Cross-training: why it works for me
Those of you following my Olympic Training Log may have noticed that in the five days following the 15K race in Monte Carlo, I ran a total of three miles. Why? Because I was injured, and bitter experience had taught me that running on serious injuries is deadly, and running on slight injuries usually leads to serious injuries.
After a knee injury grounded me in 1984–85, I never went back to running more than four days a week. My normal training pattern was an extreme version of the “hard-easy” approach. During non-racing weeks, I typically ran Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, usually twice on the weekdays. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were my cross-training days. Since my legs were always exhausted after my tough running workouts, my cross-training didn’t include hard cycling or many leg weights unless an injury had forced me to miss my usual running days.
One of the great benefits of incorporating cross-training into a training schedule is that when injury strikes, it’s much easier both mentally and physically to “switch” out of running. Running is a physical addiction; when your body is used to the muscular effort of running and the pleasant after-effects of a hard workout, it’s very hard to back off. If you’re already doing other kinds of workouts like swimming, water-running, weights or cycling, when you get injured you simply stop running and ramp up your cross-training.
For me, no other kind of exercise is as good as running. I’m not trying to claim here that I’d rather cross-train than run, or that cross-training itself will help you be a better runner. However, cross-training does have many benefits. Here are some of them:
- I’ll say it again. Cross-training allows you to train during injury periods. It helps you avoid the temptation to run when you shouldn’t.
- Cross-training enables you to maintain your cardiovascular fitness and leg strength when you’re injured. Cycling, swimming, water-running and intense stationary bike or spinning workouts make it possible for you to stay very fit. Water-running allows your body to use the same motions as running without weight-bearing.
- Cross-training increases your overall body strength. People who only run may have significant weaknesses that could lead to injury or prevent them from achieving their full potential as runners. When you’re running all-out, or getting fatigued near the end of a race, you need strength in your core. Upper body strength will make you a faster sprinter and a more powerful uphill runner.
- Cross-training can be fun! You might make some new friends in your “alternate” sports. You might enjoy the variety of training that cross-training offers. Be inventive and try new exercises and routines in your cross-training workouts.
- Cross-training will make you appreciate your running workouts. Believe me, I know this from experience. I’ve never become tired of running because since 1984, I’ve seldom been able to do as much of it as I wanted.