Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cross Training For the Win

    There have been a few people who have asked me, "what is cross training?" or "what do you do to cross train?"  I want to help give a few answers to these questions for those of you who share the same query as others.

    To start, cross training, in plain terms is anything you do besides your regular fitness workout.  I will be using running as my main example.  There are countless things you can do to improve your running besides just running.  I want to answer this question though:

"I run all the time and I never cross train - I do fine!  What's the point?"

    I guess, technically, in a way, that's fine if you don't do cross training while you're training to run.  Technically, running does a lot for your body that will make you faster, able to endure more, you'll burn fat.  Sure, just running isn't a bad thing.  What cross training does for you, though, is strengthen all parts of your body, not just your legs and lower abdomen (and a select few other muscles).  With cross training, you can help your body reach it's best potential for you to run.  You can be more agile and limber, and this helps your whole body join in the task of being a better runner.  Want a few examples of cross training now?


What are agilities?  These help you become more agile - simple enough.  You're probably already familiar with a few agilities and don't realize it.  Ever heard of butt-kicks?  What about knee-highs?  Or burpies (also known as frog-stars)?  These are all to build agility in your legs.  They tone your muscles and build muscle memory so that you have a better runner's position while you run.  Look at this picture:


Do you see how close their legs come to their derriere's?  Or how high their knees come in front of them?  Look at how thick their thigh muscles are, and look at that wide gait between each step.  Because of doing exercises like agilities, those runners have been able to train their legs to give their best and all while they run.  Now they have excellent strides and faster times, and a better feeling while running overall.  So the purpose of agilities is to be able to make your body (particularly your legs) more agile, or flexible, so that you can use those muscles even more than when you just run.

Weight Training

This one you may see as not as big of a deal if you're running.  Why should you work out your arms if you're using only your legs to run?  That's just it - you don't use only your legs to run, you're using your whole body.  Arms included.  Keeping your arms in shape help your blood flow well throughout the rest of your body while you run.  You don't have problems with poor circulation or having your heart beat faster than necessary.  Also, having your arms in shape can help move you forward better while you run.  They're light, toned, don't flop around and let your legs do all the work.  It's important to keep your arms strong and able to help your body keep moving.  
Your arms aren't the only thing to be worked out with weights.  There are weight machines designed for other purposes.  There are weight machines geared towards your abs, your back and your inner and outer thighs (among many others). Again, why is it important for you to keep those areas in shape?  Your ads and back are key for making your legs work well.  Keeping a strong core help keep your breathing under control, and those muscles have way more to do with your legs than you may realize.  Your abdomen muscles pull the muscles of your legs in order for them to move the way they do.  Keeping a strong back helps for good posture which means an easier and more beneficial run.  

Yoga, Pilates, Medicine Ball

Yoga, Pilates, and the use of a medicine ball - these are all good techniques for core strength.  As I said earlier, keeping your core strong is vital to your overall performance.  Sit down in a chair, now try lifting yourself up out the chair to stand straight - all without activating your abdominal muscles or back muscles.  It isn't exactly easy to do, right?  Now imagine running without using those same muscles - nearly impossible, right?  It's not only important to use these muscles to perform tasks, but it's very important to keep these muscles strong and functioning properly.  Yoga and pilates, as much as they're stereotyped for women only, are meant for humans in general.  The strength that can be attained from doing these stretches and exercises can be some of the benefitting for your overall run.  Just look at the picture below; how much better wil your stride be when you can do that!?


Swimming is a great way to work your muscles everywhere.  If you have ever gotten in the water and tried to swim correctly (not just float), or if you've even done water aerobics - you know exactly what I mean.  You feel muscles you never knew existed from how great a swimming workout is!  These muscles, like every other muscle in your body is actually toned and used while you run.  Also, the demand of breathing exercises is high with swimming.  This can help to expand your lungs and muscle memory as you learn how to take fuller breaths for longer.  You will not regret this as you train to run longer distances.  Doing real swimming strokes and exercise is a great way to take some pressure off your joints while you cross train, improves your breathing, and really works your muscles in strengthening to improve you for the run.

I just thought was a cool picture ;)


Bicycling is another good way to expand your lungs, work muscles you usually don't work, and take some pressure off of your joints.  Even if you go on a short ride, do you ever notice that achy feeling you have in your buttocks?  Part of that might just be the seat you were riding on, but a lot of it is also the muscles you worked and stretched from riding around.  This is also a great leisure activity that can be done by anyone and with anyone.  If you'd rather not spend time walking, take a ride on your bike, you'll have a great distance covered, and might actually work a few new muscles in your body!

Kick Boxing

This is something that I REALLY want to try doing!  Apparently our school is now offering a small kick boxing class in the fitness center for anyone who wants to come and try it out!  I'm going to ;)  Kick boxing, while not too much like the previous things I've mentioned is not necessarily all about flexibility - even though this activity does require you to be limber.  This activity if more about toning and training your muscles where to lead your movements and how to execute each movement correctly.  Kick Boxing requires good agility, strength, and energy.  I'm pumped about taking this class, and I hope that if you try it, you'll love it too!

Remember, I focused on training to run races in this blog post, but each of these activities can be used interchangeably; whether you're training for a bike race, training to swim, or training to kick box - each of these activities, when used appropriately, support each other in your end goal.

Understanding the importance of cross training is crucial to your routine of exercising.  Yes, you can run and run and run and you're fine, not feeling anything getting harder.  In doing that, you're creating the same muscles memory over and over and over again.  Cross training helps train your muscles in other ways to make you stronger, faster, and more agile.  Cross training benefits you in so many ways; your bones grow stronger, your muscles are firmer, you prevent regular injury, you feel better, and you perform better.  When you cross train, give the same kind of intensity you want to have in your running - this will produce the best results.  You'll feel more energetic, more lean, and much better about your overall performance.  That's not a gimmick, that is a truth.  

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