There are some runners who seem to be exercising every hour under the sun. It’s not just hundreds of miles of running, but a host of other activities and exercises too. 

If you’re the type of runner who thinks that just adding more mileage will always make you faster then this article could be for you. You are you could be missing out on one of the most important training methodologies carried out by some of the UK’s best athletes. 

Cross training can be considered any non-running cardiovascular training. As long as you’re getting the heart beating and working the cardiovascular system then there can be a benefit, even very light exercises can be great for aiding recovery.

From cycling to cross country skiing, how you spend those extra hours can be really beneficial and not just in the obvious way of “more is better”. Here’s some reasons why you should add it into your training. 

One Step back, two steps forward

Runners so often go into ‘shut down’ mode when an injury strikes. Cross training can help to maintain and even progress you fitness whilst you are injured provided it can be completed pain free. Instead of taking two steps back overtime you have a niggle or injury, you can maintain, or sometimes even improve, your fitness during you time off from running. 

If you’re an injury prone athlete then adding in cross training alongside the mileage your body is capable of maintaining healthily can be a progressive step.  

For example, for some runners adding the additional training runs needed to progress is just too much for their current level of strength. 

In particular for competitive runners who find double days are a significant injury risk cross training can give you that extra aerobic volume with less impact. For some athletes recovering from injury adding in harder, inteval based cross training sessions alongside easy running can be an excellent bridge back to a full running plan.

“Cross training has played a huge roll in my development over the years. It has taken a long time for me to get to where I am now and cross training has helped so much.” says Jess Piasecki, GB road and XC runner “I can run just as well when supplementing double days with a bike or a swim as I do if I did a double run, in fact I don’t like doing double runs as the next day I feel quite fatigued going into whatever training I have that day. Recently Rob (Robert Hawkins – Jess’ coach) got me to complete an FTP test on the bike so we can get even more specific bike workouts over the rest of the summer.”

RELATED: Anna Boniface talks about the role of cross training for her

Variety is the spice of life

Many runners just love to run, this is fine if your body can cope, but over the years I have worked with many runners who struggle with the monotony of purely running.

Our enthusiasm for our sport is a good indicator of if we’re getting the physical loading right too. If training is just a mental chore each day then some time off, or a bit of cross training, could be just the ticket. 

It’s also heathy to mitigate an obsessive focus on mileage and purely running. If you can’t enjoy a bike ride or a slightly different sport then is running something you rely on a little too much?

Feel the burn

By working different muscle groups you can give those already pounded running muscles a break whilst still working the heart and lungs. An bit of intensity on a turbo trainer might be a great stimulus whilst the impact is greatly reduced on your tired pins.

In addition, because many of the cross training options are carried out with resistance, you can build greater strength across a range of lower and upper body muscles.  

A whole host of muscles can get a greater workout via a different training method too. You might just think “well I work all the muscles I need just by running” but a weakness or imbalance might benefit from greater strength through cross training.

Managing the ego

If you’re the type of runner who struggles to put your ego in a box on recovery runs cross training is a great option. Without the GPS on your wrist you might find it much easier to keep your easy efforts genuinely easy when cross training.

Cross training can be a lower stress training option with less self imposed pressure and expectation helping you bounce back quiker for your next running session.

Taking it easy

Last, but by no means least, cross training can be a great way to give the body a break and/or take things down a notch. For those who dread the idea of taking a few weeks of inactivity at the end of the season or some time off post marathon, cross training can be the solution.

An end of season break or recovery period post a key race can be very important to keeping you healthy ahead of a new training cycle. If you feel are going to struggle with complete rest relaxed cross training can be great option to keep your body moving safely.

Don’t look at it as training time missed, but time invested in preparing your body and mind for the progress ahead. 

Keep an eye for the next article on the different types of cross training and what might be best for you.

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