Running is very effective exercise. You can run for 30-40 minutes during a lunch break and really achieve a very good work out in that time. Other sports such as cycling require much longer to achieve the same benefits. But this frequency of exercise can stress the body and may lead to overuse injuries.
What is cross training?
Cross training - have a change and have fun
Cross training is using alternative sports or activities in order to train for a particular sport. For runners, this could involve exercise such as swimming, cycling, rowing, gym work, aerobics, or kick boxing.
Olympic Gold medallist James Cracknell is an ideal example of an athlete who uses cross training to develop his fitness for rowing. James doesn't spend all of his time training in a boat on on a rowing machine, he cycles, runs, goes to the gym and plays other sports too.
Many runners cycle for cross training
Cross training is often perceived as having to go into the gym and push huge weights, but this does not have to be the case. Cross training can be an opportunity to go out and have fun with your training. Your cross training programme can be as structured or as free as you wish. Have a change and have fun!
Cycling for runners
Many runners cycle for cross training. It can benefit many areas, but mainly endurance base. Whether you are a club runner participating in road races from 5km to marathons, trail, fell or track events or whether you are running just to keep fit or for the pure enjoyment, the fitter you are the more enjoyable your running will be.
As with running, cycling has a variety disciplines (road racing, time trialling, track racing, mountain biking) so it's possible to add variety into the schedule. Cycling is an excellent alternative to pounding out those miles on foot, because it places less stress upon the body. You can ride all day without serious stress whereas running for that length of time would cause the body of lot of stress.
Cycling is an excellent alternative to pounding out those miles on foot - it places less stress upon the body
It's worth spending a little time ensuring that your bike is properly set up for you in a comfortable, efficient and safe position. Ideally seek advice from a qualified coach, local bike shop or experienced cyclist friend.
Cycling uses different sets of muscles than running (i.e. more use of your quads and gluteus maximus muscles) but it is still improving your cardiovascular body system. You can spend longer on the bike and, if ridden at a steady pace, this will benefit your training enormously. By using alternative muscle systems, you are also resting your regular running muscles and allowing them to recover to some extent while you are riding.
As with any exercise, if you are not used to it, you need to begin quite cautiously at first. As a runner you are probably already very fit - but not necessarily fit for cycling. So start with relatively easy rides, to allow your muscles and skills to develop to the new demands of cycling, before building up to longer or more strenuous sessions. Measure your time on the bike, rather than distance covered. A ten mile off-road ride could take over twice as long as the same distance on tarmac road, and may be much more exhausting too.
Get off road exploring on a mountain bike © Sarah Stirling
Should you suffer an injury through running, cycling can be a good way to begin the rehabilitation process, as it is a low-impact sport. Research has shown that maintaining some activity during an injury period can reduce the time needed for recovery, so once you return to running, you will not have lost as much fitness as if you had been totally incative.
By having an alternative activity to help you through the recovery period, you can keep focussed on your goals. Your mental attitude to recovery is an important factor in the speed of recovery. Check with your therapist first that cycling will not cause any problems. For example, it is possible that a thigh injury may be aggravated by cycling and it may put strain on certain knee injuries.
Cycling is a sociable sport. You could ride with friends or enquire about local cycle clubs. It's always easier to motivate yourself more whn you know that there are others to train with.
Have fun now - but sorry, you can't freewheel any more when you get back to running!