One of the enduring myths in our little corner of the universe is that cross-training – be it cycling, swimming, rowing or some other cardiovascular activity – will somehow lead to greater improvement in your running. On the surface, it makes sense that doing something other than running at least occasionally or as a second workout will build aerobic and muscular strength (without the pounding) that will help to prevent injuries and eventually pay off in racing.
When I was at Runner’s World, for years we pushed the benefits of cross-training (the cynics on the staff–including me–used to call it cross-dressing) without any real evidence that it actually did anything. The problem is there’s never been any studies that supports the notion that cross-training has any far-reaching, pragmatic results, other than it burns a few extra calories.
The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine supports cross-training because it can provide a “total body tune-up” that you wouldn’t ordinarily get if you concentrate on just one sport.
Maybe so, but if you want to become a better runner, cross-training won’t help much. As the New York Times reported a while back, Hirofumi Tanaka, an exercise physiologist at UT, concluded years ago that the only real factor which matters in athletic performance is specific training in that sport.
Tanaka told the Times that two small studies recently looked at whether cross-training mattered and reached the same inescapable conclusion: Nope.
One of the studies found that runners who added cycling to their training regimen didn’t improve at all as runners. The reason? The primary cycling muscles and nerves are quite different than running and there’s very little cross over.
Cross-training for runners does make sense for injured runners because it allows for some maintenance of the cardiovascular system while sidelined. Cross-training certainly isn’t a substitute for running, but it’s better than nothing. As any injured runner will attest who switches to alternative exercise, you still will have lose some of your aerobic and endurance capacity regardless of how much cross-training you do when you return to running.
The one type of cross-training in which an injured runner will lose the least is deep-water running. That is, doing regular running workouts (long runs, tempo or speed workouts) in a pool without touching the bottom, is the best way to maintain your aerobic base.
Dr. Tanaka did suggest that even though conventional cross-training doesn’t really help, weight training does. In his review of several studies, Tanaka said weight training actually improved endurance in running and cycling – for newbies as well as those who are experienced. A Norwegian study cited by the Times confirmed this. One group of runners did half squats with heavy weights three times a week, while another group of runners just continued to run. The squatters improved their running efficiency and could actually run longer than before. The speculation is that the weight training may strengthen muscle fibers in the legs and delays exhaustion.
Some runners are especially injury-prone and there’s some suggestions that some forms of aerobic cross-training in place of recovery runs can be a decent supplement without placing further stress on your legs.
What can we take away from this? If you want to get better as a runner, run. The time you might spend on your bike or in the gym or pool would be better spent running.
Rats. I’ve been a swimmer my whole life and still get in the pool every day for 1500-2000 meters. But – sadly – all it’s ever done is make me a better swimmer.
That’s good enough for me.
O Leo (The Lion) Manzano finally snagged a shoe contract – and a new coach. Manzano, the ’12 Olympic silver medalist in the 1500 meters from Marble Falls, hasn’t had a shoe contract in more than a year when he tried playing hard ball with Nike and wasn’t renewed. His new deal is with running upstart Hoka – makers of maximum shoes that ultramarathoners seem to like. Manzano signed a contract with Hoka that will carry him through the ’16 Olympics. His new coach is none other than former UT men’s coach John Hayes who never overlapped with Manzano at Texas. Ironically, Hayes used to coach one of Manzano’s toughest rivals–Lopez Lomong–but no longer does. Manzano, who ran 1:47.3 in the 800 meters at the Texas Relays, is scheduled to run the B.A.A. Invitational Road Mile on April 19th and then three days later run the USA 1-Mile Road Champs in Des Moines.
O Marielle Hall had a pretty sweet week. The UT senior won her 5000-meter heat in the Stanford Invitational on Friday night in a massive PR of 15:19.26 which demolished the school record of 15:46 (set by Annie Schweitzer 27 years ago). Hall also vaulted to No. 10 all-time on the collegiate list. For her efforts, Hall was named Big 12 T&F athlete of the week and the US T&F and cross-country coaches athlete of the week. Hall, who is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, is reportedly considering staying in Austin after graduation to work again with Steve Sisson – her old coach- but she may be running herself into a lucrative shoe deal that may necessitate a move.
O BTW: The UT women are ranked third in the national track poll (A&M is ranked first) and the Longhorn men are ranked at number 16, behind Big 12 cohorts Texas Tech and Baylor. The Aggie men are ranked fourth and interestingly, UTSA is ranked 22nd.
O Rogue sent a large contingent to Stanford last weekend and had a terrific meet. In the men’s steeple, Matt Cleaver was third (8:44) and Carl Stones was 11th (8:54). Lennie Waite, who is from Austin but coaches at Rice, won the women’s steeple in a PR of 9:48 with Sarah Pease third in 9:55. Mary Goldkamp won the other heat of the steeple in 10:06, In the 800, Becca Friday was fifth (2:07.30). Friday was also third in the 1500 in 4:21.84. Mia Behm, the former UT runner, won her heat of the 5000 in a PR of 15:52 with Kristen Findlay fourth in another PR of 15:58. In the 10,000, former Longhorn Allie Mendez placed sixth in a best time of 33:12.
O As we first reported a few weeks ago, 60 Minutes has given Shalane Flanagan the star treatment. America’s top woman distance runner and one of the favorites for the Boston Marathon, Flanagan will be featured in a 12-minute segment set to air this Sunday night, following the CBS coverage of The Masters. Flanagan, who grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts as the daughter of two top-flight marathoners, finished fourth last year in her first Boston.
O Congrats to Dan Hopper and Sherrie Morey on their wedding last weekend. The happy couple started their wedding day with a run on the Lady Bird Lake Trail with their wedding party and then got married in Gilbert Tuhabonye’s backyard overlooking the Greenbelt and got the Mint Springs reception barn for their wedding reception afterwards.
O Down in the Alamo City, they are getting ready for fiesta season with one of the oldest races on tap. The SA Road Runners, reports our man Chris Serra, will be throwing its 41st annual Fiesta 10-K next weekend (April 19) at Brooks City Base.
O What I’m listening to this morning: “Movin’ On” by The Greencards. Thank goodness the Greencards have returned to Austin from Nashville. Not that they play here very often, but they”ll swing through here on May 10 at Threadgills and on May 24 at The Roost in Pflugerville.
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