The importance of cross training in running

Now that I got to know more and more runners, I noticed some of them being in a state where they either wish to improve their performance but hit the plateau or whenever they push themselves all sorts of cramps take over their race.

The starting point

I was a “5k in 30 minutes” type of runner. I was running twice a week during lunchtime at work, along with other runners in Chiswick, London. Even when I was topping up with more parkruns or other random runs, they were still not enough for my performance to improve. Whenever I was pushing, my legs were hurting like hell, and I needed more than one day of recovery. I couldn’t run any faster. My weight was somewhere just below 80kg, so an almost overweight 1.82m fella.

The turning point

As you probably know, a year and a half ago we started losing weight, and we changed our lifestyle, we became more active and our fitness improved quite significantly. For over half a year the running kind of stopped, as I was concentrating more on other aspects of training. When I started again, I was already running the 5km in 24 minutes. So just by being fitter and lighter, I improved my time with approximately 6 minutes.

The hard training

From 24 minutes to 19 per 5km, now this where I followed a more targeted training to improve my running. I already noticed that by doing various cross-training workouts my running improved, even though I wasn’t targeting the main muscles involved in the biomechanics of running. Some runners make the incorrect assumption that to improve their running they just need to run more and more.

Why cross training?

When we think of the kinematics of running, we think of just three muscles involved: quads, hamstrings and calves. Well, guess what, not only there are lots of other muscles mainly involved, but a whole lot that participate in balance, posture, and in providing support for the main muscle groups. When those secondary muscles are weak, then your posture will suffer, other muscles will have to overcompensate and work harder to maintain your effort, and this is where the risk of injury goes through the roof.

Cross training refers to using another sport or set of exercises that are not strictly related to the main sport, in our case running. For example, regular fitness workouts that target your core and your lower body will use your muscles differently because they don’t have the same biomechanics as running. Varying all sorts of exercises will make your body stronger, and you will definitely start achieving PBs sooner than you thought.

No gym required. Even no equipment required

You don’t need to go to the gym to workout; there are unlimited exercises you can do in the comfort of your home even with no equipment. But, when you’re not supervised by a personal trainer, you’ll need some extra motivation to keep up the pace, execute correctly and choose the workouts properly. So if you can afford one, don’t hesitate, it’s going to be worth it even for a small number of sessions.

Don’t get me wrong; my improvement was not all about working out. I’m am also promoting running as a training technique. But there can’t be one without the other. You have to both run and train, be it at home, in a gym, in the park or wherever you feel like, but you have to train your whole body to be able to sustain harder efforts and keep yourself away from injuries.

Is this the only secret?

Of course, there are other aspects too, proper warming up and cooling down, nutrition, pacing, posture. But don’t hope you will improve by just running. You will at first, but you’ll quickly hit a plateau, and you’ll be demotivated by injuries that will keep coming. Cross training is one of the most important tools for improving and maintaining the performance.

How do you train when you want to achieve a PB?

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