There are countless cross training options from walking through to skiing and team sports, but which are best for runners?
After the last article asking whether cross training could be the key to success, next Tom Craggs and Robbie Britton go through some of the options.
It’s easy to pop onto to Instagram and see Kilian Jornet spending the winter skiing up mountains or any number of Scandinavians jumping on their cross country skis, but here we focus on the most common available and realistic options for UK distance runners. Even those based up in the North of Scotland.
One of the joys of running is the simplicity. You just chuck on your t-shirt, shorts and trainers and out the door. Oh, and your compression socks, GPS watch, head torch, bumbag, hiking poles and… okay some might be making their running a little more complicated.
But the key to cross training is making it accessible and easy enough to get out the door. If you have to travel miles and miles to get to a pool then you’re less likely to utilise swimming in your training. The cost can be important too. Unlike a triathlete though you don’t need the fanciest bike in the world to get some cross training in, although it might help on the hills.
On your bike
British cycling is booming, even if they’re all asthmatic, but it’s great cross training. Whether it’s out on the roads or on a static bike/ turbo trainer cycling is non-impact but still builds leg strength and endurance.
Pushing down on the pedals can increase your running stride rate and can be used to replicate some of the longer endurance sessions. You can even get out on your mountain bike and see more of the great outdoors, although downhill only riding doesn’t really provide a great cardio workout.
Worth noting its less running specific than some of the other options below and it may further acerbate some running injuries such as IT band syndrome if you’re not positioned correctly. If you’re doing a lot of cycling then worthwhile getting a decent bike fitting.
Let’s get elliptical
Those strange contraptions that look like something from an old school Star Trek episode? Elliptical trainers are growing in popularity. The best part is they mimic some of the running action and allow you to be weight bearing but without the impact.
Elliptical trainers allow you to vary resistance and can build strength and leg speed as many runners are able to move at a ‘higher cadence’ than when running. Can even be used for replicating ‘threshold’ or ‘tempo’ type sessions if running these causes issues with the harder work.
Be aware that an elliptical is not an exact mirror of the running action and lacks the hamstring engagement and hip extension that faster running has. It’s still weight bearing and so will not be suitable for some injuries.
Looking cool at the swimming pool
Aqua-jogging is something every knows they should do when injured, but most feel too embarrassed to try. It’s the most running specific cross training option and you don’t need an olympic sized pool. Hannah Irwin recently gave us an insight into how she uses aqua-jogging and has even got into the sea for a run.
The athlete uses a buoyancy belt and runs in a deep water pool for a top cardiovascular workout. Aqua-jogging can mirror and even accentuate good running posture but with no impact and a greater level of resistance.
Aqua-jogging technique can be tricky to master and this, combined with the effects of the water, mean it can be hard to get heart rate up to the zones they would reach when running. For some Aqua jogging can be pretty mentally tough (some might say boring).
If it’s good enough for the Scandinavians
There’s no better example than Ingrid Kristiansen when it comes to winter cross training. The Norwegian used XC skiing, combined with treadmill running, as a winter foundation in the years when she was world record holder at 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon. The full body, and non-impact nature of XC skiing can provide huge aerobic benefits with skiers regularly achieving the highest vo2 max scores of the endurance world.
Especially using the classic diagonal stride one almost uses an exaggerated running style and cross country skiing is one of the most enjoyable winter workouts you can get. It is worthwhile taking some lessons to work on technique, but you’ll get a great workout if you’re rubbish as well.
The main issue for UK & Irish athletes is access. Unlike Scandinavia, where every wee village has it’s own XC loop, the options for us are limited to roller skiing in Hyde Park or a short flight to Lillehammer. There is some ski-mountaineering in Scotland, but we felt that was a little bit obscure.
Keep your head above water
Swimming is popular and accessible in the UK. An impact free and full body exercise against the resistance of water, swimming is a great option for injured runners or for shorter recovery sessions around a main running programme. Getting down your local pool or trying some wild swimming can add some decent training time to your week without the physical stress on your body of running.
In a longer term rehabilitation programme swimming has the drawback of actually not being weight bearing so over time will reduce your legs load-bearing strength if not combined with proper rehab. Bone-Density can suffer if too much non weight bearing exercise is the focus of your training.
If you weren’t swimming from an early age it’s also worth noting it’s technique heavy so it’s advisable to get some support from a coach to get it right. Or just keep at the doggy paddle as it’s hard work to get anywhere.
Hike it out
Last, but by no means least, get your hike on. If you’re near the hills or just enjoy a brisk walk then it can be a useful addition to your training. Whilst some might be adding “Walk down the shops” or “Walking the cat” to Strava, we’re thinking more “Few hours hiking in the fells”.
Especially if there are hills involved it can be great for recovery to get the blood flowing, be a similar substitute for lovers of the great outdoors when injured and a good excuse to spend some time with the family you normally forget during the depths of marathon training.
Want an added workout? Get one of those baby carriers and make it more of struggle to get uphill. You’ve got to add the baby in there and if you don’t have a baby then a weighted vest can also work. US-based elite ultra runner Ian Sharman is often seen in his local hills with a weight vest on, but maybe don’t try in central London.
Next up is our six best tips for anyone building cross training into their week. We’ve got your back the whole way.
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