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Angela Bekkala: Marathoners and Cross-Training

Whether or not to cross train was a huge debate when I took the RRCA Running Coach exam. According to our instructor, he said, absolutely not.

What about yoga? Cycling? Strength training? Elliptical?

Aren’t those all appropriate cross training modalities for runners?

Our instructor stated it simply – If you want to improve your running, you need to run. It’s the law of specificity. I agree with that but I personally need other activities in my running routine, specifically in marathon training. It makes me happy and keeps me running longer!

Cross training has never been an issue for me. It’s what I like. While I love running, I need some variety in my workouts and I’m not someone who can run seven days a week. My muscles and joints need a break from pounding the pavement and trails, otherwise I end up injured. With cross training, I get that break and am able to use different muscles and movements that enhance my running.

My favorite form of cross training is cycling, either indoor or outdoor. It builds muscle endurance in my quads, hamstrings and glutes – the same muscles used in running. It also helps with leg turnover if cadence/rpm is equivalent to running. I live in quite a hilly area, so there’s no avoiding the quad burning as I try to power up an incline to simulate running. I do this thinking one day I’ll love hills, but so far, it isn’t happening! During training, I will get at least one day a week specifically on my bike.

I am also a big fan of yoga. I think it’s the perfect complement to running. While it doesn’t necessarily mimic the aerobic endurance of running, it does build core strength, flexibility and corrects muscle imbalances. These are all things that are the root of common running injuries.

It’s also helped with my mental focus, particularly during long runs. When I feel like I am struggling, I do a mental sweep of my body and “let go” what I do not need. Am I holding tension in my shoulders? How is my posture? Is my core engaged? By calming my mind, I focus on my body and stay present. I concentrate on my breath, taking one step at a time, creating a sense of rhythm.

With marathon training, it gets tough to fit it all in, but I know if I don’t, I’ll be hurting big time. I try to schedule one to two days of cross training per week. No matter what form of cross training I do, it’s a great release for my muscles and prepares me for my next run. Which is always a good thing when you are constantly building new muscles in marathon training.