What is cross-training?
The term ‘cross-training’ gets thrown around but what does it actually mean. Cross-training is adding another type of exercise to your routine so that you continue to improve and get fitter, but also expand your skill set. For example, a runner who finds it difficult to increase running volume, might add some cycling to their routine so they can still work their cardiovascular system without the impact on their legs and therefore reduce the chance of injury.
When building running mileage, it is advised to increase by no more than 10% each week. Everyone is different in terms of their bodies adapting and increasing your running milage each week might lead to niggles and set backs. This is where cross-training would become a vital component of training. An example of a place to start is on the elliptical where you can replicate run sessions and track HR to ensure I was working hard. For example, if you have 1k reps on the plan, you will know roughly how long these reps would take and do the session to time. Instead of focusing on your weekly running mileage, if you know this isn't for you, switch a run with a bike or elliptical session.
The most challenging thing people find about cross-training is getting the intensity and volume right, and this will vary depending on how much running you are doing and what you are training for. When training for a race (and injury free!), cross-training sessions are generally focused on building an aerobic base and recovering from harder run sessions. The intensity is kept lower, which can be done by keeping HR in the same range as your easy runs or, if using power on the bike, around 60% of your FTP (functional threshold power). However, when you need to take time out from running due to an injury, we would suggest you add intensity to sessions to make sure you are training all zones and keeping as fit as possible. You could use the example above of replicating your running sessions, but you could also join a spin class or follow an FTP training plan on the bike (Wattbike, Zwift, Trainer Road).
For runners, cross-training options can include cycling, elliptical, rowing or swimming, but we would advise you do what you enjoy the most. It will add variety to your routine when you are running fit and healthy, but it will also make it a lot easier to adapt if you are injured. Set yourself goals and challenges whilst you can’t run – you will enjoy it a lot more!