How Cross Training Helped me Bounce Back from Injury

Kettlebells and Ropes and Box Jumps: OH MY!

Contributed by Heather Stewart, a 2017 Ambassador for The Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon

I’m a baby.  Let’s just get this fact out of the way.  I’m a HORRIBLE sick/injured person.  I whine and moan and I hate when I can’t do what I want to do or what I used to do. When the doctor (finally) found a partial tear in my semimembranosus tendon (you know, that one in your hamstring?), I was relieved!

Why relieved? Because I had spent months favoring my hamstring, trying to rehabilitate a strain, feeling frustrated and living in pain. I could finally fix it properly, BUT it meant no running.

I couldn’t run! What?!?! I could go for walks, but only for about 20 minutes.  I had to find other things to do in order to stay in my fighting shape.

Heather's selfie, entitled "Death by Workout"

When I was finally ready to get moving again and really start training for things, I started to run and it hurt and I felt heavy and it was really, really hard. Not only was I literally heavier, but I had lost the lung capacity to run at a consistent pace.  I have been doing intervals for a while, but I’ve found that had become more difficult to keep up a strong pace.

I knew I had to go about it a different way, so I started to add cross training. First, I added Pilates reformer classes. Pilates is a system of exercises that helps improve physical strength, flexibility and posture.  Pilates worked for me because it is great for all levels.  The stronger you are, the more difficult you can make it.  I always would sweat, get a great work out and feel stronger, but because of the movements there wasn’t the muscle fatigue I felt with regular weight lifting.  I could comfortably go for a slow run the next day without feeling like I tired my legs out.

Although Pilates felt great and I knew it was helping, I also knew I needed more.  I wanted to feel stronger and gain more endurance.  And although it went against every fiber of my stubborn being, I realized it was time to ask for help!

I went to my trainer/friend and told her that I wanted to be a better runner and knew I needed to add more strength training.

She agreed to work with me and we decided that I would run 3 times per week (2 short, 1 long), do Pilates one day, and then we would work together one day. She put together a plan. The first ten minutes is a warm up on the treadmill, but not running.  Instead I use the incline and side steps to get my legs and lungs warm. Next, it is down to the TRX and for a series of exercises to warm up the rest of my body.

Then it gets fun! Each week she changes it up. I work alone or sometimes my friends join me and we work together.  We do exercises that you commonly see in Cross Fit type classes – ball slams, box jumps, kettle bells, etc.  We do them in circuits so we’re burning fat and building muscle at the same time.

Once a month she has me do a “baseline” workout.  This is the same workout we did the very first time and we see how far I’ve come. And although the numbers in my workout have not changed drastically, my running has improved.

Here are some examples of my changes since I started cross training:

  • I shaved 5 minutes off my 10K!
  • I ran my first half marathon in over a year!
  • I’ve lost an inch off of my hips!

On the door of my boss’s office is a sign that says, “Change is progress, not an event.”  And I am changing, I am progressing.  It is small, sometimes unnoticeable changes, but it IS happening.

One of the biggest changes for me is the way I feel about the gym.  I used to only go to group classes because I was too nervous to go in the “real gym.”  I didn’t want to do something wrong and I was super concerned what people would think when I was lifting weights, but now the gym is my playground.

I am super comfortable going in and doing 30 minutes on my own. In fact, I look forward to it.  I love our Thursday evening sessions mostly because I see physical and mental progress. Cross training isn’t just making me a better runner, it might even be making me a better person and – dare I say – less of a baby.

Everyone is different.  I am not a trainer or a doctor, so I couldn’t recommend what will work for you to make yourself a better runner.  What I do know is that changing it up worked for me.  It gave me something to look forward to when running felt difficult and discouraging.  Cross training makes me feel stronger and I see the changes with every session.  And these little wins encourage me to push myself when I’m running and have opened my eyes to try new things that I never thought I could do.

And isn’t that the draw for running as well?

When I ran my first 5K, I never thought I would be running a half marathon or a full marathon, let alone conquering the hills of San Francisco and running across the Golden Gate Bridge.  But, lo and behold, I’m a runner and this summer I will be conquering those hills and venturing across that bridge in a strong, cross-trained body.

Won’t you join me on July 23rd?

Heather Stewart works, lives, runs and cross trains in Southern California where she dreams of being a triathlete and hopes to be an old lady runner.  Her favorite place is a finish line, either running through it or cheering (crying) at it.

1 Reply to "How Cross Training Helped me Bounce Back from Injury"

  • comment-avatar
    March 1, 2017 (7:28 am)

    Cross training is definitely underutilized by most runners and it if used correctly can not only increase performance but can significantly reduce the risk of injury from all those miles hitting the pavement.