Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cross Training the winter away


A compeling case for cross training!

The colder weather is coming. The days are getting shorter and many of them will be wet. For all of these reasons and many more this is the cross training season. I run as much as possible throughout the year but when the weather turns poor I stay inside. I realize most hardcore runners will run even if god rains sulfur down from the heavens but why? Most runners run and do very little else. That creates imbalances in strength. If your hamstrings and calves are strong from running but your quads & glutes are weak that imbalance will be felt. Most likely in your knees. If you fade in the final miles of your race you could benefit from some core work to keep your form upright and not slouching. If the holidays leave a few pounds on you then cross training can help your running and get you slimmed down at the same time. In short, every runner needs to cross train and every runner can benefit in multiple ways by doing it.
My wife & I in the early fall of 2011
Cross training can be loosely defined as exercises that plays a supporting role in your training process. Building cardio with cycling and swimming and strength training with Pilate's and weight lifting are all examples of cross training for runners. This is a great time to focus on quads and glutes, core work and chest & arms. Strong quads will help keep your knee feeling and working optimally. For this you can do all kinds of squats. If you have a Bosu Ball or a balance board use it when you do your squats. It compounds the benefits. Core work can be done through various Pilate's moves, crunches or ab machines at the gym. Strong abs will help you maintain good running form when your body starts to fatigue. If your saving your legs for the big race this weekend and your abs were worked hard yesterday you could do a day of arms & chest. Various push ups, dumbell curls, pull ups and bench presses are basic arm & chest workouts that can help with speed. A powerful arm swing on an uphill climb will help you up the hills tremendously. Weight training of any kind is also a big metabolic booster.

I spent  2 to 3 days a week and on rare occasions 4 days a week doing the Insanity DVD in the fall and winter of 2011. I had shin & knee pains prior to this and I weighed about 190 to 200 lbs depending on when you weigh me. I mention this because that 1 DVD did all that I needed. I got excellent cardio training, my core work was never worked so hard in all my life and with all the plyometrics and Pilate's in this video my strength training in both my legs and arms was as good as can be. I can not recommend this video series enough for an all around, full body cross training workout. On the right you can see my results. Some of that weight lose was due to my running but most of the weight came off when the weather turned cold and I looked for alternatives to outdoor running. My mileage may have dipped considerably but my times got faster and faster. I broke my 1/2 marathon PR twice and my trail 35k PR all while running less and filling in with the Insanity DVD. I used the original Insanity DVD. The advertisement at the bottom of this page was put here for your convenience. I get little to nothing from it and I know very little about it but if it is anything like the more expensive series I have, go for it. At $22.90 you can't get a better deal. Allow me to give you a word of caution before you jump into this. Go at your own pace. Do not try to keep up with the video. Do not try to complete the entire workout the first time viewing it. This is an extremely difficult routine and you will vomit. I'm not kidding. If you get to the point where you can go at your own pace and complete the entire workout you are doing GREAT. If you can keep pace with the instructor you are AMAZING.
Before & After Insanity DVD & Paleo Diet
If jumping around and doing a bunch of Pilate's and aerobic type moves in your living room is out of the question but you still want in out of the rain I would suggest you join a gym. The one thing a gym membership gives you that nothing else can compete with is variety. At almost any gym you have a ton of classes of all different types like Zumba, boot camp, Pilate's, yoga, and spinning. I saw a class tonight doing a combination of aerobics and drumming with weighted drum sticks. The class was called "Pound". If your not into the classes then hire one of the personal trainers to whip you into shape. If that's not in the budget than pick any one of the hundreds of different machines to work every inch of your body in the most complete way. My gym has 10 different ways to work your abs, 20 different ways to work your legs and 30 different ways to work your arms and chest and that's just the machines. Don't forget about the free weights and the TRX straps and the chin up bars and medicine balls etc, etc. The gym is the perfect place to cross train when it comes to adding variety and keeping your workouts fresh.

If spending money on a gym membership is not in the budget then get a bicycle stand and raise the rear tire of your bike and do your own cycling in your garage or wherever. Compliment that with a jump rope and a pull up bar designed to fit in a door way. These simple but effective tools can be found at used sporting goods stores or thrift stores. I have been known to strap on 5lb ankle weights and hide them under my jeans and walk around with them all day long. That will kill your quads by the time you take them off. Balance boards are at most a $10 to $20 investment and for trail runners they are essential. Grab one and stand on it while you watch TV at night and you will be amazed at the increased speed and agility you get out of it. Working out with simple push ups and situps is by far the cheapest and easiest excersice a person can get. Throw in a few squats and lunges and you've got a decent cross training routine coming together. Point is, cross training can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be and it certainly doesnt have to cost money to be effective.

Not sure what to do. Here is a list of excercises and some of the benefits to be had from them.
  • Cycling or Mountain Biking- Biking targets the quadriceps and shin muscles, which are slower to develop in runners and helps strengthen the connective tissue of the knees, hips and ankles, which may reduce your risk for injury. High-power bike intervals work your leg muscle even harder than uphill running, but without the impact of hard running.
  • Weight Training- Weight training can improve running economy thus making you impervious to injury, according to a study by Ron Johnston, M.S., a graduate student, and accomplished ultra-marathoner, at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Use exercises like dead lifts, pull ups, military press, bench press, squats, lunges, and overhead press for great results.
  • Swimming-  Swimming is a non-weightbearing activity, it gives the joints and connective tissues a break from the impact of running while allowing you to maintain aerobic fitness. Swimming works all the major muscle groups  like the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abs, lower back and if that's not enough it also works various muscles of the upper body depending on your stroke.
  • Elliptical Machine- The elliptical machine mimics running action without the impact which makes for an excellent cross-training activity. Even though the elliptical is a weight-bearing activity, it is low-impact for the joints. The elliptical also helps develop a runner's core and leg muscles, and if you use one with the arm levers, the pushing and pulling motion allows you to develop a stronger arm swing therefore helping make you a more efficient runner.
  • Plyometrics- High intensity, explosive exercises such as jumping, bounding and hopping drills are all examples of plyometrics. These activities can help improve a runner's overall strength, speed, range of motion, push-offs and stride length, but they are best suited for highly conditioned athletes—not beginners
Every runner could benefit from 2 to 3 cross training sessions per week and now is the perfect time to start getting use to working them in. Cross training can help bridge the gap between the mileage that you’re currently able to handle and the higher mileage that you want to do. It can give you the same amount of cardiovascular exercise while reducing the pounding on your joints and muscles that’s associated with running. I can personally attest to the benefits of cross training through the fall & winter of 2011. In 2012 .....
  1. I lost 50lbs
  2. I set all new PR's
    1. 5k- 0:20:27
    2. 10k- 0:49:13
    3. Half- 1:40:02
    4. Trail Half- 1:48:00
    5. Trail 35k- 2:14:00
  3. I ran my first marathon
  4. I ran my first 50k
Start now, make it a habit and watch your speed & distance skyrocket. I've been back in the gym for 2 weeks and I already feel the benefits on the little bit of running I've been doing lately. If I dont see you in the gym....
I'll see ya in the woods.