If you've followed any type of marathon or half marathon training plan, you will no doubt have seen that you should be doing 'cross training' throughout the week as well as running. But what exactly is it? Which type is best? And how is it beneficial for runners? We answer all these questions and more.
What is cross training?
When most people hear the phrase 'cross training', they immediately think of the cross trainer (or elliptical) at the gym, but this isn't quite the case. Cross training for runners is simply any other type of training that can supplement and benefit your running training. A triathlete naturally does cross training by swimming, cycling, and running all together as part of their training, but runners can get stuck in a rut of just running. It's hugely important to do cross-training, read on to find out why.
Read more: 10 Tips To Survive Your First Marathon
Cross training benefits
So why should runners be doing cross training? Research has found that runners who do cross training such as strength training at a gym are less likely to get running injuries, are more likely to have a higher VO2 max, and are able to perform better. Of course it's perfectly logical that having stronger muscles would mean you are stronger in your running and will be able to get more power out of your training session.
Depending on the training plan you are following, you may find that cross training replaces some rest days. An intermediate marathon or half marathon training plan will often have you training 6 days a week, with 5 of those for running, 2 or 3 for cross training, and one for rest.
Read more: Cross Training Workout For Runners
Is yoga cross training?
Yoga is certainly a type of cross training, although it may not hold all of the benefits of other sports such as swimming, cycling, and strength training. Yoga has many benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, increasing flexibility, and improving posture and balance. All of these are things that would be beneficial to runners, and therefore doing yoga once a week as part of your training should help you to improve your running performance.
Read more: Yoga For Runners
Is cycling good cross training for running?
Cycling is possibly one of the best types of cross-training for running as it targets the legs and core and therefore will strengthen the key muscle groups used when running. Not only this, as it is an aerobic exercise, you will be improving your fitness but it is a low impact activity so will give your joints a chance to rest.
A great way to train for the last part of a half marathon or marathon when you are running on empty and struggling to keep going is to do a brick workout. This is a type of workout employed by triathletes and duathletes whereby you go for a run straight after a bike ride. It gets your legs used to running when tired and is a great way for runners to practice keeping going when fatigued and running low on energy.
What is the best type of cross training?
Swimming is a great way to cross-train as it is zero impact and so will give your joints a chance to recover from pounding the pavements while working your muscles hard. Not only this, it works your muscles in a completely different way to activities like gym workouts and cycling and so will give you a great full-body workout. On top of this, the breath control needed for swimming could help to put you in good habits with your running.
This is usually the most popular choice for runners as it is proven to be hugely beneficial to performance, physiology, and fitness. Lifting weights and working on your main muscle groups like core, back, and legs will have a significant impact on your running and will also help to improve the way you look.
Skipping is an activity you may not have thought about for cross-training, but it can be hugely beneficial. Skipping works your calf muscles as well as testing the flexibility in your ankle joint, and this translates well to running as they can be areas that are neglected in other parts of training.
In a busy world filled with stress and anxiety, more and more people are looking to meditation and mindfulness to help them relax. But what are the benefits? And what's the difference between the two? We explore meditation.
Where meditation originated
It is widely understood that the concepts of meditation and yoga are thousands of years old. There are arguably different types of meditation, such as trance and chanting. These are both ancient rites that our ancestors would have partaken in regularly. All of these different concepts are widely associated with world religions, and the one that is most often credited with the birth of meditation is Buddhism.
According to Buddhist teachings, one can achieve an 'awakening' or 'enlightenment' by practising extensive meditation. While this was first taught well over 2,000 years ago, it is still widely practised today by people all over the world.
Meditation only really moved to Western civilisation in more recent times. Improved transportation and communication meant that the far-reaching corners of the world became more easily accessible and thus concepts such as meditation spread across the globe. Now in the present day, mindfulness is everywhere, from mindful eating to being more aware of our impact on the planet.
How meditation helps sleep
Studies show that mindfulness and meditation really do have an impact on our sleep, which is good news if you struggle to rest easy at the end of the day. Meditation can help our sleep in two ways: both physically and mentally.
One of the main causes of poor sleep is stress and psycho-related issues, causing over 70% of insomnia cases - this is the mental factor. If you live a busy and stressful life with a hectic work-life balance and come home each day to kids running around the house, chances are your stress levels will be through the roof. On a mental level, you may well lay awake at night thinking of all the things you should have said to your boss and all the things you shouldn't have said to your kids. This is where meditation comes in. By spending some time each day allowing yourself to drift away from reality and collect your thoughts, you will not be frantically thinking about everything as you fall asleep and therefore will sleep better.
On a physical side, it is thought that as well as stress hormones being present in our body, there are also relaxation hormones which can have the opposite effect. 'The relaxation response' is a phrase that was coined by psychologist Dr Herbert Benson and goes some way to explain the way our brain signals our organs to slow down as well as our blood flow. It is thought that meditation and mindfulness can cause this reaction in our body, resulting in a much more peaceful night sleep and a much happier you!
Can meditation lower blood pressure?
If you suffer from high blood pressure, there are a surprising number of non-medical ways to lower it safely. You can do so by changing your diet and following a low-blood pressure diet like the DASH diet. Another way to lower your blood pressure is by practising meditation. Research has found that certain mindfulness techniques and meditation can reduce stress and produce significant results in lowering blood pressure in those who suffer from elevated levels.
That said, it has also been found that meditation may not be able to lower blood pressure alone, and instead is best done in conjunction with other proven methods that can reduce blood pressure levels.
Meditation vs Mindfulness
Mindfulness refers to an awareness of yourself and your surroundings. We live in a very fast-paced world and it's very easy to rush through your day and not realise what you're doing. You chug a coffee on your way to work and eat a breakfast bagel because it's quick and easy, not because it's nutritious and good for your health. Especially if you eat while scrolling through your phone or while watching television, you will not be eating mindfully. It is often the case that we say and do things without realising their true meaning and mindfulness steps in to try and put a stop to this.
By being mindful, you try to tap into what your body truly wants and needs and you listen to your inner self. Being mindful of when you're actually hungry rather than just eating because it's lunchtime is an example of mindful eating. This would also extend to stopping eating when you're full, rather than finishing what's on your plate just because it's there.
On the other hand, meditation takes more forms. You could say that mindfulness is a type of meditation. Meditation is a much more broad term and refers to trying to achieve a calmer head space and clearer thoughts. It can involve something as simple as sitting quietly in a room and being alone with your thoughts. It can also involve a practice such as yoga.
The importance of meditation and mindfulness today
We live in a world where 'lifestyle diseases' are rife and rampant, meaning that a lot of people who suffer chronic pain and are taking a lot of medication could significantly improve their health simply by changing to a healthier lifestyle. Illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are all completely avoidable if we live a healthy lifestyle and make mindful choices.
What this means is that meditation and mindfulness are hugely important in this modern world as they can help someone to reduce stress and be more aware of what they are putting into their body, therefore avoiding a whole host of diseases that have a high mortality rate.
Emily is a yoga instructor living in Indonesia. She talks to Sundried about her inspirations and passions.
Tell us about your journey to fitness? Where did it all start?
When I was at school I played netball and absolutely loved it. At 16, I attended boot camp with my mum 4 times a week; the feeling after exercising was incredible and I quickly became addicted! I was overweight as a child and when I started to see my body transform it was the greatest feeling in the world. I started to control my eating, I cut out dairy and gluten and tried to eat as fresh and clean as possible. At University, I would go to the gym every day and attend HIIT classes, weight training and do my own workouts.
I then discovered hot yoga and my whole world changed. I signed up for 30 days of hot yoga in Manchester; the classes were 90 minutes long and after the first class, I have never felt anything like it in my whole life. It was pure euphoria. The first week was tough, being new to yoga and trying not to faint in the 40-degree heat was a challenge but it was so worth it. In that first 30 days, I gained balance, core strength and clarity of mind, I began reading about yoga, doing YouTube video classes online and I started attending all different styles of classes, Yin, Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Hatha in my local studios and have been doing yoga ever since. I quickly realised yoga was my thing. I have always been flexible and from a young age I was always hanging upside down and putting my legs up the wall and now I realise I was practising yoga without realising. It was when I was attending a class run by a young girl in a local church, I thought to myself I could do this, I would love to teach this class, so why don't I?
What are your training goals now?
I am currently working on building up more strength in my core, shoulders, and wrists. I’m working towards some more advanced poses like Firefly, Scorpion and Pincha. I didn’t realise, but I really need to work on my shoulder flexibility so I am practising a lot of dolphin pose at the moment.
Tell us one unusual fact we wouldn't know about you:
I have misophonia! (Hatred of certain sounds). I didn’t even know it had a name until I looked it up, but it means I cannot stand hearing other people eat or talk with food in their mouths and I’m currently in Indonesia where everyone makes SO much noise when then eat! So that is my current challenge!
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?
Don’t compare your progress to others. Everyone is living their own path at exactly the right pace for them and you are exactly where you need to be right now.
Do you follow a specific nutrition plan? If so, what/when do you eat?
I am a vegetarian as I don't believe in eating animals, I could never kill an animal and eat it. Animals have energy just like humans, so when an animal is killed their energy is fearful and tense, so imagine when you are eating the meat you are literally taking their energy and adding it your own. There are so many studies about meat and why it isn’t good for our bodies but I won't go into that now!
I eat a LOT of fresh fruits and vegetables, I try and stick to foods that suit my Vata Ayurvedic dosha. For breakfast after yoga, I will normally make a smoothie jar made from oats, frozen bananas, fresh mango, papaya, spinach and coconut water, or whatever fruit I have in the fridge! I also love to make these vegan pancakes using bananas, oats, water and cinnamon! I drink lots of teas, sometimes with coriander seeds or I make my own simple chai tea. I also take Spirulina capsules every day as the health benefits are insane!
For lunch and dinner, I make soups or spicy curries; with sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, lentils, chickpeas, cauliflower, spinach ~ all the veg I can find, and coconut milk. I always use fresh spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric and lots of chilli. Tempeh and tofu are also my go-to favourites! They're made from soya and you can throw them into anything to add some protein, and if I want something bad I like to eat dark chocolate. For water, I drink Kangen Water, its an alkaline water which has so many health benefits and you can read more about here.
Do you have any top tips to keep motivated?
Motivation is KEY. I believe that if you optimise your mornings you optimise your life! You can download the Keep Spirit morning rituals, just enter your email here. So, first thing I do when I wake up is clean my mouth (it gets rid of all the toxins built up overnight that need to leave the body) I drink a glass of hot water and then meditate for a while, put on my favourite music and do some yoga. I always mix it up but even if it's just 10 minutes it's such a great way to wake up the body. I then make an amazing smoothie and sit and read for about 20 minutes. I’m trying to read around 2 books a month at the moment, but If I’m not in the mood I listen to an inspirational podcast. I love anything by mind valley, all their stuff is so inspirational and they interview some incredible people. I really think podcasts are an amazing way to learn new things and keep motivated.
Talk us through your training regime.
So I use the 30-day arm, thigh, and ab challenge apps. The whole workout lasts just over 30 minutes and I fit it in before or after my morning yoga. I also like to go running but it's very hot here in Indonesia so I have to go very early, meaning I only go about once a week. I attend 2 intense Vinyasa yoga classes a week and do my own yoga every morning and some yin poses before bed.
How do you keep your fitness knowledge up to date?
I always follow and try out the different weekly yoga challenges on Instagram. They mostly last for around 7 days and I think it's a great way to challenge yourself, follow inspirational people, get tips, advice and keep up to date with the ‘online yoga world’. I just finished the ‘strong as a yogi 7-day challenge’ and that's why I'm working on strengthening my wrists as some of the poses aren’t in my usual practice; another reason it's so great! You remember poses you haven’t done for a while and try out things you wouldn’t normally do!
What are your top 3 trainer tips?
- Exercise your mind as well as your body
- If you think you can do it, you will succeed
- Listen to your body
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Fruit! Especially mangoes. I’m obsessed with mangoes at the moment as it's mango season here in Indonesia. Last month I was obsessed with dragon fruit.
Why work with Sundried?
I have a degree in Fashion and worked as a designer straight out of Uni, but I was working for a huge fast fashion company that really didn’t care about the environment or the humans who made the clothes. I really truly believe that ethical and sustainable fashion is the future and it has to be! So for me, finding a sportswear brand like Sundried that's really focused on ethical values and the impact it has on the environment makes it super exciting for me to be working with them.
I also really love the colour pops they use on the designs and the tonal contrasts. They are an inspirational diverse brand who work with people from yoga teachers to personal trainers to competing athletes. I think they really bring the fitness community together no matter what the sport, level, walk of life, or style which is truly amazing.
Favourite Fitness Quotes
‘Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.’
‘Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.’
“Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted — in body, mind, and heart — and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow — or we begin to flow more in our lives.”
‘Yoga teaches you how to listen to your body.’
I am now going into my second year of university but I have been practising yoga and meditation on and off since I was about six years old. Back then my main motivation for doing yoga was the free dried mango at the end of each class and being referred to as a ‘yogi bear’ by our kid-friendly teacher. Now, I practice yoga and meditation in order to deal with any anxiety or tension I may be carrying and as a way to switch-off for an hour during the day without taking a nap.
I am nowhere near the standard of yoga that I should be for someone who started out so young. After trying a higher class-level, I realised that the only pose I could actually do was the downward dog whilst everyone else was in headstands. So I only attend beginners classes but as they say, yoga is very personal. However, one day I hope that I will be able to reach a higher level. Equally, meditation takes a lot of discipline and practice; a skill I am still trying to master.
There is a stigma that yoga is easy and does not require much energy, but if you ever hear someone say that, ask if they would like to join you in a hot yoga class and their opinion may change rapidly. Yoga, usually entails meditation at some point, and requires not only physical power but also can be a workout mentally which is why I believe it to be one of the only ‘full-body’ workouts you’ll find on a gym timetable.
Read more: What Are The Benefits Of Hot Yoga?
Over the past year I have made it my goal to attend at least one yoga class a week and try a home meditation practice, usually one I find on YouTube. But obviously I do have lapses and I have found that the best way to keep up is to do at least five minutes of my favourite yoga poses before listening to a calming guided meditation just before going to bed.
I have loved attending yoga classes at my gym but I have also been to some at ‘Yoga West’ which are fantastic! I have managed to try a range of different types of yoga which I will review below.
Read more: How Should You Prepare For A Yoga Class?
Yoga has improved my strength, agility and stamina which have in turn improved my level and intensity of workouts in the gym. This has translated into pretty much any activity I am doing, whether I am weight training, in a spin class or running. I have become more physically capable but also more aware of what my body is telling me, and tracking my breathing. I have found using yoga breathing techniques in the gym have made exercising and stretching easier and often less painful.
Yoga and meditation have also really helped me reduce my levels of anxiety and stress, which were becoming a major issue for me during first year of university, and it became the perfect way to reset myself into a positive mind-frame. And therefore I feel it has not only conditioned my body but also my mind. I feel the poses are empowering and as I make progress I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in my body.
Just by adding a few yoga poses into the end of my gym sessions, I am less sore (they do act as good stretches) and feel more energised, which is worth it even if I look a little odd on the gym floor!
Here are some of the forms of yoga and meditation classes I have tried over the past six months and my thoughts on them;
- Vinyasa Flow (fast-paced/fitness yoga)
- Yin Yoga (yoga in slow motion)
- Hot Yoga (detox yoga)
- Meditation and Mindfulness for Beginners
- Gong Bath (Intense Meditation)
- Les Mills Body Balance (a mix of yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi)
This is my go-to yoga class, and usually the most popular. I find it is the perfect mix of exercise and meditation. By the end of a class I feel I have worked out, but instead of being exhausted I actually feel more energised and mentally refreshed. I would recommend this class for any beginners wanting to add yoga into their weekly workout schedule as it is perfect on its own or to compliment a post workout routine.
I think this is one of the more mentally challenging forms of yoga. Essentially, you have to hold each pose from anywhere between one to five minutes. It is tough. You really have to discipline your mind and body in order to power through and hold the poses for such a long time and maintain your focus. However, although hard, I have found this to be one of the more rewarding classes. You are able to really listen to what your body is telling you in the different poses and react accordingly. It also allows you to perfect poses and deepen them as your body relaxes into them. I would recommend this yoga class for the morning when you want to energise yourself or for the evening as more of a way to reduce any lingering stress from the day.
In all honesty, this is not my favourite. It gets sweaty. However, it is an extremely good way to help feel detoxified after a ‘cheat’ day. It makes the yoga a lot harder so would also be good for anyone who wants more of a challenge.
Meditation and Mindfulness Course for Beginners
I went along to this with my father and we both loved it! This was a two-hour masterclass teaching the basics of meditation followed by a few sequences of yoga. Before this course I had only ever meditated in yoga classes or listening to apps guiding me to reduce my stress or fall asleep. And although meditation helped me defeat my insomnia I essentially never gave meditation the attention it deserved. This course helped me grasp the basics of meditation and inspired me to add meditation into my everyday routine. The benefits are brilliant! I still meditate with guided tracks or music as I find this helps me concentrate but I would highly recommend going to a course like on their journey to mindfulness.
This was given to me as a present, and a very memorable one. I have never experienced anything like it, or felt two hours pass more quickly. It is essentially a bath of music. Leo, our brilliant instructor played a whole array of musical instruments; different gongs, a conch shell, bells …. Creating, as he explained in the introduction, binaural beats.
After the session many said they felt an almost ethereal outer-body experience, I did not feel this way, but I definitely felt I had experienced something very calming.
Les Mills Body Balance
I absolutely love this class for a Sunday night wind-down. It allows me to explore different practices (the yoga part is still my favourite) and see how easily you can flow from one form into another. For me, this is one of the more ‘fun’ classes, as personally I don’t think it is that much of a workout (maybe I’m doing something wrong) but I do think it’s a great way to unwind and prepare my body for the week ahead. This class is perfect for anyone who wants a taster into yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi.
By Siena Barry-Taylor
Yoga is a $2.5 billion industry and is growing in popularity every day, with many people practising it for mindfulness, wellness, and health. But what are the benefits of hot yoga? Is it worth investing your time and money into this hobby? We take a look.
What is hot yoga?
Hot yoga is a broad term used for any yoga practice done in high temperatures (usually above 30 degrees Celsius.) Some say this is done to mimic the hot and humid temperatures of yoga's country of origin, India. However, some say it is so as to make the yoga participants sweat more and become more flexible thereby getting more out of the session.
A common type of hot yoga is known as Bikram yoga after its founder, Bikram Choudhury, and was first popularised in the 1970s. Bikram hot yoga consists of the same 26 poses and two breathing exercises in every class and is typically done in 40 degree heat (105 degrees Fahrenheit) with 40% humidity.
Bikram yoga has recently come under scrutiny due to personal and professional indiscretions by Bikram Choudhury including alleged sexual assault and multiple law suits.
Advocates of hot yoga claim it encourages the sweating out of toxins and improves circulation, increases flexibility, and decreases stress. However, the drawbacks of exercising in such intense heat and humidity include nausea, dizziness, and the risk of passing out. Pregnant women are one group who are strongly advised against practising hot yoga as the excess heat can cause over-exhaustion and muscle injury. The fetal development can also affect blood pressure which can in turn increase the risk of the mother suffering nausea or syncope (fainting).
Hot yoga benefits
There are supposedly many benefits to practising hot yoga, for example the heat loosens up your muscles, making you more flexible. It is even thought that yoga can reduce emotional eating thereby helping you to lose weight. This is thought to be because of the de-stressing effect that yoga can have on people.
It's very important that you stay well hydrated when practising hot yoga due to the intense heat and humidity which lead to profuse sweating. A leak-proof water bottle that you can have with you is vital. You also want to make sure that you have a non-slip yoga mat as the excess sweat could cause you to slip when holding your poses. Finally, your yoga clothing needs to be super sweat-wicking and stretchy to give you complete freedom of movement and to prevent you from chafing and ending up with sweat rash or body acne after a particularly sweaty hot yoga session.