You are a runner.  You love the sound of your foot hitting the pavement, the smell of the dust that rises from the trail with every stride, and the feeling of salty sweat dripping off your nose.  But sometimes, to get better at something, you must stop doing it.  I’m not talking about long term, or even short-term really, I’m talking about that little thing everyone talks about but most runners never do.  Cross-training.

In my opinion, cross-training is by far the #1 way to stay healthy and injury free without missing out on a good opportunity to continue building strength and endurance.

Since finishing my first 50 mile race, I have had to rework my training schedule to fit both my physical and mental capabilities.  I wanted to take training down a notch without losing all of the strength I had built up before the race.  In order to do that, I am working out more often, mixing in different types of running, and incorporating a lot more cross-training into the mix.

But I’m a Runner, Why do Anything Else?

It is counter intuitive in many ways.  You are a runner, you want to be a better runner, why would you do something other than running?  While running is a great way to lose weight, add muscle, and gain endurance, running works a very specific set of muscles and pounds a very specific set of joints.  Varying your workouts not only with different types of running workouts, but also including non-running workouts will help you build overall fitness and in return make you a stronger runner.

3 Reasons Why You Should be Cross-Training

1)  Balance Muscle Groups

You wouldn’t go to the gym to work on your arms and only do bicep curls.  No, you work on all of the major arm muscles.  So why would you do that with running?  Running works muscles all over your body, but it is constantly working only the same set of muscles.  It is important to also build strength in the rest of your muscle groups.

By doing a different activity, such as swimming or cycling, you are still working your lungs and gaining endurance, but you are also using muscles that may sit nearly dormant during a run.  Keeping that new set of muscles more engaged will help prevent injury and work on your overall strength.

2)  Active Recovery

You hear it over and over again, “be sure to rest after a long run or difficult workout.”  It is true, many times you should have 100% rest days.  Most of the time, however, your body can (and will want to) handle another workout as long as you are not stressing the same joints or tender muscles as the previous workout.

Active recovery is a lighter workout following a particularly intense workout or race.  Say you had a hard day on the track on Tuesday, you may wish to leave the running shoes in the closet and go for an easy swim on Wednesday.  Yoga, cycling, swimming, or hiking are all great ways to use cross-training as active recovery.

3)  Mixing it Up

It is possible to have too much of a good thing, and running is no exception.  Most runners at one point or another are going to get bored with the same old routines.  I help battle those thoughts with new routes, new races, new challenges, friends (both new and old), and cross-training.

Cross-Training is a great way to mix up your regular routine without skipping a workout.  Sometimes you just don’t feel like running, but maybe you do feel like biking, hiking, hitting the gym, or going to a yoga class.  By adding a little variety, it will go along way with keeping you from burning out, all the while engaging and working muscles that will make you stronger.

Recommended Cross-Training Locations in Washington, DC

1)  Cycling Beach Drive –  If you have a bike and live in DC, Beach Drive is a must-do on a beautiful Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  The northern half is closed off to cars, allowing for plenty of safe space for bikers, runners, bladers, and the like to enjoy a tranquil road next to Rock Creek.  About 5 miles is closed off each weekend, but many bikers continue on Beach Drive into Maryland, where cars are used to large groups of riders and often avoid the area.

2)  Swimming at Hain’s Point –  DC has plenty of public pools, a couple of which stand out above the rest.  For lap swimming, the indoor pool in Tenlytown is a world-class facility with plenty of lanes.  But who wants to swim indoors during the summer?  The public pool at Hain’s Point is one of the best kept public pool secrets.  It is clean, nice, and doesn’t have all the rowdy kids many of the other pools have.  Rumor has it, Former Mayor Fenty favored this pool when it came to repairs, because this is his pool of choice as well.

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Call for Comments:  Do you cross-train?  What is your favorite type of workout?  Where do you like to mix it up?

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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