The best things in life often involve compromise and running is no different. A running convert might want to run every day of their life, but the scientific reality is that it wouldn’t be good for them. The solution is to run a lot, if you want to, but also to use cross training as a way of giving your joints a break, strengthening muscles and helping prevent injury. So what should you do and why?
Leaping into the saddle and letting the pedals take the strain, either in the gym or on the road, is a terrific, non weight-bearing way of using different muscles. This time your quads and glutes can take the load, safe in the knowledge that you are getting a fantastic cardiovascular workout, as well as enhancing your aerobic fitness. Bear in mind that in terms of workload, 10-15 minutes on the bike is roughly the equivalent of one running mile (1.6 km). And remember that a spinning workout is a more controlled exercise level without the risk of a crash! On the road, you have the stress of contending with cars, people etc and your workouts are dictated by the terrain.
Yes another non weight-bearing activity that is brilliant for runners, because it targets areas of the body that are massively under-exercised on the road, like your shoulders, arms and chest. That is an area where some runners can be vulnerable to injury, so the strengthening that swimming brings is extremely useful both in injury prevention, but also in bringing potential extra pump power to your running. It also improves flexibility and carries a minimal injury risk, although some runners who like to breaststroke need to be careful they don’t over-extend their groin. Plus the fact that the gentle splash of water lapping against the side of the pool is very relaxing.
Pool running or aqua-jogging, is an activity that enhances your fitness levels because it mimics running in every way, except the weight-bearing element, so with no impact forces your chance of injury is very low. All you need is a flotation device, so that you can turn over your legs without them hitting the bottom of the pool. The key to a good workout is to keep that leg turnover high, so you can almost treat it like a tempo run in water. It is also excellent exercise for runners returning from injury, or those who want to enjoy a good workout without running in the heat. But it can be a little tedious, so brace yourself.
This can be an exercise that is very much underrated, but it is another way of loosening up tired and stiff muscles and getting your heart rate up, especially if you are power-walking. There are massive benefits to be had from taking a leisurely stroll, or something more energetic, the day after a hard run or an interval training session. It will get your legs moving without too much strain.
Muscle strengthening, body fat reduction and an increase in oxygen capacity, are just some of the benefits of weight training. Resistance training, where you use your own body weight in exercises like press-ups or sit-ups, or good old fashioned weight training where you dabble in a range of exercises, is also good at balancing out any discrepancies between muscles groups. Weights for your legs will increase strength and are a must for runners who have been out through injury. And you can also focus on your core, which will help your balance, mobility and running economy. A stronger body is less prone to injury.
If you want to get greater flexibility and strength, the yoga studio could be the place for you. There are several different types of yoga, but they encourage you to stretch in ways that runners don’t tend to do naturally. Your back, core and upper body will get a terrific strengthening workout and you will focus on breathing patterns, which can be so important.
These machines mimic the movement of the cross-country skier, with some climbing and walking thrown in, to provide a comprehensive cardiovascular workout. There are two programmes, either forwards or backwards (which takes a bit of getting used to), but the support of the platforms means it is low impact on the major joints. Your glutes will love it as will your upper body, if you choose to use the handles on either side and operate them in tandem with your exercise. And if you do, that can only improve your co-ordination.
The buttocks, hips and upper body are the main beneficiaries from the rowing machine, which is an underrated activity. You can use it to build up strength in your quads as your legs push you back with every stroke. But it’s the pull on your upper body that strengthens and tones, although it is a good idea to have some instruction in technique before trying it out.
This is an easy exercise to do in your own home or at work, or of course in the gym. This is great for the hips and quads, which tend to lag behind the hamstrings in most runners in terms of their development.
Like yoga, Pilates will improve flexibility and add strength to key areas. Your core will be rock solid if you do classes regularly and your back will be stronger too. Pilates is ideal for stretching tired and aching muscles and it is another great way of opening up your diaphragm, which will help you get more oxygen into your lungs. With improved strength and flexibility, your running economy will improve.