Benefits of Cross Training for Runners

As a college athlete once upon a time, I wasn’t always in love with running. I actually hated every part of it! I attended school at Winona State University where I played on the Women’s Basketball team. Any time Coach said the “lakes” run for conditioning workouts, I considered it a death trap. We had two man made lakes in the center of the city at the foothills of the bluffs. One lake was about 3.5 miles around and the other was about 1.9 miles. If you ran them as one big lake it was a little over 5 miles, which of course is what Coach made us do!

photo from www.twincitiesdailyphoto.com
photo from http://www.twincitiesdailyphoto.com

As I got older I began to really appreciate the “lakes” run. By the time I was a senior I loved everything about it and loved watching the freshman’s face turn in agony as they thought about the death trap they were about to enter.  I on the other hand would smile as I put in my ear buds and remembered back on how I used to feel four years earlier. I can’t explain the feeling I have when I get ready for a run. Blending in with the nature around me is such a passionate feeling and it’s “me” time to forget about society for an hour or so.

Basketball is a very high impact sport. It’s especially bad on your knees because you are constantly pounding on them by jumping, quickly stopping and changing directions, all on a hardwood floor that has no spring in it what so ever. The wear and tear I did on my knees injured me for half of my college career. As hard as it was to sit out of practices or games it was even harder to imagine what my knees would be like in five or ten years.

Now here I am, a year out of college and running a half marathon, something the doctors told me I would probably never be able to do. Because of the constant pounding of basketball, half of my meniscus was removed out of my right knee and I have degenerative cartilage. This means my cartilage rubs together and basically frays apart which caused me to have two additional knee scopes after my initial meniscal removal surgery.

When I finished my half marathon back in April, I was filled with so much joy and accomplishment from doing something I once thought would never be possible.

Finishing my first half marathon, smiling behind the guy in the blue
Finishing my first half marathon, smiling behind the guy in the blue 🙂

As much as I love running, I have to be very very careful. There are times when I come back from a long run and my knee is sore and swollen. Then there are times were I can run 13.1 miles and not have any problems with my knee. As easy as it is for me to get up and go for a long run now, I don’t want it to cause arthritis and pain as I continue to get older.

This is where the lovely cross training comes in and I must admit, I am guilty for not sticking to a cross training plan like I should. But I’m dedicating this summer to cross training to help improve my running time and work other muscles. There are so many benefits to cross training that I am only going to name a few that have helped me through my knee injury.

While I went through my knee therapy back in college, I was pulled out of a lot of basketball practices. To make up for the missed physical activity I did a lot of cycling and swimming. For a girl that thought she didn’t like water, I LOVED IT!

For me I still like to run three times a week and then do strength training along with cycling or elliptically on Tuesday and Thursdays. Now that it is so nice outside, I don’t enjoy being stuck in the gym elliptically so when I have a pool or bike I swim or cycle to get in that cross training.

What is Cross Training:

A simple definition is the training in two or more sports in order to improve fitness and performance, especially in a main sport. In my case, running is my main sport that I cross train for. My cross training plan could be different than someone whose main sport is swimming. No matter what your main sport is, cross training will benefit your mind and body.

Benefits of Cross Training:

Injury Prevention

  • The number one benefit for cross training is injury prevention. Running is a high impact sport using the same muscles over and over. Runners, like me, typically have tight hamstrings and weak quads which can cause issues with the knees. By doing cross training such as cycling, swimming and strength training, athletes use different muscles which help strengthen them. Not only will it help your flexibility and knees, but it can also help increase your time when running that next race.

Decrease burnout

  • Burnout happens with anything we do if we do it to often. By mixing in other workouts it makes me even more excited for the next day to go out and run. Even though I love running, I have days where I get home from work and want nothing to do with running. Yet, I go and run anyways with a bad attitude and hating every minute of it. By giving your mind and body a different form of workout it decreases boredom and gives you something to look forward to for your next workout!

Increase strength and flexibility

  • As a runner sometimes I don’t appreciate how important flexibility is until I take some time to focus on it. By doing cross training I take time to do yoga or flexibility workouts to focus on my tight hamstrings. When I take weeks to really work on my flexibility I notice how less sore I am after a long run. Including strength training and stretching will make the muscles you don’t work as often when running stronger to help you run that last mile faster.

Enhance weight loss

  • I believe this benefit is very important for some people more than others. For me, cross training is important to protect my knee, keep me excited about running and get stronger. I don’t feel the need to use it as a way to lose weight, but how great is when there is an additional bonus! When you do the same workouts day after day, your body gets used to them. Muscles don’t have to work as hard and your body along with the weight can begin to plateau. But when you put your body on an unexpected workout schedule it doesn’t know what to expect for that day. The body then has to work that much harder to work other muscles.

It is truly amazing how the body can adapt so easily to routines. Keep your body on its toes 🙂 I promise you will see weight come off and the other three benefits I mentioned above.

There are many more benefits to cross training that I simple couldn’t fit them all in one post. Mixing up your workout routine is so important for all athletes, especially runners. Not only is cross training good for the body, but it also is refreshing for the mind.

Questions for the day:

  • What kind of cross training do you like best?
  • What are some other benefits you see from cross training?

 

 

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