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Learn how cross-training is beneficial and can help you become a more balanced runner

Whether you’ve just discovered running or have been a runner for years, it’s important to know why cross-training is beneficial. This becomes more important for runners as they begin to train for their next event. You’ll need to build your endurance in a holistic and balanced way. Cross-training is beneficial because it can help you prevent injury, avoid burnout, and improve your performance.

Cross-training refers to any kind of training done to supplement your running. As a runner, you should use cross-training in combination with your running to achieve your goals. As a beginner runner, including swimming, cycling, weight lifting, and yoga can enable you to become a more balanced runner. Pro tip: if you’re crunched for time or can’t get in your run, these 6 exercises you can do anywhere will keep you on track.

How cross-training helps you reach your goals 

Cycling can help improve your run performance.

The main benefits of complimenting your running with cross-training include: 

  • Strengthen different muscle groups – This helps strengthen muscles that aren’t primarily used when running. Running is repetitive, using the same muscles in the same way over and over. Swimming is excellent because it eliminates the pounding of the pavement and provides a complete body workout. It might sound funny, but building strong glutes muscles can give you a better runner’s butt and improve your form! 
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness – Combine running with activities like cycling or rowing. That allows you to work on your cardiovascular fitness without logging a ton of miles. Adding activities like that allow you to continue working on increasing your endurance and stamina. Learn why many runners use cycling to improve their run performance.
  • Reduce the chances of injury – Cross-training can help prevent over-use injuries because you’re not using the same muscle groups repeatedly. These 8 tips can help prevent shin splints, a type of over-use injury. Unfortunately, injuries can happen at any time. But the more you become a balanced runner, the more you can reduce potential injuries. This helps you stay on track with your training! 

Cross-training for runners 

Yoga can improve your flexibility and lung capacity.

It’s no secret, the muscle groups in your legs are used the most during running. To keep progressing during your training, you should supplement your runs with different, targeted activities. If you run 3-4 times a week, add two days of cross-training to your plan. During those days, choose something that enables you to strengthen the muscle groups that running alone can’t. If you don’t have access to open water, a bike, or a yoga studio, trail running can work. The terrain alone will slow down your pace and not allow you to just “turn your brain off” when running. Yes, you’re still running, but you will use your muscles differently than road running and the ground will provide a softer landing for your joints, bones, and muscles.

Running is a great way to improve your physical well-being and overall health. But running by itself is just one piece of the puzzle. That’s why you should add additional activities to your overall training plan. Cross-training is beneficial and will positively impact your training, pushing you closer to your goals. 

Keep your training on track when you prevent tight hips

Oftentimes, runners experience a feeling of tightness in and around the hip region. Especially if they’ve just begun training and have started increasing their mileage. This tightness is generally a result of stiffness in the hip flexors and prevents runners from running their best. Hip flexors, particularly the iliopsoas, are important to runners. The iliopsoas acts as the strongest flexor of the hip and is the prime mover of hip flexion. Think of your hips as the wheels that propel you forward. Tight hips can lead to poor running form and an increased risk of injury. Here are a few things you need to know about tight hips.

What causes tight hips in runners?

Don’t let tight hips keep you from achieving your goals!

When running, your muscles are repeatedly used in the same way. As a result, runners can experience tight hips if they don’t stretch those muscles in the opposite direction.

Another reason is overcompensation due to weakness in other muscles like your core and glutes. When other muscles used during running are weak, others have to take over and work harder. This is why cross-training is important and helpful.

Lastly, your hips can tighten if you don’t allow them to rest and recover. As simple as it sounds, this is another reason why effective recovery is so vital to a training plan. There are many different ways runners allow their body to recover: yoga, foam rolling, deep stretching, massage, etc.

Signs and symptoms

Lower back pain could be an indicator that your hips are tight.

The most obvious sign is a feeling of tightness or stiffness in your hips. Other signs include pain in your lower back, neck, or glutes due to overcompensation or abnormal running form. Runners might also experience difficulty when stretching.

Prevention

As well as regular rest and recovery, there are also many exercises, stretches, and workouts that can help prevent tight hips. Don’t forget about foam rolling! Add the technique below to your foam rolling routine to keep your hips feeling loose and refreshed.

Foam rolling technique

  • Get in a plank position (on your forearms)
  • Place the roller under the front of one hip
  • Roll up and down slowly, focusing on the tight spots
  • Twist to the side so you include the outside of your hip
  • Spend 1-2 minutes in the area, then switch legs
  • Breathe deeply throughout

Skater squats can help open up and strengthen your hips. Photo credit – MapMyRun

The two stretches below will help open up and strengthen your hips. Complete them before and after your run. 

Skater squat

  • Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip-width
  • Squat down
  • As you come up, slowly put your weight on the left leg
  • Extend your right leg back
  • Hold this for as long as you can, up to 60 seconds (place your hand on the ground for help balancing)
  • Switch legs and repeat 10 times

Crescent lunge knee-up

  • Lift your right knee up to 90 degrees
  • Stretch your arms out to the side to help balance
  • Bring your right knee towards your chest
  • Switch legs and repeat 10 times

Training your body to run long distances isn’t all about mileage. Proper rest and recovery are just as important to any run or workout. So are stretching, cross-training, and foam rolling. Tight hips can alter your form and lead to discomfort and potentially injury. Add the two exercises mentioned to your routine to help prevent stiffness in your hips and keep working towards your goals.