Should you cross train as a runner?

You've been running for a little while and you've heard about this cross training thing and you're wondering, “Should I cross train as a runner? Does it have any benefit to me?” Well, I'm Jesse Funk and on today's episode of Runner's High, we're going to talk about exactly that.
Should you cross train as a runner?

You've been running for a little while and you've heard about this cross training thing and you're wondering, “Should I cross train as a runner? Does it have any benefit to me?” Well, I'm Jesse Funk and on today's episode of Runner's High, we're going to talk about exactly that. Should you cross train as a runner?

For most individuals, in my opinion, the answer is yes. If that's all you needed to get, go and do it, just hit that subscribe button right there, bottom right hand corner and get the heck out of here. But if you want actually a little bit more info, stay tuned with me where I talk a little bit more about it.

I'm gonna start with a little bit of anecdotal evidence and really just my personal experience with cross training and how I benefited from it. My kind of first initiation into cross training was between my sophomore and junior year in high school. At this point, I had put on miles of previous summer and ended up with a stress fracture, which probably is the beginning of my sophomore year, not being able to run at all for several weeks, as I was still recovering from that injury.

So, moving into junior year, I decided, “Okay, let's get in the pool. Let's swim half a mile, do that two times a week.” And I did that over the summer just at the Y. Keep in mind, I didn't actually really know how to swim at this time. Not that I didn't know how to swim, but I didn't want to swim properly. So, I was head out of the water, arms going, no goggles. I didn't know what I was doing.

You know, if you're a swimmer, you actually know this is the polo drill because this is what polo players do, their head out of the water and they’re swimming like that. But it is really a terrible way and very difficult way to swim, but I got a lot of aerobic benefits from it. Kind of my point here before I continue is that you don't necessarily have to know how to swim to get the benefits from swimming, because you're going to work on your aerobic system when you're doing this cross training in the pool for you know, this in particular.

What this cross training did for me initially was one, I didn't end up with the stress fracture and overuse injury I had from the previous summer when I was really trying to stack on miles. But it also gave me a chance to because I'm limiting injury, add that aerobic fitness I really needed at that point in time. I’d only been running a couple of years. And building that base was very, very important. Bringing up my aerobic ceiling was very, very important.

So, again, more anecdotal evidence here, but in the kind of peak of my sophomore year I was running mid to I'll say low fives for my mile time. That was kind of the thing that I did mile two mile and I came back from summer base building no really speed work and started off the season with our kind of mile checkpoint for coaches to figure out you know, how are we doing? And ran a 508 and I ran a PR, pretty big PR considering I hadn't been doing any kind of speed work at all. That kind of is a testament to the extra aerobic work I was getting in to raise my aerobic ceiling.

My point being here that you can find cross training to supplement a lot of the things that you may not be getting with your run training currently, or if you add them into your run training, you're going to push yourself over a limit that you don't want to go where you can go into injury and overuse injury or overtraining.

I use a similar kind of idea in college again, sophomore to junior year, I started doing triathlons. So, I was swimming a couple of times a week, this time for real with my face in the water. Even though if you're thinking about trying to learn how to swim know that even though yes, I had spent a considerable amount of time competing at a relatively high level as an amateur, I started out swimming where I couldn't swim 25 meters with my face in the water.

So, anyway, I started swimming two times a week, mile, mile and a half the time and then one or two bikes as well for 60 to 90 minutes. And again, just really trying to raise that aerobic ceiling without all the pounding from running. So, during my junior year, which was kind of my best year in college before, injuries caught up with me from, I'll say, poor form in senior year, adding in that cross training as well as one a long aerobic run a week, or really what I attribute as the key elements to helping me kind of bring my 5K time down an entire minute from high sixteens to high fifteens.

And that just kind of shows again, when you use it at the right time, in the right amount with the right activity, cross training really benefits your running and run speed, not just a matter of bringing up monotony, which is great because you always want to stay mentally fresh, but it helps you become a better runner.

Cross training doesn't have to just be a robot development. It's what I had available to me, but you can do strength training, and that helps with some of the imbalances you may have as a runner. It's always helpful to get a coach or a personal trainer to kind of look at you and say, “Hey, maybe this needs to be worked on or that's a little tight or those kind of things.” I actually talked about this with Marco Nicoli in the Smart Athlete Podcast.

So, if you have not seen that, subscribe to the channel, check out my interview with Marco. He's a very, very intelligent data-driven coach. And he helped one of his athletes identify some of the weaknesses they had, where using cross training, stretching in this particular sense, but it is kind of cross training to enable his athlete to go faster without improving his fitness at all.

Now, cross training is not a miracle worker. It’s not gonna magically make you super awesome if you have a poor normal schedule. So, keep in mind I had pretty good coaches in my corner to help me get to those kinds of benchmarks but also my own enthusiasm and then trying to keep relatively good nutrition, relatively good recovery, nothing was ever perfect. I never had a perfect season or perfect progression. There was always a little setbacks here and there, even when I thought I was going to have the perfect season kind of fell off at the end from mismanaged nutrition. So, you do have to have everything in place for your cross training to have full benefits.

But really, when you think about it, cross training can help you improve your aerobic capacity, it can help fix imbalances, and kind of biggest of all, it can serve as active recovery, which gets blood flow through your muscles without adding the extra pounding and tearing where they need to be repaired so that you're better ready to go on your next real workout day. So, that's kind of my verdict. Cross training is absolutely a great way to become a better runner without adding injury risk when you do it properly. I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runners High.

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