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The Duel Trail Race

Oh, That Dirty Word! Do I Really Have To?

Crosstraining.

The word we, as we “become” runners, despise. The word we look down upon, as completely out of our uppity new relationship with sport in general. We run! We are runners! Who needs to do all those silly things – go to the gym, take stinky spin classes, visit scary yoga studios? We can do it all by just putting a pair of shoes on and heading out the door!

And we could…but we could do much better if we don’t shy away from other things.

There are multiple reasons to include crosstraining in your routine when you are a runner. First thing that may jump at you is off-season. And you’ll be correct. Every runner needs a down-time, to give rest to their over-worked muscles in the lower body and re-charge for the next cycle. We have off-seasons, breaks between training cycles, when we’re injured…these are examples when we use cross-training as a substitute.

But these are not the only times we need to do something else besides running. Running can have a high rate of over-use injuries: shin splints, plantar fasciitis, patellofemoral pain, commonly referred to as runner’s knee, and Achilles tendinitis.  All of these injuries can be avoided – by getting stronger, more balanced and reducing overall mileage with something else.

That’s not it either. Many of us simply can’t sustain high mileage in a week due to multiple reasons, whether it is work-related, family obligations, or bodies that are not made for anything over a certain number in a week. And this is where some crosstraining, including weight-lifting for lower body via plyometrics and various other aerobic activities are helpful – whether biking, spin classes, swimming, elliptical trainers, or stair climbing. They all give you cardio fitness and keep you afloat.

And then, of course, just regular strength. Your running form is better if your upper body has some muscle on it, and your arms don’t get tired carrying bottles – or your back doesn’t ache from the CamelBak or because you have to twist and turn on the rough terrain of the trails. Your legs, oh my, where do I even begin! Here, in Texas, we are so “un-blessed” due to the absence of any kind of mountains. We have a hill here and there, and many runners from completely flat areas manage to call overpasses on the roads hill training, but really? Nothing we got, even if in Austin where you can dig out a good grade, is over ¾ of a mile! And it will never prepare us for the rigors of so many races that have climbs and descends that last and last! Even if you do a few dozens hill repeats, you’re getting into a problem that by the time you get down (for the uphill repeats) or up (for downhills) – your muscle fibers that you’re trying to train had recovered too much, and the benefits of those repeats are lessened.

There was a time when strength training was looked on as almost taboo for the runner. Some runners today still avoid the weight room as much as possible for fear of weight gain through additional muscle mass. Do not make this mistake!

American College of Sports and Medicine (ACSM) lists five components of fitness: cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition and flexibility. So does running alone meet all of these five components?

Your slow twitch muscles, or your endurance muscles, gain strength from weightlifting allowing them to carry more of the workload than your fast twitch muscles. Since your fast twitch muscles burn more glycogen and produce more lactic acid, your endurance benefits from the increased strength of your slow twitch muscles. The most recent studies show that runners who added a strength program to their training regimen show endurance improvements ranging from 5-15%.

All that said, below is a list what I personally believe are best additions to your running, in no particular order – and besides having being a competitive ultrarunner with a moderate amount of success, I am a certified running coach (RRCA), certified personal trainer (NSTF), and a certified yoga instructor.

  • Cardio machines: rowing machine, elliptical, spin bike, stairclimber.
  • Lower body weight training: heavy squats with a barbell on your shoulders, walking lunges, Bulgarian squats, Romanian deadlifts, bench step-ups.
  • Upper body: push ups and tricep dips, shoulder press, deltoid rises, bicep curls
  • Core: all kinds of crunches, planks, leg lifts

Always try and do weight training on the extremities, each side separately, to make sure you address any kind of potential imbalances from one side to the other. Always incorporate your lower body workouts on the days that you are running harder (your quality workouts) so that your easy days stay easy and allow leg muscles to recover. Add the upper strength either on same days – or on easy days, but make sure you don’t over-task yourself (lower weight, higher reps type of endurance training). And stretch, stretch, stretch! Not only it’s good for avoiding injuries on your ever-tightening muscles and ligaments, and good for your overall health, when your lower body has more of a range of motion, your stride gets longer, what means you need fewer strides to get to some point while you run – or, if you keep same turn-over, you get further! And that, my friends, will translate into faster times at the finish line!

- Olga King

About the author

Olga King Olga King (Varlamova) has picked up a second wind of running at the beginning of her fourth decade. With the success of being a self-proclaimed “freight train that never stops”, she has finished over 100 races at distances from the marathon and beyond. For more information on Olga, check out the About page where you can see some of her health and coaching related projects.

2 Responses to “Oh, That Dirty Word! Do I Really Have To?”

  1. on 05 Feb 2013 at 1:17 pm Iva

    Love your article Olga, as always. Here in colorado, sadly, I know of only 1 fellow runner who thinks highly of strength training. Miss all the trail-crosstraining-runners from Austin!

    I can’t believe it’s you on the barbell picture – you look wicked strong! I love that you are strength training!

    Barbells and dumbbells are my cardio in disguise. It has a great impact not just on endurance, but speed, too!

    What I love about strenght is that it’s as simple as getting your hands on a pair of adjustable dumbbells, and you can do all your deadlifts and snatches at home, and all it takes is 2 x 15 minutes of intense rounds a week.

  2. on 05 Feb 2013 at 4:49 pm olga

    Iva, thanks! I had been doing weight training as long as I had been running – well, “back to running” anyway, after a long break of having kids and such (I ran some in junior high, high and medical school). It is pretty much as simple as you said – a couple of dumbbells and self-weight bearing exercises. I do like to go to the gym though, makes me more focused, but that’s personal preference. I’ve done videotapes as well (back in VHS days). I don’t preach what I do’t practice, and do believe in what I say:)

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