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Cross-training has multiple benefits for runners

| Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, 9:12 p.m.

Spring is almost upon us, and many will take to the outdoors to renew fitness routines. In a recent study, UPMC researchers found that runners who cross-train demonstrate fewer abnormal movements during common tasks and have a lesser body mass index (BMI). The results of the study, led by UPMC physical therapist Brittany Lynch, were presented last week at the American Physical Therapy Association Combined Sections meeting. We asked Lynch, senior physical therapist at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, how cross-training benefits runners.

Can you define cross-training?

Cross-training is when an athlete routinely practices multiple forms of exercise. There are two types of cross-training — aerobic and strength. Aerobic training involves cardiovascular activities including swimming, biking and using the elliptical. Strength training uses weights or body weight to improve strength and/or endurance and is practiced with exercises such as bicep curls, lunges and squats.

What are some of the benefits of cross-training?

From a cardiovascular standpoint, cross-trainers get the same benefit of exercise without as much impact on their lower bodies. In some cases, runners put excess strain on their body by running an unsafe number of miles per week. Cross-trainers are still able to build endurance and stamina but without excessive loads placed on their lower extremities.

What did your recent study find?

In my recent study, I've found cross-training is associated with lesser body mass index (a ratio of weight to height) and better movement control. I also discovered most runners don't cross-train. The ideal training method is to balance running with other cardio exercises throughout the week. Low-impact cardio workouts allow runners to continue training for hours at a time without putting an excessive impact on their body. For any type of training, always remember your body needs adequate rest. Your muscles need endurance, however they also need strength to propel you forward. Strength training is a healthy addition to a weekly workout routine. Many runners I've worked with didn't realize the positive effects of strength training until they tried it. Runners feel stronger during running and training when they regularly practice weight training.

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