There are countless ways to cross train for running. Some are expensive, some are free. Some require equipment, some don’t.
While most all cross training exercises will benefit you – to a large degree, the type of cross training exercise(s) should be dictated by what your specific needs are.
For example, if you have chronic hamstring injuries whose root issue has been traced to weak glutes, exercises that focus on the glutes such as step-ups, squats and lunges might be recommended.
However, if you’re not injured and are looking for an exercise that gives you the biggest bang for the buck, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one than this… JUMPING ROPE!
We know Rocky Balboa used this training method to beat Ivan Drago… but how does this apply to runners?
First of all, if you’ve ever used a jump rope before, I don’t have to tell you what a great cardio workout it is. Also, a jump rope is fairly inexpensive and you can do it anywhere – no gym membership required!
In the purest and most simplistic analysis of running form, running is essentially just a series of plyometric movements. By definition, the hallmark of plyometrics is the rapid contracting and stretching of a muscle(s) and associated connective tissue. As such, from a performance aspect, the legs and feet are springs that propel a runner upward and forward. The stronger and stiffer you can make the spring mechanisms (think: shooting a rubber band) while still having the appropriate range of motion, the more economical a runner you will be.
The quads/hamstrings, calves/Achilles tendon and foot arch (longitudinal arch) all act as springs systems that are positively influenced via strengthening/stiffening by jumping rope (and strength training and running) to help you run faster and more efficiently.
If you look at a person jumping rope and a runner side by side, you’ll notice that the degree of knee flexion (and thus, extension) is quite similar… as is the ballistic nature of the movement.
Getting more specific, you’ll also notice that when jumping rope, the feet are directly beneath the body. The closer your foot strike is underneath your body when you run, the more efficient you will be as you immediately enter the drive phase upon foot strike.
When jumping rope, you first tend to land on the balls of your feet, with the heel lightly touching the ground before jumping up again. From a form standpoint, this is the same thing that happens when running with a midfoot strike. While this point of this post is not to discuss whether a midfoot or heel strike is better, the main takeaway is that if you run with a midfoot strike or are looking to convert to it, jumping rope is a great way to train the lower leg musculature and connective tissue for running. Regardless, if you run with a heel strike, you’ll be pushing off the balls of your feet/toes (esp the big toe!) to propel yourself forward.
No, you’re not doing planks or crunches, but purely by the nature of the body jumping up and down, the core and specifically the inner core musculature has to contract to brace for the impact on each jump – just as with running.
As noted above, there are near limitless cross-training exercises that you can do for running, but in regard to specificity and stressing the cardiovascular system, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better workout than jumping rope!
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