Man cannot thrive on running alone. Sorry, runners. Even those of us who’d rather be out on long runs, meandering through nature, can benefit from a little time off the trails and road and in the gym. Major gains in running can be made from cross-training, especially during the off-season.
Whether you add these to your schedule all year or just in the winter, you’re going to feel the benefits of being stronger, less prone to injury and more flexible. With some of the activities, like hiking, you might get a mental boost as well as a physical one. Kyle Boorsma, assistant coach for the well-known Speed River Running Club, adds his two cents on the best cross-training for your running buck.
“Depending on the time of year, but regardless of ability level, I think cross-training is a good idea,” he says. “Running only can get you stuck in a rut with regards to movement patterns. Doing many different activities and types of movements through play and sport makes you a better all-round athlete. What we see is runners who are better all-round athletes have more effective running stride and fewer injuries.”
Convinced yet? Now you just need to figure out what to add. Here are six ideas for cross-training:
1. STRENGTH TRAINING
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that runners can see great gains from strength training. Boorsma explains that the exposure to greater forces is hugely important for runners, no matter what distance you’re training for. This exposure can help you prevent injury and develop muscle that can power your sprint across the finish line. A review of studies done on runners and strength training showed generally positive impacts and no negative consequences. You won’t hulk out or bulk up just fine-tune some lean muscle in ways that running alone can’t do.
All runners should have a mobility practice (a fancy way of saying you should be stretching and foam rolling more), but let’s be honest, most of us completely skip this, especially when life gets busy. A weekly yoga session won’t totally mitigate the need to stretch, but it will provide a bit of that flexibility and mobility work, as well as elements of strength training, core stability and balance — all of which are hugely important for runners. Boorsma adds that the body awareness that yoga brings can be hugely helpful for your running, from injury prevention and perfecting your stride to just knowing when you need to chill out. Bonus: It improves your mental game as well. There are all kinds of yoga types to choose from, and if you’re more adventurous, try aerial yoga or Pilates.
3. CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
If you live in a climate where winter means sticking inside on the treadmill because the snow is piled up outside, cross-country skiing can be a lifesaver. Getting outside in the sun and in nature can clear your brain and even help ease depression, and if you’re not getting those outdoor hours on foot, skis might be the solution.“The whole-body aspect of cross-country skiing gives it a high cardiovascular demand, and so it’s very similar to running in this respect,” adds Boorsma, a native of Canada and a cross-country skier on occasion.
Cycling is ideal cross-training, especially if you suffer constant injuries from running or you’re recovering from a running-related injury, since pedaling reduces the impact forces of running. Boorsma emphasizes this, and, as someone who found himself competitively cycling after using the bike as a recovery tool, he’s a huge advocate of getting in the saddle. You’ll still have the cardio gains you crave as a runner with less risk for reinjury.
5. HIKING AND WALKING
Runners, regardless of the season, should be walking throughout the day, not just getting out the door for your prescribed run and then sitting at a desk. If you’re craving a tougher day but know you shouldn’t run, uphill hiking can be just as aerobic and will work muscles you rarely use while running flats. Walking and hiking can also be alternatives to running when the weather isn’t cooperating; a snowy run in two feet of powder might not be possible, but a walk in the woods is a playful alternative. Whatever you’re doing, Boorsma emphasizes that the most important part is just to get outside in nature.
6. POLE DANCING
Just an idea… It doesn’t have to literally be a pole dancing class — although that’s great for your core stability. The idea is to find a class that’s fun and has an aerobic benefit. “It’s important to free your brain from the numbers-driven side of running,” says Boorsma. “Sport and play are more chaotic, and classes can be fun.” Take a look at offerings in nearby gyms, and sign up for whatever sounds the most intriguing.