When someone asks me about cross-training, I first ask them to describe what they think cross-training means. To me, cross-training is doing an exercise or activity which is different from the primary sport someone participates in.
For novice runners, or runners who are prone to or coming back from injury, cross-training can be a great way to get conditioning without all the pounding that running subjects you to. Depending on your experience level, it can be a substitute for a day of running or can be in addition to all running; it just depends on how you use it.
Ok, so what type of cross-training should you do? For most runners, it’s all about finding an activity that minimizes the impact. Activities like cross-country skiing, swimming, aqua jogging, elliptical, cycling and spinning would all fill the bill; you get the great aerobic benefit without all the wear and tear and pounding that running (especially marathon training) subjects you to.
In the early weeks of any training program, substituting a day or two of running for cross-training can be an effective way to “ease into” training by getting the cardio benefits while reducing the risk of impact-related injury.
I would like to point out that the best way to get into running shape is to run – another “duh” moment! While the pounding that running subjects you to can increase your chances of getting injured, it is also the way that your body gets stronger; soft tissue like muscle and ligaments become more durable and bone gets remodeled because of the weight-bearing exercise. So, it’s really all about striking a balance between running and an appropriate cross-training activity.
As you become a stronger running, you may find that all you want to do is run, but knowing that there are cross-training activities you can derive benefit from can provide a nice, low-impact diversion from the many, many miles of running. I’m sure your legs will thank you for it!