“Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits”
Even from the beginning I was always good about incorporating various types of exercise into my daily routine. In addition to running, I was walking, bicycling, and doing strength exercises at home. My main reason for mixing it up at first was because running alone was so difficult and daunting back then, and I didn’t want to experience burn out or boredom and end up giving up altogether. These are actually really good reasons to cross train as they kept me motivated and moving, but my reasons have grown and evolved since the beginning of my journey. Admittedly, even after I had lost 30 pounds and didn’t need to lose a single pound more, my motivation to keep moving in different ways became mostly about burning calories more than anything else. I remember running outside one afternoon and seeing my shadow on the ground in front of me, and it hit me like a ton of bricks…I had reached a point where I was way too thin. I was a runner, but I wasn’t as strong as I needed to be. And I wanted to be strong, not skinny. I wanted to be a healthy runner so I could keep going the distance and not get sidelined with an injury. I wanted powerful muscles that gave me whole body strength, not just lower body. I knew that something had to change that day, and since then I have come full circle with my cross training as well as my motivation for doing it.
Every runner should be cross training for the overall health and the strength of their bodies. So, what exactly does that mean? Simply put, cross training is training your body in more than one sport in order to achieve overall conditioning, to improve your bodies overall performance, and to gain more strength and flexibility. Even more simply put for me, cross training is a way to become a stronger, better runner! Here are some reasons to start your cross training today!
Keeping the Boredom at Bay
I mentioned this one in my post Run with Me: The Basics of Where to Start. Mixing up your exercise routine is necessary sometimes in order to keep from getting bored and becoming burnt out on the same repetitive activity. When you find yourself starting to dread your daily exercise routine, find a new and fun activity to do such as biking, swimming, weight lifting, or maybe even sign up for an exercise classes with a friend! Staying fit and exercising should be something you look forward to each day, not something you dread. If you dread it, it is less likely to become a daily habit that stays with you for life.
Reducing Your Risk of Injury
Runners don’t like injuries. Bottom line, end of story. An injury can sideline you for an extended period of time and throw a major curve ball into your training schedule. Not to mention that not being able to run has a tendency to make runners extremely irritable and possibly even a little irrational at times (just ask my husband!). For these reasons (oh and of course because we don’t want to hurt our bodies), one of the biggest reasons every runner should cross train is to help reduce your risk of injury.
Running puts stress on the same muscles, tendons, and ligaments day in and day out and cross training can provide these over-used muscles with some much needed rest. And while our main running muscles get some recovery time, our bodies are still able to be conditioned. In addition, cross training engages the muscles that are less used which helps correct any muscular imbalances. Over the past couple of years I have learned that some of my muscles (such as my hamstrings) stay tighter than others, while other muscles (such as my hip flexors) tend to be more loose and weak. By engaging in activities that use all of your muscles, you are offering your body more balance, flexibility, and helping prevent tears or pulls due to an imbalance of muscular strength. Many runners cross train while they are injured, however, try and stay ahead of the game while you can and cross train for injury prevention.
Recovering While Injured
As I just mentioned above, many runners cross train while they are injured and they can no longer hit the ground running every day. Not only does this help maintain their fitness, but it also helps them maintain their sanity. Trust me, going from running many, many miles every week to doing absolutely no physical exercise is not an option for most runners. We have to move, we need to feel accomplished, and we definitely want to keep our bodies conditioned. So what better time to cross train than when we are already sidelined from running. By keeping that blood flowing, you are aiding the healing process for your body as well as your mind. Depending on your injury, maybe you could pick up bicycling, swimming, or weight lifting! Whatever you choose, be sure to consult your physician to see what activities will work best with your specific injury.
Here’s something I realized fairly quickly into my running journey: I loved running, and I certainly didn’t want to give it up. But my upper body was weak, and I wanted to be stronger so that my endurance, pace, and overall running stamina could be at its very best. Just as much as I wanted to reach a faster pace and a further distance, I equally wanted to gain strength. I knew what I wanted, and what I needed, but I wasn’t exactly sure where to start or what to do so I began working with a personal trainer. Gaining some muscle mass and feeling stronger helps us gain confidence and makes us better runners. I have even heard that a stronger body makes for better stride power, score!
Meeting New People
One of the best things that has happened since I added exercise to my daily life is meeting new people and making new friends. Through running, my husband and I have made many new connections with people that share a common love for the run, the race, and the rewards of a healthy life. We joined a local running group and are making miles of memories on our running journey alongside new friends! In addition, we have also made great friends with the staff and other members at our (very awesome) local gym. When I started personal training, I hoped to become more comfortable with the equipment, gain muscle mass, and be stronger overall (which I have accomplished!) but I had no idea I would gain such a wonderful new friend as well. When you do new activities, you meet new people and broaden your circle of friends! What a wonderful bonus to your exercise routine!
Cross training has truly been beneficial for my body, mind, and my soul. While reaping the benefits it has on my body as a whole, I am also able to keep my exercise routine fun and exciting, and I am always meeting new people to expand my fitness family! What are you waiting for? Start finding new ways to move today!
What types of cross training do you enjoy? How do you move when you are recovering from an injury? What is your favorite activity when you get in a running rut? And what are some things you do to challenge yourself beyond your current comfort zone? Please share your cross training stories and tips so we can all learn together and inspire one another along the journey! In the meantime, train strong and challenge on!