The idea behind cross training is simple: adding variety to your otherwise repetitive workout routine. For a runner that may mean alternating run days with swimming, cycling, weight training, or yoga.
But why is it important?
Running is a great form of exercise. It works your legs and core muscles. It helps with weight loss. It improves your cardiovascular system and strengthens bones and joints. Running is also a high-impact activity that can result in a number of different injuries, such as:
- Patellofemeral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee) - Pain in the front of the knee and around the knee cap that results in stiffness and pain when climbing stairs, kneeling down or during other everyday activities.
- Shin Splints - Inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue in the lower front part of your leg (around the tibia).
- IT Band Syndrome - Swelling and pain at the side of the knee due to inflammation or tightness of the iliotibial band, a ligament that runs along the outside of the leg from the hip to the shin.
- Stress fractures - Most commonly in the foot or tibia, a stress fracture is a small crack or cracks in the bone.
- Plantar Fasciitis - Pain from the heel through the arch of the foot.
Cross Training to Prevent Injuries
"Many of these common running injuries are related to overuse. They may also be caused by an underlying issue like weak quadriceps or hip flexor muscles, which can lead to improper knee alignment and altered running mechanics." says Dr. Joel Hein, orthopedic surgeon at Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Specialists of Green Bay.
Cross training reduces the amount of repetitive impact placed on the hips, knees, shins, ankles and feet. At the same time, these different activities strengthen other muscles in the body that stabilize the joints, which helps ensure proper alignment while running.
If you add in flexibility activities like yoga, you can improve range of motion and stretch sore muscles and tight connective tissues like the IT band. This further enhances joint stability and proper alignment.
Cross training can also help correct the underlying causes of previous injuries, preventing them from happening again. For example, tight hamstrings or weak quadriceps both contribute to runner's knee pain. Yoga could improve hamstring flexibility and cycling could increase quad muscle strength.
Cross Training for an Active Recovery
Even with all the precautions a person can take to prevent injuries, sometimes they can't be avoided. If an injury forces you to take a break from running, cross training may help keep you in shape while you recover.
Dr. Hein says, "Lower impact aerobic exercises such as swimming, cycling or using the elliptical will keep your muscles strong and endurance levels up without putting unnecessary stress on injured joints or muscles."
OSMS is a full-service, independent orthopedic and rheumatology clinic with a 50+ year tradition of providing comprehensive musculoskeletal care to Green Bay, Wisconsin and the surrounding areas. The OSMS physicians are dedicated to continually improving patient results by offering high-quality, cost-effective and specialized orthopedic, sports medicine and rheumatologic care.