When Kobe Bryant wants to better his game, he doesn’t go to the ping pong table. Peyton Manning doesn’t hit the pole vault pit to work on his throwing motion. Albert Pujols assuredly spends little time playing darts in order to hit more home runs. Why should I have to cross-train to be a better runner? Technically, I shouldn’t and I don’t.
Obviously, I am using extremes to prove a point. Proponents of cross-training as a tool to make you a better runner stress working out muscles that get neglected by basic running. Or at least that is the theory. I personally do not subscribe to it. However, I have always been a fan of cross-training and began taking it up in earnest more recently than usual for a few reasons.
Why the dichotomy?
First and foremost, to me, in order to run better and/or faster, one must—well— run. Whether that is more mileage, more speed work, or more of whatever combination of the two, running makes you a better runner. However, there are a few reason why I feel cross-training is an effective tool.
It Shakes Things Up I love to finish a run. However, there are many times I do not like the idea of starting a run. By throwing in a different type of workout, you can shock your system into a new routine. When it comes time to run again, it is not the same old thing you have been doing for ages but rather, part of a new subset of your overall exercise fitness.
It Helps Prevent Overuse Injuries By taking a step back from the 30,40,50,60, or more weekly mileage that passes under your feet and applying it elsewhere, you get to enjoy the sport you love the most for a longer period of time by simply cutting your mileage. Unless, you are a person competing for prize money, there is little to no need to kill yourself over high mileage.
Allows You to Explore While running may be something you love, throwing in a different sport to cross-training may open your eyes to a sport you never realized you liked or had the talent to play. I would never want people to stop running but if they found, say, swimming was more suited to them, then go for it.
Broadens Your Mind If you have found you can’t stand “those cyclists” or that the pool is meant only for sitting by while reading a book, you would be surprised how you may no longer consider yourself a runner only, but now a well-rounded athlete. Moreover, if you are stuck in a rut, either physically or mentally, approaching your exercise from a different angle may allow you to see problems or situations from a new angle as well.