We’re in the middle of summer. It’s the heart of racing season, and you’re outdoors a lot running, cycling, or maybe swimming.
Given the focus on event prep – and the improved Colorado weather – should you keep your workouts to running, cycling, etc., or should you mix in cross-training?
We believe the answer is: Add in a little cross-training. You’ll get a mental break, potentially improve event performance, and give critical muscles a rest. Peak season cross-training ideas, from an informal poll of HealthStyles athletes, include:
- Train your core. Improved core strength benefits most activities – even more so if your core is a deficiency.
- Do yoga. Yoga adds strength, flexibility, and mental toughness.
- Use your upper body for cardio. Upper-body ergometers, rowers, and swimming all allow you to maintain or add endurance while giving your lower body a rest.
- Cross train to address deficiencies that cannot be easily addressed through more biking or more running. (More on this shortly.)
- Do whatever it takes to avoid mid-season burnout from too much on-the-bike or in-the-running-shoe training.
We’ll provide a little detail on each cross-training idea in the sections below.
How do you use your upper body for cardio? ROWING! Check out HealthStyles’ rowers here.
1. Train your core…
The core, the core. Core training is big. If you have particular issues with your core or back, it should be especially big for you.
For example, if you have issues with your lower back, then time and energy spent on core strengthening and flexibility in the short term can be well worth the time saved from injury in the long term. Also, if the strength workouts take place during time you would not have been able to ride or run, then it may be a great addition to your training.
2. Do yoga…
Studies have shown that yoga reduces stress, aids weight loss, eases pain, helps people stick to exercise routines, and even improves running times. Strength and flexibility developed on the mat – namely in the core, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors – can help you run more efficiently and stay injury-free, according to Adam St. Pierre, a coach and exercise physiologist for the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.
Additionally, holding challenging poses builds tenacity that’ll pay off on the road. Lauren Fleshman, a two-time national outdoor 5000-meter champion, started practicing yoga after breaking her foot in 2008. “Enduring an intense pose is a lot like enduring a long run or tempo run,” said Fleshman.
3. Use your upper body for cardio…
Your heart and cardiovascular system don’t care exactly what you do to get them in shape. Any exercise that causes an adaption response in these systems, whether in the gym or on the roads, will prepare you to some degree for a long-distance race. Cross-training enables you to get in some big cardio workouts without putting a lot of wear and tear on the body. As a result, it can help you build a cardio base more quickly and effectively than can be accomplished by running or cycling alone.
Runners, for sure, experience wear and tear. It’s not just the pounding that’s responsible for soreness; it’s also the unique nature of the movement. To explain, on landing, the knee on the supporting leg is extended and the hamstring muscles there are stretched. Although the hamstring muscles are not shortened at that point, they are nevertheless contracted. This contraction is an eccentric, or negative, contraction, and negative contractions result in greater micro-trauma to muscle tissue than usual.
In running, however, this added trauma can leave muscles more susceptible to injury. Some experts recommend managing that risk by limiting running to three targeted workouts per week. But this alone might not be enough to create that deep reservoir of endurance that we’ll need for a personal-record effort in a race. That’s where cardio cross-training comes in.
3. Cross train to address deficiencies that cannot be easily addressed through more biking or more running…
We mentioned core training – that is, that it is worthwhile to take time away from biking or running if your back or core is a weakness.
So, what else warrants time away from running or biking or whatever sport you’re specifically training for? During racing season, the list is short and includes:
a. Maintain bone health, if needed (weight-bearing exercise).
b. Rehabilitate from injury or physiological imbalance.
c. Address a specific muscular weakness.
d. And, for cyclists, increase short-duration (sprint) power, although this is somewhat debatable.
Lastly, if you strongly adhere to the principle of specificity in training, as a general practice, for every weight or cross-training workout you plan, subtract that time and energy from what you will have available to spend biking or running. If you run/bike far less during the core racing season as a result of strength training, reconsider how much cross training you do.
Save time by cross training at home! HealthStyles has economical home gym systems.
5. Do whatever it takes to avoid mid-season burnout from too much on-the-bike or in-the-running-shoe training…
Cross-training’s purpose within your mental game is, generally speaking, to add motivation for the upcoming season or prevent mid-season burnout. For example, by mid-summer cyclists have logged many hours on a bike (with a racing season that started in March and ends in September) and can be struggling to stay focused and goal-driven. Adding variety can help them, and you, avoid mid-season burnout.