Although running performance is best improved through running itself, runners who add alternative physical activities to their exercise programmes tend to benefit quite considerably in the long run, in terms of general fitness, continuity of training, and injury prevention.
The preventative benefits of cross-training
Training variation is healthy. Incorporating additional activities into your regular running routine is an excellent way to strengthen your body’s resistance to running aches and injuries. Complaining about running related aches and pains is a habit amongst many runners. Usually such pains are attributable to a sudden increase in intensity or a lack of variety within your training, and they may force you to miss out on important training sessions. Continuity, however, is a crucial ingredient of running success. As the most common running pains are often related to muscle strain, every runner should incorporate core strength and flexibility training into their schedule at least once a week. A strong and stable core is the key to a good running economy (RE). Pilates, Yoga, and Functional Training are all beneficial training options in this regard.
Cross-Training Helps Increase Your Workout Scope and Frequency
Including additional endurance activities, that are not as weight-bearing as running, in your marathon training programme can help increase the scope and frequency of your workouts without compromising your body’s need for recovery. When running, the musculoskeletal system is put under considerable strain, having to absorb roughly double to triple the amount of your own body weight. Swimming is an excellent example of an aerobic activity which develops both your endurance and your cardiovascular system without, unlike running, straining your locomotor apparatus. However, despite the numerous benefits supplementary cross-exercising may hold in store, running training can never be replaced altogether by cross-training alternatives. This is especially true in the lead up to a marathon, which requires your muscles, tendons and ligaments to be adapted specifically to long distance running.
Cross-training can be mentally refreshing
Any training programme will eventually become monotonous if it is void of diversity. Varying your usual running schedule with different sports can provide a welcome mental boost and create fresh motivation for running. Some variety in training not only benefits you physically but also psychologically. Thus, consider going for a hike or taking a mountain bike tour, as an alternative to your standard running route.
Cross-training as a regenerative measure
Regeneration is an important part of training. However, active regeneration need not be limited to running and can indeed occur by practising other sports at a lower intensity. During this recovery phase our bodies, especially our muscles, adapt to the stress that they have been placed under during training; ultimately to perform better. Running itself is not a highly recommended regenerative activity. For marathon training, stretching and relaxation exercises are ideal for reducing and compensating high stress loads. Furthermore, the odd day(s) when it is wise to rest from running can easily take up some other form of endurance activity (up to 45 minutes). Aqua-jogging, cycling, swimming, inline-skating and indoor training using different gym equipment or machines (for example, a rowing ergometer), are particularly suitable for runners. Here the metabolism is consistently trained at a high level, while the muscles necessary for running are spared from strain. The body’s ability to recover and regenerate, thus, benefits from cross-training alternatives.
Ideal for overcoming injuries
Finally, cross-training often is the only viable option for injured runners. Disproportionate increases in training intensity and/or frequency can ultimately lead to overuse injuries. To provide relief to supporting and connective tissues, whilst simultaneously compensating for the lack of mileage, alternative training methods such as aqua-jogging should be chosen. Aqua-jogging with a buoyancy belt in deep water allows you to imitate the motion of running without any impact on your joints. Also, working-out against the resistance of water is an excellent method to develop local muscular strength and stamina.
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