Running and triathlon coach Ben Parkinson explains how to utilise cross training to prevent injury and make the most of your training.
Variety is the spice of life
The appeal and uptake of triathlon across running clubs over the past decade has been huge, with many seeing it as a next step for a number of reasons. From a pursuit of greater satisfaction from endurance sports to expanding their circle of sporting friends or simply achieving greater variety in training and racing.
From a coach (who’s also gone down the path from runner to multi-sporter) it’s of benefit when a runner approaches me with the mindset of wanting to cross-train, whether it be limited to the months of their marathon plan or with further ambitions to do a multi-discipline event later in the season.
The addition of another sport or two doesn’t necessarily have to be taken as a move to triathlon or take the form of joining a local cycling or swimming club. Fitting a weekly gym spin or swim into the schedule can easily reduce the cost and other perceived barriers.
Being a runner who was initially larger than I would have liked to be, and due to resultant aches and pains could ‘only’ run a maximum of four times a week, the move to triathlon allowed me to make endurance strength gains through being able to train on non-running days (and as my experience developed, doubling up on running days with a morning swim or cycle).
Avoidance of running-based injuries by no longer feeling that I needed to run more to improve was an immediate benefit, but crucially it did also require a new skill that would be common to us all: managing our schedules to navigate another pitfall of training more, mental and physical fatigue.
Conservation of energy
Although I’m enthusiastic to help integrate cross training sessions into athletes’ plans, it’s important from the perspective of both coach and athlete to understand whether this will move the performance needle or in actuality just be a further physical and emotional drain from what can already be a delicate work-life-sport balance.
The addition has to be athlete-driven and its volume and intensity based on a combination of intelligent scheduling, effort management, and how self-aware the athlete is to their resilience, recovery, non-sporting commitments and work-life balance.
For most club athletes, fitting in the weekly runs can already feel like a second job on top of the bill-paying one, alongside family, social life and other interests. The luxury of being a time-rich professional with the opportunity for daytime recovery, more frequent sports massages and physio contact time just isn’t possible for the amateur.
Balancing life and physical ability against the desire to train like your Instagram professional triathlete heroes is therefore key in maximising A-race goals, whilst continuing to be a productive employee, parent, partner and friend. This is combined with understanding the physical and mental pay-back of additional sessions. Aiming for two weekly swims, missing two and under-performing on the third is a waste, is demoralising and (even worse) can affect running performance.
The weeks between training plans (after some well earned rest and recovery!) can be a perfect time to test a new routine alongside your core sport, without the pressure of it continuing for three months. For such an experiment I’ll often get athletes to try a new routine two to four weeks before a plan kicks off (with a bit of rest before any adjustments and the plan begins in earnest). Additional session volume doesn’t have to be huge to understand how it’ll both fit into life and gain feedback on its impact.
To summarise, although a multi-sport week can help reduce the risk of running injuries, it should also be understood whether complementary poorly managed sessions would result in fatigue, maintain fitness levels or optimally, improve performance. To do this it’s vital to use and understand your numbers.
Together with access to more training opportunities, the reduction in cost and the development in technology now gives athletes a plethora of performance metrics to train and race by. Heart rate measurements of effort and recovery, running and cycling cadence and bike power meters can all be utilised to ensure every session (or at least key ones) is completed to a beneficial level of stress.
Using the time before a plan to measure metrics such as maximum heart rate and bike functional threshold power makes setting training efforts for all the sports and the feelings an athlete experiences throughout sessions considerably easier to control and understand. Was a session easier or harder than expected? If so, was there a reason for this (e.g. course and terrain, forthcoming or recent illness and fatigue)?
For a start, find and dust off the heart rate strap that came free with your Garmin, then give it some use over the next few weeks and get in the habit of using it (as well as doing some research on understanding its numbers).
A change is as good as rest
Hopefully this article has given you some ideas on where and how you could potentially benefit from running a bit less whilst still training a bit more. Changes don’t need to be permanent, but who knows, they could be so good you’ll never look back on your old ways of feeling like running more was the only way to run faster and further.
About the author: Ben Parkinson is an England Athletics Level 2 CiRF-qualified coach at the Spa Strider running club based in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Alongside ‘competing’ in running, cycling, duathlon and triathlons, he’s coached a range of local athletes including Sundried’s Helene Wright. You can contact Ben by email and follow him on Strava.
It's important to warm up at the best of times, but particularly in winter we need to get our cold muscles ready to work so that we don't get injured. Triathlete and Sundried ambassador Simon Turner shares his tips for warming up thoroughly as well as some warm up exercises you can add into your outdoor training routine.
Winter Outdoor Training Warm Up
During the winter, especially on cold mornings, extra attention is required towards the muscle groups you will be working throughout your session. It can feel like extra effort to do an extended warm up, but discipline is required to prevent injury. A few extra minutes warming up could potentially save you weeks out with a pulled muscle or worse.
Firstly, I check mobility of all limbs and joints by doing a quick rotation forward and backwards. This is to ensure I don’t have any minor niggles prior to training.
A slow progressive warm up follows which can include running on the spot as well as dynamic exercises in which you go further into the exercise, for example squatting to half depth, then three quarters depth, then full depth. This is all designed to fire up the muscles and raise your heart rate ready to train or run.
Once that’s done, I go into a steady jog; nothing fast as this is to continue to raise my heart rate and to control my breathing. I continue this for 5-7 minutes and then I do 5 sets of striders (running strides). These are short sprints done before a workout or run to wake up the body and get it ready for the intensity of the session to come.
All in all, this warm up takes around 20 minutes and by the end I feel pumped and ready to begin my session, whether that's strength, running, or cycling.
If you've been training hard but not sure whether you're getting fitter, you need to do a fitness test. But there are so many out there, which one is best? We take a look at 3 different fitness tests as a way to track your fitness.
The Astrand Treadmill VO2 Max Test
This test is fairly advanced and is good for people who are already fit and active and would like a quantitative assessment of their fitness that they can compare to others. This VO2 Max Test is a universal test, so you could have all your friends or club members do it and compare your results.
For this test, you will be jogging on a treadmill. Start with the treadmill at a gradient of 0% and a speed of 8km/h. After three minutes, increase the incline to 2.5% (keep the speed the same throughout the entire test). After another 2 minutes, increase the incline by another 2.5% and repeat every 2 minutes until you cannot run anymore. Write down the time you finish.
In order to get your results, input your time into the following equation:
(Time x 1.44) + 14.99
For example, say you are a 35 year-old male and you make it to 15 minutes and 15 seconds. That is 15.25 minutes, so you would calculate:
15.25 x 1.44 = 21.96
21.96 + 14.99 = 36.95
Therefore, your VO2 Max would be 36.95
To find out how your score stacks up, use the following charts:
So our example 35 year-old male who got a score of 36.95 is at a 'fair' level of fitness. He could follow a training regime for a number of weeks and then repeat the test to see in clear numbers if his fitness has increased or not.
This test is fairly advanced and is not suitable for pregnant women, those who cannot run, or those with health conditions.
Chair Sit Test
Dr Michael Mosley has been making waves recently with his BBC programme 'The Truth About Getting Fit'. In his programme, Dr Mosley showed one way you can easily test your fitness in the comfort of your own home and it's suitable for people of all ages. The test simply asks how long it takes you to sit down in a chair and get back up again 10 times. Men under 35 should be able to do it in under 10 seconds, with women under 35 aiming for under 12 seconds. Men aged 35-55 should be able to do it in 13 seconds with women aiming for 15, and people over 55 should be able to do it in under 19 seconds.
This is obviously a very broad and unspecific test, but if you live a sedentary lifestyle and are looking for somewhere to start, this is an easy test to give you an idea of where you stand.
Vertical Jump Test
Our final test is different yet again. This time, we are testing the power in the legs, which is another great way to test fitness. If you want to be fit all-round, you need to have strength, power, and stamina. The vertical jump test is very easy and you only need one thing: a measuring tape.
Stand next to a wall, and jump as high as you can while reaching upwards. Have a friend mark the wall where you managed to touch, and then measure the height. This is your score.
Why is it important to do fitness testing?
There are several reasons why you may want to do a fitness test. You may feel like you live a healthy lifestyle, but there is no way for you to know for sure until you do a fitness test. If you live a largely sedentary lifestyle, your health could be at risk, so doing a fitness test could help to determine whether you need to get more active.
For those who are already very active, doing a fitness test is a great way to see if your training and hard work is paying off and you are actually progressing. If you see that you are not, you will know to change up your exercise regime so that you do get fitter.
Of course, it always depends on your goals, so make sure you set some goals first before you embark upon a fitness journey.
The weather is certainly feeling colder, but that doesn't mean exercise has to move inside. Training outdoors has lots of great benefits. Sundried ambassador Heather Taylor gives us a list of the extra benefits you gain when exercising outside during winter.
It’s good for your mind and your body
A large study found that outdoor exercise is associated with increased energy and revitalisation, as well as decreased confusion, anger, depression and tension, when compared to exercising indoors. Outdoor participants also reported enjoying their workouts more and said they were more likely to repeat them than participants who trained inside.
It may make you feel better about yourself.
No need to feel self conscious outside, regular outdoor exercise has been proven to boost your self esteem.
Soak up the sunshine benefits (even in winter)
When the sun hits the skin, it creates vitamin D3 which is important for bone health and metabolic function. Extra exposure to sunlight during the day can also help you sleep better at night, improve immune function, and increase endorphin production.
You can burn more calories when you exercise outside
Resistance to the wind when running or cycling outdoors means you often burn more calories than if you were indoors and hills/uneven ground make your body work harder as it has to respond to the unknown.
So there's a few reasons to put on a few extra layers and keep moving. Why not take a look at Sundried's range of winter activewear to kit you out for the winter months? Such as compression base layers, hoodies, and long-sleeved training tops.
About the author: Heather Taylor is a personal trainer, triathlete, and Sundried triathlete.
While most people are putting away their bikinis and short shorts and getting the woolly knit out, for anyone who trains this means putting the vests away and getting the base layers out; winter training begins!
Transitioning from summer training when the days are longer and brighter, you can wear a vest and shorts, and generally feel more energetic to colder, darker nights when you would prefer to just go home to a hot meal and a blanket can be tough, so here are a few tips to help keep your training on track.
The saying "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail" is one of my favourites, because how true is that? Planning your week's training helps you stay on track. I ask my PT clients each week what their training schedule is for the week, then make a conscious effort to ask them each day how it went. It's all too easy to say that you'll go to the gym tomorrow and then skip the session. Make a weekly planner like mine below, set your alarms, and pack your bag the night before. Having something written down makes it real.
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday S&C Legs S&C Back and Biceps Teach Spin Watt Bike Teach HIIT Long Run Rest Day Boxing Watt Bike Core Core Teach Spin Core Run Club Teach Spin S&C Upper Body
By planning your workouts, you are being accountable to yourself, because no one likes to see skipped workouts crossed off the calendar. Also, if you train with someone else you don’t want to let them down. Tell people what you are doing, and you’ll find they will encourage you more than letting you slip into the chunky knit!
Take the training inside
Used to running or cycling outside? There is no reason why you can’t keep your stamina and energy levels up during winter. The only time I don’t run outside is if it is raining, as due to injury I cannot chance slipping on a leaf. So the treadmill helps! At the gym where I work we also have a 'skill mill'. This is a self-propelled treadmill which is shaped like a banana. It is much more natural to run on as it replicates running outside. I mix it up by running intervals. By turning the resistance up to its highest, it replicates a prowler. My current plan is below:
- 5 mins warm up jog, halfway resistance
- 2 min sprint, low resistance
- 2 min prowler, heavy resistance
- Repeat x 10
- 5 min cool down walk
When it comes to cycling, this one is easy. I teach 3 spin classes a week, but also am a big fan of the Watt Bike. This feels more natural than an upright bike and you definitely get a big workout on it! There are workouts on the Watt Bike app, or I tend to log into my Zwift app and follow one of their plans.
Who doesn’t love shopping for sportswear? It’s the perfect excuse to get some winter kit to make you warmer and more visible outside. These are my winter activewear essentials:
Buff (for neck or ears)
Buff (I wear 2, one round my neck and one under my helmet)
Get a Personal Trainer
Think of the money you are saving by not sitting in the pub beer garden with a cider! You could be putting your beer money towards keeping you motivated during winter.
Most personal trainers sell sessions by the block which works out cheaper than individual sessions. I tend to run a 6-week kick start course just before Christmas which gets everyone into the mind frame of training and eating better before the festive period.
Speak to a trainer about what your goals are. They will keep you accountable and it is their job to keep you motivated! If you were to have 1 session a week it could cost you around the same as your week's worth of coffees that you grab on the way to work.
‘Summer bodies are made in the winter’
We've all heard it, but it is true! You might want to swap your water for a hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream, but think about your reason 'why’. As a personal trainer and nutritionist, I’m a believer in moderation. I don’t advise cutting anything out of your diet, unless it is detrimental to your health.
I tend to eat well during the week, but I always order a pizza on a Saturday night. My Christmas tipple? Baileys Irish Cream! I don’t deprive myself, but I factor it in when I am training and ensure I do an extra few squat jumps or an extra kilometre run. In the past, I have found that if I completely deprive myself, I get ‘hangry’ and start to resent everyone who is tucking into their selection boxes while I am trying to convince myself that this yogurt is equally as satisfying.
So if you want the chocolate bar, have it, if you want the glass of wine, have it. Just don’t talk yourself out of going to the gym to burn it off!
About the author: Emma Vincent is a personal trainer, fitness instructor, and Sundried ambassador.