In my time running, both before and after I got into races, I have always looked for the best physical activity to complement my running. The perfect cross training. I have tried lifting, core exercises, swimming, Insanity, P90X, stretching, yoga, and riding the stationary bike. I have been asked to try Crossfit so many times I have lost count. After a lot of trial and error, I think I have finally found a good cross training routine that works for me, has kept me healthy, is helping me lose weight and making me a stronger runner.
Lifting: I lift three days a week. I normally run in the morning, lifting is done at night. I never ever lift before I run, primary focus for all of my energy is running. After years of going to a gym and lifting heavy I started just lifting at home. I use free weights and dumbbells up to 60 lbs each for all exercises. One day is biceps/triceps, one day is chest/legs, one day is back/shoulders. I do about 10 exercises for each body part, lower weights, high reps per set (at least 20), and average about 3 sets per exercise. Not a lot of breaks in between sets, I normally finish lifting in an hour or a little longer. In the past I lifted much heavier, but increasing any type of muscle mass just slowed me down. In the past few months I have gotten much leaner, but maintained a lot of my strength, and this has contributed to increased speed in my running.
Stretching: I have been stretching daily for the last 16 months and it has helped more then I could ever explain. I had a lot of nagging injuries when I first started racing, plantar fasciitis, runner's knee, shin splints, etc. Nothing that kept me from running, but a lot of annoying aches and pains that kept me from enjoying it as much as I should. I looked online, in books, and asked others directly and finally came up with a stretching program that I do everyday that has kept my legs relatively pain free as I have increased my mileage and become a stronger runner. I stretch for about 15 minutes before every run, another 20-25 minutes after every run, and then rumble roll (its a type of foam roller) for another 10-15 minutes every night. My stretching primarily focuses on my calves, hamstrings, groin, and it band, with a few other areas covered. Additionally, I do some shin and knee strengthening exercises after my runs as part of my stretching (to keep the shin splint sand runner's knee away, so far so good).
Core: I do core 4-5 times a week, usually in the evening after my rumble roller session. Lots of planks, all different kinds of crunches, abdominal holds, etc. The main focus of all of the exercises is to have a stronger core to support the rest of my body when I am running. Core work has helped me to greatly improve my running form, I get fatigued much less, and any back pain has gone away for the most part as the improved form allows me to run with my back straighter. A six pack would be nice, maybe one day.
Additional Cardio: I have always done some kind of additional cardio in addition to running. I will never be a tri-athlete because it doesn't appeal to me. I tried elliptical and stair machines at the gym but was never a fan. I don't bike outdoors because I could never get into it, I'd rather be running if I am outside doing cardio. Swimming is fine for recreation but I couldn't get into it as a form of exercise (I also don't own a pool and don't see the value in joining a gym just to use theirs when I am not that into it). That leaves the stationary bike. Mine is old and scary, but it does the job. 30 minutes 3-5 times a week, always to warm-up before lifting and then a few other days a week. I don't monitor the miles or go a specific speed, just keep a steady pace to keep my legs loose, get my heart rate going, and break a sweat. In addition to stretching, this has really helped keep away the annoying aches and pains in my legs.
Well, that's it for me and cross training. After spending years trying to look a certain way, lift a certain weight, and all that nonsense I have now shifted my focus to being the best runner I can be, and my cross training in combination with my running workouts is definitely helping me see progress. Everyone is different so get some books, look online, and experiment to find out what works best for you.
There is no finish line.
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