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Winter Crosstraining for Runners

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Shorter days, colder temperatures, and tired bodies… welcome to winter as a runner! Spring, summer, and fall have brought intense training periods, a diligent focus on proper nutrition and a tough racing season.  By the time winter rolls around, most of us are more than ready for a little reprieve from early mornings on the treadmill and long weekend runs on the trails. It seems like everything about the winter season, from the holidays and parties and family vacation time to the frozen roads and crisp, dark night sky, says “slow down! Take some time to let your body and mind rest and recover.” Most coaches and professionals will agree that, to have the best possible training and racing year you can as a runner, you NEED to take a few days (and even weeks) off of running. And that might also mean you take some time completely away from exercise… but let’s face it. We runners tend to be a little Type A about most things, including our fitness. And just because we take a break from running does not mean we necessarily want to sit around idly all winter long – or even for just a few days! Now is the perfect time to try out and incorporate some new workouts and exercises into your training schedule. You might even find that your running actually benefits from continuing your cross training even into the training season!


A lot of runners take to the pool during the winter months, and for good reason. First of all, the weightlessness of swimming feels AWESOME on aching joints and muscles. Yet, swimming certainly is no easy form of cardio. Swimming incorporates the entire body, and so you end up working more muscles than you might while running (i.e. your upper body is probably going to be quite sore, especially when you first start!). And because you obviously can’t breathe underwater, swimming really gives you a decent anaerobic workout – which studies have shown is a major contributor to faster fat loss. Plus, swimming laps at your indoor pool ensures you will not have to battle or prepare for any adverse weather conditions. If you are one of those people who really fears losing your running fitness in the off-season (honestly, no judgement here) then you can also try pool running. It’s basically running while strapped into a flotation device, submerged from the hips down in the water. Once you are ready to dive back into (land) running, consider keeping swimming apart of your workout routine for its muscle recovery benefits. You might even decide to just use a very easy swimming “workout” as a form of active recovery on your rest days.

Indoor Cycling

Strap yourself in the saddle and start pedaling! Like swimming, cycling helps relieve some of the pressure and weight that your body endures while running. You might choose to take a spin class, splurge a little and find a cycle studio to try a studio class, or just grab an empty bike in the cardio section of your gym and push yourself through your own workout (and there are now tons of apps that will guide you through your own workout, but be sure to find a real cycling bike and not a stationary bike if you are looking to get the most calorie bang for your buck). It will likely provide you with a new form of cardiovascular challenge, and like swimming, can really get your heart rate up into an anaerobic state for fat loss.

Fitness Classes

If you have been wanting to try one of those packed fitness classes at your gym, now is the time! Most gyms offer a wide variety of fitness classes, so choose something that appeals to you. Have you been itching to shake what your mama gave ya in a dance class? Try Zumba or Jazzercise! Have you been wanting to start doing more weight lifting and muscle sculpting exercises but do not know how to get started? Pick up a Body Pump, Body Sculpt, or similar style weight lifting class! Want to really dial it back and take up a workout that is more relaxing, centering, and stretches and challenges your body in entirely new ways? Then a yoga or pilates class is perfect!

Circuit Training

Running is great for a lot of reasons, one being that it allows us to zone out for an extended period of time and solve the world’s problems while we are cranking out our steady state cardio. Circuit training and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts are basically the opposite of that… but might be exactly the change you need! Science has proven that shorter, more intense workouts that elevate the heart rate at intervals will end up burning MORE calories than steady state cardio because they push the body into an anaerobic state, which means that your body will take longer to recover and your metabolism will stay elevated for a longer period of time (and thus, your body will have to work harder to get it to come back to its resting state). Your gym might offer a HIIT style class that you can sign up for, or you can make one up for yourself! This might really appeal to you if you have been itching to get creative with your workouts. Plus, you can do anything you want with a circuit training program! If you want to try kettlebells, you can create a kettlebell circuit workout that gets your heart pumping and muscles burning. If you’ve been curious about cardio machines other than the treadmill, you can create a circuit program that toggles back and forth between plyometric exercises (with or without light dumbbells and weights) and the Stairmaster or rowing machine.