Want to become a faster, fitter runner this year? No need to pile on the miles. "Unless you're an elite runner, it's not necessary to run more than three or four times per week," says Angela Park, a triathlon coach for Spark Multi-Sport in Chicago. "Mixing it up with cross-training will keep you motivated and more likely to get all of your workouts complete."
Perks of cross-training include avoiding injury and burnout. Plus, by focusing on different muscle groups that you may not work when you run, you'll become a stronger athlete from top to bottom.
How to Mix Cross-Training With Running
"Once you establish your running goals and how often and what mileage you need to run to complete them, fit your cross-training around that schedule," suggests Park. This may mean tacking on yoga or a short swim after an easy run to aid recovery, or focusing on strength training on a day off in the middle of the week. "Or, if you're running just three days a week, do a spin class on the other days," says Park. Justin Harris, a track and field coach at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, agrees. "Keep trying different workouts until you find something that's just right."
Lessen the Impact of Running
It's no secret that running takes a toll on your body. So it's key to complete low-impact workouts on days you don't run. "That way, you can give challenge yourself in a different way, get in a good workout, and still perform on your key run workouts," says Park.
When he was training as a collegiate runner and later as a professional triathlete, Harris says he hopped around on different machines at the gym to break up the boredom. "On my off days, I'd do a 15-minute warm-up on the elliptical, five minutes on the bike, then do a workout on the bike, like 10x1 minute hard pedaling. Then I'd go back on the elliptical for 15 minutes," he says. "Combining machines also helps to add the necessary strength, mobility and balance you need as a runner."