What are the best cross training exercises for runners?
One of the biggest problems with running is that it only works a few muscles groups. There are a number of other exercises that a runner should engage in to keep the body balanced. Developing other muscles will increase your distance and decrease the likelihood of injury to secondary muscles. This also gives you a chance to burn calories while not working your running muscles.
Swimming – Swimming is a wonderful full-body exercise to engage in while training for long distance running. It works the upper body as well as the lower body and uses major muscle groups, which helps the body with oxygenation. In addition, using those groups strengthens them and helps balance the body. Proper swimming form also requires you to concentrate on proper breath control. Finally, if you do wind up with an ankle or lower leg injury while you run, it will help you stay in shape while you recover.
Strength Training – You may be looking at me a bit funny, but isometrics and resistance training are great for keeping the body in shape. Free weights are good, too. Low weight, high repetition exercises will help your muscular endurance and flexibility. High weight strength training, like dead lifts and squats will help strengthen your legs, glutes and back which will allow you to run faster because of increased muscular power. Resistance training in the form of lunges and body weight squats will help develop the secondary muscles in your legs that running won’t develop, which will reduce the strain on those secondary muscles as you run, lessening the chances of injury. Body Beast is a home workout you can do as well to help build some extra muscle at home.
Pilates – Much like the resistance training mentioned above, Pilates is a solid exercise regimen for balancing out the muscles and strength of the body. Unlike others, Pilates focuses on core muscles, which means strengthening and stabilizing the back and abdominal muscles groups. Stronger abdominal muscles will allow you to draw deeper breaths, allowing better oxygenation of your system as you go. Stronger back muscles will make for better posture, which will also help your breathing while running. It will also help with those annoying back pains that occur as you run. I have used the Piyo Workout as a great Cross Training for Runners exercise.
Skating, Cycling and Elliptical Machines – All three of these are quite good when it comes to cross-training for running. They are all low to no impact (unless you’re like me and you fall over when skating), and all of them work the same muscle groups that running does. Each of these is great if you are recovering from an injury that running would make worse. The best part about cycling and elliptical machines is that you can do these in the gym and kick up the resistance on the machine, making your legs stronger as you go. Skating works your glutes and back muscles more than the other two. This will make it easier for you to maintain longer distances as you run, cutting down on lower back fatigue.
Your best bet is to choose one or two of these to perform a few days each week, instead of just running. Changing up your routine, whatever you choose, will help prevent injury. No matter upon which exercises you decide.