Running can be a great form of exercise, but as many runners know, injuries are common. In fact, each year 40 to 50% of runners face an injury.1
Cross-training may help reduce the risk of injury for runners.
Read: Common Running Injuries: Knee Pain
Reducing weekly running mileage and incorporating cross training can help prevent many common injuries.1
Cross-training: what is it?
Cross-training is simply alternating running workouts with other forms of exercise. If you run on Monday, for example, exercises like swimming, cycling, or rowing on Tuesday would provide cross-training.
There are several reasons medical doctors advocate cross-training for runners. Here are 4 benefits to consider:
- Prevent common overuse injuries.
Cross-training can help prevent overuse injuries, such as runner’s knee. Overuse injuries usually result from training errors, such as ramping up your weekly mileage too quickly or inadequate rest between runs.
If you regularly run 15 miles each week, running 30 miles one week without gradually building up to it may cause injury. This is why runners tend to abide by the “10% rule": do not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent. Even when cross-training, this is an important rule to remember.
Common overuse injuries for runners include:
- Help your body recover.
Cross-training also helps your body recover from one run to the next one. After completing a ten-mile run at race pace or doing a sprint workout on the track, your body could use a recovery period. This is a time when a cross-training workout is beneficial: you are still exercising your body, but stressing different muscle groups. By giving your legs a break with another form of exercise, your running muscles get a chance to recover before your next run.
- Build core muscle groups.
In addition to your cardiovascular workouts, consider adding strength training sessions to build your primary muscle groups: core, legs, arms, back, and shoulders. Strength training sessions are important for the following reasons:2
- To help prevent injury by supporting and strengthening the hips and knees
- To engage and build muscles that are not running-related
- To thwart muscle loss associated with aging
- To improve running performance
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, adults should incorporate 2 to 3 strength training sessions each week.3 Always check with your physician before starting a new workout regime.
- Add flexibility into your workout routine.
Cross-training also provides flexibility into your workout routine. If a thunderstorm hits on Wednesday, instead of missing your run you can opt for a swimming workout that day, and do your running workout on Thursday.
Cross-training is not foolproof: you can still get injured. But it is a training alternative to help reduce this risk. Cross-training is one of the best ways to get quality running workouts in, without logging too many miles each week.
- Fields KB, Sykes JC, Walker KM, Jackson JC. Prevention of Running Injuries. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2010; 9: 176-182.
- Pierce B. Strength Training for Runners. In: Run Less Run Faster Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary FIRST Training Program. New York; 2007: 179-196.
- ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise. American College of Sports Medicine. Accessed April 14, 2016.