Strengthen your body for cross country
JOHN SHEPHERD LOOKS AT SOME EXERCISES WHICH CAN HELP YOUR CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNING AND TURN YOU INTO AN ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLE
RUNNING over varied under-foot conditions can lead to stresses, strains and injury. The great news, however, is that specific exercises and conditioning can significantly reduce this potential.
Muscular actions – time to get more eccentric?
There are three types of muscular action which, when improved through specific exercises, can be of benefit to an athlete.
Isometric: This is a “nonmovement” action, where muscles work against each other or a resistance, but no actual movement takes place.
An everyday example would be pushing against a doorframe with your arms but more specific athletic applications – and ones which would strengthen the knee muscles – for example, would include:
1) Using a leg press machine to press the weight away and then bringing it back so that the knee angle is around 90 degrees, while then holding the weight in that position for a given time.
2) A wall squat, held perhaps for 20 seconds.
Concentric: Most of the activity we do on – and off – the country, on the track and in the gym is concentric. This action occurs when a muscle shortens to create movement – the most obvious example being that which happens to the biceps during a biceps curl.
Considerable research indicates that although primarily concentric strength developing squats and lunges can reduce the incidence of injury as well as potentially power up performance, there may be more benefits to be gained from eccentric muscular activities.
Eccentric: this action occurs when a muscle lengthens under load, as occurs in the biceps during the lowering part of the movement.
Eccentric exercise has in particular been identified as having a big role to play in creating greater soft tissue resilience, making injury to muscles, ligaments and tendons less likely. Thus, to keep strong throughout the cross-country season it’s a good idea to include specific eccentric (as well as concentric and isometric) exercises in your training programme.
Rolling with the terrain
You need be sure-footed over the terrain and running on uneven conditions in training will help prepare you, of course.
Your body, in particular your ankles and knees, have to develop the “proprioceptive” ability to adapt rather like a three-dimensional human shock absorber to the conditions.
Proprioception – or the awareness of your body in space – is a largely automatically controlled actionresponse system but it can be developed via various activities and experiences.
Great kinaesthetic ability (learning through physical movement) will help, however, hitting the trails isn’t the only way you can improve this (and therefore proprioception).
Here’s an example of an exercise: Stand on one leg and have a partner throw a tennis ball to you at various heights and angles.
You catch the ball and throw it back to your partner, whist trying to remain standing on the one leg. Be sure to alternate legs. The idea is to test and improve your stability. For an advanced option, you can perform the exercise on a BOSU balance trainer.
Don’t neglect your core
Your core acts as the transmission between your legs and arms. It needs to be strong, yet flexible and adaptive to control descents and strong to let the power of your arms, for example, transfer to your legs when surging to the line or uphill.
You should therefore include a variety of exercises for your abs, back and sides in your cross-country preparation.
Using a Swiss ball is a good option as it introduces greater balance elements, too.
Cross-country running provides a stern test for the body