Cross training is a great addition to your overall training program as our musculoskeletal system has its own limits. Running is a weight-bearing activity, and stressful, pounding form of aerobic exercise. Unlike swimming and Cycling a runnerís training limit is reached sooner and enforced more strictly. Cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, etc. can all be used to train the cardiorespiratory. Like running, all these activities train the heart to get stronger and capable of pumping more blood per minute. Hence, any of these activities will be beneficial if the objective is to improve cardiorespiratory function.
In addition, many aerobic exercises involve key muscle groups not sufficiently developed with a running program that alternative aerobic training benefits the runner in more ways than building endurance. Cycling, for example, helps strengthen the quadriceps and assists in preventing knee injuries, while swimming helps strengthen the upper body and stretch and relax the back and legs. The following key muscle areas are developed with alternative aerobic exercises:
- Quadricepses = Cycling, swimming
- Hips = Cycling
- Shins = Cycling
- Ankles = Swimming
- Low back = Swimming
- Buttocks = Swimming
Please note that cross training will not have the same capacity to improve running because they all use different muscle groups and training the specific muscle groups is important to performance success. To achieve optimal improvement in a specific activity, the best thing to do is that activity itself. Runners should run, cyclists should bike, and swimmers should swim.
Cross training also assists in times of injury helping to sustain endurance and fitness achieved before the injury. While training for marathons, you face the odds of getting injured every time you go out to run, getting injured is physically traumatic on your body. If you have to stop training completely, to allow time for your injury to heal properly, this can also be mentally traumatic. You become accustomed to your daily routine and when you get injured it all changes.This is where cross training comes in; cross training uses a different style of activity to train the same parts of your body.
There are different activities you can do if you become injured, finding one that works the same muscles and gets your heart rate up without adding extra strain or tension to your injury can be difficult. To get the most out of cross training try cross-country skiing, water running or even a stepping machine. They both use the same muscles as running and they both get you in your target heart rate. With water running your body will feel weightless this will help with the pain of your injury also. Cycling does not work the same muscle groups so this should be a choice only if you want to enhance your cardio fitness. Doing some cross training is better then doing none at all, you risk losing everything you have been training for if you sit back and not do some sort of training.
When doing your cross training activities do not do them for the same distance, train for the same amount of time. You may need to take small breaks between training sessions if you cannot reach your target heart rate. For example if you need to cross train for 40 minutes, the time of your daily run, you may need to break that up throughout the day into smaller workouts. Increase the duration of your training slowly until you can reach your total time continuously.
Cross training may also be beneficial to the runner in situations of overtraining. Of course, if you are following a program carefully, overtraining should not occur, but if it does, switch to a different form of training for a while rather than just stop altogether. Reduce the specific stress on muscles by performing a different activity, while still benefiting from the new activity. A runner might switch to swimming or Cycling, both of which maintain the cardiorespiratory system but also significantly reduce the trauma to the body in general.
Cross training helps to loosen up muscles that have been worked hard. A short bike ride or a swim helps to recover from long run the previous day and helps them safely warm up prior to a run as well. Other usage for cross country training are during Bad weather and/or Travel commitments.