Cross-training does not have to be time-consuming. Remove your running blinders to give your workout a new twist.
Cross-training in the traditional sense may soon be obsolete. Not because it’s no longer worth your time, but because mixing up your routine could be so beneficial that there’s no reason to draw a distinction between on-foot and off-foot training.
The word “cross-training” has a lot of baggage attached to it. Images of wounded runners pounding the pavement on a bike or swimming laps in the pool flash through your head, filling you with dread for the next time you’re sidelined. We’re trapped doing something less important while counting down the hours till we can run again. Even those who incorporate regular strength training or alternate cardio days into their routine perceive it as a checkbox for injury prevention.
However, the notion that other forms of exercise should constantly take a back seat to running as the primary source of fitness isn’t helping runners. Allowing runners to get a much larger range of advantages from exercising their bodies in other ways by expanding our understanding of what counts as training for running, not only in the absence of running.
The Norwegian Approach
Variety is valued above specificity in the country’s “Joy of Sport for All” concept. Young athletes under the age of 13 are not eligible for championships. This allows students the opportunity to try out a range of sports before committing to one. They aren’t taught to limit their athletic pursuits.
Multi-sport exploration prevents injury, burnout, and complacency, regardless of what your preferred sport is.
Variety in Training Has Scientific Benefits
Repetitive action can be dangerous in sports like jogging. “Doing the same action at a high frequency exposes your body to the same pressures,” says Brett Mueller, DPT and Sports Clinical Specialist.
Consider how many times you will pump your legs forth and backward during a brief sprint. The trail’s changing terrain breaks up the monotony, but the same basic motion remains. “On the other hand, variation in sports exposes the body to varied pressures,” Mueller counters. The body can rest from one while dealing with distinct stresses from another.”
According to Dr. Brian Zuleger, Professor of Sports Psychology at Adams State University and a Certified Mental Performance Coach, “moving between sports pushes your mind to grow, learn, and adapt to the varied mental demands of each discipline.” “Adaptability is essential in a sport like trail running, when the landscape, weather, and distance fluctuate so drastically. Participating in other sports tests your ability to adapt to change.”
When exploring novel routes, battling terrible weather, or trying an intimidating distance, being able to transfer talents and alter your perspective across athletic channels comes in useful.
Ultrarunner and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Sarah Strong of Fireweed Counseling in Colorado makes a therapeutic case for expanding out.
“Because strong social support is linked to excellent mental health outcomes,” she explains, “an athlete can simply increase their circle of support by participating in a variety of activities.”
That broader network of support can then demonstrate to runners how valuable they are beyond any one component of their identity, which can help them return to running when injuries or other challenges take them away from it.
Hillary Allen reluctantly switched to cycling after falling over a cliff during a race in 2017 and breaking fourteen bones.
“When we’re told we can’t run, anything else can feel like a consolation gift,” Allen thinks. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to run again, so I was almost disappointed when I got on a bike since it wasn’t the same.” I had a negative connotation: “Sure, I’m bicycling, but I’m not jogging.”
Allen has returned to full-fledged running since his injury. However, the accident that jeopardised her life and career, compounded with a second setback the following year after breaking her ankle, placed her on a new road that altered the way she works as an athlete.
“I can’t train like a lot of ultrarunners do because of the injuries I’ve had,” Allen adds. She had to realise that her body couldn’t manage the same volume and intensity on foot that it had in the past, even if others in the sport could.
As a result of this reality, Allen has been able to discover value in other sports as a supplement to running rather than as a stand-in. She rides her bike nearly as much as she runs, not just to respect the constraints of her strong body, but also to increase her overall training capacity.
“Cross-Training Doesn’t Exist—Only Training!”
Allen believes that without cycling, she would not be able to attain her full running potential.
“It allows me to feel my best physically while building the endurance I require,” she explains. “I can still do enormous back-to-back days without worrying about the physical consequences.”
“There is no such thing as ‘cross-training,’ there is simply training!” says Allen’s coach, Adam St. Pierre. This mindset unites their efforts as they maximise the benefits of each sort of training. “Hillary’s growth as an ultrarunner has been aided greatly by her cycling conditioning. It has allowed her to exercise greater overall volume and conduct high-intensity workouts on a more consistent basis than if she merely ran.”
Allen has backed up his allegations with evidence. Her lengthy runs peaked at only 15 miles before she won the Cortina Trail 48k as her first race back after an injury.
“That race holds a lot of significance for me because it was the ‘aha’ moment when I realised how the bike was keeping me very fit even if I couldn’t run,” Allen explains.
Allen like gravel cycling because it provides her with the same feelings of solitude and exploration as trail running, adding a crucial emotional component to the physical rewards.
Her new affiliation with Pinarello as a member of the Scuderia Team has provided a solid platform for her newfound passion for riding. She’s a member of the team’s “Adventure Tier,” which includes crossover athletes who have developed a passion for cycling in addition to their primary sport. Jamie Bestwick, a BMX racer, and John Collinson, a skier, are further examples of how diverse activities complement each other.
Allen’s Scuderia Team teammates and mentors also remind her that the trail community she loves isn’t just about running. “The universes are so similar… What first drew me to gravel was how similar the gravel world felt to the trail running community.”
Return to the Start
Allen advises runners to try new sports with the goal of “enjoying the experience for what it is,” rather than comparing it to what they already know from running. When she initially started gravel cycling, she struggled with the agony of giving oneself permission to be a novice again.
You’re not a pawn on a chessboard, though. You’re the king of your own game, free to go wherever you want. Starting anew in a different sport is more akin to taking a step to the side into a different plane. Lateral mobility gives your athletic identity fresh depth, proving that we’re more than just the sum of our runs.
Ease In. Remember that the same degree of effort in the new activity will likely result in reduced output. Giving yourself time to acclimate to a new form of activity is an important part of being a novice. To keep the pressure low, start with an easy or recovery day and work your way up to higher intensity options as you adjust.
Add Time. Giving yourself more time during your new activity session will not only prevent you from feeling rushed or anxious while learning, but it will also compensate for any decrease in intensity with an increase in duration.
Mess up. This is your chance to start over, because failure teaches us some of our most valuable lessons. Our best teachings are sometimes our mistakes. Through an ongoing process of elimination, figure out what works best for you.