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360 YOU: Versatile Cross-Training Workouts for the Elliptical, Bike, or Pool

Atalanta NYC runner Aoibhe Richardson gives her best cross-training advice.

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I used to always see cross-training as something that you only did when you were injured, which I think gives it a negative connotation. You’re already sad because you’re injured—and then you’re also doing something you probably don’t enjoy as much.

It wasn’t until grad school that I started thinking about it differently, when my coach incorporated cross-training into our regular training. At first I didn’t like the idea, but I quickly learned it was a good way of adding in training without adding in more impact on the ground. Rather than increasing mileage, you’re adding in other sessions without increasing your injury risk.

And if you do ever become injured, you already have workouts you can draw on. You can seamlessly transition into more cross-training if you need to, rather than spending time trying out a lot of things.

My go-to forms of cross training are the elliptical, stationary bike, and aqua-jogging. The amount I utilize cross-training varies. If I’m injured I obviously cross train exclusively, replacing my normal runs and workouts with cross-training. When I’m building up my mileage again after a break from running I like to supplement with some cross-training to make sure I don’t overload the body. When I’m at full training load I’ll sub this out for running usually, but it is always good to have cross-training as a back-up for the days when you might be feeling a little off.

Keeping Cross-Training Fresh

Cross-training is an excellent way of maintaining fitness, and is often harder than running. It can be particularly difficult mentally, so it is important to find a way to make it more bearable for you. Some tips:

  • Try out all the various different forms of cross-training and find one that you prefer. You don’t need to suffer on the stationary bike for hours if you hate it! (i.e. me)
  • Don’t be afraid to mix things up. If you’re cross-training in a gym you likely have access to a number of different options close by, so if it helps break up your workout mentally try using a few different ones. I would often do half my workout on the elliptical and half on the bike and sometimes finish on the rowing machine.
  • Distraction is key! You don’t have to sit on the bike and stare at the wall for an hour. A good podcast, playlist, or TV show can help the hours go by a lot quicker. Since I can’t watch TV when I’m running, I liked to watch YouTube videos or TV shows when on the elliptical as it made me dread it less. I once watched a whole season of Love Island while cross training with an injury and it helped so much!
  • Try doing interval workouts. Just like in running, it’s important to mimic your training when cross-training. So if you would normally do some form of interval training then you should also do this when cross-training. This helps to break up the monotony, while also being a great way of staying fit.

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3 Cross-Training Workouts to Try

All of the following workouts can be done on the bike, elliptical, or aqua-jogging. I prefer the elliptical; I’ve tried just about everything, and that’s what I have found works best for me. And it’s convenient: Every gym has one. I also like that it almost feels like running, and because the injuries I’ve had in the past are knee injuries, I’ve always found the elliptical hurts less than the bike.

If aqua-jogging, you may want to shorten the recoveries as you tend to recover faster in the pool. I would also recommend using an aqua-jogging flotation belt and really focus on your form. I find that aqua-jogging is the form of cross-training that most closely mimics running and uses many of the same muscles, so it can be very beneficial for runners wanting to maintain fitness, but only if you are doing it with correct form.

Workout 1: Pyramid Session

Start with a 5 minute warm up before beginning the workout.

  • 1:00 steady, 30 seconds easy
  • 1:30 steady, 30 seconds easy
  • 2:00 steady, 30 seconds easy
  • 2:30 steady, 30 seconds easy
  • 3:00 steady, 30 seconds easy
  • 3:30 steady, 30 seconds easy
  • 4:00 steady, 30 seconds easy
  • 4:30 steady, 30 seconds easy
  • 5:00 steady, 30 seconds easy

Finish with a 5 minute cool down. This is a long session, so it could be done in place of your long run.

Workout 2: Tempo Session

Start with a 10 minute warm up. The workout is tough, but simple on paper: 6 x 5 minutes hard with 1:30-2 minute recovery. Finish with a 10 minute cool down.

Workout 3: 3 x 1 Mile, 3 x 800m Simulation

Start with a 5 minute warm up.

  • 3 x 6-7 minutes with 90 second recovery
  • 3 x 3-3:30 minutes with 75 second recovery

Finish with a 10 minute cool down.

Workout 4: ‘Easy Run’

Start with 15 minutes easy followed by 2 x (1, 2, 3, 2, 1 minutes with 30 second recovery) relaxed.

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