To be a great runner, you need to run A LOT but did you know running alone is not enough? Your body needs to move in different ways to become stronger, improve cardiovascular fitness, and be more flexible. That’s why the best runners cross-train. Whether they lift weights, dance or practice yoga, they alternate running days with other types of physical activity to improve their overall performance.
When Roy was prepping for the Boston Marathon, he supplemented the miles he logged with weight training, targeting muscle groups that helped him run faster and reduced his risk of injury. I am far less strategic about my cross-training regimen. I alternate between dancing, cycling, yoga, etc. depending on what strikes my fancy at the moment. What I am strict about is doing something other than running every week to balance out my running workouts and keep me from getting bored.
Since I started training for the Paris Marathon, my typical week looks like this:
Cross-training days before the holidays consisted solely of Vixen Workout. (I promise to share what that is and how it benefits my running in a future cross-training post.) This past week, however, I was on an end-of-year road trip with friends that took us from Wyoming to Utah. While our travels put my running on hold, I was able to keep up with the cross-training part of my workout thanks to my favorite all-time activity: skiing.
Almost every day this past week consisted of skiing. I skied three resorts (Jackson Hole, Snowbird and Alta) and completed more than 60 runs. It put my body through the ringer, sending me home with sore legs, sore abs, and whiplash from a pretty serious wipe out. (Thank god for helmets.)
Ok, so skiing doesn’t get your heart rate up as much as running does—according to my Garmin watch, I averaged 140bpm skiing versus 160-180bpm running—but according to sports medicine research, it offers several long-lasting benefits for runners. Here are three that I look forward to reaping when I get back to my training this afternoon:
1. It boosts running performance. Oxygen is more scarce at higher altitudes. That’s why your heart rate is higher and your breathing is faster when you exercise at high altitude, like when you ski, as compared to sea level. To compensate, your body generates more oxygen-carrying red blood cells, a physiological change that noticeably boosts physical performance and can last up to 20 days after you leave.
2. It builds versatility in running muscles. Skiing works your hip muscles, hamstrings, quads, calves, and feet. More importantly, as this Outside Online article explains, it “works the leg muscles in many different planes, which is beneficial for runners.” When I run, the usual suspects in my legs (hamstrings, quads, calves) get sore. When I ski, I also feel the burn in my inner thighs and other areas of my legs where I didn’t even know I had muscle.
3. It reinforces the importance of good form. As runners, we focus a lot on our form when it comes to buying new running shoes but most of us forget about it thereafter. You can’t do that in skiing. Every micro movement—whether you lean forward versus backward, where your feet are pointing, how far your legs are apart from one another—can mean the difference between riping down the mountain or wiping out. Skiing this past week was a good reminder of how form affects performance.
We’ll see later today how much of a difference one week of skiing really made. Per usual, I’ll post the training log once I’m done!