Tag Archives: Cross-training

A week of cross-training

My plan: A week of cross-training to allow my hip, which has moved from stubbornly sore to possibly injured, time to heal. I hope to swim, bike and row my way through a running-less week, losing none of my running fitness in the process.

Sound like I’m dreaming? Hey, it worked for Alberto Salazar!

The running legend qualified for the Olympic team in the 10,000m in 1980 after taking a two-month hiatus from running, relying on swimming as his primary activity following an IT band injury.

This, according to a great spread about cross-training in this month’s Running Times. The feature also includes some helpful tips for rowing, which I’ve been trying to incorporate based on suggestions from the FIRST training program.If you’re using an “erg,” as the rowing machines at the gym are apparently called, you may want to read the whole RT story.

The takeaway: According to former college rower Kelly Johnson, who’s quoted in the story, proper technique involves making sure you’re isolating your three major rowing muscle groups, and engaging them in the proper order: your leg muscles first, then your back, then your arms. Also, she says most people find a stroke rate of 18 to 26 comfortable.

I also might give cycling another try. I was pretty hard-core about cycling when I first started my hip-injury recovery, going on enough long rides to purchase two pairs of hideous padded bike shorts. Almost as soon as I bought them, biking became painful, too, and if I’m gonna hurt myself, I’m gonna hurt myself doing something worth the pain — i.e., running. But writing a story for Kickstand magazine, a cool mag about cruiser bikes that debuted this month, may have inspired me to give low-key, easy cycling a try.

My story was about Robin Little, owner of Bikes and Bites, a cruiser-bike rental company, who says: “We’re not doing this as an ‘Oh my God, how are we going to make a living’ venture,” Little said. “We just want to see how a two-wheel cruiser bike can contribute to the betterment of our city. When you’re motivated by passion and fun, it’s always easier to wake up in morning, no?”

And, of course, swimming. Here’s what I’m hoping the next several days look like:

Today: Swim 3,000 yards, lift (only exercises from my old physical-therapy routine for legs)

Friday: Swim 3,000 yards

Saturday: Lift, swim 4,500 yards (last long-ish swim before the Bay Bridge Swim!)

Sunday: See if Steve will take a long bike ride with me, or row 30 minutes

Monday: Swim 3,000 yards

Tuesday: Try running again. If my hip still feels as bad as it does now, it’s time to see the doctor again.


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More cross-training for runners: BOSU for ITB syndrome, swimming

I gave the BOSU balance trainer a respectful and terrified shout-out earlier BOSUthis week, when I learned dozens of new ways it could kick my butt at the gym.

I am now convinced it not only has the ability to kick my butt, but possibly to find world peace. This thing is kind of magical.

My runner-friend Amy suggested her own BOSU routine, suggested to her during physical therapy for ITB syndrome. In addition to sharing a name, she and I share this pain-in-the-butt (or, more appropriately, hip) condition that never, ever seems to go away. Here’s how Amy describes her routine:

First, I do all my exercises with BOSU flat side up, blue side on the floor. Here’s the “runner’s routine” my PT recommended:

-Squats with 10-lb med ball: 3 sets of 8
-1-leg raises in following positions: 3 sets of 15 seconds/each
(all of these require you to balance on one leg in the middle of the ball while doing something else with other leg)
-leg bent 90 degrees at knee (shin parallel to ground)
-leg bent 90 degree at hip (quad parallel to ground)
-leg extended 45 degrees out from side of body
-leg extended back 45 degrees/body forward (think swan)
(Once you get good at all these, close your eyes, which makes it harder to balance and puts more strain on your ITBs)

I thought these would be along the lines of my dreaded leg lifts, which provide an almost-instant sense of stability in my hip muscles, but don’t do much in the way of a traditional workout. Kids, something about these balancing exercises had me sweating like … well, they had me sweating a whole lot. Today, my glutes want to kick my butt (they find they’re not so well positioned to do so, luckily).

Also rocking my cross-training workout world yesterday: a new swim workout modified from this page. My 3,200-yard workout:

300 warmup

3X300 free with pull buoy. Take six hard strokes every 50 yards.

5X200, first 50 fly, next 150 free.

3X300 free with pull buoy. Take six hard strokes every 50 yards.


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Swimming motivation found

My shoulders aren’t sure why I hate them so much. Just last week, I was

Me at an open-water swim last August. My times this week suggest I was faster then. Ugh.

Me at an open-water swim last August. My times this week suggest I was faster then. Ugh.

happy to go through the motions on my swimming workouts, patting myself on the back simply for getting in the pool.

This week, I found motivation in the form of self-evaluation: Timing myself on stuff after this long period of slackerdom.

This is kind of the equivalent of trying on your skinny jeans after a week on vacation: Even though you know you’re not likely to like the results, the horror of seeing just how far off the mark you are can be motivational.

First up: a 20-minute timed swim suggested by my college-swimmer friend Brooke. Wednesday, I set my watch timer for 20 minutes, and counted the number of laps I completed. Her instructions for intensity included some mention of the phrase “until you want to puke,” and I certainly did, even though I only managed 1,225 yards. I rounded out the rest of my standard 3,000 yards with various kinds of 200s, mostly IM and free.

Next up: Today’s timed one-mile swim. I finished in 24 minutes and some change, which is better than I expected, but still not where I’d hoped to be so close to the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim One-Mile Bay Challenge on June 14. I then did a set suggested by my triathlete friend Marci: a broken 1,650, in which you swim 11 laps, then 10 laps, them nine, then eight, and so on, with 10 seconds rest in between. When you reach one lap, you’ve done a 1,650. I didn’t add this up for myself, but my shoulders ache enough to confirm that I swam for long enough, thank you.

Another set rocking my world right now: the 25-yard repeats suggested by my swimmer-friend Meredith. I’ve been finishing every workout with them, and am finding that they can make even an easy swim into a challenge, letting me leave the pool feeling like Michael Phelps rather than one of the sweet old ladies doing water aerobics in the shallow end.

Speaking of Michael Phelps, I’ve saved the best part of this post for last. I present to you his playlist. OK, not his playlist exactly, but a story from right after the Olympics about what he listens to on his iPod before an event. Because the best way to be like Michael Phelps is to download some Lil’ Wayne.

Something cool: Phelps’ playlist contains some of the same songs as my aforementioned friend Meredith’s playlist, which I posted here earlier this week.

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We meet again, BOSU balance trainer

Forgive me, gym. I have forsaken thee. BOSU

My efforts to amp up my swimming workouts on off days from running have led me to neglect the strength-training I know I need to do to stay injury-free. The neglect stopped today, when I decided to devote my entire lunch hour to a lifting workout.

When I was nearly done with my workout, fueled by the Mixologist’s awesome playlist, I struck up a conversation with one of the trainers at the recreation center at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, where I work out. The rec center, by the way, is called the Comfort Zone. It is aptly named, as it includes not only a gym and a pool, but a package store.

One thing led to another, and soon, I was picking the trainer’s brain for new ways to work on the muscles that stabilize my hips. I’m not yet sorry I asked, but once the soreness sets in tomorrow, I’m sure I will be.

What happened next: half an hour worth of lunges, squats and other forms of torture using the BOSU balance trainer. The BOSU and I have met before, when it bucked me to the ground like a mechanical bull during a physical therapy session. Today’s meeting wasn’t quite so unfortunate for me, but it did call my attention to some gaps in my current workout plan.

“Your legs are plenty strong,” the trainer said, watching me struggle mightily to stay on the BOSU and off the ground. “What this does is target your instabilities: the ankles and hips, for you.”


Turns out, lots of exercise physiologists recommend using the BOSU to supplement running. Check out some suggestions for running-specific BOSU use here. No. 6, the lunges, are deliciously hard if you do them slowly and with good form.

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Pre-race swim calms my nerves

I wrote earlier this week that I’d decided, sort of accidentally, to taper for the Broad Street Run tomorrow. This is mostly because of a doctor’s order not to run on the ankle I’d just gotten a cortisone shot in.

But I have gotten a few good swims in, including a great workout suggested by my friend Meredith yesterday. I jokingly-but-not refer to Meredith as my swim coach. A swimmer and former swim coach herself, she suggested training parameters for the Bay Bridge Swim and the Ocean Marathon in Jacksonville that were totally dead-on. Also, she always seems to have a great workout on hand — something that’s both fun and butt-whupping, which is about the best compliment I can give a workout.

I modified what was a much longer workout (stay tuned for the full version, which I plan to attempt sometime next week) to reflect that fact that I do plan to run 10 miles, fast, tomorrow. Check out my amended version, which works out to about 3,300 yards, below. A word of advice: the 25s, which look like an afterthought, will KILL your triceps and your lungs after you’ve completed the rest of the workout.

500 warm up

10×50 on 1:00 (warm up set, your choice stroke)

Pyramid set, freestyle, on :15 rest, moderate pace that you can maintain (goal is to hold your pace the whole time): > 1×50 > 1×100 > 1×150 > 1×200 > 1×250 > 1×300 > 1×250 > 1×200 > 1×150 > 1×100 > 1×50

4×25 sprint your choice on :45

4×25 no-breath freestyle, as much rest as you need (if you’ve got good lung capacity and breath control, you shouldn’t need more than 20 to 30 seconds)

300 cool down

Also, do you guys know about the Speedo waterproof mp3 player? I didn’t, until Meredith told me about it (Like I said … she knows her stuff). Now, I’m not sure how I can live without it. Have you used one of these? Let me know what you think, if so.


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Wanted: motivation to swim

Has anyone seen my motivation to swim? I had it just a few weeks ago. I must have put it down, or dropped it on the way to the pool one day, because for the past week or so, I’ve wanted to swim about as much as I’ve wanted to step on a rusty nail.

This is awkward timing for two reasons. First, I’m on doctor’s orders not to run until the weekend, so a desire to swim would be really helpful this week. Second, the  1-mile Bay Bridge Challenge is getting closer by the day, and a desire to train for it would be awfully nice.

I took an off day  yesterday after getting a cortisone shot in my ankle. For once, I actually took the opportunity to chill out, rather than sit around feeling that weird runner’s guilt in which we understand that rest is training, but then again, we don’t. I read a book. I e-mailed. I baked a Cooking Light chicken tamale casserole (tastes way better than it sounds — try it for yourself!).

It seems the lazy has followed me into today, unfortunately.

I’m swimming this afternoon. A date at the pool with Steve is keeping me accountable. If left to my own devices, I might skip. Wish me luck. If you’ve got any amazing, fun, boredom-busting swimming workouts, post them below.


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How (and why) to cross-train

You may have noticed that, for a running blog, a lot of my posts are about doing things other than running.

Ever since a torn hip labrum in October 2007 sidelined me for several months, I’ve been the queen of injury-prevention, icing and resting and elevating and generally being a good kid before I get hurt, not after.

For me, being the queen of injury-prevention also means following the FIRST plan, which is designed by two exercise physiologists and marathoners who noticed their marathon times got better, not worse, when they ran less and cross-trained more while training for a triathlon. They advocate running only three days per week, cross-training three and taking one day off. The general idea is this: Your hard days are HARD, but the cross-training days give your muscles time to rebuild to be stronger and more efficient than they would be if you logged a few junk miles (how do you know? Because two smarty-pants exercise physiologists tell you so).

I followed the FIRST half-marathon training plan leading up to the National Half Marathon on March 21. In the past, I’d followed plans that call for five days of running, but that didn’t specify a pace or goal for each run. I ran my best time by several minutes in March, 1:49:19. More importantly, I staved off the injuries my body seems so prone to, and didn’t feel a lick of burnout the whole time. I truly looked forward to every running day (OK, fine, I dreaded speed work. But who doesn’t?).

My friend Kaveh, who’s training for the Marine Corps Marathon with me, asked a really good question about all this: What counts as cross-training? The FIRST guys are actually really specific about that, which I learned only after reading their helpful and entertaining book, Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster. You cross-train at least 30 to 45 minutes, at a pretty good clip. You do not do the elliptical machine, as that stresses many of the same muscles running does, according to the FIRST guys. Some FIRST-approved ideas:

  1. Cycling
  2. Swimming(my personal favorite – use a pull buoy to really give your legs a rest)
  3. Rowing (confused about how? Read my post about it here)

Kaveh asked if lifting counts, and noted that when he stopped lifting while training for the New York Marathon, injuries descended.This is an apt observation, and the FIRST guys highly advocate strength training for all your major muscle groups to fend off injuries (check out my injury-prevention workout from physical therapy here). That said, lifting does NOT count as cross-training in their book, and is something to be done above and beyond other cross-training.

Here’s what my past week looked like following the FIRST plan. It just so happens that I didn’t take an off-day in this seven-day period, but know that squeezing in an off day is usually NOT a problem for me.

  • Monday: Lift one hour, hard, mostly legs. Swim 3,000 yards.
  • Tuesday: Run roughly 7 miles with Pacers. The main run of about 5.4 miles was at what I imagine to be my tempo pace. I count the run to and from the store (about 1.6 miles there and back) as a warm-up and cool-down.
  • Wednesday: Swim 3,000 yards. Lift 30 minutes, mostly legs.
  • Thursday: Modified track workout that included 4X800. I also ran about 3 miles on the road, sort of accidentally, while trying to calibrate my NikePlus.
  • Friday: Swim 3,000 yards.
  • Saturday: Swim 3,000 yards.
  • Sunday: I typically would have done a 10-mile run, but did a 7-miler with 4X800s in the middle to test my NikePlus calibration, and to ensure we made it to my cousin’s Easter brunch on time.

As a side note: Even readers who aren’t training for a race may enjoy following the general principles of the FIRST plan. It calls for running at a purposefully hard pace, both in the form of intervals and tempo runs, which is great for burning calories and improving overall fitness, as well as improving race times.

Got a favorite form of cross-training? Or a strength-training move you’re sure has fended off injuries? Share your knowledge by posting a comment below.


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The art of sucking (and mixing) it up

I’ve got about two months until the 1-mile Bay Bridge Challenge, an open-water swim in the Chesapeake Bay I signed up for back in January as a way to force myself to cross-train.

I did the swim last year, too, so I know I ought to be in the pool for a 3,000-yard workout about three days a week at this point. Non-swimmers: The 3,000-yard swim is kinda like a 30-minute run in that if you make it any shorter, it’s barely worth the effort.

Problem is, just when I need to start amping up my workouts, I’m just totally not feeling the whole swimming thing.

I mean, this is why I signed up for a race: to coerce myself into getting into the pool rather than pounding the pavement every day. Still, getting in the pool yesterday for my standard Wednesday workout was really, really rough. I actually had a sad little daydream that the pool would be closed, forcing me to go home and abandon my workout for the day. This, after driving across town to the pool, not to mention putting on my suit, cap and goggles.

Earlier in the week, I attempted to combat my swimming apathy by sucking it up and kicking my own butt with a hard set of 10 X 100 butterfly in the middle of the workout. Non-swimmers: Butterfly is like doing a tough hill workout, in that even when your heart isn’t in it, it’s hard to slack off. I left the pool with a good workout, but feeling very much like I’d been beaten with sticks.

So yesterday, I decided to try to trick myself into having a little bit of fun by mixing things up instead. I’m too cheap to sign up for a master’s team and too much of a stroke swimmer to do much in the way of freestyle intervals, so I typically do a semi-hard 1,650 or 2,000 “warm-up,” followed by 200 or 400 IMs, or 200s free, until I reach 3,000 yards. Here’s how I mixed it up:

Warm-up: 1X100 free, followed by 1X50 stroke, in IM order. In other words, swim 100 free, 50 fly, 100 free, 50 back, etc., etc. I intended to do two full IM cycles, but was having so much fun (honestly!), I stuck with it for three, totaling 1,800 yards. Something about breaking up the freestyle with quick bursts of stroke really made the yards fly by.

Monster set: 4X400 IM

Got any swim workouts that are rocking your world, or any thoughts that might motivate me? If so, for the love of God, post them below to save me from boring myself to death in the pool.


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More yoga for runners

I’m always skeptical when health and fitness magazines pitch “toning” yoga workouts, and this month’s SHAPE magazine feature — Jenny McCarthy’s bikram yoga poses — was no exception.

I gave the five poses she suggests a try this morning, though, and am happy to admit I was wrong. Not only was it legitimately difficult, the moves happen to mimic a lot of the exercises physical therapists recommend for runners to stabilize ankle and hip muscles.

SHAPE mag doesn’t publish its content online. But I put together a sequence called Yoga for Runners on Yoga Journal’s nifty sequence builder that includes McCarthy’s recommended poses, plus a few of my favorite core-builders, like the plank and bridge positions. Give it a try after your next run.

Keep your fingers crossed for decent weather this evening on my behalf — I’m hoping to make tonight’s Pacers run after missing Tuesday.


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Coping with running injuries

When my friend Lisa tore her meniscus skiing recently, she “bawled (her) eyes out for three whole minutes,” she said. Who wouldn’t? That just sounds painful.

“Not because of the pain, but because of the thought that I may not be able to participate in the TRI I’ve been training for,” she continued.

Oh. That’s something different, and is almost tougher to deal with.

As I prepare to see the doctor tomorrow thanks to a cranky ankle, I thought I’d remind myself (and share with you) some tips for coping with an injury-forced running hiatus.

  • First, get yourself in the right mindset by reading this helpful Runner’s World story. When I first read this, I was sidelined with a minor injury that kept me from running, and felt like my whole identity had been stripped away. When I read that Kara Goucher had felt the same way and overcome those feelings by reminding herself that she is not just a runner, but “a person who loves to run,” it was like that scene in “Fever Pitch” where Jimmy Fallon can’t get over a Red Sox loss until he sees the actual players out on the town, carrying on just fine. In other words: If Kara Goucher can suck it up and deal, I certainly can, too. The take-aways: Stay positive. Focus on recovery. If it helps, hang out with your running buddies off the road.
  • Get stronger. Physical therapy can help you learn which muscle groups are weirdly weak, and what to do to strengthen them so you don’t injure yourself again. It can also provide a heckuva stregth workout, if you get the right physical therapist. I can honestly say I was in better shape after taking a break from running than before, thanks to more lifting and cross-training.
  • Remember that this happens to pros all the time — and that they come back better and faster after.
  • Focus on other athletic pursuits. I used my last rehab period to get back into swimming, which I did competitively in high school. I trained for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge 1-Mile Challenge last year, and I’m doing it again on June 14. No matter what the doctor says tomorrow, I ought to get my butt in gear and take training for it seriously. It’s a nice reminder that I’m more than a runner — I’m a multi-sport athlete.
  • Oh, and — I’m more than a runner. Like Kara Goucher, I’m a person who loves to run. I’ll leave you with one more tip from my girl Kara, who also happens to be a fellow CU alum: “When you’re injured, it feels like you’re missing out on the biggest opportunities, but when you step back, you realize there’s plenty of time to run and race,” she told Runner’s World.

Got any tips for coping with injuries? Share ’em by posting a comment below.


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