Runners often fit the stereotype of being a little . . . obsessive. The kinds of people who like tracking every mile, maximizing effort, achieving goals, checking things off their to-do list. Even though most of us know how many other benefits running brings—to our mental health, our social lives, our stress levels—we sometimes zero in a little too much on mileage. By doing so, we may neglect other practices that would complement our lives, our running, and help prevent injury from heavy mileage. Below are some of the many activities that complement a regular running habit. Try a couple and see how you feel.
The benefits of yoga are vast: increased strength, improved stability and mobility, increased flexibility, injury prevention—the list goes on. Depending on what type of yoga you practice, you can get your heart pumping and really tax your muscles or you can focus on rest, breath, and flexibility. Yoga can provide a gentle workout on a day off from running, or can be done midday as a pick-me-up or before bedtime to wind down. Yoga improves mental health, and makes it easier to tend to muscles in need of R & R. Take a class locally, or try Yogawithadrienne.com.
Swimming is famously great cross-training for running, contributing to cardiovascular fitness while building muscle—including the upper body strength that affects arm swing, one component of what propels you forward in a run. As a bonus, swimming is hard work while being very easy on the joints.
I know I look silly doing it, but I love kickboxing. Kickboxing builds power, works all of the muscles in your body as you punch, kick, and dodge, engages your core, and improves balance as you constantly change positions and shift your weight. Not only is it a good mental challenge (it can be tough to keep track of those various kick/punch combinations!), but it also increases cardiovascular fitness. Sign up for a local class, or look for free workouts by Fitness Blender on YouTube.
While many of the items on this list are optional, strength training is a must for runners. Regular total body strength training—lower body, upper body, and core—reduces muscle imbalances, leads to reduced injuries, and contributes to improved speed. All runners should strength train at least weekly. Some key exercises to incorporate: reverse lunges (hamstrings and glutes, core), planks (core, back, shoulders; stability), rows (upper body, core), squats (quads, calves, glutes, hamstrings), single leg deadlifts (hamstrings, back, core; stability), glute bridges (hips, glutes, and lower back), Russian twists (abs and obliques), and side leg raises (hip adductors, glutes, quadriceps, abs, obliques). Go to fleetfeet.com and search “strength training” to find full strength training routines and guidance.
Walking is full of wins for runners. This low-impact form of active recovery can be done anywhere, and it engages the same muscles and tissues tasked by running in a less intense form. Walking is a low-stress, enjoyable way to loosen up your body while adding a little more mileage to your week.
It’s easy to neglect rest, but it’s essential. Taking days off from regular training (aim for one a week of either total rest or low-impact activity) allows muscles, bones, and tendons to repair—which means you’ll get stronger and better avoid injuries. Regularly prioritizing a good night’s sleep will also allow your body to recuperate from the rigorous activity you put it through. Restful nights lead to better running days.
Sarah Hauge is a writer, editor, and non-profit grant writer who lives in Spokane with her husband and two kids. You can read more of her Run Wild columns at Outthereoutdoors.com.