WHICH SPORTS ARE BENEFICIAL FOR TRAIL RUNNERS?
You’re a staunch trail-running fun. We get it. So why do anything else? When what you prefer is running and discovering new horizons.It’s true, it might seem a bit weird. But think about it: you won’t be surprised to hear that diversity leads to balance. It’s true for your diet, and for your work-life balance,so why not for sport?
By diversifying your training programme and adding alternative workouts – running will still be the majority – you can increase your performance and enjoyment. How is that possible? Just two simple and effective words: cross-training. Don’t forget them, because, before long, you will swear by them! Cross-training means adding alternative sports to your favourite sport to improve your performance where it counts.
Focus on activities that you can add to your training programme for even more pleasure when preparing for trail running performance!
1. ROAD CYCLING OR MOUNTAIN BIKING
● The advantages of cycling: training for kilometres without impact injuries.
Road cycling is an excellent way to boost your trail running training programme. If you already practise endurance sports, you know the advantages of preparing your body for long exertion. That’s why cycling is particularly interesting. You can train for a long time with little stress on your joints. Non-weight-bearing exercises have less impact than running (and trail runners are less susceptible than road runners). Cycling has two advantages: it improves your fundamental endurance by increasing your training time while reducing injury.
What’s more, road cycling is multipurpose. For example, if you want to “improve your endurance”, do long rides for (3 hours or more) pedalling quickly at over 90 rpm. Pedal using the small sprocket wheel and lower gears. There is no resistance so it’s easy to pedal.But that doesn’t mean that cycling is not working out!
On the contrary, if you want to improve your strength, try 70 rpm. Use the large sprocket wheel and the higher gears. When you pedal with resistance, you also strengthen your muscles, particularly your thighs which is useful for improving trail running on slopes.
Mountain biking has exactly the same advantages as road cycling, except that it is similar to trail running and will help you to asses a course. You will gain confidence for technical courses and other difficult descents which is useful for trail running.
Ready to try cycling?
● Proportion of swimming and trail running for a week’s training: 20 or 30% swimming and 80 or 70% trail running.
● The advantages of swimming: works your upper body and rests the joints in your lower body.
You thought swimming was only good for active recovery, for exercising when you can’t run due to injury? Then swimming is about to surprise you! Like cycling, swimming is a non-weight-bearing sport, because (unlike Rose who flew on a famous boat) you float! In the water, there is no impact on your body, which is very beneficial. What’s more, because your muscles relax in the water, swimming is one of the only sports that leaves you feeling light, like you are on a cloud. But don’t confuse swimming with an afternoon at a spa!
When you swim, your body has hypoxia – a deficiency of oxygen.That’s why you might have a light head ache after the first few laps. This reduction in oxygen in the body helps to develop your breathing capacity whether you are swimming or running! Imagine running with your nose blocked, then open: life is much more fun when you can fill your lungs?
Swimming is also ideal for working all the muscles in your body, not just your legs. Your arms, first and foremost, because they are useful for trail running! Why? You think your arms move with some magic power? They need a little helping hand. And why not try swimming paddles to work them even more: their surface against the water increases the resistance, developing your arm muscles deeply.
And that’s not all. Swimming also strengthens your stomach muscles and your back: you’ll thank us next time you’re trail running with a bag!
Still not convinced about the advantages of swimming for trail running. Just think about all the freezing water you have waded through with chattering teeth.It’s probably worth considering swimming after all.
● The advantages of yoga: learn to breathe correctly and to relax both physically and mentally.
I can hear you! “Yoga? What’s that got to do with trail running?” I get it, but hear me out.Yoga is another great surprise!
The origin of the ancestral practice of yoga comes from the word union.The union of the mind and the body, union of living with the living, union with our environment, etc. It has a lot in common with trail running after all. In both yoga and trail running, you challenge yourself. Challenge yourself, because there is so much more to the universe. Challenge yourself to find freedom, unity and reality – the reality that matters, that we don’t always understand…but that is of no importance.
Yoga can help trail runners to improve, both physically and mentally. For example, the different and countless yoga postures can help to release knots and contractions caused by stress, and often an inconvenience for our sport. Yoga improves your flexibility and helps you to understand your full amplitude. That can be useful when you have to jump over a tree trunk in the middle of a path.
Breathing is also a common basic for both yoga and trail running. How many of us can claim to breathing consciously, and not mechanically when trail running? Breathing consciously changes EVERYTHING! When you breathe consciously, you open your chest cavity and you are conscious of the air filling your lungs and passing through your body; you realise the incredible and vital resource available to you;you realise that the power of the Earth contributes to your own power. In short, breathing consciously means breathing better!
Finally, this might sound like a cliché: but yoga helps you to become zen. No more stress. No more sleepless nights. You will sleep well and feel light all day long! Yoga is also an ally that gives you strength and that prepares you mentally for confronting problems.Negative thoughts that test your mental force will soon be a thing of the past!
4. GENERAL PHYSICAL PREPARATION OR GPP
● Proportion of GPP and trail running for a week’s training: 10 or 20% GPP and 90 or 80% trail running.
● The advantages of GPP: use and strengthen your body from your head to your toes.
General Physical Preparation is like a good sauce that goes with all dishes: it is beneficial for all sports!
For trail running, GPP is ideal for strengthening the areas of the bodies that work less but that are nevertheless essential for endurance:the stomach muscles, back and arms. There is a multitude of exercises to choose from including planks, sit-ups, and weight-lifting, adapted to your level of course. It’s better to lift 2-kg weights correctly than lifting heavier weights but not controlling the movement.
GPP also develops a capacity that is essential for trail running:proprioception. Often forgotten in training programmes, proprioception is an essential quality for trail runners. It stops you falling, gives you more balance, develops your agility, and gives you confidence for more technical sections. You can improve your proprioception by standing on a surface, more or less stable, and standing on one foot, then the other, for as long as possible. With your eyes open, then with your eyes closed! This exercise also strengthens your ankles, and we all know how important they are.
Finally, GPP also strengthens your thighs and buttocks which work hard when trail running. The best exercises are squats (with/without weights and with/without elastics), lunges (with/without weights), and the chair exercise followed by a sprint.Your thighs will be rock-hard: a good sign!
No one ever said that train runners were tourists out to take wildlife photos! Trail runners train hard to become multipurpose athletes!
5. CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
● Proportion of cross-country skiing and trail running for a week of winter training (not all year round): 70 or 80% cross-country skiing and 30 or 20% trail running.
● The advantages of cross-country skiing: similar to trail running, it’s a great way to stay fit during the winter.
Cross-country skiing is different from the sports mentioned previously because it is only possible at a certain time of the year: in winter when there is snow cover. If you have the opportunity to go cross-country skiing, it’s highly likely you live in the mountains (#jealousy). Trail running paths are inaccessible on foot during winter, but there is another way to train in the snow-covered mountains. Cross-country skiing – originally a mode of transport, and not a sport – is the ideal alternative activity to trail running. Cross-country skiing improves endurance on flat terrains; provides cardio exercise on slopes; and produces lactic acids that cause that prickly feeling in your muscles. This sport also strengthens your stomach and back muscles, the legs obviously, and even your arms get a good work out with the poles.
What’s more, there are two types of cross-country skiing. Classic cross-country skiing in parallel tracks, which is what we’ve been talking about. And cross-country skate skiing which is off track, on groomed slopes for an even better gliding sensation! Many professional trail runners that live in the mountains practise skate skiing in the winter, and only get their trainers out when the snow has melted. And yet, all their potential is intact when they start trail running again. Proof that cross-country skiing is trail running’s alter ego!
6. LEARN HOW TO STRUCTURE YOUR TRAINING SESSION PROPERLY
Frequency: once or twice a week.
Duration: less than one hour.
You’re mistaken, if you think that the jogging outing is the easiest part. It isn’t in fact as easy as you might think. Indeed, many sportsmen and women do it too fast. And yes, running slowly is not as easy as it seems! Indeed, the jogging session must be done at 70 % of your VO2max, i.e. the fastest speed you can maintain when running for two kilometres. Given that the jogging session is a recovery training session, the effort must therefore be “easy”!
The specific session
Frequency: once or twice a week.
Duration: about one hour.
The specific session is rarely the favourite training session of trail runners. However, this is the one that helps them improve and overcome shortcomings. In trail running, what we mean by the specific training session is doing exercises on a slope (e.g. 2 series of 6 x 200 metre uphill sections), exercises going downhill (the same session, but going downhill), as well as speed exercises (3 x 2 kilometres at a fast pace, or even 8 x 300 metres). The specific session will build up your confidence in your foot contact with the ground, and help you get used to changes in pace by regularly running at a higher intensity; because, even in trail running, you must always be ready for a sprint finish!
The long outing
Frequency: once a week.
Duration: upwards of 1½ hours for beginners.
The long outing is the guilty pleasure of trail runners. It is the opportunity to reconnect with nature, one’s body and one’s thoughts, whatever they may be! The goal of the long outing is replicate the distance, elevation gain and/or duration of effort that you will have to complete in the race. During the long outing, you will also get used to your gear, try out your provisions, practise using your poles (which needs some getting used to), etc. In short, the long outing is like a dress rehearsal for the big day!
And to finish off…
However much you love trail running, you don’t have to devote your whole body to the sport. Indeed, mixing it up with other types of training helps to prevent injuries, avoid boredom or even exercise different muscles to the ones used in trail running. swimming, road cycling, mountain biking, yoga, cross-country skiing, hiking, GPP (general physical preparation), etc.: there’s plenty to choose from!
Also, stretch your muscles as often as possible, and take care of your diet and your sleep (but this comes naturally), as well as not doing anything at all at times… Yes, indeed, this is good news: total rest is also part of your training!
For ready-made training programmes, head to the Decathlon Coach app. You will find training sessions suited to your level of ability and your objectives for trail running as well as for many other sports!
There is no bad reason to try cross-training. Maybe you feel like a change, or want to add different activities to your programme, or to just have some fun! You can even start mix the other sports with running in competitions, such as swimruns, triathlons, duathlon, and cross-country.
Don’t forget that no sport can replace trail running training completely. If you want to progress and reach your objectives, trail running must be the majority of your training time.
Have you decided which alternative sports you are going to try?