5 Great Cross-Training Exercises to Avoid Running Injuries
Spring weather has finally arrived! Many runners have started to run outdoors after the long winter. They are increasing their mileage as they train for a half or full marathon. The Bridgehampton Half and 5K is quickly approaching this weekend, with many more races to follow.
A common error while training for a race is the runner who solely runs and neglects to cross-train. It is important to “train to run” instead of running to train. The benefits of cross-training should not be ignored; it has been shown to reduce the risk of injuries in runners and can improve performance.
Five cross-training activities that every runner should incorporate are:
1. Strength training:
Strength training is often overlooked, however, it comprises a big component of staying strong, stable and healthy. Some key areas specific to runners that are often missed are the glutes/hips and the core. As a runner increases mileage and begins running on different surfaces, their strength needs to increase. It is integral to train lower and upper body strength, as well as core stability. Running is primarily a straightforward and back motion (e.g. quads, hamstrings, calves). Due to the nature of this motion, runners are often weak in the muscles that work side to side motions (e.g. glutes). Although running is primarily a front to back motion, glutes and other “side to side” muscles are crucial to stabilize the runner in the straight plane and prevent overuse injuries.
2. Balance Training:
Another often neglected area is balance training. Running is essentially a series of single leg jumps with short periods of single leg stance. Based on this, adding in single leg standing on unstable surfaces and other balance activities can improve stability during a run.
3. Sprint Hill Training:
Sprint/hill training or other forms of cardiovascular work are also crucial to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. The body needs to be exposed to a variety of stimuli in order to avoid overuse injuries such achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, and other stress reactions/fractures. Many runners tend to run at one pace for the majority of their run, so an interval program can be used with varying intensities as an alternate form of cardio.
4. Plyometric Exercises:
Plyometrics and jumping/landing exercises are great to add to a cross-training program but must be done more sparingly in order to avoid overuse. They are best integrated with the early training phases leading up to a race or worked into a regular strength training program 2-3 times per week, however, may have to be tapered to once per week closer to race day. Plyometric exercises compliment balance exercises to improve single leg stance stability, improve the alignment of the leg when landing, and improve strength and power.
5. Soft Tissue Massage:
Lastly, runners can benefit from self-soft tissue work to help reduce soreness from training and to maintain mobility. Mobility drills using a foam roller or various types of equipment, such as a lacrosse ball, can assist in soft tissue mobilization. These drills can be done before, during or after training and can be useful after a long run. Runners tend to get a better response using slow motions and incorporating breathing. Always pay special attention to the bottom of the feet and calves, as these areas take on the most stress throughout a running program. Maintaining this throughout your training is important as you increase mileage and consequently the amount of stress put on your body.
Adding in the above-mentioned exercises to your training program comes with many benefits. It is important to start slow and to get the most out of cross-training. Consulting with a qualified physical therapist can help identify problem areas such as asymmetries and strength deficits. A physical therapist can also analyze your running mechanics to piece together the proper program. Establishing a cross-training program throughout the year along with proper nutrition and sleep can reduce the risk of injuries, improve performance, and is a part of well-rounded fitness and training program.
As you prepare for marathon season, you can receive a running analysis or start a physical therapy program right away without a prescription from a medical doctor via direct access. You can find Evolve Physical Therapy as well as hundreds of other quality clinics in your area through the BetterPT mobile app and BetterPT website. Make sure to treat your body well pre and post marathon to be a BETTER and healthier runner!
BetterPT is a proud sponsor of the Bridgehampton Half and 5K in addition to the Hampton Marathon and Half in hopes of keeping runners healthy and happy by offering easy access to physical therapy and preventative running care.
Greg Babiec received his master’s degree in physical therapy from Springfield College in 1996. He began his career working for the team physicians at the University of Rhode Island working with Division 1 athletes in all sports. After moving to New York City and practicing for 15 years, he cofounded Evolve Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation.