Running for Beginners: Cross Training Basics for a Balanced Running Body

I believe that a good running program and your body is balanced and well rounded.  And no, I don’t mean a round belly either!  I am talking about having a well-rounded exercise program that includes running as well as some other days of cross training.

What is Cross Training?

So what is cross-training, anyway?  Well I am sure most have heard this term, but maybe you do not really understand how it applies to you.  I think the Wikipedia definition of cross-training is pretty good.

According to Wikipedia: 
Cross-training (also known as conditioning) refers to training in different ways to improve overall performance. It takes advantage of the particular effectiveness of each training method, while at the same time attempting to neglect the shortcomings of that method by combining it with other methods that address its weaknesses.

Cross-training in sports and fitness refers to the combining of exercises to work various parts of the body. Often one particular activity works certain muscle groups, but not others; cross-training aims to eliminate this.

Cross-Training Allows Recovery

You see running is a great way to exercise, but the reality is that it is a high impact exercise, and recovery is needed for your muscles, ligaments, bones, etc. after you run.  This is important to keep in mind so that you reduce the possibility of getting running injuries.  There is debate on how much you should rest.  Most people believe at a minimum, that you should not run two hard days back to back, and you should take a couple days a week off from running.  These off-days of running allow your body to repair the muscles and get stronger.  But, while I think you should take the day off from running, that does not mean you cannot do some ind of exercise.  By cross training with exercises like swimming, biking, walking, and the elliptical, you give those running muscles a break, while strengthening other parts of your body.  In doing so you actually can become a better runner.

Cross-Training Keeps You in a Routine

I am a proponent, as I have mentioned before, that the ideal routine includes some form of exercise every day.  By doing this, you build in a habit of exercise and physical activity.  And as much as I enjoy running, I do not recommend that your physical activity be running everyday.

An Ideal Running and Cross Training Routine

However, I do suggest if you are serious about running that you try to work in three to four days of running into your schedule.  I also recommend you take one or maybe two days a week off from exercise.  On the other two to three days a week you should be cross-training, which is basically doing another exercise while giving those specific running muscles a rest.

Cross-Training for Beginners

In my new runner’s schedule, I include cross training in the routine, though you may not even realize it.  That is right.  In the running schedule for beginners, I have you doing a run/walk three days a week and walking another three days a week.  As a beginner, just build that physical activity into your schedule each day, and you will find that eventually you have developed a new habit.  Over time, you can exchange the walking days for other kinds of cross training, but the routine will be the same.

Some Ideas for Your Cross Training

Let me give you a few ideas to start including some cross training exercises into your regular routine.  Swimming, biking, elliptical training, aerobics, and cross country skiing are a few exercises that will complement your running by building your aerobic endurance and aerobic capacity.  Strength training for areas such as your abs and core, your leg muscles, and even your upper body can build muscles in those areas that may not be strengthened from running alone.   I mentioned that I did the P90x program to cross train for running.   Focused stretching and even yoga exercises can help you to be more flexible, and loosen up some tight areas.  And you may even consider more casual physical activity such as walking, hiking, rock climbing, roller blading, and sports in your cross training program.

Hopefully these give you some ideas to get started with a  balanced running program that includes cross training.  In the next part of this series I will give you some more specific ideas and details on cross training exercise that can help you have a well balanced fitness, and give you an edge on your running.

What do You Think?
What cross-training exercise do you want to incorporate into your routine?

Take Action!
Try to add a new form of cross-training to your exercise routine this week

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