There are several reasons for runners to add some cross-training to their fitness routine: non-running activities help you relax the muscles that are overused during running, improve overall fitness, help towards faster recovery, and provide a good break without letting you slack off.

Cross-training essentially is about combining exercise other than running in your weekly routine. This includes swimming, cycling, walking, strength training and a host of other workouts that help in developing and strengthening the muscles in a way that running doesn’t. By adding alternatives workouts to your run, you can actually improve your running form, strengthen your body to ward off common injuries and add greater flexibility, speed and endurance.

The trick lies in choosing activities that complement your regular running routine and adding to your general fitness. Luckily, we have a six ideas, which will help you achieve specific running-related goals in the long run.

Swimming and pool running
One of the best cross-training methods, swimming gives your tired leg muscles some rest, while also enabling a super upper-body workout. Water is therapeutic for all muscle groups, and known to have a healing effect on soreness and fatigue. It’s important to keep your cardiac rate up for any fitness exercise and swimming helps you do this with lesser strain. For a more intensive training, try pool running by wearing a pool belt keeps you afloat in the deep end of the pool. Run using the same motion you do on land (with far lesser force), maintaining good posture and a high cadence. Like all exercises, remember not to overextend yourself and maintain proper form at all times.

Your run will feel a lot longer because of the swimming and biking.
Cycling is a great break-day routine.

Elliptical training
For a whole body cardio workout, nothing quite beats the elliptical machine, which provides the best of walking, skiing and stair climbing motions in one. It aids runners in getting a low-impact workout for their leg muscles and their glutes, and is particularly beneficial for recovering athletes or those who’re taking it easy after a big race. Working in the elliptical a couple of times a week relaxes your core muscles while still keeping you in form before your next run.

A favorite of many professional runners, cycling builds endurance and powerful quads, hamstrings, and glutes — all muscles that runners need, particularly for uphill climbs. The exercise also strengthens connective tissues in the knees, hips and ankles and reduces chances of injury. A spin class or stationary bike also work well as they allow you to concentrate and take control over your workout—in fact, you can even design an interval suited to your running needs, with combinations of hard and light resistance.

Whether you pursue it indoors or outdoors, rowing helps strengthen the core, back, and arms, which are common weak spots in runners. Building strength in those muscles can help in maintaining good posture and form. It’s also a great cardio workout and helps in building your stamina for endurance runs. For best results, introduce interval training to your rowing, with easy, medium and fast-paced motions distributed evenly in the 30–40 minutes of your workout.

Strength training
Lifting weights is encouraged amongst even the newest of runners nowadays—the resultant leg power built up helps you perform even faster during your runs. If you are a beginner at strength routines, start with light weights and numerous repetitions (10 – 15) and gradually increase your loads and reduce the number of reps over time. A reasonable, balanced program for runners would include half squats and lunges for combined leg muscles; heel raises for calves; toe raises for shins; leg extensions for quads; hamstring curls and bent leg sit-ups for abdominals; bench press for chest; upright row for upper back, neck and shoulders; behind the head triceps curl, hammer bicep curl, and regular and inverted wrist curls for forearm muscles.

Rebecca Pacheco swears by yoga for improving muscle structure and flexibility (Image: Dina Rudick | Boston Globe)
Runner Rebecca Pacheco swears by yoga for improving muscle structure and flexibility (Image: Dina Rudick | Boston Globe)

There is no denying that flexibility is invaluable to a runner who needs to move fluidly across a range of terrain; any sort of stiffness in the core muscles can shorten their stride and lead to injuries. There are several forms of yoga to opt for and you should choose something that works appropriately with your running schedule. If your training is intense (such as before an upcoming race), go for a lighter form such as hatha yoga and stretches. During recovery periods, something more challenging such as Ashtanga Yoga will keep you in top form for later practice sessions.

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