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To cross-train or not to cross-train?

I recently had a woman reach out to me on Instagram, worried that her performance would be impacted because she wasn’t running seven days a week, but had opted to do a few bike rides instead. Her friends had been telling her that if you want to be good at running, you should just run all the time. She was concerned that her bike rides were pointless. Granted, there are people out there who live by the philosophy of “only do what you want to be good at,” and will disagree with me wholeheartedly when I say that cross-training is equally as important.

Avoid the Injury Bug

If you don’t cross-train, your muscles only become good at one thing. It’s very true that someone who runs all the time will be great at running, but it’s also true that these people usually end up injured. Of course, the percentage of eventual injury will vary sport to sport. I know plenty of bike riders who spend four hours of every day on their bike, and they’re incredible athletes. If you ask them to run or go for a long hike, they’ll be sore for weeks. Bike riders don’t always end up injured because it’s a low impact sport, but when we start to talk running, it’s extremely hard on your body. If your running muscles and joints are feeling sore or tired after multiple training days on foot, here’s where it’s completely warranted to hop on the bike or cross-country skis for a day of training. A nighttime easy spin on the bike after a really hard running workout earlier that day will also loosen up your muscles and speed your recovery process. It’s also incredibly important as a runner to do physiotherapy, mobility and strength workouts. You won’t see an athlete on the Olympic circuit in any sport who doesn’t have a strength training coach and physiotherapist. Cross-training will help to strength all the muscles in your body, making you a better all-around athlete.

Everyone Can Handle Different Running Loads

Everyone’s bodies can handle different running loads. Take my husband, for example, who is also a professional obstacle course racer. His body is a machine, and he’s able to run every day for weeks on end without a rest day. He does very little cross-training compared to me, and what he does do is really only because he thoroughly enjoys mountain biking, backcountry skiing and rock climbing. Myself, on the other hand, needs a rest day once every week or two, otherwise I start to have deep fatigue build up and I can’t perform as well. If I run more than seven days in a row, I start to feel small niggles or injuries come on, such as shin splints or a sore spot in my foot. If I sub out a run for a cross-country ski, I can put in more training hours. I’ve been a pro athlete for three years now and, knock wood, I’ve never had a serious injury.

Training is essentially categorized in to two different groups – cardio, and strength. A bike ride, a hike up a mountain, a cross-country ski, or a run are all great cardio training. Within that, there’s interval/intensity workouts, tempo days, and easy days. I’ll do most of my intensity and tempo days running, to get my running muscles used to the taxation they’ll incur during a race. If I’m recovering from a long race and my knees are still sore, or if I’m fighting off an injury, I’ll cross-train those intensity workouts to eliminate the impact on my muscles and joints. When it comes to my easy workouts, I’d estimate a good 60% of them are done on a bike or skis.

OCR is a full-body sport

When we talk specifically about training for obstacle racing, we’re training for a full-body sport. Really any type of training is going to benefit you in some way. Cross-training helps to strengthen all the muscles in your body and make you a better all-around athlete.

Cross-country skiing, for example, uses a ton of glute muscles, which will help you run up hills faster or navigate hopping side to side in technical terrain. It will also strengthen your balance muscles, which will come in handy in technical terrain or balance-related obstacles.

It also involves a ton of core muscles and tricep muscles, which will help your running, your obstacles, and your burpees! Snowshoeing is great for strengthening your hip flexors, which will help you a lot when you’re trying to run through mud.

Keep training fun!

More than anything, incorporating cross-training in to your regimen opens up a world of opportunities. Training can become a mundane slog if you’re doing the same thing every day, but as soon as you start doing different sports or training in new places, putting in big training days just becomes a fun process of exploration. Living an active lifestyle should be a permanent and sustainable lifestyle choice. Being bored in your training or following a too-strict regimen can result in mental and physical burnout. Keep your training fun! Use it as an opportunity to experience new things and places, and the moments and memories you stockpile through your training will keep you hungry to do it forever.

Author Lindsay Webster

Lindsay Webster, Competitive OCR, Mountain biker, xc skiier & runner.

Lindsay is a pioneer in the female OCR world, and her own life. She left the stability of a regular income to take a chance on something she wasn’t even sure she would be good at. The result? She’s the happiest she’s ever been.

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