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Running and "All the things": What is Cross Training, Strength Training, and Mobility for Runners?

Running is supposed to be easy, right?

Ok, ok you're shaking your head "No, Marie! It's anything but easy!"

Stick with me a moment.

Running IS supposed to be easy.

And by that I mean, intuitive.

You just get up and GO!

You don't have to keep your eye on the ball. You don't have to aim at a target.

You just run.

See? Easy!

"But Marie! If running is so easy, then why is it sooo complicated? Because all the running gurus out there say you need all these different types of runs (long runs, tempo runs, recovery runs…), and you need to strength train, and don't forget mobility work! And Becky down the road says yoga is good for runners. But I actually really like biking…"

I hear you.

Loud and clear.

And frankly, looking at that list, I'm getting overwhelmed! That's a lot of "stuff". And that's what it can become: just "stuff" on your to-do list. That's when you miss out on the joy of running, and movement, and exercise.

So a question for you.

Do you know WHY you need all that "stuff"?

Do you know what that "stuff" looks like?

Because if you're missing those important pieces of the puzzle, "all the things" will always be overwhelming. And you'll always feel behind.

So let's dive into "all the things" and see if we can clear them up. I want you to finish this blog with clarity on WHY you need strength training, cross training, and mobility and all the different ways that can look.

You ready?



Let's start with strength training.

Notice I didn't say cross training….

Strength training can be A FORM OF cross training. Here me out…

The purpose of strength training is obvious, right?

To get stronger.

To directly target muscle groups that are weaker on one side compared to other.

To equal out strength imbalances (we all have them).

And when we strength train, we move differently than running, right? Simply said, strength training is NOT running. It's as simple as that.

So next part, what does strength training look like?

Typically we think of lifting weights, such as squatting, deadlifting, bench, rows. But body weight exercises can be a form of strength training too, including pushups, air squats, step ups or deficit step downs, planks. These types of body weight exercises are commonly found in popular HIIT workouts (although there's a sneaky aerobic component to that type of workout…but that's another topic for another day).


Body weight exercises can also be performed during yoga, specifically in a type of yoga called power yoga.


But do you see how strength training has easily evolved into at least 3 different versions? Traditional weight lifting, body weight exercises, and various types of yoga!

I'm describing all of these to say, "pick your form of strength training."


Pick what works best for you and more importantly, what you enjoy doing! You might love power yoga more than going to the gym and wrestling with a barbell. That's fine! When it's strength training day on your calendar, pick the option that's best for you. However, it's not an excuse to turn a blind eye to when yoga or body weight exercises alone just aren't enough. It's important to at least be aware of different options of strength training so in case weaknesses pop up or injury occurs, you have the knowledge, power, and resources to help figure out what might be missing from your routine.





Let's move onto cross training.

This is gray area that throws a lot of people off. Well, not you anymore! Allow me to challenge your idea of cross training.

Previously before becoming a PT, I associated cross training with strictly weight lifting and core work. Now I know better. Now I know that cross training is ANY OTHER MOVEMENT that is NOT running.

Yea. It really is that simple.

Can you see now how strength training is a FORM OF cross training? Strength training is another form of movement (that may even resemble running depending on the exercise), but it's just NOT running!

"So, Marie, does this make yoga cross training? And is biking cross training too now?"

Yup. And swimming. Skiing, basketball, volleyball…And playing with your kids, walking the dog, gardening…

"Hold up. But I thought you said yoga could be strength training??"

It can be.

And that's why cross training can get tricky in the beginning. Think of it this way: a tool can be used for more than just it's one intended use.


Using the yoga example…

There are very gentle, stretching, forms of yoga (like a restorative yoga flow) and then there are very challenging and strength-building forms of yoga (power yoga which uses ashtanga and vinyasa flows). It's ALL still yoga, but it's used with different intentions.

Same with cross training.


Cross training days don't have to be full out, high intensity, aerobic sessions (read: long, hilly bike ride). Cross training days can be light exercise days (long easy walk, gentle yoga). Most importantly, cross training should be you moving differently compared to running by participating in an activity you enjoy.

Still a little confusing?


In the winter, I still run, but my mileage and intensity is lower than in the spring, summer, fall. I tend to focus more heavily on cross training in the winter time by skiing. I'll admit, there are multiple benefits I reap from skiing.

  1. I move differently skiing than I do running (check! Meets the cross training requirement.)

  2. I use my legs a lot while skiing and I build up more leg strength (kinda check: not really strength training, but I do get stronger!)

  3. I really enjoy it! And it targets different muscle imbalances that running just doesn't address and it still gets my heart rate up. (check! For cross training and for aerobic conditioning!)



The point of this section: shades of gray in cross training are ok once you understand the WHY's, once you understand the method behind madness.


I think as runners, we try to fit "all the things" in specific boxes but by doing so, we end up adding more things to our list that "have to do" instead of looking at what we love to do, and seeing how those activities can enhance our running. We try to fit movement into specific boxes, when in reality, good movement is fluid

Still with me, fit fam? Good! We've got one more stop.

What is mobility work and what does that look like for runners?

Oh, I know you went there.

I know you shouted "foam rolling!"

...

...

Can I challenge that, too?

I'm NOT hating on foam rolling. I own one; I also own a mobility stick! (I like my mobility stick more, simply personal preference.)

We think of mobility as feeling "lose", nimble", or “flexible”.

That’s partly true.

But flexibility doesn’t always mean good mobility.


Mobility consists of full range of motion within the actual joint. But for any joint to move well, the joints above and below also need to move well.

Examples of this? Can you bend down and touch your toes without bending your knees? For some people, this is impossible! Other people are palming the floor right now.

Why this difference in mobility?

Because mobility is more than just flexibility, or more accurately, muscle length. To touch the floor like that, joints like your hips and lower back (and a little bit of your ankles) need to have the motion to accomplish that task. But it's much more than that.

Mobility also requires appropriate muscle activation.

For this particular example, we need the muscles surrounding our hips and the muscles in our core to activate and establish trust between our hips and low back. When that trust is established with specific exercises, I've had patients in the clinic be able to touch the floor before they walk out the door-no stretching performed!

How?

Because after re-teaching our body and establishing trust through exercises, our bodies understand how and when to use those that available motion in our joints and how to use the activated muscles. That’s when amazing things happen.

Like touching your toes.

Or squatting down to pick up your kids.

Or running your fastest time mile yet.

Foam rolling alone can't get you these results.

That's why runners need a mobility program that's designed for them.


Soft tissue work like foam rolling can help with tissue recovery, decreases soreness, and it can feel good! But a great mobility program for runners includes 3 parts: passive mobility, active mobility, and movement or activation mobility. These are the corner stone to my Ultimate Mobility for Runners: Hip Edition.

Quickly defined:

  • Passive mobility can be soft tissue work like foam rolling and passive stretching.


  • Active mobility are exercises where you are actively moving the affected joint through it’s appropriate range of motion, usually while weight bearing through the joint in some way.


  • Movement mobility are exercises that directly activate the muscles surrounding the affected joint, carrying the joint through its range of motion, asking surrounding "team-member” muscles to also join in (like your core). These exercises help reprogram your body to learn how to work again as one healthy unit.

Looking for some examples of this? I highly recommend checking out my hip mobility guide on my Instagram account. I have an IGTV episode where I talk more about this, and at the end, I walk you through a mini hip mobility program for runners so you can get a feel for what this looks like and feels like. Feeling inspired and want even more? Then check out my Ultimate Mobility for Runners: Hip Edition right here on this website. I want you to have the tools and resources so you can run your best!




So running fit fam, did you finish this blog with clarity on WHY you need strength training, cross training, and mobility and all the different ways that can look?

Questions? Drop them in the comments below and I'll be sure to answer them.

As always, run strong.

Marie Whitt // @dr.whitt.fit

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