To cross train or not to cross train. That is the question. Cross training is not a one size fits all solution. Running specific cross training is different from cross training for other sports.
There tends to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term cross training and the fitness style created by Greg Glassman that is CrossFit.
Let’s be clear:
Cross training does not equal CrossFit. Also, be very aware of gyms that offer “CrossFit” services unless they are an actual CrossFit affiliate (if you are in question about a gym, you can find their entire affiliate list here.) Go with me here on the difference because this is so important!
I am not a CrossFit affiliate and do not offer CrossFit training.
However, I do offer cross training that is specific to running and other goal specific cross training. Make sense?
Okay good! I say those things because it is a very common mistake! But that’s okay, let’s move on.
Boring part is now over. Let’s talk about Running Specific Cross Training.
There is a common rut that runners tend to get in while they are training for races and that is to just run all the time, the higher the miles the better and that means you’ll get faster.
While more miles is good for building endurance, your body needs breaks from the roughness of those higher miles. Plus, if speed is your goal, run specific cross training will get you there.
So what are some examples of run specific cross training? They are workouts/exercises that are a close fit with the motion of running.
Running Specific Cross Training Option 1 – Swimming
I love swimming, it’s relaxing but it can also be a killer workout.
Remember when we were kids and we would go swimming and then be totally exhausted afterward?
Well, besides the heat of the sun, swimming IS exhausting!
For my runners that want to get faster, if they have access to a pool, a lot of times I will have them get in a 3-4 foot deep area of the pool and run laps.
While that may not sound very exciting, it really can help.
Here’s why- the water is providing a great deal of resistance that you are having to push against all while keeping your breathing nice and steady.
Switch it up, run in a wide circle, then turn around and go back the other way in that same circle. You can throw in some zig zags and do this for about 30 minutes while taking rests as needed.
You will have had an awesome workout and then when you go for an actual run, you’ll be amazed at how light you feel without the weight of the water.
I know you know this, but I’m going to say it anyway… don’t swim alone. It’s just not safe. Take a friend with you OR swim at a place that has a lifeguard.
Running Specific Cross Training Option 2 – Cycling/Spin Class
When I’m training for a race and my miles are getting higher, a lot of times I will use one of my shorter run days and go for a bike ride of twice the distance that my normal run would be.
Here’s what I mean: if I have 4 miles planned for a run, I might bike ride 8 miles instead because that will get my heart rate up and cover a good distance. Not only that, it is much easier on my joints which have taken a beating from high mileage training.
Another option for cycling is a spin class! It can be really fun and you WILL get your heart rate up!
Running Specific Cross Training Option 3 – Elliptical
Personally, I hate the elliptical. Not because it doesn’t work or because it’s a bad machine; I just think it’s as boring as watching the grass grow in my backyard.
HOWEVER! Good news for you, my personal opinions of boring do not change the effectiveness of the machine for cross training for running.
The elliptical is another good way to give your joints a break from the pounding of the pavement that happens when you’re running.
Now, don’t just hop on there, hit quick start and start peddling as fast as you can. Do interval settings or hill settings and do at least 20 minutes.
Because, think about it, if you’re running at least 2 miles on your normal run days then you’re running for at least 20 minutes.
Remember, this is cross training so it needs to be comparable to your runs!
Running Specific Cross Training Option 4 – Stairstepper
The StairMaster is legit one of my favorite things. Not only that, it is excellent for lung endurance which is obviously specific to race days.
To be fair, when I first started using the Stair stepper, I couldn’t do more than a few minutes at a time and I have been a distance runner for years.
Think about when you walk up a flight of stairs. Are you winded at the top? Maybe I’m the only one but I’ll think think “Holy cow, I workout, why am I so out of breath at the top of these stupid stairs?”
Well, it’s because of the movement. The movement of your body up the stairs isn’t necessarily natural. You don’t walk by picking your feet up that far off of the ground.
Not only that, you are literally climbing and you don’t climb all of the time on top of picking your feet up that far. It simply makes your heart beat faster and causes you to run out of breath.
So! Climbing stairs is incredible for building endurance because we just don’t climb all of the time. Unless you’re a rock climber for a living; is that a thing? It sounds like some of those jobs you see people on HGTV claim they have while looking for homes. Job title of rock climber ranks right up there with umbrella insurance.
Okay… I digress.
Running Specific Cross Training Option 5 – Cross Country Skiing/Ice Skating
This one is not thought of very often simply because the general population doesn’t live in an area where ice skating and cross country skiing are a thing.
However, these two activities are very good for building lung endurance as well as keeping the same general motion of running.
If you’re in an area that you can do these activities, give it a go! You might be surprised as how great of a workout you get in.
Running Specific Cross Training Option 6 – Rowing
The rowing machine is fantastic for building endurance and lung capacity and it is also a great full body workout.
You will probably not get as much time on the rower as you would a normal run because it will completely wear you out.
I haven’t found that rowing will make you faster, but I have found that rowing will help build lung capacity.
2 Important But Non Running Specific Cross Training
While it’s not ‘by the book’, I do recommend some lighter weight training to my girls who are training for races.
By lighter weight training, I mean using lighter weight and more reps to build that muscle endurance.
I don’t recommend just going in and getting on some machines and calling it a day, make it more specific than that.
Work your legs and your upper back. Stronger upper back muscles will help you keep your chest tall to keep those lungs expanded and lots of oxygen flowing through. While strong leg muscles help keep those legs moving and towards that finish line.
If you’d like my list of exercises to work your legs and your upper back, drop in your e-mail and I’ll send it to you for free!
While I train for a race, or when my girls are training for races, I typically recommend doing a light yoga session on their rest days.
This really works to relax the mind and body and lengthen those muscles back out. I used to be TERRIBLE at stretching on my rest days and I do mean terrible. However, when I started incorporating Yoga stretches into my rest days routine, I started not only seeing better results run wise but my muscles were more relaxed and I’m getting more flexible.
Whaaaatttt??? Stretching leads to flexibility? Who knew?
While the last two suggestions are not running specific; I have found in my experience that they can be just as important when used properly.
Lifting super heavy weights while training for a race isn’t exactly the best idea, remember, lighter weights and more reps to build endurance. While heavy lifting is appropriate for other goals, running isn’t where I recommend to lift heavy.
As you choose your cross training method, remember that if you choose one, that doesn’t mean you’re married to it and you can make adjustments!
If you choose elliptical and decide it’s a pain in the butt, then try something else!
Mix and match.
Remember to keep your body guessing to get the most out of your workouts.
Remember to loosen up and have fun with your running routine. When we get too serious about our training regimens we tend to get burnt out and that is not a fun thing to overcome.
Who knows? You might find a new normal routine you really enjoy!