Marathon Training Program:
Cross Training

mrt10.jpgOver the past few years, runners of all abilities have discovered the many benefits of cross-training as a means to enhance their total conditioning and running performance. Yet despite its recent popularity, some runners still wonder why they should participate in other aerobic activities if the central purpose of marathon training is to complete a 26.2-mile event, not a triathlon!

Although cross-training can provide numerous benefits for those aspiring to run a marathon (see below), too much of a good thing can be counter-productive and detrimental to one’s marathon training and participation in his or her chosen event. For example, partaking in certain cross-training activities on a scheduled rest day may leave one tired prior to attempting an important workout such as a long run. Furthermore, some cross-training activities can actually increase the likelihood of an injury, particularly during the mileage build-up stage. This in turn may prevent a runner from completing the training necessary to participate in, and finish a marathon. After reading this section, it is hoped that you will select your cross-training activities carefully and schedule these sessions to enhance, rather than detract from your marathon training.

Benefits and Purposes of Cross-Training

  • Adds variety to your training and decreases
    the chance of burnout. Can occasionally be substituted for “easy day”
    running (as an aerobic workout). Can serve as an injury prevention
    measure – Certain activities such as cycling can strengthen related
    muscle groups and soft connective tissue. Provides an additional means
    of burning fat
  • Increases upper body strength – This
    is very important late in a marathon as neck and shoulder muscles often
    become fatigued. Upper body strength is an important asset in ascending

Precautions and Considerations

  • Cross-training is not intended to replace
    running – In other words, don’t substitute three hour bike ride for a
    three hour long run. This is the concept of sports specificity (as a
    three hour bike ride won’t provide the training effect needed to run a
    marathon). Refrain from lateral, stop and go, bounding, and high impact
    activities along with those with quick/sudden movements – It is crucial
    that you refrain from the following sports as doing so can traumatize
    the soft connective tissue that surrounds the knee and ankle regions:
    Tennis, racquetball, handball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, rugby,
    down-hill skiing, and aerobic dance. While this is not an exhaustive
    list, use common sense when deciding whether to add certain sports to
    your fitness regimen. Rest Days – At least one day per week should be scheduled as a complete
    leg rest day. Prior to your long run, this is particularly important,
    as it is crucial to be as rested as possible. While participating in
    your favorite cross-training activities can be helpful as a means of
    losing weight, don’t overdo by skipping rest days, particularly for your
    legs. Over-training can lead to a variety of injuries.

  • Stretching – Stretch thoroughly after
    working out in any manner. If you choose to stretch prior to running, be
    sure to warm-up your muscles by walking briskly or by lightly jogging.
    See Stretching for more information.

Benefits of Specific Sports

The following are great cross-training options that when infused
carefully into your workout routine will enhance your marathon training.
Be sure to follow the precautions and considerations above. Whether you
use a fitness center’s exercise equipment/gear or your own, it is vital
that you obtain instruction in its correct use for the specific sports
you select for cross-training. To receive the maximum benefit while
minimizing your chances of incurring injury, it is also very important
that you perform these activities utilizing proper form, technique, and
posture. A certified fitness instructor can provide guidance in these

  • Cycling
    Cycling exercises related muscle groups such as the quadriceps and
    shins, both of which don’t develop as rapidly as the calf muscles and
    hamstrings. Cycling also strengthens the connective tissue of the knee,
    hip, and ankle regions, thus reducing the risk of injury. After a
    stressful run, cycling also loosens fatigued leg muscles. Key points to
    remember: Don’t cycle on a scheduled rest day. Since it’s much more
    difficult to run after cycling, run first before heading out on your
    bike. Spin easily as opposed to grinding the big gears. Be sure your
    seat height and pedals are properly positioned. Finally, always wear a
    helmet and leave the music headphones at home.
  • Swimming
    Swimming is one of the best cross-training activities for
    several reasons. Swimming enables one to build muscular strength and
    endurance while improving flexibility. It is especially recommended for
    those who want to prevent injury, are pregnant, are recovering from an
    injury, are suffering from joint or bone conditions, or are overweight
    and want to exercise in a weightless environment. For the compulsive
    runner who has a hard time taking a rest day, swimming gives those
    fatigued leg muscles a breather while at the same time, provides an
    excellent upper body workout. Additionally, water is considered a
    healing medium, providing a therapeutic effect for all muscle groups.
    While gentle kicking alleviates some muscle soreness and fatigue, avoid
    using the kickboard for hard kick sets on your running rest day. Keep in
    mind that compared to other cross-training activities, your heart-rate
    may not reach as high a level while swimming (typically 10 to 20 beats
    per minute less than what it is for dry land activities) due to the loss
    of gravitational force, the horizontal position, and the cooling effect
    of the water temperature. Nevertheless, what truly counts is that the
    heart, lungs, and muscles are still processing oxygen.
  • Elliptical Trainer
    These machines provide a great total body cardio-vascular workout. Their
    oval-like (ellipse) motion provides the user with the feel of classic
    cross-country skiing, stair climbing, and walking all in combination.
    The elliptical trainer can be programmed to operate in either a forward
    or backward motion, providing a low-impact workout for all the all the
    major muscles in the legs. The backward motion emphasizes the gluteal
    muscles (buttocks). A great upper body workout can be achieved by using
    the two poles located on each side of the machine in conjunction with
    the leg motion.
  • Cybex® Arc Trainer
    This non-impact machine is manufactured with two basic designs for
    hand placement. Some models are manufactured with side arms that are
    grasped with the hands and swivel in conjunction with leg motion,
    providing a total-body workout. The other design has stationary rails,
    rather than arms, that the user grasps for stability, making it more of a
    lower-body machine. Offering broad incline and resistance ranges along
    with numerous programs from which to choose, the intensity of Arc
    Trainer workouts can be highly varied. The lower incline levels provide a
    gliding experience, similar to that of cross-country skiing, while the
    midrange levels provide a striding effect, much like that of an
    elliptical trainer. At the upper levels, the Arc Trainer provides the
    feel of a stepper
  • or climber machine.
  • Deep Water Running
    This cross-training activity is just what the doctor ordered for
    the rehabilitation of many running injuries. Because there is no shock
    from foot strike, water running is a great alternative to a mid-week
    “easy day” run. For either purpose, it should be based on your current
    level of ability and present dry-land running schedule. While it is
    possible to run in the water without floatation aids, find a pool that
    has these devices (e.g., vests, belts, etc.) to make your workout
  • Ergometer (Rowing) Machine
    This is another great cardio-vascular activity that can be done
    on a rest day. It strengthens the quadriceps, hips, buttocks,
    and upper body while sparing the legs of heavy pounding. Be
    sure to learn proper rowing technique to maximize the benefits
    of this activity.
  • Nordic Track Ski-Simulator Machine
    This challenging workout is highly effective in
    building/maintaining aerobic conditioning and endurance while
    strengthening the muscles of the upper and lower body. Because it
    requires the ability to balance and coordinate duel action movements of
    the upper and lower extremities, proper form must be learned and
    utilized. In short, this is great workout for runners interested in
    supplementing their training.
  • Stair-Master
    This activity provides a great cardio-vascular workout while
    being rather gentle on the skeletal system. To achieve maximum benefits,
    proper form and posture must be utilized. Because of the vigorous
    exercise the leg muscles receive from this machine, it is not
    recommended as a supplemental workout for a complete leg rest day.
  • Versa-Climber
    This great cardio-vascular activity provides a total body
    workout because all the major muscles of the upper and lower body are
    fully engaged and thus strengthened. Because of the coordination
    required by the arms and legs (climbing against gravity, similar to the
    motion of ascending a ladder), it can be a challenging machine to learn
    to use correctly. Again, procure the guidance of a knowledgeable fitness
    instructor to learn proper technique. The Versa-Climber can serve as a
    “stepper” machine when only the handrails and foot pedals are used.
  • Walking
    This is a very under-rated activity that provides great
    therapeutic benefits following a long run or speedwork. While walking is
    not intended to be a substitute for an easy running day, a relaxed two
    to three mile stroll is a great way to loosen up the legs the day prior
    to a big race. Depending on the type of injury, speed walking is a great
    rehabilitation activity to maintain cardio-vascular fitness.
  • Weight Training
    See separate section on Weight Training for more information.


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