One of the benefits of being a triathlete is that my sport of choice has a built-in cross-training component, a fact supported by numerous sources that site cycling and swimming as top cross-training alternatives for runners.
Put simply, to be a better runner, you have to run.
However, in sparkpeople.com, running coach Nancy Howard says that "Cross-training should be part of every fitness plan because it helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries, improves muscular balance, targets your muscles in new and different ways, and aids in muscle recovery."
Specificity, or how specific a certain exercise is to running, should be your top criteria when choosing an effective cross-training exercise, notes an article in runaddicts.net. Cycling, deep water running or aqua-jogging, cross-country skiing or using an indoor cross country ski machine such as a Nordic Track, and using the elliptical trainer are activities that utilize the muscles, connective tissues and joints in a manner similar to running but with lower impact on the joints.
Complementary cross-training activities, such as swimming, rowing, stair climbing, plyometrics, and walking, use the primary running muscles in alternative ways and engage additional muscles not typically used in running. This diversity will allow you to build greater muscle strength and balance, which reduces your risk for injury.
Given that cycling and swimming are two of the best alternative exercises for runners, taking a break from a strictly running-based program to train for a triathlon would not only complement your running, it would also add variety to your workouts and keep burnout at bay.
Weight lifting is another important piece of the cross-training puzzle. According to runaddicts.net, lifting heavy weights uses more muscle fibers and increases strength, making you more impervious to injury, and allows your legs to apply more force to the ground in a quicker time frame, which means you will get faster.
The article goes on to state that runners should "perform exercises such as dead lifts, pull ups, military press, bench press, squats, lunges, and overhead press that focus on multi-joint, compound movements that build functional strength."
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Adding yoga to your workout regimen will also prove beneficial in all facets of your life. This mindful practice, performed in a responsible and respectful manner, increases flexibility, strength and balance, sharpens your focus, fights fatigue, reduces stress, improves oxygenation and circulation of blood, builds a stronger mind-body connection and fosters a sense of overall well-being.
In short, running too much, and pushing the mileage envelope, can lead to injuries.
By adding alternative workouts to your schedule you give your muscles and joints a break from the pounding that's associated with running while still burning calories and developing cardiovascular fitness.
Aim to add up to three cross-training sessions each week without compromising scheduled rest days, which are as vital to your training as your workouts are.
By mixing cross-training workouts with running you can elevate your races to the next level and ultimately become a better runner.