I don't like cross training very much, but over the past 7 years I've had to do my fair share of it. After 5 stress fractures, 3 tendon injuries, and 5 calf tears, I've had the need to become adequate at cross training as a means to staying fit with my lengthy periods on the sidelines. I hate getting injured because cross training is tedious, takes more time than running, and is never as enjoyable as going outside and running along the beach, around a lake, or through the bush. I am a big advocate for cross training though, as I do believe you can maintain fitness quite well through various cross training exercises.
It might be hard to actually get fitter, but say you needed to have 2 weeks off with a calf tear, the difference between cross training every day and sitting on your backside will be huge. Cross training will still get the heart pumping and keep your weight down.
I've used various forms of cross training over the years including swimming, pool running, bike riding, rowing, and the elliptical machine. All of these will get your heart rate up but I find that pool running, bike riding and the elliptical machine are the most similar to running as they're all leg dominant. I'd have to say I've been tending to use the elliptical more and more lately if I can as it makes you work your butt a lot. This still puts load through the body so for some injuries this machine may not be possible early on during an injury.
I'd suggest to not go hard every day when cross training so you don't burn yourself out. When running you'd only get your heart rate over 160 beats per minute on three separate occasions per week, during your sessions. It's easy to smash it in cross training and go hard every day but it's important to realise the dangers of overtraining even when you're cross training. The heart and nervous system still gets placed under fatigue and you don't want to set yourself back even further when you're already injured.
For the cross training sessions, keep your recoveries lower. The stress on the body isn't as much so you can handle a 30 second break after a 3 minute bike effort instead of taking a full minute.
Cross training doesn't just have to be when you're injured either. If you feel as though your body is on the brink, get into the pool for a few days to let the body settle.
All the best and stay healthy.
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