Diversifying your workout? More swimmers are cycling and lifting weights, cyclists are doing more running, and runners are taking up stair stepping, cycling, and resistance training. Can such “cross training” workouts really help athletes in their preferred sports? How could lifting a weight slowly for eight to 10 reps, even if done for several sets, really prepare a runner’s muscles to optimally handle the thousands of quick contractions needed to run a marathon – or even a 10K? Several different studies indicate that strength training can have a positive impact on running performances – or on the physiological variables which determine running performances. For example,adding squats, knee extensions, knee flexions, calf raises, sit ups with fairly heavy resistance can improve your running and cycling performances by about 13%!
Cross-training is any sport or exercise that supplements your main sport — in this case, running. Whether you’re a beginner runner or an experienced marathoner, you can benefit from cross-training. This will help strengthen your non-running muscles and rest your running muscles. You can focus on specific muscles, such as your inner thighs, that don’t get worked as much while running and may be weaker than your running muscles. By balancing your weaker muscles with your stronger ones, you’ll help reduce your chance of injury. Runners suffering from injuries are sometimes told by their doctor to take a break from running during their injury recovery. But, with certain injuries, it is possible to continue with cross-training. Cross-training can help injured runners maintain their fitness and deal better with the frustration and disappointment of being sidelined from running. The amount of cross training while dealing with an injury will, of course depend on the injury and you should consult your physical therapist or doctor to ensure you aren’t adding to that injury.
Strength-train to reduce your risk of injury, and above all strength-train
to heighten your level of performance. But don’t rely solely on those classical,
familiar exercises for the legs and upper body which almost all runners and cyclists carry out. Those exertions aren’t bad for building general strength, but you need to progress to running/cycling-specific movements and hill training, too. Progression also means varying your resistances and speeds of movement, both during your general and specific strengthening. You need the high resistance (and therefore usually slower speed) to optimally build strength, but you also need the low resistance (and therefore higher speed) to improve nervous system control of what you are doing when you are moving fast, to enhance your rate of muscular force production – and therefore to increase your power. Yes, power, because even if you only run marathons, you are still engaged in a power sport. Progression doesn’t mean just adding more plates to the weight stack; it also means making your routine more and more like what you do when you run. The process of strength training can be complicated, so take it slow and learn the exercises and proper form – and reap the rewards!