By Hayden Shearman // Ever since Arthur Lydiard had his boys pounding the pavement for 100 miles or more each week back in the 50s, the default approach to improving your running has been just to run more.
Training for a half marathon? Run more.
Training for a full marathon? Run even more.
Training for an ultra marathon? Run till your toe nails turn blue. Then run some more later that day.
While it’s true that the best way to improve your running is through running. This specialisation in exercise isn’t particularly kind on our bodies. Especially if we are new to the sport or are carrying a few extra kilos around. It is specialisation, when combined with a too aggressive jump in training volume or intensity, that is the single leading cause of injury amongst runners.
I heard a great quote recently: “Specialisation is for insects.”
It works great for colonies of ants to each have their own roles in the nest and to train up and become expert at that role. But our bodies are a little more advanced and complicated than that of an ant and sadly we can’t just rely on one of the other ants in the nest to look after the crunches and planks for us (if only!).
We’re designed for movement in an abundance of directions and modes. When we call someone “athletic” we mean to say that they are capable of using their bodies in many, if not all, the ways our bodies and minds are meant to be used. An athlete can jump, sprint, walk, spin, throw, pull, push, press, row, flip, roll, shuffle, crawl and so on.
But runners just run.
One leg in front of the other. Pick the foot up. Put the foot down. Push the foot back. Pick the foot up. Put the foot down. And so on.
If we were ants this would work brilliantly and we could just run 100-mile weeks from now till 30 April and be fine. But our bodies crave the athleticism that they are built for. More than just moving forwards they want to move sideways and backwards and spin, they want to do pulling and pressing and jumping.
So I encourage my runners to use cross training as their “athleticism” day—it’s a chance for them to spread their wings and try different movements. Not only will this cross training help to develop some aerobic fitness (which will help your endurance in the marathon) or muscular strength/stability (which will help prevent injuries and give you a more powerful stride), it tells your body that it’s more than a runner, it is an athlete.
Here are some cross training ideas to make your marathon training more athletic. Utilise cross training at least once a week and be prepared to opt for it over a run if you’re feeling niggly or fatigued from your running.
- Calisthenics: Burpies, push ups, pull ups, dips, air squats, lunges, inverted rows—put together a circuit that keeps the heart rate up and crank up the music!
- Core and conditioning: Planks, crunches, single leg squats, bridges, supermans—these exercises target specific specific running-related muscle groups so are great for injury prevention and increased stability when running (check out these 7-minute video workouts).
- Swimming: It’s perfect at this time of year!
- Cycling: Very similar to running in motion (and actually has a surprising amount of transferable fitness) but without the impact—be sure to have your bike properly set up for you.
- Aqua jogging: It’s unfortunate that the most running-applicable form of cross training is also the most boring. Nevertheless, here is a how-to on aqua jogging.
- Weights: Deadlifts and squats compliment running training really well. You’ll want a good PT to show you correct technique for the first sessions though.
- Dance: Seriously, the lateral and unpredictable movement of dancing is perfect for reminding your body how athletic it is. Dance. Dance. Dance!
- Team Sports: While you’ll want to watch your workload and make sure you warm up properly, sports like touch, football, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, squash and tennis are much like dance in the way that they get you moving in all different directions.
- Athletics: In light of this blog, it’s funny that running falls under the umbrella sport of “athletics” and, I know that you’ve left school and all, but it is never too late to give some non-running athletics a go. There is a club in almost every New Zealand town so head on down and give a couple of jumping and throwing events a try. Use Athletics NZ Club Finder tool.
Have fun becoming more athletic this summer.
Happy running, you athlete you.
This is the fifth blog of a fortnightly series all about getting you trained up and raring to go for the 2016 Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon (or half or quarter).
Be sure to grab your race entry here and check out TempoFit’s TEAM R16 to be part of an incredible community of likeminded runners of all abilities who are all training towards the Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon 2016 (quarter, half and full distances).