Cross Training for Runners

Strength & Cross Training Advice
Cross Training for Runners

Cross training is a great way to strengthen the muscle groups that either don't get a work out when running or are subject to fatigue in distance running, helping ensure that your body is fit, strong and well balanced, the latter being very important in preventing injury and the development of weaknesses as we get older.

What is Cross Training?

Cross training shares similarities with circuit training, but tends to focus a little more on muscle building and less on speed and twitch muscles. However, both aim to work on core strength, and develop a strong physique.

A gym is the perfect place for cross training as the training tools are on hand, but with a little ingenuity you can also do it at home. Body-weight exercise is a perfect place to start for beginners. Over time you can add more resistance to your training by using resistance bands or filled water bottles for some additional weights.

Is Cross-Training Good for Running?

Cross training can almost be seen as a cheat's way to a faster 10k. Instead of basing all your training on pounding the streets (though you still have to do quite a lot of that!), by working and strengthening different muscle groups you'll find that you fatigue more slowly and your speed will improve faster.

The one thing that won't particularly benefit is lung capacity. If you include some treadmill sprints into cross training that will help, but ideally you'll need to incorporate some speed sessions to stop getting puffed out as you sprint for the finish line.

Benefits of Cross Training for Runners

  • Reduces impact but still engages muscles and joints in movement. Your knees will be thankful for a rest from ‘pavement pounding’.
  • Improves speed: strengthening your muscles will result in activating more muscle fibres during a run. Stronger means faster, higher, and longer.
  • Improves body resilience and helps prevent injury.
  • Increases upper body strength. Remember, when you run, you’re using your whole body, not only your legs.
  • Brings fun and diversity to your workout routine! 

Do I Really Have to Cross Train?

It sounds like a lot of work, but it's not really. You just need to do a little of everything to reap big benefits. The key is variety – just as it's not great to eat the same thing every day, our body needs different movements to keep it healthy. If you can manage one cross training session a week, two or three runs, and throw in a speed session as part of one of those runs, you will see big improvements in your fitness and capacity. Obviously you can do more, but this is a good foundation.

How to Get the Most Out of Cross Training

Concentrating on the movements you are doing is vital, when using weights or doing reps, if you are careless with your posture you can do more harm than good. Try to do the exercises in front of a mirror and watch that when you bend your knees they keep above your feet – not leaning to either side – and with lunges that your knee never extends forward of your feet. Try to keep your hips aligned, don't let one drop down (especially when doing balance work), and always remember your tummy! Follow the Pilates method of keeping your hips in 'neutral', this means holding your stomach muscles in as much as you would to do up the zip of your jeans, and when doing upper body exercises keep your knees bent a fraction to take any stress off your lower back.

What's the Best Cross Training Routine for Runners?

If you belong to a gym, book one session with a trainer and they'll be able to give you a routine of exercises tailored to your level and needs. Ideally you'd book another session every month or two for variety and to tweak things as you get stronger. If this isn't an option, then choose from some of the exercises below, starting with light weights and small repetitions and building up as you get stronger, remember to keep mixing it up so that you do a variety of exercises.

You can also book a personal trainer for an occasional workout – gyms like Nordic Balance will organise a trainer to come to you or a nearby park, and suggest a programme. Remember, listen to your body! If something doesn't feel right, or puts a strain on your back, etc. then either adjust the exercise or choose another, and build up slowly. Alternate areas of exercise, so do one for your arms, then one for your legs, etc.

Cross Training for a Marathon

For longer distance running you want to be more focused on building up stamina – so the ability to run longer without fatigue. Trying to enlarge your muscles might not be greatly beneficial in this case.

During your weight training, aim for more repetitions of a lower weight. (4 x 15 reps with a lighter load instead of 2 x 4 reps with a heavy load). That helps to activate more of the muscle fibres that are designed to keep you going for longer.

Remember that cross-training is not only weightlifting! Incorporating cycling, swimming, rowing, Nordic walking or climbing is so beneficial for your training routine. And you can still improve your cardio during fast cycling or rowing. It reduces the impact but still activates muscles in your body, brings fun and makes you stronger.

General Cross Training Programme for Runners

Increase or decrease reps according to your capacity

  • Warm up: start with a 5 to 10 minute bike, run or rower at an easy pace
  • Leg lunges: step one leg forward and bend your knees until the back knee is almost touching the floor, push back up with your glutes (bum muscles), repeat changing legs. 10x reps each leg.
  • Butterfly wings: lying on a bench or floor, lift weights straight above your chest and open arms out to the side, keeping arms slightly bent. 15x reps.
  • Step up: onto a bench (or chair) powering with your glutes. Count how many you can do in a minute, changing the lead leg half way.
  • Plank: lie face down, with your hands clasped as if in prayer, now push up so your forearms and toes are on the floor, keep your body straight – not sagging in the middle! Hold for a minute, or as close to as you can!
  • Sprint: flat out for one minute
  • Rest: take a few minutes to stretch and catch your breath, and drink!
  • Arm and core: standing feet hip width apart, hold weights at your side, half bend as if going to sit on a chair, then turning palms to face ceiling, stand up, bringing hands to your shoulders. From here turn palms to face the mirror and lift elbows out to the side (arm at right angles), then straighten arms up above your head. Then reverse to starting position. 10x reps.
  • Single leg squats: balance back foot on medicine ball or chair, with back leg as straight as you can, hands on hips, squat front leg, keeping hips aligned and stomach firm. 10x reps each leg.
  • Rowing: stand as though half way between sitting on a chair and standing – like a stationary skier – back straight, hold weights in right-angle bent arms, palms facing, now pull back so hands are at waist, squeezing shoulder blades back. 15x reps.
  • Stomach: lie on the floor with legs and feet pointing to the ceiling. Anchor yourself by holding onto a table leg behind your head, or grip an obliging person's ankles (arms should not be straight, but bent). Slowly lower your straight legs as far down as you can without straining lower back, repeat 10 times. Then push your feet up as though to tap the ceiling, lifting your hips slightly off the ground, repeat 10 times fast.
  • Sprint: flat out for 1 minute
  • End: with gentle stretching

These are exercises that we've found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not certified instructors. Always consult your specialist before beginning any exercise programme. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

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