Cross-training benefits for runners: injury recovery, upper-body strength

Credit: Jim Gensheimer/Allsport
Being a runner doesn't mean you only run. I know runners who also swim, cycle, cross-country and downhill ski, snowshoe, row, play tennis and do aerobic dance.

It's all part of cross-training the use of more than one sport to maintain or improve your fitness level.

Many runners have already turned to some of these sports to help prevent injuries, build their strength and endurance for running, get a new mental challenge and reach new goals.

"When you add swimming and running in water to your workouts, you are adding to your upper-body strength and aerobic capacity, and it can help in injury recovery," said Val Gervais, 51, of Fox River Grove, a competitive runner and triathlete for more than 30 years.

"Upper-body strength is neglected by many runners," she said. "You don't realize how much you need this strength, especially, for pumping your arms hard at times when you need to, like near the finish line. Swimming can add to this needed area of strength.

"By using swimming for a cross-training method," Gervais said, "you get resistance without impact, and it also beats the heck out of the boredom."

Does cycling help your running? Bob Anderson, 55, of Schaumburg, an avid runner and an experienced triathlete, believes so.

"There is a crossover effect that maintains and at the same time strengthens the muscles used for running," he said. "Biking has increased my endurance and made it possible for me to handle hills easier and better when I run. Think about it most people can ride a bike for many hours."

Biking is believing for Anderson. During warmer weather, he and a few friends would ride from the Barrington area up to Lake Geneva, bike around Lake Geneva, and then bike back to Barrington. That's about 115 miles in a day.

Winter sports help runners stay outdoors and off the treadmill when the weather's cold.

Cross-country skiing is a relatively easy sport to learn, so you will see beginners along with seasoned veterans enjoying themselves in the forest preserves and snowy areas," said Bob Richards, 45, of Elmhurst, a multisport participant and director of several cross-country ski races.

"It's a great way of cross-training. It allows you to use every muscle in your body without having the joint pounding that comes with running," he said. "You can keep up and maybe even improve your aerobic capacity."

Whatever cross-training method you do, start off gradually and build up duration and difficulty.

Try one or more of them. I don't want you to fall, but remember, it's better to fall on your face while you're trying something new than to fall on your rear while backing off.

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