The Insider’s Guide to Healthy Hawaii: Cross-Training for Runners and Walkers

The repetitive motion of running and walking can cause injuries over time. Cross-training can help keep injuries at bay.

woman doing plank in the grass

It’s no secret—runners love to run. Got an extra 15 minutes? To a runner, that’s enough time to lace up and grab a mile or more. And while running or walking are both great exercises to keep your cardiovascular system strong, overtraining may lead to injury, and the repetitive motion only targets certain groups of muscles, leading to imbalances.

Thankfully, there’s an easy solution to combat most of the negative side-effects of repetitive motion: cross-training. Switching it up a few times a week can improve your overall health and focuses on areas your regular running or even walking tend to neglect. Whether you’re a seasoned runner, a beginner trying to get started or an avid walker, cross-training can keep your body balanced and reduce your risk of injury.

Why should you cross-train?

Michael Garrison, PhD in Kinesiology from the University of Arkansas, is a long-time running coach and founder of Hawaii Running Lab. As a distance runner himself, Dr. Garrison understands why runners might skip a supplemental workout. “Every time we go out we feel great because we're going for a run,” says Garrison. “But meanwhile we're digging ourselves into a hole because our glutes are getting weaker and weaker.”

Running works certain muscle groups more than others, and as Garrison points out, that may lead to weakness in areas like glutes and hamstrings. Put simply, with running, “your weaknesses get really weak and your strengths get really strong,” according to Garrison. In addition to weaknesses, runners often lack flexibility in the pelvis and hip joints. In contrast, their quadriceps and calves are very strong. Cross-training is a way to even out the inequities.

Additionally, cross-training in the form of muscle-strengthening exercises are recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans for adults. In addition to the weekly 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise (like briskly walking), or a weekly 75 minutes to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (like running), the guidelines suggest adults do muscle-strengthening exercises on all major muscle groups of at least moderate-intensity at least twice a week. Strength-training is full of health benefits that anyone, including runners, will enjoy. Some benefits of strength-training are increased bone, muscle and connective tissue strength, lowered risk of injuries and falls, and increased muscle mass.

Workouts that work

One of the great benefits to running and walking is that it’s free. You don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment, just a good pair of kicks and the great outdoors. To cross-train, you don’t necessarily need a gym either. One of Garrison’s favorite cross-training strength workouts is a circuit workout that doesn’t require any equipment. This is a total-body workout that can be done two to three times a week. Try each exercise for 30 seconds with 15-20 seconds of rest between exercises, then repeat the list for a full circuit:

  • Toe-up hops               
  • Frontal and side leg swings
  • Windshield wipers
  • Pushups
  • Squats            
  • Fire hydrants                                                 
  • Lunges                                                            
  • Planks 
  • Hip Thrust or glute bridge                                         
  • Donkey kicks
  • Supermans                                                                 
  • Side leg raises                                    
  • Step-ups—quickly

If you do have gym access, Garrison recommends spending time on the stair climber or elliptical trainer. “They both do a great job at working with the hips. There's also a lot of foot action involved,” he says.

Another great exercise for runners is yoga. Yoga promotes improved balance and flexibility, and can stretch and strengthen your whole body.  

As with all new exercise regimes, be sure to consult with your doctor to make sure you are physically ready to start a new workout. You may also want to consult with a certified fitness professional to go over form and technique to maximize your physical benefits, especially with strength-training. Also remember to stay hydrated, especially when exercising outdoors during the heat of the day.

Running and walking are great forms of exercise, but they don’t work your whole body. Trying a new cross-training regime will keep you fit and moving for years to come.

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