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How to (& why you should) incorporate cross training

You most likely run because you love the sport, and running is a lovely sport. You can pretty much train anywhere, anytime; something which you can’t say for a lot of other sports. Yes, you most likely schedule your quality sessions to complete with your friends (if you don’t do this yet, I suggest you do), but you can do your easy/long/tempo runs at any given time of the day and wherever. Although a coach will plan certain sessions on certain days, a running program often allows you to find time that suits you throughout the day to complete your session.

However, recreational/novice runners tend to just run and not complete other activities. I mean it’s best to just train for exactly what you aim on competing in right?

Whilst this is true, this can also cause common overuse injuries, such as shin splints, especially if you aren't giving your body enough rest between bouts of exercise. Whilst you might think that to run quicker times you just keep on running, you need to strengthen your muscles, and still gain benefits from participating in some cross training.

So in today’s blog, I am going to discuss some benefits and principles of cross training.

What is cross training?

Cross training is a term used by many to describe training that is completed, that is indirectly related to their chosen sport. For runners, the options are almost limitless. Resistance training, bike, swimming, elliptical, etc. are all examples of what a runner can undertake as cross training. As long as you are doing something other than running, you will be cross training.

It is something that many runners don't think of as important to add into their program, and that some coaches assume their athletes will do in "their own time".

However, as I'll explain, there are benefits that come from cross training.

The benefits

I guess the one question we should always ask ourselves is ‘why should I do this?’ For cross training, there are a few beneficial reasons why you should try implementing cross training into your program. However, for the purpose of this blog I am going to cover just three reasons as to why cross training is important a d can aid your performance in the long run.

Firstly, cross training is a great way for you to increase/maintain your total training volume whilst not impacting/increasing the intensity of your running sessions. Over the last few months I have been reading up on intensities & running during our training program, and I came across what is now known as the “80/20 rule.” First really utilised by Arthur Lydiard, who believed that the key to running faster was for longer with a dash of speed work (pardon the pun), this is where 80% of your total running volume is completed just below the lactate threshold (low intensity), and the remaining 20% is completed at high/vigorous intensity. This can be measured predominantly through mileage or time under stress.

Although this is completely misunderstood by many recreational/novice runners (especially on “easy” runs), this rule doesn’t necessarily apply to what you undertake for cross training. In fact, Matt Fitzgerald in his book “80/20 Running”, writes that cross training is one of the greatest ways to increase your intensity without impacting your running performance too severely.

Let us compare 40 minutes of “easy” running to a 40 minute (total duration, including warm up) deep water running session, as an example. Both involve very similar biomechanics, the only difference being that running is weight bearing and deep water running is non-weight bearing. So you can still put in a 30 or 40 minute session, but place less load on your bones/joints and still work your muscles the same way as you would running.

This benefit can really help those who are relatively new to running who are looking to increase their load without running too much, those who can't seem to find time to fit in all their runs, someone who's body finds it hard to recover after gruelling 200s, etc. Just remember to undertake this (like anything in life) in moderation. Speak to your coach about how you best go about this.

Another benefit of cross training is, and the most obvious, injury prevention. Cross training is often seen and used as a form of recovery (remember the 2 R’s to maintaining/improving performance), which, assuming this is the goal of your cross training session, can help you reduce your risk of injury. If done properly, it should target and enhance not just the muscles used in running (which are a lot), but other muscles in your body. Take S&C for example, where your session could be a full body workout. Your program, overall, would almost certainly target all the muscles that are used when running and the type of contractions these muscles complete when running.

Running places A LOT of stress on our musculoskeletal system, especially if you are on high mileage, regardless if you've been in the sport since you could first start running, or you are just starting the sport. Because of this, we need adequate rest from the specific stress that come from running (remember, Stress + Rest = Growth). Many elite level athletes cross train throughout their program, but is especially evident during their off-season or inter-season break. This is achieved to allow their body to take a break from the sport of running, and start focusing on other aspects of their lives.

Regardless if you are a world record holder or just starting out this lovely sport, you can do this too.

A final reason that cross training is beneficial is that it adds some variety to your program, which is crucial to an athletes success in the process. As I am an athlete and a coach of multiple sports (and having a placement block with a local AFL team) I know how important variety is to any program.

Running (at times) can feel like a very boring sport for some people. I feel sorry for those who try to undertake >90 minute long runs by themselves. Doing the same sport over & over & over again can be quite tiresome and induce boredom, which also happen to be common characteristics also observed when one is overtraining. This is why I like cross training, because it doesn't just have to be one modality, it can be multiple. One week you might hop on the bike, the next might be deep water running. Although this will be dependant on your training program, I believe you (an athlete) will be happy undertaking different modalities of training, still knowing that your running performance is going to improve.

Remember finding and undertaking programs like this with people who are like-minded will make your sessions even more enjoyable.

Principles of cross training:

For this, I am going to use the FITT principle (Frequency, Intensity, Time & Type) to lay out how you should undertake strength & conditioning and deep water running as examples for cross training. Remember these are just examples and that there are many other modalities to utilise cross training. Your coach might undertake this differently to how I have written the m out, but hopefully you get the idea.

Hopefully this blog gives you enough information on how you can (and why you should) start undertaking cross training sessions. If you ever need assistance with this, don’t hesitate to speak to your coach or Bradley/myself.

Keep up the running,


Intermediate Coach

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