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The Importance of Cross Training, Core Work and Stretching

Posted November 29, 2022 by Nick Ferguson, AT

man running on track

Runners just run, right? Wrong. Whether you are a weekend warrior training for your first marathon or a competitive runner trying to set a new PR, cross training, stretching, and core work can dramatically decrease your risk of injury and improve your performance.

Cross training, the practice of engaging in two or more types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport, is essential for any repetitive sport like distance running. Swimming, biking and weight lifting or resistance training are ideal cross-training activities to help you stay healthy and perform at your best.

  • Long swim days help build endurance while providing your joints, muscles and ligaments with a great form of “active recovery.”
  • Interval training on a bike or stationary bike builds power in the legs because it involves higher intensity levels than uphill running or sprints. (This translates into a better “kick” and the ability to power through the hills you’re sure to face running the Akron Marathon.)
  • Weightlifting helps build your total body strength, results in stronger core muscles and better posture and movement patterns, and improves your efficiency while running.

Ellipticals and steppers are also great cardio machines to use on days when you can’t run outside due to weather, or simply want to give your body a different challenge and minimize the risk of overuse injuries. So how often should you cross train? Runner’s World recommends cross training three times per week, while reducing your weekly mileage by 25 percent to avoid overtraining.

Core training, which can be accomplished during cross training, helps your hips remain strong and stable while you run. A good weightlifting routine includes exercises that utilize muscles in your abs, back and hips that all form the core. Planks and bridges, in particular, improve core stability by allowing for efficient and safe movement patterns that enable you to run farther and faster. Another great way to work your core is to stand on one foot, with your other leg bent to 90 degrees at the hips and knees, while you perform another exercise like shoulder presses, biceps curls or single leg squats.

Stretching helps you avoid injuries by ensuring that your muscles respond as expected to continual bouts of exercise. Two types of exercise that are beneficial for all athletes are dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretching is used for “warming up.” Before running, perform a 5- to 10-minute warm up of light or moderate cardio activity like jogging, biking, or exercising (high knees, butt kicks, and skips) to help prepare your muscles for motion. Following this short cardio warm-up, move your joints repeatedly through their complete range of motion. Front-back and side-side leg swings, hip circles, and arm swings are dynamic warm-ups that assist in ensuring optimal movement patterns and reducing injury risk.

Static stretching, on the other hand, is used during “cool downs.” Touching your toes while standing, performing a standing thigh stretch, or doing a seated spinal twist after a short five-minute cool-down helps muscles relax, as well as improves your long-term flexibility. Hold stretches for about 30 seconds and breathe deeply.

While going for long, slow runs definitely help increase stamina and should be a primary building block in any running program, it is important that you not neglect cross training, core work and stretching – three often-overlooked aspects of long-distance training.


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