This seems to be the general consensus amongst oodles of runners. I know it’s hard to find the time to cross train. I mean, who has 5 minutes to spare to do some core work?! Whew! That’s an awful long time. Plus, what’s the point? Why in the world would you need to strength train if you’re a runner and not a body builder? Why would you need to spend time biking or swimming if you’re a runner and not a triathlete? Come on, why on earth would i do yoga? I’m a runner, not a yogi!
Well, unfortunately runners tend to be a stubborn bunch of people. Cross training is crucial to the overall health of your body, mind, and running. Of course, in order to be a better runner, you have to run. I don’t discount this at all and i stand firmly against the school of thought that some (ahem…some cross fit people..) that as long as you’re doing something, you can be a runner. This is not the case at all. You have to run to be a runner but you have to cross train to be a better runner.
So, now the thing that is going through many people’s brains is the “i’m fine with the runner i am…i don’t care if i get any faster…i don’t have a goal of doing any more than i’m doing…” school of thought. There’s always room for improvement whether it’s in flexibility, strength, or endurance. This is where cross training comes in. Think about the movement of running for a minute- you’re always moving forward in the exact same motion. You’re essentially working the front and back of your body – but only parts of it- your hamstrings and quads as well as your core. You’re expecting these muscles to give you their all but you’re not doing anything to help them. Instead you’re just beating them down. Your core wants to be strong. It has to propel you forward, keep you balanced, lift your legs, and hold you upright. Your quads are in full force on a down hill and your hamstrings and glutes are the only reason you can get up a hill. These muscles work the hardest on a run but lots of other muscles are suffering too- do your shoulders ever get tired on a long run? What about your back? Calves? Arms? Unfortunately, we don’t run backwards or on our hands so we have to do things other than run to help these muscles get stronger and more flexible.
Cross training is not going for a slower run or walking. You’re just mimicking running; only slower. Cross training is something that is working muscles that will support you while running. Cross training will help you to maintain your cardio fitness and will improve your overall strength and flexibility because you’re moving muscles in a way they’re not used to moving. Swimming, cycling, yoga, and strength training are, in my opinion, the best types of cross training for runners. They all provide benefits that can only help you as a runner.
I don’t know a single runner that couldn’t benefit from some flexibility and strength training. I know it’s hard to find the time to add in cycling and swimming so if you’re running 4 days a week, i think it’s important to focus your cross training on yoga and strength. The excuse of “i don’t have the time” needs to go out the door right now. Everyone can find the time if you want to find the time. Five minutes of core work and some hip raises while watching TV can certainly be done. A quick 40 minute class on monday mornings is worth it if it means you’re learning things you can do on your own as well as teaching your body to crave the cross training. If your core is weak, your posture is going to start to falter and your form is going to suffer- this will probably cause some back fatigue and could potentially lead to some knee pain as well. If your core is weak, when you start to get tired, you’re probably going to swing your arms across your body rather than keeping them forward, which is just going to cause back and neck tightness. A weak upper back will cause poor posture. Weak glutes can cause hip pain. Weak hips can cause knee pain. Tight hip flexors can cause a shortened stride which results in a slower time. Tight hamstrings can cause knee pain. I could go on and on and on but i imagine you get my drift.
Why not want to be a stronger runner? Even if you never do anything more than what you’re doing now, why not do what you’re doing now but do it better? You’ll thank me in the long run…(pun not intended 🙂 )