Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cross Training

Ah the joys of cross training. I, unfortunately, have extensive experience in this department.

Cross training technically refers to extra strength and conditioning you might do to improve your running. Some people swear by biking/running combo days, weight lifting, pilates, yoga, etc. It makes sense – if it’s too hard on your body to run a lot, then running moderately and making up the difference with time on the bike/in the pool/whatever might be a good idea.

But to me, that sounds too much like exercising for exercise’s sake. I am a runner, not an exerciser. I am out there to enjoy the sport of running, not just to burn calories. An elitist purist snob? Yes, yes, maybe I am…but for good reason!

I think that this difference between runners and exercisers is an important distinction. There’s nothing wrong with working out for the sole purpose of staying in shape. Plenty of people do it, and everyone knows that Americans need to devote some serious attention to their weight issues. (Sidenote: did you know that it's illegal in Japan to be overweight???)

I guess the major downside of the exerciser approach is that it makes running/working out a chore.  At a certain point, you lose motivation – there’s nothing at stake other than your own vanity (a powerful motivation, I’m not going to lie, but not enough). That’s why I think it’s important to run with some goal in mind: a race, a time, an effort level achieved. OR, even better, to run for the joy of it. Go out and run every day because it makes you happy – not because you’re terrified of outgrowing your jeans. 

What does all this add up to? For me, cross training is a substitute for running. I can do it. Bike, pool, elliptical (ugh!), etc. And it’s really not that bad. But if I can run, why would I do anything else? Whenever I’m in a spin class, I’m thinking – hmm…kind of wish I were running right now

Running is just easier for me. There’s no process. (Haha, I talk as if cross training is so challenging!) But really, you have to get yourself to a gym, get a friend to sneak you in, or (gasp!) buy a membership, wear the right clothes, bring a water bottle (because the instructors are always insisting you drink water), and then get yourself home. And if you’re pooling, that’s a whole other array of requirements – swim cap, suit, towel! Just too much.

Bottom line is, I like to run. I love to run. BUT sometimes running is not a possibility. Enter cross training.

Spin Class

Most gyms offer them, usually at extremely early-o-clock. Pros: You don’t have to think much because the instructor is there to tell you what to do, how fast to go, how long, etc. Usually classes involve some combination of “hills” and sprints to keep you entertained. Cons: Bike seats can be really uncomfortable. You have to really work to get a decent workout. And you're not going anywhere.

Airdyne Bike

Oh boy. These kill me. They’re by far the best workout – though not all gyms have them. Airdyne bikes use all your muscles (upper and lower body), and minute-for-minute offer a workout that is equivalent to running. How do you know you got enough of a workout on the bike? You are surrounded by a pool of sweat. Use those wise words as your guide. I know, I know, it’s a bit depressing…

Pool (Aquajogging)

Love me some pooling. It’s the closest thing to running, minus the impact. So if you have bone-related injuries, the pool is the place for you. Read Jess’s article for more information and some good workout ideas.


I only mention it here because many people swim laps as a running substitute. If I were a competent swimmer, I would probably agree…but I’m not (at all. Have you ever seen a flailing elephant? That’s me in the water), so I can’t offer a particularly valid opinion.


I went for a long brisk walk last night. Just to amuse myself. I’m not saying that it will maintain your cardiovascular capacities…or muscles…but it’s nice to get out and do something when you can’t run.


I used to lift a lot for skiing purposes. But since focusing more on running, I don’t really see the need. All the muscles a distance runner needs can be developed via distance running. It may actually be detrimental to lift because that creates unnecessary bulkiness, which can slow you down. Any time I’ve lifted, it’s been for purely aesthetic purposes (who doesn’t want nicely toned arms?).


I usually do abs a couple times a week. Ideally I would do them every other day…but that doesn’t usually happen. I believe that having a strong core does help your running. Core work strengthens your back, which supports your legs and the rest of you (obviously). This can prevent injuries. When I’m not running, my core work increases a bit, just because I have more time…