RUNNING AND CROSSTRAINING IDEAL WAYS TO MIX IT UP
By Tammy It can happen to the best of any runner out there--falling prey to unfortunate circumstances that can kick one’s running to the curb for awhile. Three of these unwelcoming issues include injury, burnout, and over training, which we will refer to in this blog post as IBO. Any one of these IBO issues can harass a runner competitive at any distance. Certainly those of us who run the ultra distances may be at an even greater vulnerability for trouble with IBO issues. Most ultra marathoners have such a dedication to their daily training, and the majority of it comes in the form of running. Weekly training session's varying from hill work to speed training to long back to back runs have us racking in mega-mileage seven days a week. And our minds don't escape the madness as they usually remain saturated on the next training run, 24-7. I mean let's face it. To be a successful ultra runner, one needs to run a lot. Right? The more miles we put in to training, the better we should perform on race day.
For the most part, these long back to back running days can be beneficial. They keep us physically fit and emotionally Zen. However, sometimes we don't come out so fortunate, and the daily back to back training sets us up to be hit head-on with either an injury, boredom and burn-out, or perhaps, being over-trained. Once either of these issues starts to make their presence, a runner usually has to address it. However, there are efforts we can take that may help us to steer clear of these issues. One popular effort ultra runners can use is to supplement a couple of their running days during the week with another form of fitness. This method is referred to as cross-training. Instead of running every day, a runner may opt to replace one to two days with a different form of exercise, such as swimming, cycling, weight training or a fitness class like yoga. Other cross-training ideas include elliptical workouts or those on exercise equipment, such as a Cybex. One may even choose to use some creativity and come up with cross training ideas that will be fun and add some glitter or spunk to their training week, such as Zumba or belly dancing.
Research has proven that cross training can certainly lower a runner's risk of nagging injuries, such as stress fractures, shin splints or plantar fasciitis. In addition, cross training can help to keep a runner from becoming bored of mundane daily training or one that is pushing their bodies to the extent that it comes out over-trained leading to a dissatisfying race performance. Cross-training has been found to build core strength and enhance a runner's flexibility all around as it utilizes muscles that aren't worked while running. Even better, it helps maintain positive emotional stamina, keeping our head in the game and allowing us to stay in tune with future race goals and outlooks. Included below is a quick review of a few and different types of cross training ideas that can be a part of an ultra runner's high impact and high mileage training week. Choosing a couple and replacing up to no more than two running days per week should be enough to provide resistance against the problems mentioned. Please note that these are all based on an ultra runner's training regimen but could be used for a runner training for any distance. Furthermore, please add your comments or ideas for cross training not mentioned.
A few of the more popular styles of cross training include: swimming, cycling, weight lifting, and yoga.
Swimming is said to be one of the best fitness practices for an athlete of any caliber. It allows for a stress-free workout on bones and joints while still offering cardiovascular benefits along with muscle strength and endurance. Muscles are under constant resistance while swimmers make their way through the water. And if one needs distraction with music, never fear. A set of waterproof ear buds are now available and can be purchase then synced with some favorite, upbeat tunes.
Cycling can benefit a runner greatly as a cross training exercise, and while it may require some of the expensive and better gear to feel competitive, it doesn't have to be the best of the best. Cycling allows for a cardio build-up but decreases the jarring stress on the feet, knees and hips caused by running. In addition, it helps with endurance, flexibility, and coordination. If you don't have a bike and the necessary accessories to ride safe, join a gym and take advantage of a cycling class. Also called spin workouts, these classes will allow for an effective cross training workout lead by a trained and professional instructor. Definitely a posh way to change it up.
Weight lifting can be a beneficial cross training choice, and doesn't have to include a gym membership to be effective. Hand weights are fairly inexpensive. By lifting weights, a runner can improve arm strength, leg strength, shoulders, back and core. Strength is ultimately so important on an ultra terrain, especially a strong core. Taking time out from running to pump it up can offer an edge come race day.
Finally, yoga is certainly happening, and allows a two-for-one cross training option. In other words, it is rated one of the best ways to improve overall athletic performance as well as maintain that healthy emotional balance to which we all strive. While it can take some practice to learn the positions and require one to slow down some, it can be a great training addition for an ultra runner. Like some of the other benefits mentioned, it helps with strengthening, coordination and flexibility. (Personally, I have found that due to years of distance running, I have become very muscularly ridged and stiff. Some days this can even be painful. Yoga has helped to improve my lack of mobility and soothe my inflexibility.) Probably one of the best ways to benefit a runner's performance while cross training is to enhance it with a yoga class at least once a week.
Some of the more uncommon and more creative styles of cross training include: working out on equipment, such as an elliptical or Cybex, engaging in a fitness class that includes plyometrics, or trying something new like belly dancing or Zumba.
If looking for a way to keep the heart rate up but take the impact off the feet, an elliptical may be the answer. It offers a total body workout, ability levels that can be modified during the workout and progress can be noted. Possibly an elliptical workout might require signing up for a gym membership, but this provides for an even better chance to change it up for the day. Put on some good music or tune into a favorite television show and go for the gold elliptical style.
Another off-the-beaten-path style of cross training is riding a Cybex Arc Trainer that like an elliptical, will offer different inclines and resistances. The machine's website http://www.cybexintl.com/cross-trainers-625a-arc-trainer.aspx states that the Cybex Arc Trainer acts as “three machines in one.” This machine improves strength, power, endurance and cardio with a comfortable and low impact motion. Just 20 minutes on a Cybex will surely get the heart rate up and keep the runner satisfied with their workout.
Plyometrics can be a perfect way to cross train especially for ultra runners who want to improve their overall performance. This type of workout is popular in such classes as P90X or Insanity, and it works to load the muscles with repetitive style movements like jumping. Research has shown that the fiery movements can lead to better, all-around athletic performances. Plyometrics trains the body to put out for longer periods of time (endurance) while using little energy to do it. Certainly something that will benefit an ultra runner, and it doesn’t require any fancy equipment to partake. Finally, keep in mind that plyometrics is very high impact, so if it doesn't feel too jarring on the ole joints or knees, give this cross training idea a shot and look for improvements.
Finally, while it may seem a tad foreign, belly dancing has been shown to be an ideal way to offer a runner some cross-training versatility. Not only is a great way to readjust the mind by learning something new and culturally rich, it also can help to improve posture and muscle toning but with low impact on the body. In addition, it exercises the arms and core muscles. One may also try out the newest craze of Zumba, a fitness class that focuses on fun and challenging dance routines. Put some spice into your training by learning a new dance number.
As these cross training ideas may be a great way to keep an ultra runner free from injury, burnout, or over- training, it still isn't foolproof. One should always incorporate a rest day at least every two weeks during extensive training. It's also imperative that one listen to their own body as they adjust to their ideal training week.