Women are not one-dimensional creatures. We are physically capable of accomplishing a wide range of feats: from lifting heavy weights to climbing mountains to running ultramarathons. Our bodies can handle and adapt to whatever life throws at us.
Unfortunately for many avid female athletes, what we give our body to adapt to is some combination of running and sitting at a desk or chauffeuring kids around. This leaves us vulnerable to injury whenever we encounter powerful movements outside of what we’re used to.
The solution? Cross training. Adding variety, especially with movements that vary drastically from running, is great compensation for our little vulnerabilities. Swimming, tennis, weight lifting, yoga and (my favorite) CrossFit will contribute greatly to keeping your body physically balanced and impervious to injury.
When your foot slides off a curb and you consequently roll your ankle, will you tear a ligament? Will the lateral training exercises that strengthened your calves allow you to take the shock and keep running? When you’re pushing though the end of a race with less than perfect form, will one awkward step pull a tendon in your hip flexor? Or will your core strength from 10-minute ab cycles keep you balanced and ready to absorb the impact?
Any one of a vast set of abnormal movements like these could keep you out of running for months. Even though it’s easy to be lulled into thinking every step you take is just like the one before, rare shocks can happen, and the difference between those shocks from being nothing but a forgettable blip versus an expensive injury that stunts your progress by months can easily come down to how well you’ve prepared the rest of your body.
In addition to injury prevention, cross-training often simply helps you become a better athlete. If you have a strength or flexibility imbalance, your running form will mold itself around it.
I’ve always found it important to “listen to your body” by running the way that feels most natural (I often slip on a pair of Vibram FiveFingers or go barefoot to be as in-touch with my natural form as possible). But a serious imbalance will have your body giving you bad info.
An imbalance will make bad form feel more natural than it should. For example, when I ran track in college, my quads were much stronger and more flexible than my hamstrings. As a result, I was not bending my knee nearly enough when driving my leg forward. This, for one, reduced my cadence and forced my hip-flexor and quad to work harder than they needed to, and eventually led to me developing tendinitis in my hip flexor.
A balanced physique will allow you to run as efficiently as possible, logging more miles than ever, and will most importantly go a long way towards keeping you injury-free. So, depending on your personal workout regimen, be sure to take a day or two off from running per week, and give the rest of your body a chance to catch up.
Below, we have detailed our favorite cross training activities that will add variety to your next workout.
If you love the outdoor sports and already lead an active lifestyle, switch it up with some cycling, skiing, or swimming.
If you are a gym member, take advantage of the weights and machines provided to build muscle. Our favorite weight training exercises include shoulder press, bicep curls, and row. Be sure not to forget the ab exercises like plank, bicycle, and ball-assisted crunches, that will certainly lead to a strong and steady abdominal core.
For those afternoons when you get home from work and lack motivation, we recommend that you check out one of the cardio classes offered at most gyms like kickboxing, step, body sculpt, or yoga.
There are definitely cross training options for those occasions when your time is limited, and you do not have access to a gym. Just take a few minutes to do some of our recommended body resistance workouts such as reverse dips, squats or lunges.
The most important aspect of any running training program is to keep your workouts balanced, and listen to your body. If your legs are hurting, focus on your arms. If your arms are sore, do crunches. You get the idea.
Just keep it fun, and you will think less about the pain, sweat, and hard work. You will be in awesome shape!