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Cross training a key part of a runner's regimen — especially as they age

05/06/2015 02:34 EDT | Updated 05/06/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Elise Yanover's body showed no signs of strain as she laced up the day before her 10-kilometre run.

It was a far different story when she took part in the downhill race.

Already overtrained and exhausted from a gruelling fitness regimen, the 10K quickly took its toll on the elite triathlete. Yanover sustained pelvic and hip stress fractures, which sidelined her from running for four months.

At her peak, she ran about 50 kilometres per week, in addition to hours devoted to swimming and cycling. The time away from training gave the Toronto-based physiotherapist an opportunity to think about retooling her routine.

Yanover continues to cycle — albeit less frequently — and has reduced the number of days devoted to running, maxing out at about 30 kilometres a week.

Swimming has been replaced by weight training. She has also incorporated hot yoga into her routine, which has helped provide mental calm as well as a workout.

Whether it's for leisure or competition, runners can often have a one-track mind in their approach to fitness. As they focus on building endurance or shaving seconds off their personal best time, their devotion to running — and only running — may result in neglecting other forms of exercise.

But cross training — taking part in additional activities beyond a primary sport of choice — is crucial for runners, especially as they get older, noted Reed Ferber, director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary.

Ferber said after the age of 45, a process called sarcopenia — or muscle wasting — starts to take place.

"You naturally lose muscle and joints get a little stiffer... and you change the way that you run as a consequence," he said.

"We always say swim, bike, lift weights — anything to maintain your cardiovascular fitness in addition to running. But lifting weights is absolutely critical.

"Study after study has shown for the longest time that muscle strength is a key factor for injury prevention."

Yanover said she feels much less exhausted with her new routine, and that her body recovers a lot better between workouts.

"I want to still be able to be active when I'm 60 and 70," said Yanover, 46. "I don't want to burn my body out so quickly.

"I realize that I don't need to do as much to benefit from it in the same way that I did. And I'm probably benefiting from it more (by) making it more about quality than quantity, and listening to when I feel tired and cutting back."

P.E.I.-based photographer Heather Ogg continued training and running in both half and full marathons despite being injured. She's been receiving physiotherapy treatments for more than a year.

As she scales back from running long distances, Ogg plans to make cross training a part of her regimen. In addition to incorporating cycling and swimming, she also plans to play tennis and volleyball as a way to have fun and get fit simultaneously.

"I would rather be a phenomenal 5K runner than a crappy marathoner," said Ogg, 48.

"My goal now is I want to rebuild how I'm running and cross-train and run properly.... Run well, not run long."

Based on research, Ferber said what's most critical for runners is hip and core strengthening, and he suggested exercises that help with stabilizing or balance muscles. Examples include calf raises and using a band to strengthen the hip abductors, muscles located on the upper and outer portions of the buttocks.

"Those tiny little muscles, balancing muscles, are what's critical from an injury prevention standpoint."

— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.

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