Can Cross-training Help Reduce the Risk of Running Injury?
Cross-training is a fitness alternative that complements your running endeavors. Cardiovascular cross-training options include cycling, swimming, group fitness classes, elliptical trainer, and rowing machine, among others. Depending on who you ask, strength training can also be considered as cross-training. However, some health professionals argue that strength training is a non-negotiable, essential component to a runner’s weekly routine.
Benefits of cross-training for runners
One of the biggest advantages that cross-training offers is distributing external loads throughout the body over any given period of time. Depending on your running experience, injury history, running goals, and running frequency, cross-training may sit higher on a runner’s priority list. For example, an injury-prone runner who is running six times per week could benefit highly from one or two cross-training days. Conversely, cross-training may be completely optional for a runner who only runs twice or thrice a week.
Also watch: What is Cross Training?
Another plus point of cross-training is that the alternative exercises allow you to maintain high levels of fitness while recovering from running injuries. Depending on your injury, running may aggravate your injury or prolong recovery. In this scenario, selecting the right cross-training alternative will provide some relief to the painful area while maintaining a good level of strength and fitness.
Also read: Run or Rest: What to Do During an Injury
Cross-training also assists you in becoming a diversified athlete and shapes you as a well-rounded performer. Research published by Richard Blagrove has shown that runners who participate in heavy strength training improve long-distance running times.
Role of cross-training in preventing running injuries
Most running-related injuries are also known as overuse injuries, which can be caused by the accumulation of external loads on a specific body area through the repetitive nature of running. When this external load exceeds the capacity of a certain tendon, muscle, or joint, an injury begins to develop.
Once you understand the underlying cause of running injuries, you can appreciate the benefits cross-training can offer. If you want to implement weekly strategies that build upon your fitness, yet provide a different demand on the body to dissipate external loads, then cross-training is the answer.
Moreover, there is a group of runners who only focus on and are passionate about running. No other exercise makes them feel more positive or offers the same physical and mental benefits. If such runners get injured, they are likely to continue running through an injury, making it worse. Additionally, these runners are likely to return from an injury too quickly as their only outlet for positive well-being has been taken away from them. This has detrimental long-term effects on recovery.
Cross-training exercises to do if you are currently injured
If you are injured at present or prone to injury in a particular area of the body, here are some recommended cross-training alternatives:
1. Injuries to the foot, calf, Achilles, and shins
Swimming and the rowing machine are perfect examples of non-weight-bearing activities that challenge your cardiovascular system. Another option that reduces the propulsion demand on the calf complex is cycling. While the foot, calf, and Achilles are still contributing to the pedal stroke, most of the power is generated through the hips and knees.
2. Injuries around the knee
Cross-training options such as cycling, squats, and lunges may be successful, but proceed with caution. Other suitable options for most knee injuries include elliptical trainer, swimming, and double-leg skipping.
3. High hamstring and gluteal injuries
Similar to knee injuries, you should do exercises such as cycling carefully. However, cross-training options like double-leg skipping, star-jumps, elliptical trainer, and swimming can offer the hamstring and gluteal muscles relative relief while still building upon your fitness.
How can a beginner runner incorporate cross-training?
If you are not injured, it is advisable to do strength training workouts dedicatedly twice a week. In addition, another form of cross-training for cardiovascular fitness should be implemented at least once a week. However, this advice may change given individual circumstances. Depending on your fitness levels and running goals, beginners can start with 45-60 minutes of low-intensity cross-training with the goal to gradually increase duration and intensity if the training requires.
As per your available time throughout the week, strength training sessions can be administered on running days, non-running days, or cross-training days. This decision should be carefully made, and often trial-and-error is required until the runner discovers a nice balance.
Overuse injuries are extremely prevalent among new as well as experienced runners. Training errors and weekly routines that overload certain areas of the body are directly responsible. So, if you are running several times a week and find yourself injury-prone, do your body a favor and implement any cross-training alternative. Start by replacing one run per week with another cardiovascular alternative and see how your body feels. As a result, you will dissipate your weekly loads throughout your body, build upon your cardiovascular fitness in different ways, and take one step closer to becoming an all-round better athlete.
1. Blagrove RC, Howatson G, Hayes PR. Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med 2018;48:1117-49.
2. Blagrove R. Strength and Conditioning for Endurance Running. Wiltshire, UK: The Crowood Press Ltd, 2015.