Cross Training Tips

Read these 16 Cross Training Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Running tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Vacation as Cross Training: Lots of Walking

When you're getting ready to go out of town, always bring your running gear; you never know when you'll have a chance to explore and interesting area. That said, running outside is not always feasilbe. If you can't run as much as you would like, don't despair. If you are sightseeing and out and about, you'll get more excercise than you think.

Carrying a bag or backpack while sightseeing? Bonus calorie burn and leg muscle strengthening from carrying a little extra weight.


Which Yoga is Right for Runners

I have several tips about how I think yoga is great cross training for running, and this applies to all types of yoga.

No matter what your running goals are, you can find a type of yoga that will work as cross training and help you achieve them.

For example, if your goal is to improve overall fitness, any yoga is great cross training. Yoga classes that focus on breathing will help your focus and your ability to relax while running. Flexibility classes can help counteract the inevitable stiffness that comes with logging many miles. And if you want to use yoga an an alternative cardio workout, try an Ashtanga yoga, power yoga, or even hot yoga class to strengthen muscles that don't get as much use when running.

Does trail running help with marathon training?

All Mileage Is Not Created Equal

Many runners enjoy running on trails, and trail running can provide relief from the road's asphalt or cement. But running the same distance on a trail will take longer than it will on the road, and you'll be working harder to maintain your footing. Some trail running requires a combination of running and hiking depending on the difficulty of the terrain. If trail running appeals to you, it won't hurt your preparation for a marathon, but be prepared to walk or climb over rough spots and allow more time to complete the run. A 6-mile trail run may leave you more tired than a 10-mile run on the road.

You can run on most trails in any running shoes without a problem. But if you plan to do a lot of trail running, especially on uneven or hilly trails, consider investing in a pair of trail running shoes for the additional traction that these shoes provide. But wear your standard training shoes for road runs. Running on the road will wear out the tread of your trail shoes and destroy the benefit of that extra traction.

Why is core body strength important for marathon runners?

Core Body Strength: Abs and Back

The “core body” refers to the muscles of your torso that help you maintain your posture, whether you are running, standing, or sitting. Strong abdominal and lower back muscles will combat fatigue during the marathon and during long training runs. Sit-ups, in any form, are among the easiest and most effective ways to strengthen the abdominal muscles, but you can use an abdominal machine at the gym, too.

Although most runners exercise their abdominal muscles, they often neglect the back. Most of us harbor some tension in the lower back because of time spent sitting at a desk. Try this exercise to release some of that tension: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and your arms by your sides. Tighten your gluteal (butt) muscles and abdominal muscles simultaneously and flatten your lower back onto the floor. Hold for a count of 5, then relax, and repeat 2-3 times.

Will yoga help my marathon training?

Yoga Combats Runners' Stiffness

Running has many benefits, but increased flexibility is not among them. If you have access to a gym or yoga studio that offers yoga classes, make an effort to find a beginner class and fit it into your schedule. Even one class a week will make a difference in your strength and flexibility. I have been attending a yoga class once or twice a week for about 10 years, and my marathon times have improved. Coincidence? I think not.

Any type of yoga class (Ashtanga, Bikram, or Hatha) encourages you to stretch more deeply than most of us do on our own. Yoga also works muscles that you don't use in running, which promotes muscle balance and reduces your risk of injury. Yoga makes you stronger, too. It isn't a substitute for weight training, but you will build upper-body strength without bulking up. You'll be forced to work on your core muscles of your abdominal and back muscles by holding your body in the yoga poses. And an Ashtanga-style or “power yoga” class provides an aerobic workout, too.

Can I train for a marathon on a treadmill?

Treadmill Running: An Indoor Alternative

If you can't (or prefer not to) run outside, you can train for a marathon on a treadmill. Note: this is not recommend for long training runs of 10 miles or more (although runners do run that far on treadmills). Treadmills offer a more forgiving surface than asphalt or concrete, and some runners find them a pleasant change from harder surfaces, and a more appealing option in the winter. But treadmill running does take some getting used to; be careful when starting and stopping your run so you don't fall, and make sure that your shoelaces are not dragging. And if you notice any leg or foot pain after a few treadmill runs, go back outside or try a different treadmill. A cheap model may not have a surface that feels good after 5-6 miles of running.

Want a hill workout? Most treadmills can be adjusted to various degrees of incline to make the run more challenging.

Can I ride a stationary bike to help with my marathon training?

Stationary Biking Builds Leg Strength With Less Stress

If you can’t run because of an injury or bad weather, riding a stationary bike is a cross-training option that is available at most gyms. Biking is a good alternative to running if you have a foot injury because you aren’t putting much pressure on your feet. Biking is also a safe alternative exercise for some knee and hip injuries, as well. Even if you aren’t injured, biking is a great supplemental activity to running because you can pedal at a brisk pace and build leg strength without the additional pressure on your joints. You can design your own tempo workout on a bike by pedaling at about 80% of your maximum effort for 2 minutes, then easy for 2 minutes, and repeat several times. Steady pedaling will build length strength, too. Spinning is a different type of cross training on a bike that involves high-speed pedaling and it is a more intense workout than steady biking. If you take part in a spinning class, your legs will be as tired as they would be if you did speed work on a track. If that appeals to you, try it, but be ready to sweat. Before you start any type of biking, be sure to adjust the seat. The right seat height feels comfortable, and you should not be straining to reach the pedals. Your knees should not bend more than a 90-degree angle while you are pedaling, and you should have a slight bend in your knee when your leg is extended. If the seat is set incorrectly, you could set yourself up for an injury because you are stressing your legs in an unnatural position.

What activities can I do if I am sore or injured?

Walking Helps You Recover From Running

Don't underestimate walking as a cross-training tool. Walking is gentler on your joints than running, but it still works your muscles and promotes circulation in the legs and feet. Walking can help you maintain a basic level of fitness if an injury keeps you from running. I think of walking as a restorative activity; if my legs feel sore after a long run, I have found that a one-mile (or 20-30 minute) walk later that day or the next day helps relieve the stiffness and soreness.

How often do I need to lift weights during marathon training?

Twice Weekly Weights Work Well For Marathoners

Try to do some type of strength training twice weekly, with at least one day off between weight training sessions. You'll not only get stronger, you will be able to run longer and faster. As long as you keep the weights at a moderately challenging amount, you are not in danger of bulking up to body-builder proportions. If you already lift weights, stick with your normal routine and it will help your marathon training, but don't schedule a weight training session on the day before or the day after a long training run. If you lift on the day before a long run, you may be unnecessarily tired, and if you lift the day after a long run, you will be tired and at greater risk for pulling a muscle while you are lifting.

If you are new to weight training, ask someone at your local gym to show you the correct way to use the machines and free weights that are available. You don't need to do more than one or two exercises for each of the main muscle groups, so try a few different machines and decide which you like best for each muscle group.

How does lifting weights help my marathon training?

Lift Weights To Prevent Injury By Balancing Your Muscles

A moderate weightlifting program helps marathoners strengthen muscles that aren't used in running. If running is your only form of exercise, certain muscles, such as the hamstrings, will become stronger, but the quadricep muscles will not. This imbalance can set the stage for an injury.

When you are working out with weights, try to use the same or similar amounts of weight for opposing muscle groups, such as the biceps and triceps, or the quads and hamstrings. The weights you are lifting with your hamstrings may feel easy, but that's OK. Your hamstrings get plenty of exercise from running. If the amount of weight you need to challenge your hamstrings is a struggle for your quads, it is better to lift less weight with the hamstrings than to overtax your quads. Once you build more strength in your quads, you will fell comfortable lifting the same amount of weight with both muscle groups.

You don't need to spend hours in the gym for effective weight training. In half an hour, you can fit in 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions for a few key muscle groups:

  • hamstrings/quadriceps
  • adductor/abductor muscles (inner and outer hip)
  • the calf muscles
  • biceps/triceps
  • shoulders
The weight should be heavy enough that your muscles start to feel tired during the second or third set.


Revisit Cross Training After Marathon Season

If you ran a fall marathon and you have one in mind for spring, use winter as a time to change or ramp up your cross training.

Shorter days and bad weather make it more challenging to manage longer runs, but don't despair. Consider winter as a time to try out some cross training and work muscles that don't get used as much during running.

Try some sort of indoor cardio to keep up your cardio fitness if you find that you need to cut back on mileage. If you belong to a gym, check out their classes and try something new, like zumba. Or if you aren't a group exercise person, get to know one of the cardio machines, whether it is a bike, elliptical trainer, or step machine.

How can I train for a marathon when I'm recovering from an injury?

Pool Running: An Injured Runner's Best Friend

If you are injured or recovering from almost any type of injury, running in a pool is a wonderful cross-training activity. You can wear a specially designed belt that allows you to move your arms and legs just as if you were running on land. Or, if you don't have a belt, you can use a kickboard. Place the kickboard under your chest and wrap your arms under it. Your feet will hang down into the water. Use a normal running motion to propel yourself forward. The kickboard version of pool running is less aerobic than using a belt, but you will still work your leg muscles.


Treadmill Incline As A Running Alternative

The benefits of cross training are well known to runners, and here's one more to consider: Walking on a treadmill at a 12-15% incline.

According to a recent post by Matt Fitzgerald, there's research to show that walking on a treadmill at a 12-15% incline is roughly equivalent to running (on a flat surface, presumably).

So if you are recovering from injury and working back to running, take heart, and maybe give the inclined treadmill a try. Or if bad winter weather keeps you from a run, this may be just what the doctor ordered.


At the Gym, Form and Focus Matter

When you hit the gym for cross-training, whether it is a weight circuit, yoga class, or riding a stationary bike, you'll get the most from your workout by focusing on your form.

It's fine to bring the iPod along for the weight circuit, but be sure that you aren't so distracted that you can't count reps, and concentrate on going through the full range of motion.

Doing yoga? Part of the challenge of yoga is the focus--think about the instructor's directions, not about what kind of day you had at work, so you get get the most from each yoga pose or series of poses.

Concentration isn't as important if you are using an elliptical trainer or stationary bike, but it is important to take a minute before you go into your zone and be sure that the pedals and other aspects of the machine are set properly for your height, leg length, and comfort.

Pay attention to your cross training, and it will pay off for your fitness.

How can a fitness ball help my marathon training?

Get On The Ball

Fitness balls will help strengthen your core muscles, and they are fun to use. Simply sitting on a fitness ball while watching TV engages your abdominal and lower back muscles as they work to keep you from falling off the ball. But you'll reap greater benefits with some basic ball exercises. Here's my favorite: the basic fitness ball sit-up:

Start by sitting on the ball and roll back so the ball is centered under your shoulder blades and your head is dropped back towards the floor behind you. Place your hands on your ears and curl up into a sit-up. Release. Start by repeating 10 times and work up to 30. If you are new to fitness balls, keep your legs wide (3-4 feet) as you sit on the ball. Once that feels easy, move your feet closer together so they are shoulder-width apart; this makes the sit-up more challenging.


Spring Cross Training: Mow the Lawn

There are many ways to cross train that don't have to involve a trip to the gym, and in the spring, runners with yards can feel that they get twice the benefits by mowing the lawn.

First, you get a nicer looking lawn, so you aren't an embarassment to the neighborhood.

Second, you get a total body workout. Pushing the mower works your legs, (especially if you have hills to deal with) as well as your shoulders and back. If you haven't mowed a lawn since last spring, you'll feel like you have had a bit of a workout!

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Heidi Splete
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