Any runner, from beginner to professional, can use cross training to run better. Running uses only certain groups of muscles; this may leave other muscles weaker, making joints unbalanced and the runner injury-prone. Your running muscles need periodic rest, but you don't want to sacrifice cardiovascular conditioning while resting these specific muscle groups. To accomplish this you need to balance your workouts with cross training exercises. This will allow you to run better.
- Begin by looking at your weekly workout schedule. Perhaps you train hard four days per week with two lighter workout days and one day completely off. Choose two activities other than running for your lighter days. To improve your hamstrings, try cycling with toe clips so that your leg not only pushes down but pulls up on the pedals working your hamstrings. If your upper body is weak, begin strength training on your second light day, focusing on your upper body and core. For better balance and to decrease the tightness in your legs Yoga or pilates classes are excellent ways to increase flexibility and stretch your muscles.
- As the above changes become a pleasant part of your routine, begin to look at other exercises you might enjoy which will give you a cardiovascular workout comparable to your running. Swimming is an excellent way for runners to use cross training to run better. Of course, this only works if you can swim and you are comfortable in the water. If you do not like to swim, you may want to try water running. Both water running and swimming remove some of the strain from your joints and give you a good cardiovascular workout.
- At this point, you are pursuing a strenuous run three times per week, an alternate cardiovascular workout once per week, and two lighter days aimed at increasing the strength of your weaker muscle groups while also increasing your flexibility and balance. This may be as much as you wish to change your schedule during the running season.
- In the off-season, some runners will begin swimming or cycling more to give their muscles and joints a break from the monotonous pounding they take during the running season. With these exercises, your cardiovascular system will remain at a peak performance level but the muscles and joints you use in running will get a break. In this way you will be maximizing your use of cross training to run better in the future.