If you are finding that you have reached a plateau in your running as the summer slowly turns to fall, it might be time to give cross training a try. Cross training is defined as training in a sport other than the one you compete in with a goal of improving overall performance. Cross training aims to eliminate muscular imbalances that are created by repeatedly working the same muscle group. These imbalances are what can lead to overuse injuries. It is also a great tool to ward off burn out and boredom. Given the tremendous benefits, it can be very overwhelming when faced with what to do.
There are so many different activities that are not only fun but can efficiently work other neglected muscle groups and in turn improve your overall running performance.
Swimming for example is a great low impact, cardio exercise that is perfect for a recovery day. There are many different ways that you can spice up your time in the pool; like using a pull buoy between your legs and just working on your arms or by holding a flutter board in your hands you can focus on just working your legs. When doing laps, you can do speed intervals with a 15 – 30 second rest between. You can also incorporate different strokes into your routine like freestyle, breast stroke and back stroke. Aqua jogging is another excellent way to maintain your cardio fitness while taking it easier on your joints. Learn more about aqua-jogging!
Biking is another great low impact exercise that can give your joints a break from the constant pounding of pavement. Whether you choose to hit the trails or the stationary bike, it is very important to have the proper bike set up before you get started. If the bike is not set up for you, it can cause low back, knee or even hip pain. Proper set up starts with your seat. Make sure that your seat is high enough that when your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke (6 o’clock), your knee has a 20 – 30 degree bend. When you put your foot half way around (3 o’clock), your knee should be directly above the ball of your foot. The handle bars should be at a height that gives you a slight bend in your elbows. Also make sure you focus on the entire pedal stroke not just the push down. By scraping your foot along the bottom and pulling up on the upstroke, you are recruiting your hamstrings and glutes, more so than just the quads when solely pushing down.
Strength training is another great way to cross train because it allows you to specifically target your non-running muscles. Aim for doing 3 sets of 12-15 reps per exercise to build muscular endurance. When strength training, whether it be with a personal trainer or on your own, make sure you are doing lateral movements (side lunges, jumping jacks, fire hydrants and side shuffles) to work those neglected abductor/ adductor muscles (inner and outer leg) Try lateral leg raises! Also paying close attention to your upper body (chest, back, shoulders and arms) as they are needed when running but not sufficiently worked. Your core (abdominals and back) is also a very important muscle group to strengthen!
Other great activities include yoga, cross country skiing and inline skating. Just remember that whatever exercise you choose to cross train with, make sure it is something that you enjoy and can do safely.
About the Author: Sarah McIntosh is a Personal Trainer at Elite Personal Training Studio in London, ON and a proud Kinesiology graduate of the University of Western Ontario. She has taken her love of running to a new level and is now training to compete in triathlons. She also enjoys rock climbing, camping and baking, not all at the same time.