The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Cross Training

THE GOOD

Cross training potentially has the following benefits for runners:

  • Variety in training prevents boredom and will help you to stick to a consistent exercise routine
  • Rejuvenating your enthusiasm for running (absence makes the heart grow fonder!)
  • There are some recovery benefits to using non-running muscles while still getting the blood flowing and a good cardiovascular workout, provided the intensity does not leave you more sore and tired than before
  • Cross training is great for maintaining fitness during injury if you are able to find an exercise which does not stress the injured area and still provides a good cardio and strength workout
  • Continuous high intensity workouts can give your fitness a great boost in a fun varied way
  • Social benefits – you might benefit from building in some cross training activities that are a little easier to include the rest of the family and friends in
  • Cross training is beneficial for developing good overall body strength which can help prevent injury
  • Maintaining fitness during pregnancy

THE BAD

Cross training can also result in negative or no return:

There is a very important law in training which is the law of being Specific.

If you want to improve at a certain activity then you need to spend the majority of your time practicing that very activity. For runners that means, to run better, you need to well, RUN!

I advise runners to only add additional cross training activities if:

  • They have already built a solid running endurance base and are strong enough handle additional workouts
  • The cross training workouts are complimenting and not replacing their running training
  • The workouts are developing muscles that will enhance and not hinder running performance

Muscle development from cross training can be opposing to the requirements for optimal running. Make sure the activities you choose are complementary and not inhibitory.

If the cross training activities are not planned into your training week as a whole by a qualified coach, then you can put yourself at risk of overtraining and the resultant diminishing performance

Unless it is a cross training activity that you have performed regularly over a long period, you are at risk of injury due to the fact that you are doing an activity you are not conditioned for. For example, I am in great running shape, but if I go and play a hard squash game I won’t be able to run the next day!

Ease into your cross training activity to ensure that you are still able to complete your runs.

So while potentially beneficial – Seek advice from a qualified running coach or biokineticist on the best way to incorporate cross training into your programme.

THE UGLY

With names involving words like “killer”, “commando”, “bootcamp”, “max” – it is easy to see that many of these workouts are designed make you think you will get great rewards fast. The are however also designed to break your body down hard and fast.

Depending on an athlete’s level of conditioning and the intensity of the session relative to this conditioning it can take from 36 to 72 hours for the body to adequately recovery from the workout before attempting another.

A phenomenon I have started to notice is runners doing a hard run workout and the next day a hard cross training workout. They think that the cross training workout is recovery as it is not running. However they are still working their bodies at high intensity and so instead of recovering they are only breaking down further.

The end result is many runners who have initial results but then end up frustrated due to their performance plateauing, even though they are training “hard”.

Reasons for this are:

  • An overtired body due to inadequate recovery from hard workouts
  • Not getting enough endurance running specific training

Conclusion

Cross Training is a good thing as long as you remember the all important principle of overload and the principle of being specific.