Cross-Training: How Not Running Can Make You a Better Runner

"Cross-train" is one of those phrases that gets thrown around constantly in the running and fitness world. But have you ever wondered what exactly that phrase means? Or what exactly the point of cross-training is? Cross-training is when an athlete incorporates other fitness activities into their schedule that are different than the primary sport they are training for. For runners, cross-training may include:

The following video is one of my favorite HIIT workouts when I'm on a time crunch. It'd be a great intro to HIIT if you've never tried it before and can easily be fit into a cross-training day amongst other workouts:

I'm going to be honest... I hate cross-training (almost as much as I hate rest day... but that's a different story) except for strength-training (which I incorporate in each day's workout before I run). I'm obsessed with running. I could run for hours. I could run every single day. But make me get on a stationary bike or an elliptical and I go crazy after 20 minutes (make that 10.... I mean five). Since running isn't just about exercise for me, having to just do cardio for exercise pushes me mentally. BUT because I love running so much, I want to do everything I can to make myself a better runner, even if that means suffering through one cross-train day per week (yay Wednesdays...). Why cross-train if I dislike it so much? Because it actually has a lot of benefits for runners:

  • Injury prevention: Running is a very high-impact sport, which can be hard on the knees and other joints. Switching up your routine with a low-impact workout helps keep injuries away.

  • Activates different muscles: It's common for runners to have certain muscles overpower others. Cross-training makes sure that other muscle groups are being developed, which will also keeps injuries from occurring as well.

  • Quicker rehabilitation: Let's say you do get injured (*gasp*): cross-training can help you get back out and running more quickly than if you 1. try to keep running (yes, I'm guilty of this) or 2. stop exercising all-together while waiting to heal. Cross-training will help you keep your aerobic fitness at its pre-injury level, without making the injury worse.

  • Increases aerobic fitness: Unfortunately there is a limit to how much running the body can handle. Lower impact activities allow you to keep up your aerobic fitness level high. Especially when training for a half marathon or marathon that includes a long run every week, it'll be harder for the body to continue running every day with the increased mileage of the runs. Cross-training allows you to keep your aerobic fitness up without completely trashing your body.

  • You'll get more powerful: Neglecting strength-training is a big no-no. By adding in strength training, whether that be squats, lifting, etc. it will increase your power when running. I noticed a huge difference once I started incorporating strength-training into my daily fitness schedule before my runs. Running got easier and I got a lot faster without changing much else. A full cross-train day just allows me to focus even greater on strength-training.

If you don't already, I really encourage you to incorporate a cross-training day into your fitness plan, especially if you're going to begin training for a race. If you're like me and forcing yourself not to run takes more discipline than getting yourself to run, then just know we're in this together  ( ;) ) and you really will see a difference in your running, and what could be better than becoming a better runner? :)

XO nat