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Benefits to Cross Training

As someone who has predominantly identified as a runner throughout the past decade, the idea of cross training was unappealing to me. Why would I do something other than run? It’s what I do – it’s who I am. And yet more and more runners are seeing the benefits to cross training and starting to make time for it. Why the new-ish trend? What are the benefits to cross-training?

I’m sure the first thing that jumped into your mind was, “cross training prevents injury.” So let’s start there. Yes, it does! In fact, 85% of runners, according to UESCA, will be out of commission due to an injury at some point during their running life. And all of us know that those months of strava-binge-watching while we suck our thumbs and throw pity-parties for ourselves are the longest months of our lives. Especially if we are beating ourselves up knowing that an overuse injury was avoidable.

Mental fatigue is another important reason to cross train. It doesn’t matter how much we love something, if we do it too much it will likely start to feel like another chore, especially when we put pressure on ourselves to perform. How detrimental is mental fatigue to our training? Well, mental fatigue will feel like physical fatigue. However it is our mind holding us back rather than our physical body. When we are mentally fatigued the motivation to push where we normally would is reduced, negatively affecting performance. A decrease in performance can further demotivate us, essentially creating a vicious circle. Additionally, our perceived effort will increase making our training feel very difficult. Cross training can help delay or completely eliminate this mental fatigue.

If those points alone weren’t enough, keep reading…

You might even find something you like to do just as much as running (I know, crazy right?). If you limit yourself to one thing you could be missing out on so many things you love to do that you didn’t even know you loved to do. I, for one, have discovered that I love cycling as much as running and cross-country skiing takes a close second. The carry-over benefits from those sports to running are second to none. Now when I travel to different cities with my husband we can jump on our bikes and explore hundreds of kilometres versus whatever is in running distance. Have you been to Larch Mountain in Portland Oregon? I would highly recommend the bike ride there!

You may also discover muscles you didn’t even know you had. What’s a bicep? Joking aside, cross-training will increase your power during running which translates to greater speed (see my post from November 2016 on strength training: "Resistance Training - Should I Resist It?") and can also increase your overall training time without accumulating fatigue or getting injured. Further, it can increase your cardiovascular fitness. As we become efficient at running, the stress on our cardiovascular system decreases to push out the same speeds and distances. Therefore, by trying something we are less efficient at (it’s very humbling as a marathoner to barely be able to swim one lap in a pool) we can improve our cardiovascular fitness too!

Some of the cross training options more closely aligned with running include cycling, aqua running, elliptical, inline skating, and strength training. But cross training is essentially any physical activity that isn’t your main sport. I challenge you runners to incorporate some cross training into your weekly routine. And I invite you to share additional benefits you have experienced from cross training as well as what activity(s) are your go-to!

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