You know what's better than running? Well, nothing. But you know what's almost as great as running? Cross training! And I'm not just talking about the dynamic stretching that most of us runners do say we do before our runs. I mean an actual cross training activity that's fun, non-impact or minimal impact, and one that helps strengthen all those under-used, non-running muscles.
My go-to cross training activity is swimming. When I do it consistently, I really feel some improvement in my endurance level. Despite this, I'm more likely to skip a cross training day than I am to miss out on a run when my body needs rest. I'm even worse with body weight strength training and CrossFit type activities, cause let's face it. Squats suck, burpees will kill you, and no box is low enough for me to jump on it without immediately falling off.
Being inconsistent with cross training – mainly because I'm not good at it – means that I will NEVER be good at it, unless I become consistent. I really have no excuse because consistent cross training with steady improvement will help me run better and stronger. And when I’ve stuck with it during training, I’ve noticed those exact results.
Over the past few years and training cycles, I've complied a list of my top seven cross training tips that (when I actually follow them) have proved to be beneficial. My goal is to follow them as I train for the DICK'S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon on May 6, 2018 because I have some serious PR goals for the race.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you as well when training for your next big event!
1. Choose a cross training activity that you LIKE to do.
Nothing is worse than dreading your workout. If you choose a cross training activity that you hate, you're less likely to do it and certainly less likely to do it well. So try to incorporate a form of cross training that you like to do in your training plan! Make it a "break from running" that will ultimately help to improve your running.
2. Cross training should supplement, not impede your running.
If your cross training activities are too intense, then you essentially won't give your body enough time to rest and recover. With marathon training, "time on your feet" matters a lot. However, if your muscles are sore from running miles AND sore from all the minutes you spend cross training, then eventually you'll be too sore to do anything at all! Remember that cross training should complement your marathon training, not detract from it.
3. Schedule cross training with the same commitment that you give your training runs.
It's easy to give into temptation and skip a cross training day, but try not to. Make it an essential part of your overall marathon training plan and tackle it with the same commitment that you do your runs. Of course, if your body needs rest or you're injured, then take the time off you need. But don't skip cross training just for the sake of doing so.
4. Join forces with a friend for extra motivation.
You know how those miles fly by when you're running with a friend? Well, cross training can also be more enjoyable when you're doing it with a friend. Use the opportunity to motivate one another while simultaneously supporting each other. Whether it's one more rep or one more lap in the pool, help each other get it done!
5. Avoid impact activities that don't allow your legs to rest.
Running works specific leg muscles and they need rest. Doing high or even moderate impact activities can inhibit your ideal "leg rest" period. Try to incorporate cross training activities that work different muscles and are less taxing on your legs. It's especially important to work on strengthening your core and upper body, as those areas tend to be neglected when training for a marathon.
6. Track your progress just like you track your miles.
Who doesn't like setting a goal and accomplishing it, right? Cross training goals are just as important as your running goals. Start off by determining your baseline and aim for steady, incremental improvements. Do you max out at 20 squats? Aim for 25 the next time. Can you swim up to 800 meters? Aim for 1,000 the next time. Focus on gradual improvement and celebrate those accomplishments!
7. Don't forget the goal is to become a stronger runner.
At the end of the day, your goals should be to finish strong and injury-free when you’re training for a marathon. And, for many of us, we also want to finish as fast as we can while ensuring those first two goals are accomplished. Cross training should always focus on those end goals. It should be fun, and just as importantly, it should be beneficial.
Since we are at the official start of training for the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, now is the best time to figure out what cross training activity (or even a couple of activities) you're going to do to get ready for the big day. Good luck, and I look forward to seeing you on the race course!