All runners like to run, clearly. But if you really want to improve your running, try cycling or strength training instead.
Cross training is an important part of most elite runners’ training regimens, but you don’t need to be a marathoner to glean the benefits from it.
Kimberly Shah, a Chicago-area triathlete, coach and founder of NJOY Racing, says cross training is essential for runners of all experience levels, from 5K trainees to ultra-marathoners.
“It is essential for staying healthy and injury free,” Shah said. “But especially when one does a sport that has a continuous repetitive motion, it is important to remind the body it can move in other ways.”
It’s easy for a fit runner to overestimate his or her overall fitness, but running only uses certain muscles. Those muscles that are underutilized can make a runner prone to injuries.
“It can be very easy to develop injuries from overuse of a joint or tendon,” Shah said. “On the flip side, if that is all one does, it can be very easy to get injured doing something the body is not used to, something as simple as taking a side leap to catch a ball.”
The best kinds of cross training use those muscles that make it easier to catch that ball, even if those muscles aren’t used in running. According to Shah, some of the best ways for runners to cross train include:
• Strength training
• Other forms of cardio exercise
Just as runners shouldn’t run too much, they also shouldn’t overdo the cross training. Two days a week of cross training are sufficient for most runners. A limit on cross training is especially important if you’re starting out a new form of exercise because your body needs time to adapt to a different way of moving.
While all forms of cross training are beneficial, Shah says that strength training can be the most important.
“When running and the body gets tired, the first thing most runners do is slouch,” Shah said. “Once this happens, the body mechanics break down. Having a strong core, it becomes easier to hold form even through fatigue.”
When training for any of Chicago’s upcoming races, keep in mind that running isn’t all that matters. The best runners might be cyclists, swimmers and strength trainers, too.