Cross-Training for the Runner (that actually works!)

Runners reject cross-training like a wild animal rejects defective off-spring. Every other form of exercise is considered a lesser species. There’s probably some truth in this; in that no other form of aerobic exercise has a higher energy expenditure for a given time cost. Running is weight-bearing uses most of our muscles especially the big ones and we feel good afterwards.

The Dreaded Cross-Training

We’ve all been there pedalling an exercise bike or strapped into an aqua jogging belt. Feeling like we’re going ten rounds with Mike Tyson just to get a heart rate that comes easily as soon as you start jogging. It’s punishing, your quads are burning, you’ve barely hit the same energy expenditure, you haven’t been running and you’re p****d off. The alternative of course is to join a cycling club, get back to the outdoors. In this case, you lament the fact that you have to be out for nearly 4 hours, with your heart rate down around your ankles, whilst needing to consume half your body weight in calories to survive. Yes, we’ve all (many of us) been there.

A Superior Alternative

A new-device that was central to me returning to a sub-35 minute 10km and still forms part of my training now is pictured above. Before you reject it out of hand – no it is not the normal cross-trainer that feels nothing like running and offers all the same problems discussed above. I started to notice this device a couple of years ago, beside the cross-trainers, looking like the cross-trainers but operating very differently. These devices allow a shorter stride and an upright posture. Within minutes you’re cruising at Sunday run heart rate but also feeling like it’s a similar effort i.e. not a fight to the death with your quads. These devices are great in the following scenarios:

  1. The obvious: you’re injured (most running injuries will tolerate it).
  2. You want to increase your aerobic training load but don’t want to risk injury by adding junk miles too quickly.
  3. You’re getting on and are a bit battered and bruised (i.e. me).

One of the reasons these devices are fantastic to reduce injury risk is they rely on muscles to drive them. So you can feel as though you are having a muscularly similar work out while giving those grumbly old Achilles tendons a rest. The need to be driven largely by muscle is also why it is easy to hit sub-maximal heart rates; along with the fact that it is an upright posture.

I’m a runner: how do I use them?

  1. Don’t reject it immediately. When you first step on, it will feel a little alien to you; anything new does. Before long you will feel as though you are in an easy run pattern.
  2. No hands. Upright posture. Driving from the legs and arms swinging by your side as per normal in running. Practice the rhythm.
  3. Push down with your heel, this causes you to engage those all-important hip muscles (blog on them coming soon) and not overly rely on your quads. As the platform moves toward the floor, roll onto the mid to forefoot to complete the stroke. This means you’re contracting and relaxing the calf on each cycle also.
  4. Let me know how you get on.