Tag Archives: cross training

Five Reasons For Runners To Cross Train

If I’ve learned one thing from this past year of training, it’s that cross training can be more useful than most runners think.

It’s not just an easy form of activity to do on recovery days, nor is it just a cheap substitute for normal running when injured.

Cross training, especially in the forthcoming years, especially for those getting older, is an important form of aerobic training. And there’s several key reasons I discovered for why it may become more valuable for those training to run marathons and other endurance races….

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A tip for an easy, productive Double Workout Day

adventure athlete athletic daylight

If you do double workout days, a short jog isn’t your only option. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Higher volume runners practice doubles, where they add a 2nd shorter run later in a day after a prior regular morning run.

It’s a key to building those 120+ mile weeks that elites run. Otherwise, such a runner’s typical workout tops 10 miles and with few exceptions that’s not sustainable long term.

However, miles on your legs are still miles on your legs, and a runner wanting to avoid burnout and injury probably should avoid two runs on easy days.

Still, there’s value in endurance training with doing double workouts, and there’s an easy way to do two workouts in a day without taxing your legs through an extended run more than once.

Just cross train for the second workout. It seems so obvious, and yet so many don’t think to do it. Cross training is low impact aerobic exercise, and there’s a reason IronFit refers to the practice as “Free Miles”. Even if you’re not actually running, you’re working and developing aerobic fitness that will help you down the line.

On top of that, you’re resting bones, joints and muscles that have to do work on a regular run, and avoiding wear and tear that exacerbates the amount of recovery you need.

For example, you run 6-10 miles in the morning. You go through your workday. After work, instead of a 3-4 mile recovery run, you hit the spin bike for 45 minutes at an easy aerobic heart rate. Or you use the rowing machine for half an hour. Or the ARC Trainer, or the elliptical. You get the idea.

You could also do strength training for that 2nd workout instead, provided your body is up to doing so. The extra anabolic boost could jump start your overall recovery, especially when paired with a good healthy dinner and a lot of sleep.

Basically, there’s no law stating that to do a double workout day your 2nd workout has to be another run. Provided that morning workout was a full aerobic run, you could do just about any other form of cross or strength training for that 2nd workout and still receive dividends.

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How long will the offseason last?

So, two weeks after arriving in Las Vegas, it’s clear to me that finding time to run more than 10-15 miles a week will be tough until the temperature comes down.

Before beginning remote work duties this past week (I had the previous week off to move), I had no problem getting outside at 6am and getting at least 3-4 miles in before 7am.

However, most of my colleagues are 2-3 hours ahead in the Eastern US, and that requires I work an earlier shift. I get up at 6am PDT every day and starting work at 7am isn’t a problem. But it means that 6am runs are somewhat impractical. I did sneak out for a run during this past week, but I couldn’t go too far since I needed to be ready to work by 7.

Even though (for now) I usually finish up work around 4pm local time, by that point the Vegas heat has reached its peak. Running outside at all in those conditions is probably a suicide attempt.

Never mind the perceived heat index of the 105-115’F, 10-20% humidity conditions is around 120 degrees, akin to running in 75’F weather with 70% humidity. The mere temperature and abundant sunshine alone makes running outside at midday in Vegas very dangerous. The city has a handful of short, weekly 6pm fun runs, but even at that hour temperatures are over 100 degrees, and the sun will not go down for a couple hours. Even if do-able in short doses, it doesn’t lend itself to extended aerobic training.

Even the treadmill becomes difficult after about 10-20 minutes, and after my recent injury I’m looking to avoid using the treadmill for anything more than brief warmup runs or run/walking.

So this means:

  • More consistent strength training. Since my current gym now has a lot more space, a lot more machines, and is not nearly as crowded, I can fully strength train whenever I like rather than have to work around a crowd of Wrigleybros. I have settled into a pattern of doing a full strength workout every 2-3 days. Most work out on certain days of the week, but I prefer to space my workouts out by days-between.
  • A variety of cross training. I still have the ARC Trainer available, which is the best and closest approximation to running available. This new gym also has rowing machines and aerobic hand crank machines, allowing for extended aerobic upper body training that will leave my legs along while also giving my upper body a lot more dynamic exercise. We forget how much the upper body needs to work during running, so this is very helpful.
  • Extra time on the spin bike. I can either take a “rest day” by riding easy on the spin bike, or do some aggressive Anabolic Training intervals, a form of high intensity interval training similar to Daniels style repetitions: You go all out for 30 seconds, then ride easy for 2-3 minutes, repeat about 4-6 times. This form of HIIT is supposed to help generate helpful muscle-building hormones as well as test and improve your anaerobic capacity.
  • An offseason. I will still run at least a couple times a week, but I’m going to focus much more so on my cross training and strength training in the interim. I have and probably will gain a bit of weight, which is hopefully mostly added muscle mass. The cross training will help maintain general aerobic capacity and help maintain some fat burning normalcy.

I don’t need to begin training for Vancouver before January, and could begin some form of ramped up training as soon as early November. Since my new job poses enough of a challenge and adjustment in the short term, this is clearly not a problem.

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Despite Not Running For A Week, I Might Have Improved My Running Fitness

After taking a week off from running due to a bum hamstring, I reeled off three days of short runs in a row, none over 3 miles. Felt fine.

Two days after that last run, I ran over 5 miles home from work, despite not having run farther than 3.5 miles in over a month. Felt fine.

How, despite not running double digit miles in a week since mid-June, despite losing an entire week after a month of minimal running… was I able to reel off 12 miles in 5 days?

Okay, I left out all the cross training I did in the gym. Sure, I also ate well and got good rest. But, along with the 5 hours of cross training I did during the week “off” from running, I’ve been cross training quite a bit outside of any running. This is in large part because I’m about to move cross country, and with no goal race on the horizon I want to take it a bit easier while focusing my energy on cleaning up and packing.

At the same time, I’ve been ramping up my weekly cross training akin to a runner ramping up their mileage ahead of a goal race. Of course, the cross training is not as physically intense as regular running. And that’s a key reason I’ve been able to do so much of it in the interim.

The week after my last double digit mile week, I logged 2 hours of non-running cross training. The week after that, 2.5 hours. The week after that, 3.8 hours. And sure, I was not feeling great the week I got hurt, so I only logged 2 hours. But, with no ability to run, I logged extra time cross training and got 5 hours that week.

In this past week, I logged 5.8 hours of cross training in addition to 16.2 total miles, close to 8 hours total. Factoring in the heart rate training and calorie burn of the cross training, I finished last week trained to a level equivalent to about 24 miles of running a week.

My aerobic fitness development didn’t stall as my mileage dropped to lows unseen since before I began seriously running. I still logged easy/moderate efforts on the ARC Trainer, and easy sessions on the spin bike. Plus, this ignores all the day to day walking I have to do while living in Chicago (for now).

And because of this it’s certainly possible that, despite not running for a full week, my running fitness may have improved. Sure, a week of relative rest from running helps too. But I not only didn’t lose aerobic endurance… I might have gained some.

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The ARC Trainer might be a runner’s best cross training tool

ARCTrainerI’ve cross trained with a variety of methods and machines over my time as a runner. There might be more runner-specific cross training methods than the ARC Trainer, but you won’t find one simpler and more readily available in most gyms.

The ARC Trainer is a machine developed in 2003 by a company called Cybex International. Your legs move forward and back on tracking similar to an elliptical, except the motion is more straightforward, and the angle is closer to that of running uphill. On some ARC Trainers the arms may move as they do on ellipticals, but on most (including the ones at my gym) the handles are stationary and only your legs are intended to move.

The ARC Trainers are usually empty at gyms where they’re available (including my current gym), and it’s a bit of a surprise they have stuck around this long given their limited popularity. But they’re still present in many big gyms, and after discovering them recently I quickly discovered that they’re my most effective cross training tool. When the gym’s packed and everyone’s crowding the weights, treadmills and ellipticals, the ARC Trainers are a widely available and welcome training option.

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How runners can effectively track cross training

person on elliptical trainer

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One thing clear to me this summer is that getting in a lot of miles is probably not going to happen. It’s one reason I went ahead and joined the gym near my home: I need to do more to fill in the blanks with cross training. I’ll hit my key workouts whether outdoors or indoors, and then have a variety of indoor options with which to fill in the blanks.

Filling in the blanks however requires some analysis. People cross train, but people don’t have a firm basis from which to equate their cross training to the needed aerobic development.

How much work on the bike or elliptical equals one mile of easy running? Most do an indeterminate amount of cross training, but beyond knowing that it helps some with training, they have no idea how many miles or how much progress it has helped make them.

(I will also note that, while some writers and coaches think it so, I don’t consider treadmill running cross training. I realize at a zero incline, with a consistent surface, and with no wind resistance… running on a treadmill could be easier than regular running. However, there are enough equalizing factors I’ll discuss another time that can and usually do make it as difficult, sometimes more difficult, than regular running. Plus, you still are bearing all of your weight at a higher speed and intensity, as you do with running. So, I consider miles run on the treadmill equal to regular running miles.)

What’s the best way to figure out how much value, how much volume, a cross training workout provided to your training? It’s a question I’ve dabbled with over time, and wrestled with more in recent memory, especially now that I’m cross training more frequently at the gym.

I think the best way to figure this out is:

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The less you run during marathon training, the more important strength training becomes

As a runner, your body can only handle so much mileage. Some runners can pile over 100 miles a week. Some runners can’t run more than 3-4 days a week.

A better more emcompassing way to put it is that you can only handle so much time on your feet. Sure, some runners are faster than others and that’s why they can rack up 100+ miles at an easy pace, whereas if most of us ran the same amount of time we’d probably max out at around 60-65.

Back to the main point: While it’d be ideal to have you log 50+ miles while training for a marathon, many can’t quite hit that number within their reasonable best efforts, or their plan doesn’t ask that much. Even if your plan does, maybe you struggle for understandable reasons to do it: Hal Higdon might ask for 20 milers and 7-10 mile midweek runs, and maybe you don’t have the time to put them in… or your body simply gives out after 15 miles. Maybe the Hansons want you to run 6-8 miles six times a week, but there’s no way you can run six times a week.

However, as Jonathan Savage says, everyone running a marathon has to run the same 26.22 mile distance. Whether your longest run was 15 miles or 18 miles or 22 miles, everyone’s got to run 26.22 on race day. It doesn’t matter if you can’t handle the distance, the pounding that volume requires, in training. You’ll have to handle it eventually just like everyone else.

This doesn’t mean you need to do 20-26 milers in training to be ready. Some runners certainly can do that, sure, and they’ll usually be ready on race day. But while I do think it’s important to develop the aerobic endurance to go no less than 2.5-3.0 hours without stopping… what you do on the other days of the week can be far more flexible.

With one key caveat.

Your body not only has to be aerobically prepared to run long, but it physically must be prepared to take the pounding of that much continuous running. No matter how much you run or how you run, you must develop the physical strength to handle the 3-6 hour pounding. And that simply will not happen on a lighter running schedule by itself.

I also don’t think speed and tempo work is anywhere close to enough by itself. You’ll develop solid ability to run a 10K or something, but that won’t fully prepare you to handle hours of pounding and aerobic demand.

The successful marathoners I know and see all tend to have one other common denominator aside from just running a lot, running regularly and eating/sleeping/recovering well.

They strength train.

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