Is cross training necessary for runners? Well the answer as an athlete and coach is simply YES!
What I found last year was I was running less running miles but getting faster. I have always believed that smart training is the way forward (I was being smart as I wasn’t doing junk miles). However, I was cross training more and spending more time on the bike so I could improve in that area for Triathlons. Cycling is my weakest area and for me there was no point running excess miles for a few seconds gained at running, as that’s my strongest area.
Where I could gain minutes is on the bike, so it was a no brainer and I believe cycling helps with the endurance and your running cadence. So I was cross training more and cycling more. But what I found after my easy long bike ride, I was running straight after. This made me so much stronger, sometimes my heart-rate:pace was good, even after a 3 hour ride my pace was stable and HR. I found I wasn’t as tired and the following day my legs were fresh from easy training.
Cross training is hugely beneficial to a runner; you are seeing more and more runners doing this now.
What is cross training?
Cross training is defined as engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport. In other words, if you’re a runner and you are swimming then that is cross training. I believe there are 4 major key areas that are beneficial to runners and this is why I believe cross training is a must for runners. I simply believe you don’t need to do the mileage to get faster, as long as you are cross training and doing it the right way. It doesn’t have to run off the back off a long bike ride but something to mix it up and build that endurance. As endurance is what brings the speed, not pounding your body each day for speed.
Even mixing it up like running on treadmills will help. I find that when I run on my treadmill its easier on the legs and they feel fresher than normal.
Reduced risk of injury
This is a no brainer if it reduces overuse injuries and keeps you training then you will be consistent in your training and you will see progress. If you are injured then you will just be chasing fitness and won’t see much improvement. Runners are the worst; they carry on running with overuse injuries and they want to just run loads of miles all the time, but you don’t need to.
Better Aerobic Capacity
Your aerobic capacity will improve as a result from cross training allowing you to get stronger and more efficient. This can be seen in Triathletes that train in 3 sports, the run, swim and bike. You will find Triathletes have the one of the best aerobic capacities of all athletes. I believe swimming helps for breathing and easy on the muscles, cycling is good for endurance/cadence and strength training for keeping injuries at bay.
Increase in Overall Strength
You are training different muscle groups in different disciplines so your body is getting stronger as a result. For example, if you did strength training, it has been proven to keep injuries to a minimum. If you can stay consistent with your training, then you are going to get stronger and faster.
‘Training smart’ will allow you to recover quicker, if you’re running a few times a week and then cycling and swimming, you are training different muscles in each activity, which means it gives time for the other muscles to recover. So, if you ran 5 days a week your recovery would be harder than someone who ran 3 times a week and swam too.
I do a lot of cross training as a Triathlete, so my week is broken down with running, cycling, swimming, strength-work and even a Pilates session if I can fit it in. So, I am not just running. When I was just running, I got injured a lot and when I introduced strength work I managed to see less injuries. However, the big difference for me was when I started swimming. I saw less injuries, breathing was better and I saw improvement in my running over the next few years. Once I started cycling as well I found more improvement in my running and I am running way less now, but I feel stronger, run faster now and I found I recovered quicker. I am not trying to get you to do everything but simply doing one other activity will be a huge benefit to you.
You are also seeing now, more and more runners not doing massive mileage anymore, especially marathon runners and there are many athletes that do a lot more cycling to help them in their marathons. Cycling is low impact so, for example, if you cycle for an hour then went on a run this will again have huge benefit for you.
If you want to stay injury free, improve from consistent training and maybe enjoy the change more then you need to cross train. But don’t think of it as a waste of time, think of it as an important factor in your training and you will get stronger from doing cross training. If you are damaging your muscles after every session because you are running too much, your body recovers faster, gets stronger and therefore if that happens and the injuries stay away, consistent training means you can achieve your goals.