Category Archives: Cross Training

cross training for runners articles

Overmatched by Dumbbells

I avoided it for as long as I could, but I still ended up in the weight room. If I’m skeptical about the benefits of weight training for distance runners, at least I’m not alone. There are a lot of articles online about runners and weights, and they range from the skeptical to the hostile. Not to mention weights can be downright dangerous.

But no one was suggesting that weight training would directly improve my running. My body scan indicated I could use less fat and more lean. A little time in the weight room should improve my overall body composition. Five pounds of muscle would be more beneficial than five pounds of fat.

Exercise physiologist Mike Siemens went easy on me, but no one will ever mistake me for Charles Atlas. Old ladies were pumping more iron than I was.

Mike walked me through a strength program that I could continue at home: bench press, lateral pull-down, overhead press, leg press, biceps curl, triceps rope and ball, and leg curl. Interspersed between sets were a series of flexibility exercises utilizing the Burdenko method.


Although Burdenko is best known for aquatic physical therapy, his land exercises are designed to improve coordination, endurance and balance. The catch and pull was tough. Think of it as your standard runner quad stretch, but you grab your foot with your opposite hand while walking and stretching toward the ceiling. It looked like something that would get you hooted off Dancing with the Stars.

I was much better at the pull and kick (pictured) and the crunches. I knew all those sit-ups I did in the military would eventually come in handy.

Mike put the whole sequence on a grid for me, advising me to start it up during my “off-season” (December through February) on my two non-running days per week.

Physical limitations aside, cross-training is contrary to my normal way of thinking, which is, you get better at running by running, better at writing by writing, and off-days are days off. But I’m a middle-of-the-pack runner, not Hal Higdon, so I’ll give it a try.

Next up: Good eats.

The Best Way to Strengthen Your VMOs

My running has been plagued by bad patella tracking and therefore knee pain. Poor patella tracking is typically due to weak Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO) muscles and tight quads. I have tried doing many different VMO exercises but they came up short. I did many leg extensions and leg presses and even though the VMO was worked in these movements I never found it adequate in developing VMO strength. Doing some squats as a test of strength for my physiotherapist revealed a lot. He could see flexibility problems and strength imbalances with my knee buckling as I descended into the squat position.

So what is the answer? The answer is squats. Squats work the quads, buttocks, and VMOs like nothing else (plus they teach the VMO to fire at the right time). To begin, first perform progressions such as step-up and split squat variations. The step-up squat is done by placing the foot of first leg on bench. Stand on bench by extending the hip and knee of the first leg and place the foot of second leg on bench. Step down with second leg by flexing the hip and knee of first leg. Return to original standing position by placing the foot of first leg to floor. Repeat first step with opposite leg alternating first steps between legs. For the split squat you squat down by flexing the knee and hip of front leg until the knee of rear leg is almost in contact with floor. Return to original standing position by extending the hip and knee of the forward leg. Repeat. Continue with opposite leg.

Once you have developed the proper strength from these progressions you may perform full squats. To do these you descend until knees and hips are fully bent. Extend knees and hips until legs are straight. Return and repeat. One of the many reasons full squats are extremely beneficial is their ability to develop the VMO and make them fire properly. Going to the full squat position places the VMO is a fully stretched position under a load. Other great exercises are the rear lunge, side lunge, single leg squat, and the walking lunge.

My physiotherapist has often spoken of his ability to cure knee problems of athletes just by utilizing full squats and their variations. For me, squats were the only thing that has made a difference to my knees. It was painful at first, but I stuck with it and now am reaping the rewards.

Video of the Week: Wildflower Editon

In honor of how I will be spending my weekend I bring you a video about the Wildflower Triathlon. There is running at the end so I think it is fair game for this site. You can’t be a triathlete if you are not a runner.

This will be my first ever Olympic Distance Triathlon and although I’m nervous, I’m very excited. The jeff of the Amazing Hip (along with may others known to the Running Blog Family) will be there doing the Long Course event on Saturday while my event is on Sunday. We are both camping and will grooving on the athletic zeitgeist as we immerse ourselves in all things triathlon. Encouragement will be sought and given in large measure.

The beginning of this video could have been made much shorter—it is all about wetsuits and swimming. The run part pays tribute to the importance of making sure you stay hydrated and take in electrolytes. Watch it and you will see what I mean.

Strength Training for Endurance Running

Resistance training can aid in the prevention of injuries by building strength in muscles, tendons and ligaments. Resistance training can also balance the muscles, thereby leading to improvements in the mechanics of movement.

PERIODIZATION: Use different training programs for different periods of the year and a series of progressions, or steps, in which athletes move from one level of fitness to another. Vern Gambetta (of Gambetta Sports Training Systems) says, “If you can build your strength by putting in some 30-minute days in the weight room three or four days a week during what distance runners might call the off- or building season, then you can maintain your strength with somewhat less work at other times of the year.” Stephen Anderson warns that if you are doing resistance training more than twice a week, “Never work the same muscle groups on consecutive days.” A weight session can easily be added to the end of a shorter run.

TECHNIQUE & FORM: Through proper technique and form, you isolate the target muscles, optimally increase your muscular strength and endurance, and reduce the potential for injury. It is not only the quantity of the resistance that produces results but also the quality with which you move the weight.

Your breath becomes a powerful tool in your strength-training workout routine. The breathing pattern is a full exhalation during the exertion phase of the movement and a full inhalation when you move the resistance in the opposing direction. This deep abdominal breathing will itself energize you.

WORKOUTS: The philosophy of sequence in a strength-building program works a particular set of muscles, then follows with the opposing set of muscles. This ensures muscular balance, symmetry, improved postural alignment, and minimal rest periods. The sequence allows you to realize maximum results in a minimum amount of time. Move from one exercise to the next after one set, then return for the second rotation. This extends each exercise’s endurance component and cuts down on your waiting time.

Repetitions represent an individual movement within an exercise. The lifting and lowering phase of a movement equals one repetition. The number of repetitions usually ranges from 8 to 12. This range allows you to blend power, endurance, strength, and definition. The goal is to find resistance in each exercise that you can move for 8 to 12 repetitions without compromising technique and form. When your form breaks, end the movement at that point and move on to the next exercise. The number of repetitions for an exercise equals a set. Begin a program with weights lighter than what you can lift until you have the sense of how your body responds to the entire program, then increase the weights in small (1-5 lb) increments.

Anaerobic weight training builds larger, thicker, and more explosive muscles through heavier weights and fewer repetitions. Aerobic weight training creates leaner, more toned muscles with great stamina by relying on a higher number of repetitions and the use of lighter weights. Each style of training accentuates a different muscle fiber.

FLEXIBILITY & BALANCE: You cannot divorce strength from flexibility. “A good strength program promotes dynamic flexibility.” The most effective time to stretch is after each run and after each strength session to restore muscles to their resting length. The areas that need particular attention are the quadriceps, hamstrings, shins, calves, and iliotibial band.

Making It All Work: Integrating a Fitness Plan Into Life

running tipsI’m a busy guy. In fact, I’m really, really busy. During the course of a typical day, I’m many things. I’m a full time student, a father of three young boys, a husband to one loving and patient wife, a dedicated employee, a paid on-call firefighter, a moderately consistent writer both here at and at my blog, and—when time permits—I’m an avid fitness junkie. I’m sure I’m not alone in this scenario, everyone is busy—more things to do then there are hours in the day. Literally, if I could eliminate time wasted sleeping, I could actually get everything done, maybe.

With this busy life, I have been forced to come up with some creative ways to squeeze runs, swims, bike rides, or other fitness activities into my over all schedule. So, I thought I share some of my best tips with you, and hopefully, you can share some of your best tips with me. I’m always looking for ways to make things easier.

Top Fitness Tips

  1. Get up early. I mean really early. I’m up between 4:30 and 4:45 am most days so I can be at the gym or on a run by 5:00. This allows me to get a workout in, on my time, with little or no impact to my family or job. Plus, it’s done. I don’t have to worry about finding time to get it in for the rest of the day. Also, you will find by making this kind of sacrifice and showing your family you care about their time, the times you can’t make it work are much easier to deal with.
  2. Block out time. In addition to my morning workouts, some days I workout at lunch during work. I make this possible by consistently blocking out time on my calendar for my workout. Because of this I get scheduled for lunchtime meetings far less often and more often than not I’m actually able to go and workout. The benefit of this time slot is that I get to workout with zero impact to my family.
  3. Plan ahead. I make every effort to plan my week ahead of time. This allows me to let everyone in my life know what my plans are and plan around other activities as necessary. The old quote goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” I think this is really true, without a plan things will be more difficult and your results less dramatic.
  4. Post gym schedules near-by. I have copies of the group fitness schedule for the gym I go to at lunch at my desk on my cube wall. Also, at home, I have the group fitness schedule up on the fridge. How does this help, you ask? Well, if I find myself with an open hour, either at work or at home, I can easily look at the schedule and see if there is anything for me to do. Also, the schedules help me to plan ahead.
  5. Be open and honest. I’ve found that this has really helped in many ways. I have tried to be open and honest with my wife and my boss about how important my workouts are to me. This helps make things easier in the difficult times. Because they know it is a priority to me and I have made efforts to keep the impact on them low (see #1), they are more willing to be patient and work with me.
  6. Be flexible and know when to quit. Even with planning ahead and getting up early, and being open and honest, sometimes my plan just doesn’t work. When this happens I try to stay flexible and make changes where I can. Also, when flexibility doesn’t work, I know when I’m beat and I don’t get upset about it. Skipping a day or two (or even four like last week) isn’t the end of the world and I just do what I can.
  7. Make it worthwhile. I try to make sure that if I take the time to fit a workout into my day, I make it count. I give all I have at every opportunity and try to get as much as possible out of each workout. Not focusing or giving a second rate effort is wasted time and, if you’re as busy as I am, there’s no time to waste.
  8. Include the family. This past summer, I organized a weekly run with some friends I work with. The nature of this run made it difficult to schedule without some family impact—it had to be in the early evening. To minimize the negative impact of this, I brought one of my sons with me on the run in a jogging stroller. He loved it, my wife loved it, and I got a fun group run in every week!
  9. In the end, being busy doesn’t have to stop you from achieving your fitness goals. In fact, being busy can help you focus your attention on things that really matter and force you to make sure you are doing the fight thing at the right time. The most important part is finding the right balance between life, fitness, and family. Maintaining this balance will keep everyone happy – you included!

    Let me know if you have other tips or tricks for your exercise regimen. I’d love to hear from you!

Swimming and Running: The Perfect Combination?

I started swimming competitively when I was about 11 or 12 years old. Since then swimming has at different times drifted in and out of my workout regimen. I have always felt that swimming was a good way to stay fit, but it wasn’t until I started running and training for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in 2006 that I really recognized the true value of integrating swimming into an overall fitness plan—specifically a fitness plan including running loads of miles.

Swimming and running compliment each other in so many ways it really should have been clear to me earlier on that paring the two was going to be very beneficial. Lets look at some of the ways that swimming and running work together to provide maximum results.

Impact: Let’s face it, running is a high impact activity. Every step has an impact on the whole body and this can, over time, take its toll. Adding swimming to your fitness plan allows for an intense cardio workout without the impact. Having these low impact workouts will provide more opportunity for rest which will allow you to not only run better on your run days, but run longer and more injury free over all.

Upper Body vs. Lower Body: I don’t think anyone would ever claim that running is a strenuous upper body workout. Mainly, running works your trunk and lower body, leaving the upper body out of the mix. Swimming brings the upper body back in to focus and allows you to create a more balanced physique. In addition to a great upper body workout, swimming provides a solid lower body workout (think of kicking for laps and laps around your pool), again improving your running by providing more power and endurance.

Lean vs. Bulk: Distance runners and swimmers have a remarkably similar body structure. Neither are looking for bulk. Bulk and excess muscle will slow down a runner and sink a swimmer. What both sports are looking for is strong, lean, flexible muscle and low body fat. These are the things that make fast runners (distance runners at least, I think sprinters are a little different) and highly competitive swimmers. Compare athletes like Paul Tergat (running) and Michael Phelps (swimming) – very similar body structure. The activities of both swimming and running promote this body type – they both burn huge amounts of fat, and build strength while reducing bulk.

Resistance: We all know that resistance training is good, right? Adding a little lifting to our workouts adds muscle, makes us stronger, and thus a better runner. Now think of being able to do resistance training for an hour or more straight without changing weights or messing with machines and working every muscle in your body. That is what swimming provides, consistent resistance training without the headache of a weight room. Keep in mind, weight training is good too, but swimming will help.

Bottom-line, swimming and running just work well together. They complement each other very nicely and each helps the other. For me, this is the best combination possible.

What do you think? Do I have you itching to get in the pool? If you want some help putting together a beginning swimming workout, let me know. I’d be glad to help. As I said, I have many years of swimming experience and would be more than happy to help you get started. Leave a comment here and I’ll get back to you!

Dragon Boating for Runners (Yes, I am serious)

So you are 20 plus years older and 40 pounds heavier (it’s the weight training—I swear!) than your peak running days. Yet the competitive juices still flow as freely as they did when you were in your prime. Does this sound familiar? Maybe, maybe not, but it is the situation I currently find myself in.

What can you do when competitive running is no longer appealing, yet you still train diligently and have the urge to compete?

The solution is to find another sport. This is how I became involved with dragon boat racing.

Fitzblog - Hong Kong - Dragon boat racing.jpgDragon boating? Yes, dragon boating. Imagine a boat with 10 rows of two paddlers, a drummer in the front for pacing, and a steersperson in the back—that is a dragon boat. The races are run over a course of approximately 400 to 500 meters, so that an average boat will take about two and a half minutes to complete a race.

So what are the compelling reasons to participate in something that appears totally unrelated to running?

  1. It is a competition, and I get the same anxiousness and feelings that accompanied me before any running race.
  2. It motivates me in my running. I am committed to being fit for my team, so I am consistent in my workouts and even add speed and stamina training to my running program, such as stairs and intervals.
  3. Rowing events are all about cardiovascular fitness and power to weight ratios, which naturally favor runners. In my opinion, a dragon boat race feels very similar to doing an 800m track race, with the same lactic acid build up and fatigue.
  4. I get a good aerobic and upper body work out from dragon boat practices which are done once or twice per week for an hour each session.
  5. I enjoy the camaraderie of being on a team, and my experience of racing on land does have some crossover to dragon boating as far as strategy is concerned.
  6. It is completely different from running.

So there you have it, a sport where you can show off your running fitness without having to run. An activity that will give you incentive to fire up your running workouts with some intensity, and also give your body some balance with upper body training. Plus, an outlet for your desire to compete without having to be the sleek, svelte younger person you once were.

So if there are any other runners out there who have had the same revelation as I have regarding dragon boat racing as cross training for running, please feel free to share your thoughts and observations with our readers.

Bikers Versus Runners

It’s not about the bike.

I’m not knocking the cyclists. Really, I’m not. But if you are a cyclist? Don’t read this.

I never got cycling. Tour de France was interesting and Lance is an incredible athlete, but the bikes never thrilled me. When I think about the bike races, all I can think is “Yeah, but isn’t that because you bought a good bike?”

When it comes right down to it, running is all about the athlete. Yes, good shoes help, but they don’t make or break the runner unless the shoes are terrible and actually injuring the runner. When the runner is out on the road, it just him (her). Nothing else. No machine to manipulate that is making or breaking the race for them. It’s the true feeling of athleticism.

The cyclist needs the bike, by definition. The bike becomes an extension of the cyclist. As such, the performance of the cyclist depends on the performance of the bike. Did you buy an expensive lightweight bike? Well, then your performance is better. Somehow, that just goes against the nature of a sport. If you can buy a better machine, then your athletic performance has a strong tie to your wallet. It’s just not right.

I know, I know, there are expensive running toys like GPS and fancy socks, but let’s be honest about that argument. GPS and nice socks are a far, far cry from the improvement seen with a graphite composite bike that weighs six ounces.


Do you have to be a good athlete to win a bike race? You better believe it. You have to be a good athlete just to compete. Can you be lacking in athletic ability and make up for it with better equipment? I think yes. Try to tell me that cyclists out there haven’t seen improvement in their times with better bikes. Try to tell me that cyclists with times they weren’t happy with, didn’t look at a newer, lighter, better-geared bike for making some headway towards their goals. Tell me if you ever heard of a runner say “If I only had those shoes, I’d beat my PR.”

So when I see an athlete like Lance winning a bike race, I think “Yea for Lance!,” but deep in my heart I know that half of it is the bike. Now Lance wants to run a marathon. Will his time be respectable? You damn well better believe it. I mean, the guy has a heart the size of cantaloupe. But will he ever win? Even in his age group? Nope. I don’t think he knows how to win like that.

Get Your Weight Training On!

phsyiologically speakingRunners are not the most muscle bound of athletes, but we do need our fair share to keep us bounding over hill and dale, and in good overall health. Unfortunately, as we age we tend to lose what meager muscle we may have.502px-TwoDumbbells.JPG

Consider the following:

  • After middle age, men typically lose five pounds of muscle per decade;
  • Through menopause, women tend to lose 6.5 pounds of muscle mass, and 10 pounds per decade after that.

This loss of muscle mass is not good for running performance or general health since what is lost in lean mass tends to result in a higher percentage of body fat.

Thankfully, there is something that can help to reverse this alarming trend. It is a substance produced in our bodies called, growth hormone (GH).

Good News About GH

  • Produced by the pituitary gland in the brain (mostly one hour after deep sleep);
  • Increases rate of protein synthesis (muscle building)
  • Increases mobilization and use of fat as a source of energy (good for aerobic metabolism and keeping body fat low)
  • Conserves carbohydrates as an energy source (reduces “bonking”);
  • Enhances the storage of glycogen for energy (reduces “bonking” too).

GH is one of the ultimate athletic hormones. It makes muscles, burns fat and keeps your energy systems primed. It is however, less abundant as we age.

Not-So-Good News About GH

  • By age 60 people have 80 percent less GH in their systems than when they were 20 years old;
  • GH production declines approximately 24 percent per decade;
  • At age 20 we produce approximately 500 micrograms/day of GH; at age 40 it is 200 micrograms/day; and at age 80 it is 25 micrograms/day.

It is no coincidence that the decline in muscle mass as we age correlates with the decline in GH as we age.

All Is Not Lost
Both running and weight training can increase GH production, but weight training shows the greatest effect. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that doing six sets of 10 squats at maximum intensity raised the peak level of GH from 0.1 microgram/liter of blood to 1.0 microgram/liter, a ten-fold increase.

For running, the recommendation is to do 10 minutes of running above lactate threshold for the best GH release. This means a high intensity workout that would most likely involve interval training, stairs or hills.

For weight training, three sets of five-to-eight repetitions of maximal effort seem best. The recommended exercises are: dead lifts, squats and bench presses.

By adding these elements to your overall training program, you can help maintain your muscle mass, stay lean and promote a metabolism that is geared for athletic activities and generalized wellness. All in all, a perfect fit for those of us who like to run and want to keep running for a long time to come.