How Does Running Cross Training Fit?

Your running cross training activities should be in direct sync with your running goals! The list of sports you can take part in may very well be virtually endless but if you can answer the following question, you’ll be much closer to narrowing down not only which running cross training activities are best for you, but also how often and how intensely to go about them.

The golden question is: 'Why do you run?'

In general, your running goals fall into one of two categories:

  1. You run for fun and overall fitness. Running is just one of multiple activities that you enjoy. You may run to keep your weight under control and/or to enhance your fitness for another sport such as soccer or volleyball. If this is the case, feel free to partake in every sport under the sun!

    Some sports do contribute more than others to running specific muscle development and so might complement running more than others. For example, consider the following:

    • Basketball, Squash, Tennis, Volleyball – frequent squatting and explosive side to side movements great for ankle lower leg, adductor, abductor activation and glute strength and development

    That said, most all sports have something to offer to contribute to your overall athletic conditioning.

  2. You run and have specific running performance goals. If you have performance goals, then sport specificity is critical to your success. In other words, if you are serious about becoming a good or even great runner and meeting your goals, the more time that you spend running training (without getting injured), the better.

    That said, there may be times when you are nursing an injury and of course looking to maintain your running fitness. The best running cross training you can perform while recovering from an injury, are those activities that most closely mimic running.

Some great cross training when recovery is your main focus, includes:

Elliptical Training – An elliptical trainer provides an excellent alternative to running with next to no impact. If used properly, an elliptical workout can very closely mimic a running motion. If you are a particularly fit runner, you may find it hard to find a similar sport that gets your heart rate up that you can maintain without overdoing it. Thanks to the resistance settings on these machines, you can increase the difficulty in steps until you’ve reached your desired exercise heart rate, and hold it there much like you can during a run. You can even get a great Vo2 max workout closely resembling that which you would perform on the track. Elliptical trainers are also commonly available in almost any gym.

Water-running – water-running is a great cross training choice because you are actually running but without impact. Water running is a common choice for runners recovering from a stress fracture, and the added resistance of the water can actually help strengthen your hip flexors more than running itself can. The big downside to water-running, is it requires a facility with a pool that has both the length and waist deep water that is available to you to do your workouts.

Hockey/Skating – it’s not often you see hockey listed as a good running cross training option for recovering runners however in truth, like cycling, skating targets the development of the quadriceps but more importantly, strongly engages the hamstrings and lower back – two highly beneficial areas of development for running. The obvious disadvantage of this activity is, like water running, the right weather and/or facility is required to perform this activity. You can however, consider a pair of roller blades to overcome this obstacle.

Cycling – while cycling predominantly utilizes the quadriceps and so is not as sport specific as elliptical and water running, it’s probably the most accessible running cross training activity for runners. Almost everyone owns a bike and you would be hard pressed to find a gym without several styles of stationary cycles. Cycling and mountain biking can be a fun and challenging way to maintain your fitness while recovering from a running injury, if you specific injury allows you to do so.

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