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January 13, 1999
by Chris Graff - Asst. Coach
Cross training is a term that describes a wide variety of athletic activities. Basically it refers to athletic activities that are not your primary focus. Since our focus is running, cross training can mean virtually any other activity you use to get into or maintain physical fitness while you are not running.
People have many different reasons for cross training. If a person is injured and can't run, they may chose to cross train to save some of their fitness until they are healthy and can return to running. Other people simply enjoy lifting weights, swimming, cycling, etc., so they put those activities into their training regime. There is nothing wrong with doing other athletic activities either in place of or in addition to running, after all, the point is to enjoy yourself. Any activity that raises your pulse rate and makes you breathe at an increased rate is helping you to become more fit because it is building cardio-pulmonary fitness, (heart and lungs) also known as your aerobic fitness. Cycling and swimming are especially good activities for runners because they work the leg muscles as well as the heart and lungs. In addition they are non-impact activities, which means that unlike running, the body does not impact the ground making these sports good for people with weaker bones or stress fractures. Weight lifting builds muscle and is non-impact, but it generally does not work your heart and lungs very much, making it a good addition to one of the other activities, but not a good substitute for them. If a serious leg injury has occurred and the athlete can not do any of these, often they wil turn to an arm bicycle to give them some activity which will elevate their pulse.
Now that I have endorsed these other activities, let me give you the down side. The best way to get better at doing something is to practice doing it. The same holds true for running. The best way to be a better runner is to run, either for more time or more intensity. In this way we say that running is event specific
Surely there are limits to this, as you will find out quickly if you suddenly decide to start massive amounts of training. Increasing activity too quickly is the best way to get hurt or sick, but a steady increase is something that will be necessary in the long run to improve as an athlete.
So if you are healthy, is there ever reason to cross train? Absolutely. Other than doing it for the enjoyment as we said earlier, cross training can be a vital component of training. Since increasing mileage quickly augments the risk of injury, adding in regular sessions of alternate activities will certainly help your physical condition without the injury factor. Often distance runners lift weights as a supplement to running. Although this will not help their aerobic capacity, it does help build some of the muscles that are needed to run fast or sprint. Also cross training becomes valuable during inclement weather. No matter where you are you will experience conditions that are dangerous to run in at some point, whether they be extreme heat, cold, or precipitation. During these times when it isn't safe to run, cross training can be a valuable outlet for your athletic activity.
So in the end while cross training isn't running, it is a resource for runners to take advantage of and believe me, the good ones do exactly that.