To Cross or Not To Cross…

To cross-train or not to cross-train; that is the question many runners ask themselves, judging by letters and columns I read in magazines.  For this MPR, there are several good reasons to embrace the concept:

  • Cross-training can help maintain high motivation for your runs.
    • Few of us are blessed with an endless supply of new routes, new goals, new strategies to keep every mile of every run engaging. When interest flags, so does motivation, leading to mediocre efforts, or even missed runs. Employing cross-training for some of your exercise days can keep your running workouts fresh and exciting. A long stationary bike workout often leaves me more hungry to get outside and run, where I get to create my own breeze and move thru a constantly-changing environment.
  • Cross-training can exercise muscles or reflexes that aren’t emphasized in basic running, but that will still improve your running.
    • Swimming is great to build core–body strength (which becomes more and more important the longer your runs are) and also upper body (which is essential for uphill running, but doesn’t get built on the flats). For me, skiing steep terrain and moguls in the winter builds quickness of foot – which translates into higher running cadence – and also dynamic balance – which is absolutely critical for fast, technical trail running (especially bombing down-hill!).
  • Cross-training in a less–intensive form of exercise may be a step in transitioning to a runner’s lifestyle.
    • It can be pretty intimidating for a beginning runner to hear about people who run every day, tallying thirty-, forty-, fifty- or more-mile weeks. Starting out by running once a week, and walking three times, can be a lot more approachable. Over time that balance can shift to two runs and two walks, then three (or four) and two, as running comes to feel more natural and satisfying.
  • Cross-training can fit in where running doesn’t.
    • Like that quick overnight stay in an airport hotel, where running around the parking lot and access roads may not be appealing enough to get you out of bed on six hours of sleep, but half an hour of bike or elliptical in the exercise room may be just the thing to clear out cobwebs and stimulate muscles so they do not regress.
    • Here in Colorado, where winter days are awfully cold and dark at both ends (and fall and spring mornings contain roaming bears!); getting on a stationary bike at 6 AM is a lot more reliable than trying to carve out an hour in the middle of a busy work day.
  • Cross-training allows you to build/maintain cardio-vascular and muscular capacity with less risk of running-related injury.
    • Almost by definition, most running related injuries come from some specific physical strain inherent in the particular actions of running, so exercising in almost any other form is less-likely to cause or worsen them. CT may actually provide a rest and healing opportunity that helps you recover from the injury. Swimming is often cited for this, as are yoga and the seemingly infinite variety of health club workout programs. For me, it can be as simple as a half-hour of stretching and calisthenics on the bedroom floor, that leaves everything feeling limber and refreshed while allowing that hamstring that made itself known during Saturday’s big run to fall back into blessed silence.)

Like nearly everything about running, cross-training is an individual choice, but to me it seems a no-brainer.  CT has the potential to increase most any MPR’s enjoyment and success at running, so I say, go for it!

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