The term “cross training” has started to be used in loose terms to refer to any workout you do when you are not running or as exercise on your days off. Technically cross training is any training you do outside of your primary sport that uses similar muscles, actions, and aerobic levels as your sport.
For runners this would include activities such as the elliptical machine, cycling, cross country skiing, and even water running. These types of activities can be used as complementary workouts for your training regime or as a replacement activity on your day off or during injury. For example, a few years ago I had plantar fasciitis and could not run. My physical therapist had me start cycling as a form of cross training that would help speed my return to running once I was cleared from the injured list. By using the bicycle, I was still engaging my running muscles and getting an aerobic workout.
This time of year is perfect for many of us to go cross country skiing. Last year I was introduced to the sport and beforehand was pretty sure I wouldn’t really like it. I immediately took a sideways spill as soon as I had my skis on (I’ve mentioned my lack of coordination off of the ice), but soon began to love skiing. I am always one to say that nothing is as great as the workout that running provides. Although cross country skiing may not quite replace running, it can come pretty darn close. It provides a heck of an upper body workout and despite thinking I have really strong legs, they are always singing when I finish a ski trip. If you live somewhere cold and snowy like I do, this can be a perfect addition or even a replacement on those days when running on a foot of snow is just not an option.
Cross training is great for “days off” from running as it is recommended that you get some form of light activity in, not just veg on the couch the entire day (although sometimes your body needs that too).
I often hear people refer to other workouts such as yoga, weight lifting, or a pick up game of flag football as cross training. In its truest form these are not modes of cross training as they do not by definition mimic the actions or use the same muscles we use in running, nor do you engage in the same level of aerobic activity.
However, I personally like doing yoga as another form of exercise. I also like weight lifting and strength training to help tone those awesome muscles I have developed from my running. There is nothing wrong with these extra workouts and in fact they might help to develop muscles that running doesn’t really work, creating an overall stronger body. But keep in mind that these workouts are not technically considered cross training.
If you are truly looking to add workouts to your training that help aid in your running, you will be best suited to look for a workout on the bike, elliptical, skiing machine, or a run in the pool. Try them out and see which one works best for you. These workouts will help add extra training to the muscles you are looking to strengthen the most in your running without adding extra miles on the road. This in turn will help lessen your odds of an overuse injury. Keep in mind that cross training should only cover about 25% of you total weekly training plan.
Personally, I know that I will never be an elite runner so to me I would prefer yoga over an hour on the bicycle…and that’s ok. I simply just want to add workouts in that supplement my overall health and training. Call it what you want, but to me that is my own form of “cross training.”