It’s no secret that running can be hard on your body. It’s a high impact sport; your body impacts on itself each time you land on the ground—thousands of time per run. When put that way, it just seems like common sense that you ought to give your joints, muscles, and other running parts the occasional break. This doesn’t have to mean another rest day though.
Incorporating cross-training into your schedule one or two days a week can do wonders to help running injuries — or potential injuries — heal, as well as build new strength to aid in your overall running performance. Although many other sports and forms of exercise could potentially strengthen your body for better running, there are a select few that stand above the rest.
Check out our top five picks below:
This is the most obvious choice as movements involved are most similar to running. Walking, however, is far gentler on the muscles and joints, since your feet never leave the ground at the same time causing your entire body weight plus gravity to come crashing down on itself. Walking uses many of the same muscles as running, but it also incorporates additional muscles, including muscles a runner may relay on during a long run or race when their primary running muscles have been exhausted.
Renowned running coach Jeff Galloway has also made famous the concept that walking allows runners to push their envelopes further than they ever would by just running. His argument? You can walk a hell of a lot farther than you can run. It’s hard to argue with that. Galloway specifically recommends incorporating walking into your running, such as walking one minute for every six or seven you run. This is a very effective long-run strategy and one many ultra-marathon runners utilize, even in races.
When cycling as cross-training, be sure to engage in a variety of workout types, such as intervals, long rides, sprints, and hills. High-power bike intervals can work your legs even harder than uphill running without the injury potential of repeated impact. Cycling strengthens the lower body, particularly the calves and hamstrings, and can even help with form. Form is so important in cycling that it helps train your mind to focus on it while physically performing. This can easily transfer over to running.
Most runners have heard of pool running, but may have never tried it. The answer why is simple; you look like a dork. There’s really no way around that, but what’s an hour or so each week of looking a dork mean if it will improve your running performance and ultimately make you feel better physically and mentally about your running? Pool running is a full-body workout, particularly strengthening your back and core, two muscles groups often attributed to running injuries when they are weak.
Most runners know the importance of stretching and obtaining overall flexibility in order to stave off running injuries, yet many either don’t stretch enough or don’t stretch at all. (Tsk tsk!) Yoga and palates have been proven to increase flexibility, core strength, and concentration – all vitally important characteristics to healthy running.
Weight training offers the opportunity to focus on specific muscles or muscle groups used in running that may need additional strengthening, such as the core, back, and hip stabilizers. Weight training has also been shown in some studies to improve the oxygen used in muscles, which could help a runner perform at their usual pace with less effort. This, of course, means you could also potentially run faster at the same effort level that you used prior to incorporating weight lifting into your routine. Also awesome.
Most runners engage in this sport because they love it. But like all good things, you can have too much of it and end up injured if you don’t take proper care of your body. Incorporating a couple cross-training activities into your weekly schedule provides your body with the rest it needs from running while still remaining active and gaining strength elsewhere.
What are you waiting for? There’s nothing to lose!