My four pairs of colorful running shoes looked up at me sadly from the closet floor as they continued to collect dust. “Tomorrow” I told them, “Tomorrow I will take you out of the closet and use you.” I knew I needed to get back to running and more importantly I wanted to do it. I really do love running in the cooler weather. I love the crunch of the fallen red, yellow and orange leaves or the snow beneath my sneakers; feeling the pavement pound beneath my feet as my heavy breath sends steam from my mouth. Cycling is definitely my first love, but I love triathlons as well and so I don’t want to give up on running completely.
I also know that running is good cross training for my body. It’s always good to switch things up sometimes and force your body to use different muscles in different ways. It’s nice to shock my body with a different kind of workout so it doesn’t get so set in its constant pedaling ways. Cross training can help to make you a more well-rounded athlete and actually benefit your performance in your primary sport, be it cycling, running or something else altogether. Cross training means that you are using a variety of activities to achieve general fitness. Participating in activities outside of your normal sport helps to use muscles in different ways and from different angles giving them a break from the normal impact of your day-to-day training.
Cross training during the off season can benefit you mentally and physically. When you are focused on just one sport you tend to be working and stressing the same muscle groups in the same way most of the time. Cross training will help to spread that stress to different muscle groups and joints and can help to prevent overuse injuries while still allowing you to stay fit. Also working on strengthening the core and stabilizer muscles in the offseason can create muscular balance in your body which is extremely beneficial. You may not directly work these muscles or muscle groups in cycling, for example, but if these muscles gain strength they can assist the primary muscle groups you normally do use in creating more power with less muscular stress.
Most people become bored by the monotony of just one sport or activity. I love cycling, but I know sometimes in the middle of the summer I start to lose some joy for riding and instead feel like a pedaling robot. Cross training can help you to keep your enthusiasm for your sport. Next week instead of riding five days a week, try going for a run instead on one of those days. You are still getting a workout and keeping up your cardiovascular fitness, but you are switching up your activity. You can even switch up your cross training activities from week to week; maybe one week you go for a run, the next week you go for a hike instead and then the next week you play a game of basketball. All of these things are keeping you active and fit, while also allowing you to break up the tedium of your normal training routine. These changes may help you to reinvigorate yourself and your enthusiasm for training.
Note that cross training will not cause you to develop sport-specific skills and so these activities cannot be used as your sole training during the off season from your primary sport.
In my quest to kick-start my cross training I finally had a breakthrough. A couple of weeks ago I finished my morning ride a little bit earlier than expected and decided it was time. I pulled out one of those lonely pairs of running shoes, put them on and they happily helped me prance out the door. I started with a trot and moved up to a jog and then broke into a run and it felt really good. My legs seemed to enjoy the change in motion from pedaling and the impact of my sneakers on the road. I only ran a mile and a half, but it felt like the little kick start I needed. The next week I was able to convince myself to do another short run around the block. Then a few days ago I increased it to three miles and it was great. After the weeks of indoor winter training on the stationary trainer I think it was the change I needed to keep myself motivating and moving toward the spring.