll get stronger, you’ll be filter and you’ll also give your ankles, knees and hips a break from the pounding action of running.
Cross training strengthens the body and can actually make you a better runner than if you man just by running. Dr. Tim Noakes says thai it” he had his running career to do over, he would compete in more triathlons. “Marathons and ultra-marathons [50 miles/80 kilometers and up] are what really wear you out.”
Cycling is one of the cross-training activities most commonly favored by runners. Cycling strengthens primarily your quadriceps (the big muscle group at the from of your upper leg), whereas running uses primarily the hamstrings (the big muscle group at the back of your upper leg). Developing balanced strength in “opposing” muscle combinations such as the quadriceps and hamstrings is an important way to avoid injury.
Another activity runners often choose is cross-country skiing, because it’s a huge aerobic challenge and works virtuallv every muscle in the body, both upper and lower. Of course, your opportunities to ski will be limited by the climate in which you live.
Pool running, which can be done in any climate, is gaining in popularity. Basically, you just jog in deep water while wearing a flotation device. Pool running is usually practiced only by the very dedicated and by people recovering from injuries.
Another advocate of cross training is Mark Spitz, the American swimmer who dominated men’s swimming in 1972, bringing home a treasure-trove of medals (seven of them gold) from that year’s Summer Olympics. Spitz says the reason swimmers today are beating his times by very large margins is that they’re not spending all their time in the pool; rather, they’re cross training and strengthening their bodies in other ways. Similarly, at the recreational as well as the competitive level, cross training can actually make you a better, stronger runner than if you train just by running.
Another benefit of cross training is that in exploring its options, you may well discover another sport you really like. When you do, you can help your body adjust to its rigors by applying principles similar to those you learned in the training program.
If you are taking up exercise at least in part as a way of controlling your weight, you will want to know how other activities stack up against running in terms of energy requirements. The following list shows a variety of activities, from less to more strenuous. As the list indicates, running at a fast pace (7 minutes per mile/4.5 minutes per kilometer) is more effective in burning calories.
Cycling (leisurely pace)
Table tennis (recreational)
Walking (moderate pace)
Circuit training with free weights
Aerobics (medium intensity)
Swimming (slow crawl)
Running (11 1/2 min/mi or 7 min/km)
Swimming (breast stroke, intense pace)
Running (9 min/mi or 5.5 min/km)
Running (7 min/mi or 4.5 min/km)
Finally, cross training helps you avoid the biggest enemy of all training programs; psychological burnout. It allows you to work at improving your fitness level without subjecting you to the same routine day after dav, keeping you from getting bored.
In brief, cross training can:
distribute the load of training among various body parts, thereby reducing the risk of injury;
add variety to your workouts to keep you from losing interest;
allow you to continue training if you are injured, by using uninjured joints and muscles in a different aciivity;
develop your entire body, rather than only a few specific parts.
More facts about some specific cross-training activities, along with some of the reasons you might want to consider incorporating them into your life, appear in the next article. Keep in mind, however, that you needn’t limit yourself to just these activities. Table tennis isn’t included, but besides being a lot of fun to play, it’s a great game for working up a sweat and developing hand-eye coordination. No matter what activity you choose, remember to heed the three rules of training: moderation, consistency and rest.