Apr 21st, 2015
Apr 21st, 2015 / Nicki Chick
One of those Six options is Pilates, as explained by Peta Bee
Balancing act: here are six cross-training options for runners 20th April 2015
Running is a great workout but if you want to boost your speed you need to cross-train, says Peta Bee. Here are six workouts to turbo-charge your regime:
Months of running endless miles and pounding the streets and parks will soon be over for those taking
part in next week’s London Marathon. Then what? For many, running will have consumed their lives to an
extent that they can not envisage ever giving up. Still, there is an inevitable release of pressure that
comes with post-marathon euphoria and a realisation that you have time to do things other than run.
What, though, are the best exercise choices to complement running?
John Brewer, professor of Applied Sports Science at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, says that to
become a better runner, you need to run faster. “But some forms of cross-training can enhance your
performance, especially if you decide to tackle distances shorter than the marathon,” he says. “It’s also
fantastic when you need a post-marathon running break or when you are injured.”
Deciding which running-related workout to plump for is not easy. Here’s our guide to six of the best:
Why it works: Runners are notoriously poor at stretching, leaving them with tight hamstrings and calf
muscles that are inevitably more prone to injury. “Posture also deteriorates and that can hamper
breathing,” says Lexie Williamson, yoga teacher and author of Yoga for Runners (Bloomsbury, £16.99).
“Yoga helps reverse these problems and boosts strength in the feet and ankles, which improves running
A 2006 study showed that track runners who practised yoga not only improved their performance but
their breathing control. It can also boost your mental focus, particularly important in long-distance events
such as the marathon, when the mind tends to stray and negative thoughts creep in. A study in the
Journals of Gerontology last year showed that adults who did yoga three times a week for eight weeks
improved their performance on tests of their brain’s function, while those who did a non-yoga stretching
and strengthening programme for the same period didn’t experience a mind-boost.
Why it works: Targeted weight training for the legs, arms and core can undoubtedly boost your running
performance, says Victor Sarramian, a strength and conditioning coach who works with leading athletes.
“The stronger you are, the less effort your muscles are required to make for each stride,” he says.
“Ultimately, you will get tired less quickly and sustain the same pace for longer.”
Plan your training carefully. Last year, an Australian study showed that scheduling a hard run too close to
a weights session impacted on performance.
“Running at maximal effort is impaired six hours [after] lower-extremity resistance training,” says Dr Kenji
Doma of James Cook University. “Runners will need more than that to recover.”
Why it works: Think explosive movements like jumping lunges, squat thrusts, hopping and bounding, all
designed to build power and speed. “Plyometrics involves what are known as “eccentric contractions”,
where the muscle fibres try to contract while they are being stretched,” explains John Brewer. “Top
athletes incorporate this type of training into their regimes as it is a great way of developing dynamic
strength, which translates to running speed.” Plyometrics is not easy and, Brewer warns, “notorious for
causing muscle soreness after a session”. It’s best used as an advanced form of training to develop leg
power for shorter events (10km and less).
Why it works: Running requires muscular strength in the legs, buttocks, hips, back, abdominals and, to a
lesser extent the arms, says Matt Roberts, personal trainer to David Cameron. Drills and circuits are an
excellent way to increase this strength.
“A lot of runners worry about bulking up, but the benefits you gain from body-conditioning exercises is
much greater than any potential downsides that extra strength brings,” Roberts says. “Stability and
power in the legs is essential for a powerful running stride.”
You don’t need to go to a gym to do a circuit. “A home circuit with body weight exercises like squats,
lunges and push-ups will be beneficial,” he adds. “Some core exercises are important, too, as running
requires strength through the middle of the body.”
Why it works: “Running is a repetitive and high-impact sport which can put a strain on your body if you
don’t have the mobility and strength to control the repeated force going through the legs,” says Lynne
Cantwell, physiotherapist and running guru at Six Physio. “Pilates is one of the best ways of counteracting
Cantwell says that lateral hip and knee pains are some of the most common injuries seen by physios
treating runners. “I would recommend Pilates specifically for these problems as it can help to increase
flexibility and strength in the muscles, such as the gluteals, which can cause the injuries,” she says.
“Runners need very strong gluteal muscles as they control hip movement and hip extension and keep the
legs, hips and body aligned. If you are prone to injury, Pilates should be your first choice as a runner.”
Where to try it: Six Physio holds clinical Pilates classes (sixphysio.com) or try classes at tenpilates.com.