The FIRST time I took up running…I just ran. I put on my shoes and slowly upped my mileage, but pretty much, running was my thing and I wasn’t really interested in other activities. I’ve known people who are similar with whatever sport they enjoy most, particularly cyclists. It’s very easy to find something that you enjoy and that works for you and then…just do that.
But there’s a problem with that and I discovered it in a BIG way as I increased my mileage. As I began running around 10 miles or more, I began to suffer pain in my knees. After visiting my doctor and a physical therapist, I was told the issue was ITBS, a tightness in the IT band, which runs down the outside of the leg from the hip to the knee. I went into PT to rehab it and the pain was pretty serious. In physical therapy, I learned I had some serious imbalance in the muscles of my leg.
Later, when I tried another attempt to get back into running, I wound up with plantar fasciitis, an irritation of the connective tissue on the bottom of my feet. Again, in PT, I learned I had some serious imbalances in the muscles of my legs.
The problem is that when you do the same exercise over and over and that’s all you do, only the muscles related to that exercise develop and this can quickly lead to weaker muscles in other parts of your body which can pull joints out of alignment and lead to injury.
I was stubborn enough I had to learn this twice!
This time around, I’m being a LOT more intentional with my training. I’m concentrating very hard on weight lifting and barre classes, which work my core and parts of my legs that running does not work. I’m adding in runs slowly and working to build up more well rounded fitness as well as lower my weight so that the running I do will be a lot less likely to sideline me with an injury.
So…what should you look for in a cross training program?
If your activity of choice is heavily cardio, it’s really good to look for something that emphasizes building more muscle. For runners and cyclists, we use our quad muscles in our legs a LOT. Lifting weights that strengthen the upper body and back and hamstrings can be a big help balancing things out. In addition, exercises like pilates, yoga, barre, or anything else that really strengthens the core will help a lot with the kind of balance that helps prevent falls and help protect the spine.
In my particular case, I’m doing 5 days a week of barre classes because I know my core is weak and my spine needs more support. I’m lifting weights 4 days a week with a special emphasis on my back, shoulders, and arms. Part of this is to bring strength back into the muscles that I had cut last year in my neck surgery and part is to increase my metabolism and balance all the lower body exercise I’m doing. I’m only lifting 1 day a week on my legs.
The downside to cross training is that it kind of negates the wonderful simplicity of activities like running or cycling. I loved running because I didn’t have to belong to a gym or “go” anywhere to do it. With these kinds of fitness, you just grab your shoes or your bike and off you go, whenever it works for you. Cross training can mean having to join a gym, but it doesn’t have to.
For me, I use online workouts through Beachbody to get in my weight lifting and Barre. I can stream those workouts anywhere and get them in whenever it works for me. If you want more information on that, please contact me and I’ll be happy to help you get started.