After picking up an injury or niggle, runners recognise the benefits of maintaining their fitness through cross training; swimming, cycling or rowing machines in the gym can all be great alternatives for maintaining fitness when we can’t run. However, cross training should not just be seen as the option of last resort when we are injured, and should actually play a regular part in our marathon or 10k training.
How to fit Cross Training into your training schedule
Switching out one run each week for a cross training session can be a wise move to keep overall mileage down but still challenge our cardiovascular system. A lower mileage volume will not only lessen the impact on our soft tissues and reduce risk of injury, it can also keep you mentally fresh – there will be days when the thought of another long, hard, lonely run is just becoming a grind. A bike ride through some nice country roads can offer just as much benefit to your heart and lungs and also serve as a mental refresh.
GB International Marathon Runner, Tish Jones (Coach: Nick Anderson) ran a personal best of 2:31:00 at London Marathon in 2019, with much of her training based on cross training due to injury. But cross training had been a staple of her training even before that. “For the last three years I’ve been doing about 70% of my training on the bike and up to 400 km a week on the bike, which is sometimes more than triathletes do”.
Many of your training sessions can be replicated in a form of cross training; this may be swimming, aqua jogging, cycling, rowing, using the cross trainer or elliptical. Ultimately, your cardiovascular system is challenged by time and intensity of exercise, not the specific type. So working in your easy, threshold or vo2 max training zones can be easily replicated through these other activities. Most Sports GPS watches have profiles to cover swimming, cycling, indoor cycling and many other activities, so you can still use these to ensure you are training in the right zone and track your overall fitness levels.
The benefits of Strength Training
When you are training hard most days of the week with high mileage (more for the marathon runners), it can be difficult to ensure you are doing regular strength work but a lack of sufficient focus on strength work can lead to injury. So don’t wait until injury forces you into the gym for some rehab work, be consistent with strength work every week during your marathon training.
Resistance/strength training has also now been shown to be a key factor in improving running economy. In the simplest of terms, running economy means the amount of energy (oxygen) we expend running in the aerobic zone. We know we can improve this through training and high volume of miles but approximately 20% of expended energy while running is spent stabilizing in the frontal plane (side to side). Resistance training has been shown to improve running economy by 3.93% (Sports Medicine Research). So if you want your running form to hold through the last 10 miles of the marathon, then ensuring regular weekly strength sessions is key.
Don’t forget about stretching…it’s just as important!
Time should also be dedicated to Pilates or Yoga and regular mobility and stretching. Keeping your muscles supple and improving range of movement in your hips, back and ankles can all pay huge rewards come race day.
So if you want everything to come together nicely at the Brighton Marathon or BM10k this year, then mix things up a little! Keep the body guessing, add in some regular cross training activities and you will be on the start line fresher, fitter and ready to go.