Cross Training Workouts: A Guide To Cross Training Workouts For Runners

Cross training workouts running

Cross Training Workouts: A Guide To Cross-Training Workouts For Runners

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

Cross Training Workouts should be a part of any runners training program. Cross Training Workouts for Runners provide a more holistic approach to training. By holistic, I mean that we learn to use different muscles, different combinations of muscles and ligaments, different patterns of movement (biomechanics), different mental proprioception, and challenge the body in different ways. Essentially, we keep it interesting and I believe that the athlete becomes more well-rounded. 

It is really tempting to simply want to run as the sole activity of training. It makes sense right? You are a runner, and to get better at running, we have to run. However, cross training workouts are the difference between what we want and what we need. 

This is about listening to your body. Whilst engaging in various forms of cross training does not use the same biomechanical patterning as running (as in a running ‘stride’ or form), the heart is still beating, and therefore you are still improving the amazing engine that is your body. 

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” 

– Ryan Sandes (Pro Salomon Trail Runner) 

Trying a new form of training can be daunting. You can feel vulnerable from the feeling of ‘newness’ after being comfortable in one or a few sports for a while. I personally hadn’t been on a mountain bike or road biking (other than commuting) for a while. Today I decided to take what is a very dodgy, extremely old model mountain bike that I use as transport in Boise and go for my first mountain/road bike ride. Why? I felt like it and I had a curiosity to explore the contagious stoke that the biking community of Boise and Idaho have. I am having a small break from running for physical and mental health purposes. I also wanted to challenge myself a little bit. 

It was a blast. I caught the bug, and I will be trying it again. All it took was one ride. I truly believe this is the same for others, so I encourage you to try a cross training workout next time you are unmotivated to run, feel a little niggle occurring or simply want to experience something else (and still keep the heart beating). I even got to experience the beautiful golden hour in the Foothills of Boise. See my photo below.

 

cross training workouts for runners

This is my favourite photo I have ever taken. I’m not entirely sure why, and it was a bit rushed honestly. My hands were freezing and my heart rate was through the roof after climbing a hill in the cold air. It was exhilarating though. I think it is the colours and obscurities of the sunlight.

Cross Training Benefits

cross training benefits

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

Cross training benefits are numerous, particularly the benefits of cross training for runners. 

 

“The Struggle was real, but every second was worth it” 

-Nouria Newman (French Slalom Canoeist, Red Bull)

 

When runners get injured (and I am speaking for myself here too), it can be quite amusing to observe their habits of self-diagnosis before they actually get a diagnosis. Often they’ll use Dr. Google, the usual rehab methods involving tape and ice, maybe they’ll even be wise and take a few days off. However, we can prevent injury often by cross training, and learning to move our body in many different ways, utilizing many different muscles, in different coordination and patterns of movement. 

To put it simply, we allow our body and mind a break from the repetitive movement of running. Often this allows the muscles, ligaments and tendons to heal a bit so you’re better prepared for your next run. 

My mum who is a sports medicine physician in Australia once shared with me some very wise words about cross training for running. The heart is still beating. It doesn’t know the difference between a long swim, long run or long ride. She explained this to me whilst I was recovering from one of many sprained ankles. Whilst our musculoskeletal patterning may differ, we are still getting a very valuable training effect. 

We are also training our mind differently. We are building mental toughness. For example, when I choose swimming as a cross training workout, I am inflicting myself (or am I actually benefiting myself?! That’s the paradox!) staring at some pool tiles and a black line for a significant amount of time. This is difficult when I have the privilege of looking at stunning mountain or seaside landscapes when I run outside. 

Personally, my biggest cross training benefit has been the comfort I have in knowing that if I get injured, I am fully capable of throwing myself into a variety of other sports. In these sports I am distracted from my running injury, yet finding joy in a new and refreshing activity. Again, this is why I’d encourage you to integrate cross training workouts into your running schedule.

Cross Training Examples

cross training examples

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

Below is a list of cross training examples I can think of. Maybe you could integrate a cross training session in instead of a second run, or even in replacement for a recovery run. Looking to increase endurance training load? Why not pop in a cross training workout.

 

“This is your life, live it with passion” 

-Thabang Madiba (Salomon Trail Runner, South Africa)

 

Cycling as Cross Training For Running

Road Cycling

The hardest part about going for a road bike is simply getting on the bike in the first place and starting (at least I find). Whether it’s the cold, the heat, or preparing the bike for the ride. As always, be cautious of vehicles, animals, pedestrians, weather conditions etc. I suggest doing a hilly route and sprinting up the hills, floating the flats, and relaxing on the downs for a solid endurance workout. 

Spin Biking

Spin biking can be a blast, especially with music. I like to create playlists where each song/track has a specific workout purpose allocated to it. For example, there is a mix of sprint songs, high RPM (revolutions per minute) songs, out of the saddle climbing songs, and in the saddle climbing songs, plus recovery songs. It can make for a great workout. If you have the option, you could even try a spin class for some extra motivation. 

 

Mountain Biking as Cross Training For Running

Mountain biking as cross training for running is great as it challenges your proprioception and reaction time, along with continual changes in leg and body movement to navigate the natural changes/variations on the trails. The uphill climbs can really challenge you, as often you’ll be navigating around rocks, facing patches of sand or mud, or avoiding other cyclists and pedestrians (if you’re unlucky). The downhills are simply a hoot. 

 

“I think the mountains have helped keep me alive, keep me going, and keep me focused on this is what I’m doing right now” 

– Jim Morrison (The North Face Mountaineer and Brand Ambassador)

 

Swimming as Cross Training For Running

Swimming is one of my favourite forms of cross training for running. I feel like it works every part of your body, and challenges you to control your oxygen capacity and therefore the breath. To work with the breath when physically exerting yourself is very humbling, and in its own unique way, grounding. The silence of being underwater, and swimming being a solo activity, is also quite meditative. There are so many swim workouts searchable online. I like doing a warm up, cool down, sprint and distance mixed sets, and in the pool fartlek style workouts. 

 

Elliptical as Cross Training For Running

The elliptical trainer is one of the simplest forms of cross training for runners as almost every gym has one, and it doesn’t require you to own any extra equipment. It’s also quite similar to the action of running, without the impact. Many runners I know and train with will supplement running with a session on the elliptical. 

 

Nordic Skiing as Cross Training For Running

This is a challenging cross training activity but the benefit is the miraculous fitness benefits you’ll receive from investing time into skate or classic cross country skiing. It is truly a total body workout. Some of the highest recorded VO2 max levels come from nordic skiers. They have to use both their arms and legs uphill, ski downhill without edges, sidestep corners and maintain a very good sense of balance. Also, altitude is often involved, which means altitude training benefits as an extra. 

 

Cross training running

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

I guess what I am trying to communicate, or the moral of this post if you like, is don’t be afraid to try something new, or take some time off if you need it. Running will always be there for the most part. We don’t want to be risk-averse, as this doesn’t equal an enriched and life fully lived. If we don’t take a risk here and now, we can’t expect to learn new things about ourselves.

Ice Bath After Running

ice bath after running

Taking An Ice Bath After Running

Ice baths are a well-known method that many athletes, particularly runners, incorporated as a part of their recovery regimen. It’s important to any sports-person that recovery is optimized, time-effective and sport relevant. For athletes regularly involved in competition, It is essential that they recover quickly for their next training session or event, especially if they are competing within a close time framework. This allows them to perform at their best, under the given circumstances. 

A few other things to consider are the individualization and periodization (what time of season you are in), the goals of the athlete, and if there is an injury involved, all of which impact a recovery routine. Personally, I like to establish a recovery routine that is quite diverse, so the body doesn’t get too used to one method. I include stretching, neural flossing, foam rolling, trigger ball releasing, Normatec boots (or anything similar), dry-needling, sports massage, A-stem/Graston technique and the occasional ice bath. Recently, I purchased a pair of recovery sandals/flip-flops to walk around the house and run errands in. We’re heading into Summer now in the US, and I don’t want to be stuck in a pair of crappy flip-flops 24/7 which aren’t optimal for a runner’s feet. After all, they are your assets! Try https://www.oofos.com/.

Are ice baths good for recovery after running?

This is a hot topic of debate, and currently, a large body of research has been conducted around the topic and studies are ongoing at present. I decided to consult a number of studies from accredited journals (the perks of having access to a university library!), and Sydney SportsMed Specialists to double-check my findings. What is an ice bath? Basically, it is 10-15 minutes in very cold water (50-59 F) after an intense exercise session.  Many professional sports outfits across numerous contact and collision sports promote the benefits of ice baths with their athletes.

Interestingly, Ice Baths may not be all they are hyped up to be. Other recovery methods are likely to be better from a sports medicine standpoint. However, I’m a believer in placebo also, so if it makes you feel good, then go for it! The evidence for ice as a treatment for acute injuries is also under challenge, Although the jury remains out on that one. 

A study was conducted for the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, on the effect of an Ice Bath for recovery in U/20 Rugby Union Players. There was no significant difference between the group that did utilize an Ice Bath and the group that didn’t post-session (specifically, this was tested after multiple shuttle workouts, a 300m running test). Considering this, the article illustrated that “during pre-season training, the physical work undertaken may be more important than the recovery protocol for improvements in fitness parameters tested in this study.” Just food for thought. 

Further, a research article from The Journal of Physiology (2017) concluded that “cold water immersion (CWI) is no greater than active recovery upon local and systemic inflammatory cellular stress in humans” (pp. 1857). In other words, active recovery is no better than taking an ice bath. What the article did mention, however, is that CWI “may be useful within competition settings..with a short turn-around, of a particularly damaging nature, or in high environmental temperature” (1858). Yet it posed that during pre-season, it might hinder the athlete’s ability to adapt to the training, and potentially hinder performance. What is concluded: Cold Water Immersion has “a lack of impact..on the post-exercise inflammatory and cellular stress response” (1858). Briefly coming back to the comment on environmental temperature, CWI is certainly a very important intervention in the treatment of exercise associated heat illness, say during or after an endurance event. It does, however, seem of less importance in recovery from training or competition.  Please note, that the study only included 9 young men, aged 19-24 years doing resistance training 3 times a week, so it was not a particularly large study.

I wanted to take a further look into the potential benefits of cryotherapy on provoking an anti-inflammatory response. A study published in The European Journal of Applied Physiology (2013)  utilized a  randomized trial to examine the “effect of cryotherapy on the inflammatory response to muscle-damaging exercise” (2577). The study involved 20 active males completing a 40-minute run downhill (10%), at 60% of VO2 Max, to “induce muscle damage”. After they completed the exercise, they sat in an ice bath (5 degrees C) for 20 minutes. From the results gathered, 20 minutes of immersion did not impact the level of soreness or assist the short-term loss of strength after the muscle-damaging exercise. 

So, with all this information, what is beneficial when it comes to Cold Water/Ice? I find that the well-known R.I.C.E method (rest, ice, compress, elevate) is pretty trusty. If I have irritation or inflammation in a particular area, I’ll R.I.C.E it for 20 minutes, 3 times a day. If you’re lucky and own or have access to the Ice compression gear/technology, go for that! I do believe that there is still a lack of research surrounding hot and cold water immersion/contrast therapy. There will always be the proponents and the detractors. The timing surrounding this recovery method and specific temperatures need to be questioned and clarified with further research.

Why do Ice Baths make me feel good?

The placebo effect may arise from the fact that the CWI causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of the arterial vessels in the peripheries) and the feeling of the warm blood rushing in from the core when one gets out of the bath can give an invigorating feeling and make you feel good. This gives the feeling of improved perceived recovery.  It also may decrease the effects of heat and humidity, if the athlete is playing or training in those types of environmental conditions, by lowering the core temperature a degree or so.

What about after HIIT training, specifically for runners?

ice bath after running

This paper focuses specifically on a group of 9 runners who did a CWI (cold water immersion) after a HIIT session. One group participated in CWI immediately post-session and the other 3 hours after. The study was conducted to determine whether it would improve next-day exercise performance. 

The study showed some benefits of CWI in a yoyo test. Note, that this is not training or competition, but could be an indicator of potential benefits of an Ice Bath. More study is needed as to how much benefit, which is unknown at present, and a larger sample size of runners…

What do you do after an ice bath?

In terms of the post Ice Bath routine, there isn’t too much to it. Simply dry off well, change into some warmer comfy clothes, or my personal favorite, compression gear, and recover after your workout or event. If you’re finding it hard to warm up again, try a hot drink or soup. 

How often should you take ice baths after running?

Generally speaking, ice baths are best utilized after sessions that involve high muscle-damaging activity. For the runner, a hard interval session, tempo session, between track events or post-race are all good times to take an ice bath. 

Remember, you don’t have to immerse your entire body in the bath if you don’t want to, just soaking the legs is also common. 

Should I take a warm bath after an ice bath?

It’s not ideal to jump straight into a warm bath or hot shower after an Ice Bath – it kind of defeats the purpose. Unless you’re deliberately doing hot and cold contrast therapy to recover, stick with just an ice bath. If you absolutely need to, take a luke-warm shower after, but nothing too hot (like your usual shower, sadly).  

How long should you ice bath after running?

I know the recommended amount of time for an Ice Bath immersion lies around 5-20 minutes depending on how accustomed you are to them, and how cold the water is. If you’re a first time user, start off with less and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t stay in for the whole length of time. If the water is super cold, go for less time, and vise versa. I personally set a timer and try to relax. Placing a big warm towel beside the bath is a must, it makes the whole idea of an Ice Bath easier to digest. 

Remember to cool down/warm down after your event before hopping into an Ice Bath, however, so your muscles are relaxed and heart rate (HR) has had a chance to decrease and signal the body to begin the recovery process. 

 Should you stretch after an ice bath?

ice bath before running 2

It’s a good idea to stretch after any hard training session or event, after a cool-down/warm-down. However, if you didn’t find the time, or hopped straight into an ice bath after your session, once you hop out and get warm, it is a good idea to do some light stretching. Don’t stretch when you are cold, immediately after the bath. I also stress the importance of moving around a bit throughout the day or evening post-race. Don’t get stuck in the same position for extended periods of time, as this hinders recovery and tightens muscles.