Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cross-Training….Do I HAVE to?

I am NOT a gym rat. On a beautiful day, the last place you should look for me is anywhere with four walls and a roof. Air conditioning is for sissies, dumb bells are for meaty ex-football players and treadmills are reserved for the truly insane. I’ll stick to the trail, the sunshine and the suffocating humidity of summertime in RVA. Because I’m not a gym rat, that’s why.

Ok, so that’s how I used to feel about going to the gym and about Cross-training in general. Until last summer, and the moment of truth: the first bikini try-on of the season. I dug my triangle top and itty-bitty bottoms out of the drawer and shimmied into my summertime uniform, hoping for the best. I was greeted by my old friends, flappy arms and poky belly. What the heck, man?

At the time, I was averaging almost 40 miles a week out on the trail and was in the best cardiovascular shape of my life. So why did I still feel squishy, jiggly and not at ALL ready to strut my stuff at the pool? Why? Mainly, I flat-out refused to cross-train or strength-train, leaving my legs in great shape from all that running, but the rest of my body pretty neglected and flabby. Why did I consistently skip the cross-training? Mostly because it’s not that fun and partly because I’m ever–so-slightly addicted to running. If I’ve got an hour to spare and the weather is even remotely OK, you can bet I’m not going to spend that hour pumping iron or dancing in some dang Zumba class. You can find me in the woods. For sure.

 Unfortunately, as I’ve learned, running and only running doesn’t get you any closer to those Halle Berry arms you’ve always dreamed of. Not only that, throwing in a little cross-training can really spice up your routine, helping to prevent burnout and running-related injuries while strengthening muscles all over. Not to mention, (gasp!) it is pretty fun. Sometimes. Here are some of my favorite cross-training workouts; perfect for folks who would really rather be running, but who also enjoy looking fierce in a strappy tank top.

Cycling. Cycling is probably my favorite non-running workout. It’s a great low-impact choice for those days when you want to blast some calories but need a day off from pounding the pavement. Grab your mountain bike and head to the beginner-friendly trails at Pocahontas State Park or go for a neighborhood ride with the kiddos. Your bottom will probably not love that bike saddle, but your legs will thank you and your brain will love the change of pace and scenery.

Weight-lifting. Building muscles and toning your body all-over just makes you feel strong. Stronger as a runner and as a human. Whether you use your own body weight, free weights or circuit-training gym equipment, tossing a couple of these workouts into your weekly routine can make you a leaner, fitter athlete. Strengthening your leg muscles can make you less prone to annoying running injuries, and strengthening your upper body will make you look buff. So that’s a win-win.

Yoga. I love getting in a nice Yoga workout the day before a long run. It really gets the kinks out while promoting flexibility and strengthening those upper-body muscles that we runners tend to neglect. In our world of constant stimulation and multitasking, it’s a gift to be able to unplug for an hour to be calm and quiet, focused on your breath and on what’s going on in your body. That calmness usually stays with me for the whole day after a good Yoga session; plus, I typically have a more successful long run the next day if I take care of that Zen stuff ahead of time.

Swimming. For me, swimming is the toughest of all cross-training options. If I’m ever feeling like I’m in pretty awesome shape, I’ll hit the pool for a few laps and a large slice of humble pie. Usually within about 10 minutes, I’m hanging over the side of the pool, trying to catch my breath and even a sliver of my pride. Along with being one of the only major cardiovascular workouts that targets both the arms and legs, swimming is great for practicing breath control and recovering the day after your long run.

Group Exercise Classes. I enjoy my solo hours out on the trail, but a high-energy group-exercise class can be pretty sweet too. It’s nice to have someone else do all the work-out planning; all you have to do is show up and be ready to work hard and follow directions. Even I can do that. During each class, I almost always find a new exercise that I love and can incorporate into my solo workouts at home or at the gym.

Cross-training will probably always be a challenge for me; I sometimes have to talk myself into going to Cycle class or picking up those free-weights. A few times, I’ve been driving to the gym to get in some reps in the weight-room, only to veer off and end up at the park because the trails were calling my name. Yeah, probably just a mild running addiction. But, we’re all a work in progress, so here’s to trying to focus on cross-training at least a little; it is bathing suit-season, after all.