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How to Use Cross Training for Marathon Prep


WRITTEN BY: Sports Medicine
Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Training for a half or full marathon with a spring race day means the majority of your preparation falls in the winter. While winter weather brings many runners indoors, staying inside doesn’t have to slow you down. Vonda Wright, MD, a UPMC Sports Medicine marathon expert, gives indoor workout tips for treadmill survival, cross training, and transitioning back outside when the weather gets warmer.

Treadmill Survival Tips

Throughout your half or full marathon preparation plan, your mileage builds to longer distances. For the indoor trainer, this means more time spent on the treadmill. If you’re worried about boredom, try these tips to keep your runs interesting:

  • Watch your favorite shows on your portable device or tablet.
  • Check out the TV schedule before heading to the gym and plan to work out through your favorite programs for motivation.
  • Train with a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor.
  • Make a pump-up playlist or listen to the radio.
  • Listen to a book on tape or try a podcast.
  • Study or read a magazine.
  • Try interval training to beat the boredom of running at one pace in the same place.
  • Use other machines to break up your goal mileage for the day.

With a little planning and well-placed distraction, the treadmill doesn’t have to be the “dreadmill.”

Cross Training

While you may think of running mainly as a leg sport, it is actually a full-body sport. Running uses your calves and quads, as well as your butt, abs, and arms. Cross training is an important part of any training regimen because it helps you work your full body.

Cross training includes activities such as:

  • Elliptical training
  • Strength training
  • Swimming
  • Attending fitness classes

When used in addition to running, these forms of training give your body time to recover from the demands of logging miles while still raising your heart rate and providing a good source of cardio.

Cross training can help you:

  • Prevent injury
  • Increase stability of joints
  • Recover from runs
  • Increase motivation
  • Enhance running performance

When implemented into a marathon training program, cross training helps explore many different types of fitness in addition to running.

Elliptical Training

Working on an elliptical simulates the motion of running without the impact. The gliding movements of an elliptical are generally easier on the hips, knees, and back. Many elliptical trainers also offer handles for the arms and upper body to get involved in the workout.

Succumbing to the momentum of an elliptical can be tempting, so in order to keep up your exertion levels, observe proper posture. Standing up straight on an elliptical aligns and supports the body while working your muscles.

Strength Training

Building strength throughout your body can make all the difference in race speed and agility. Strength-training improves performance by increasing an athlete’s power production. This can allow you to run faster, jump higher, and change direction more quickly.

Add strength training to your workout with these stretches and exercises:

  • Push ups
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Pull-ups
  • Tri-Plane lunges
  • Front and side planks
  • Single leg squats
  • Band walks

Swimming

Swimming, a completely non-weight bearing activity, is a low-impact and joint-friendly cross-training option. Running in the water or swimming laps can help those concerned with past injuries, or preventing future injuries, in marathon training.

Swimming helps marathon training by building up endurance, strengthening the body, and stretching with greater range of motion. It’s also great to set up longer or more intense runs with a swim the day before.

Attending Fitness Classes

Many fitness classes can include and build upon some of these cross-training techniques. Fitness classes may include:

Combine your choice of fitness classes with a shorter run for a fun and effective day of training.

Transitioning from Indoor to Outdoor Training

As temperatures rise, return outdoors to get used to the differences in running on a treadmill and running outside. Studies show that running on a treadmill with a 1 percent incline accurately reflects the energy of running outside, but there are still many differences for your body.

Running outside and running on a treadmill work your body differently. Running outside is harder on your hamstrings, quads, and ankles. Focus on these muscles as you stretch and strengthen. It also may take time to adjust to the higher impact of running outdoors, so you can always alternate indoor and outdoor runs to ease back into a routine.

As race day gets closer, running outdoors can allow your body to acclimate to exterior conditions and temperatures that may be present on race day. Keep in mind factors like wind, mud, potholes, traffic, stop lights, new running surfaces, and different clothing. Remember to pay attention to your surroundings and stay safe.

If you have questions about training for a marathon in the coming year, visit the UPMC Sports Medicine online or call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) to speak with an expert.

Sports Medicine

UPMC Sports Medicine is the region’s largest and most experienced program dedicated to treating, training, and inspiring athletes at levels, in all sports. Our physicians, surgeons, physical therapists, athletic trainers, sports nutrition, and sports performance experts are dedicated to helping athletes and active people recover from injuries, and even prevent them. Read More