Cross-Training for Runners
Battling an injury, suffering from running fatigue, or just looking for ways to switch up your cross-training? There are plenty of ways to keep your running muscles fit and healthy if you need to take a bit of a break from your run training. Some non-running activities will even make you a stronger runner, so don’t be afraid to switch things up or take some downtime if your body is telling you to!
Swimming – Swimming is a great way to get an aerobic workout with zero impact on your joints. It also helps strengthen some key running muscles such as your glutes and ankles. A proper freestyle kick with movement that originates from the hips will help strength the gluteus muscles making you better conditioned for running. To really feel the burn and build strong and flexible ankles, try doing some drills wearing fins.
Elliptical – if you are unable to run, the elliptical is a great alternative because it provides a very similar motion to running without aggravating some common injuries. In a study done by Precor USA it was found that “heartrate and oxygen consumption for an elliptical trainer were virtually identical to running on a treadmill, but impact force was less”. 1 Try doing interval workouts similar to what you would do running to help boost your heart rate and get a better workout.
Cycling – Cycling is a non-load bearing activity and is perfect for injured runners, or if you just need an active recovery day. It allows you to still gain fitness and greater power in your leg muscles, but without any of the impact that comes with running. To see some real improvement in your cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength try doing hill repeats or interval workouts to get your heart pumping and your quads, hamstrings and calves firing.
Photograph by Frank Nguyen
Skiing/Snowboarding – downhill skiing and snowboarding can help build a lot of strength in the large quad muscles in your legs. These muscles are key to adding power to your run and propelling you forward with speed and agility. Having strong quads can also help prevent injuries, such as runners knee. But, make sure to stretch after skiing because these large muscles can become very tight if they are not lengthened and stretched after a tough workout.
Stair Mill – this common piece of gym equipment is great for targeting your calves, glutes, and quads and can help strengthen your lower body for running hills. If you are battling an injury but have a race with lots of elevation coming up this is a good alternative to keep those muscles strong. Always keep good form and avoid using the hand rails to support your body weight.
Remember, you still want to push yourself with a similar amount of effort that you would experience running, so a good rule of thumb is to keep your heart rate at about 70% of your max while cross training.