Why Cross Train?


Cross training provides huge benefits to runners by allowing them to build and maintain their aerobic base when they are not running due to injury. When we are running, cross training is equally as important. It provides strength to stabilizing and opposing muscle groups. It adds variety to your workouts and you are less likely to get burned out. Last, it gives you an automatic go to sport if you are injured to keep you active and less likely to fall into the injury depression so many runners battle when they are unable to run.


You can pick any sport as cross training. The more opposing muscles that the cross training uses the more benefit you will see to your running. The idea behind cross training is to give your running muscles a break, but to continue to stay active and maintain that aerobic base you have worked so hard to achieve. If you are using those opposing muscle groups, you are also going to prevent injuries by balancing out the pulling force on weaker muscles when the stronger ones contract.

Cycling and swimming are excellent choices for cross training. Swimming focuses on your arms and shoulders as well as your core muscles. Your legs are definitely not the emphasis although they are used. If you don’t know how to swim or are a weak swimmer, I suggest getting a copy of the book “Total Immersion,” by Terry Laughlin. The Total Immersion (TI) method teaches you step-by-step the most efficient swimming technique. You can find classes across the U.S., but the book is designed to be used on your own. There are DVD’s you can buy which demonstrate each drill and skill outlined in the book.


Cycling uses opposing muscle groups (quadriceps more than hamstrings). Cycling also works the outer hips and the butt muscles. Making sure these muscles are strong, prevents hip rotation and potential illiotibial band issues. Swimming and Cycling are low impact sports as well, so they give your muscles and bones a break from the jarring of running.


Pilates and yoga are good complementary options as well. The elliptical or stair stepper are options, but very close to running and are more useful as a running substitute when you need to reduce the impact.



Breathing Right?


Most runners don’t think about the way they are breathing unless it is a struggle. In fact, that is probably true for runners and non-runners alike. Breathing is just something our body and brains do for us. So, unless you are swimming, have a cold, or are asthmatic you haven’t thought about the way that you breathe when you run.


The way you breathe as you run can help or hurt you. Budd Coats and Claire Kowalchik’s book, “Running on Air,” explains the ins and outs of belly breathing and rhythmic breathing including the scientific research behind it.


Rhythmic breathing is a way to reduce your injury risk (I am all about reducing injury and staying running) and increase your efficiency and pace while running. As shown in, “Running on Air,” your core muscles are at their weakest when you exhale. If you continuously land on your left or right foot when you exhale, you are likely to end up with injuries on that side of your body.


If, however, you develop a 3-2 and 2-1 rhythm to your breathing (inhale for three steps, left right left, exhale for two steps, right left) you balance the impact to both your left and right sides. This reduces the risk of injury. Rhythmic breathing can also help with exercise-induced asthma and with side stitches while running.


Easy runs and long runs should be in the 3-2 pattern. The 2-1 pattern is used during hill climbs and when you are sprinting.


Initially you have to make a conscious decision to count your breathing, noticing what is going on when your foot touches the ground. After a few weeks, it becomes easier and more natural and you only have to check in with your body every so often to make sure you are maintaining the pattern.


Before I started using this breathing pattern, I would constantly pull my right hip flexor and my right IT Band would tighten up. I read a short article about rhythmic breathing in Runners World and then bought the book. Since then, I’ve used the rhythmic breathing and I haven’t had the same problems on the right side or the left for that matter.


You’ve got nothing to lose by trying it.