If you want to run well, don’t just run. It’s time to take a different path
Can’t run? We have some great alternatives to keep you in peak condition
You like to get out on the trails whenever you can. It’s what you do. However, there are times when it may just not be possible to get outside and run; perhaps because of the weather, or in worst-case scenarios because you’re injured. In these circumstances, a spot of cross training using exercises which emulate the natural running motion as much as possible can keep you fit and could even improve your performance when you return to the trails. We take a look at some of the options available.
Getting on your bike is the most popular method of cross training for runners although you may be worried that too much of it could be detrimental to your running by overbuilding your quads and tightening your calf muscles.
It is, however, a great way of maintaining fitness. Added to this, research has shown it has benefits in terms of extending the running lives of older athletes. That same research suggests runners looking to reduce run injuries and maintain base fitness should substitute half their run training with cycling. Use the same heart rate as you would for your run training, and to work out how far you should cycle, multiply the distance you would run by three.
The renowned physiologist Tim Noakes (of Lore of
Running fame) is a big advocate of cycling and cross training in the interests of preserving running longevity. Noakes believes cycling should definitely be on the runner’s training list; he maintains how after decades of running, the ability to cope with and recover from longer runs (over 10km) can be much reduced. He sees this as a consequence of eccentric muscle damage – which results in the development of heavy and unresponsive legs as well as poor recovery.
Consequentially, Noakes believes heavy mileages should not be pursued relentlessly
as runners become veterans and that more cross training be done. He also notes that cycling will assist in weight loss and maintain general health as well as base fitness. In theory, a 60-minute weekly cycle could result in nearly a kilo of fat loss in 12 weeks.
These pieces of gym kit look like a bike, but you use a running type action to move them, so they emulate the all-over body work out of trail running better than a traditional road bike. ElliptiGOs take things one step further by actually taking you out of the gym and on to the road. They are a little more weighty than
a normal bike but they are easy to ride and more stable than may appear.
ElliptiGOs are championed by some of the world’s elite endurance athletes. Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes uses one, as does perhaps the greatest distance runner of all-time, Haile Gebrselassie, who describes the ElliptiGO as “the ultimate cross-training tool for runners”. So what does the sports science say?
One study compared the physiological outcomes of elliptical bike and run training in athletes. It concluded: “There were no significant group differences for these variables at any time point… ElliptiGO-only training yielded similar physiological and performance maintenance or improvements compared with run-only training.”
It’s worth pointing out at that these are not cheap pieces of kit, with prices starting from £899 and rising to £3499, but if that’s not a worry and you’re keen to experience its impact-free ride, then take a look at www.elliptigo.co.uk.
Working out underwater takes the strain off muscles. But can it help runners improve their performance? Perhaps the best bit of kit for runners is the aquatic treadmill. Some may question whether the effects of being submerged – and therefore fully supported – mean that the running you do will have little benefit once you are back on dry land. It turns out that foot-strike is actually significantly affected in a positive way when running in water because contact time is increased. Running underwater inevitably alters form, however, these effects were found to be short-lived and there was no impairment of running mechanics on terra firma. Training on an aquatic treadmill is a great option for runners recovering from injury where impact needs to be avoided. The down side is the treadmills are hard to find. Search the internet for facilities near you.
Something a little more accessible is aqua jogging, a class in which you’ll be kitted out with a flotation belt and water shoes, which are designed to aid the running motion under water. Classes last an hour; again look online for groups that are held near you.
Strength & conditioning
Weights, plyometric and body weight training (circuits) are further crosstraining options. These methods have been shown to have significant benefits for endurance athletes in terms of enhancing performance economy and speed and reducing injury.
Does it help?
While it’s vital to take time out to recover from an injury, it is equally important that you maintain your fitness while you mend or you will return to the trail feeling like a novice. Cross training is a great way for runners to maintain strength. In an ideal world you’d replicate the running motion as closely as possible, which is why the ElliptiGo and aquatic treadmills are such superb bits of kit. But due to their rarity and expense they are somewhat on the exotic side. Fit or injured, you can do far worse than hopping on your bike. That way you can enhance your performance economy while still enjoying the great outdoors. So what are you waiting for? Go get cross!
Cycling is effective for older runners
Aquatic treadmills take the gym underwater