Cross-Training: Is it an effective alternative for runners?
Dr Larry W. McDaniel and Clarice Bauer discuss "Cross-Training" as a mode of conditioning and rehabilitation for runners.
McDaniel and Bauer ask the following questions:
Many athletes and trainers have wondered if there is a significant difference when training for competition, between running and cross-training. If the athlete or trainer implements cross-training, will the athlete regress, maintain, or improve from their present level of fitness? If the coach or trainer alter methods of training for their runners and utilize cross-training as a conditioning program, such as swimming or biking, will runners lose speed or endurance? If athletes were to use cross-training as part of their weekly routine, would this modality increase or decrease injuries? Many athletes and coaches consider these questions.
Johannes (2006) found when recovering from leg stress fractures that pool workouts maintained levels of fitness. Following an injury, Johannes performed several weeks of pool workouts to prepare for running at or about the same level of conditioning before the injury. The two runners stated that taking the workouts to the pool was beneficial. Paula Radcliffe, a world record holder, recommends swimming and cross-training to prevent the athlete from overtraining and reducing training injuries (Little 2007).
Eyestone (2008) stated that cross-training is not the same as running. However, Eyestone found that if the athlete performs cross-training at high levels of intensity for one hour, the same aerobic benefits will be obtained as running for 5 miles. Bloom (2003), the author of "Head for the Pool", stated that pool workouts might be beneficial for runners with injuries such as plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and shin splints. Bloom (2003) mentioned that pool workouts are perfect for the colder seasons since training at high levels of intensity is difficult to achieve in ice, snow, or rain. Dudney (2006) stated that cross-training might be beneficial to older runners by reducing the wear and tear on their joints and connective tissues. These articles dealt with personal experiences and how cross-training has helped individuals. However, it is also important to discuss how these experiences affected them, why they affected them, and if cross-training can benefit others in the same way.
Rodriquez (2000), found that in trained swimmers VO2 peak values have been reported to be 6-7% lower than runners and approximately the same in cycling. But the significant finding in this study was that peak oxygen uptake and pulmonary ventilation after maximal free-swimming unimpeded was not significantly different from a V02 peak and VE peak during running or cycling when compared to trained swimmers. These findings were again tested in "Maximal Physiological Responses to Shallow and Deep Water Running". Those training in this environment found that deep water running can be used as a replacement for running while an individual is recovering from an injury. The above article stated that there was a difference in VO2max, but the difference is less than 3.05, which is insignificant. In "Physiological Effects of Deep Water Running" following a land-based training program, the authors found that VO2 max dropped after they ended the deep-water training program.
The articles above produced several positive benefits related to cross-training. The information in these articles stated that cross-training as a mode for conditioning athletes has maintained levels of cardiovascular fitness and expedited the return to competition following an athletic injury. Cross-training benefits fitness levels in runners since many running injuries are a result of overuse and the high impact that is produced from training on hard surfaces. Cross-training benefits allow the athlete to maintain levels of fitness and reduce the stress on joints and soft tissue. Research has demonstrated that when comparing pool and running workouts, there is no significant difference in VO2 max between running, swimming, and biking. Trainers have found that most runners do not decrease in fitness while suffering from an injury if they participate in aerobic and anaerobic cross-training workouts.
In conclusion, this study found that cross-training is a beneficial training modality for runners. Cross-training may assist runners in the process of maintaining current levels of fitness and health without losing their competitive edge. If a runner were to cross-train once a week, for approximately an hour, they might be able to prevent or reduce the occurrence of overuse injuries. Most athletes will use cross-training to either recover from or reduce the incidence of injuries during their careers. McDaniel and Bauer found that cross-training may have similar physiological effects on the body as running. By incorporating cross-training programs into their running schedule, most athletes may be able to maintain their present level of fitness when reducing or discontinue running. Cross-training, when performed as a result of an injury, assists in the processes related to rehabilitation and may prepare the athlete for re-entry into a competition.
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About the Authors
Dr Larry McDaniel is an associate professor and advisor for the Exercise Science program at Dakota State University, Madison SD USA. He is a former All-American in football and Hall of Fame athlete & coach. Clarice Bauer is a student of Exercise Science at Dakota State University, Madison, SD USA.