Cross-training during injury

As we head into peak #marathon training season, there may be occasions when your #endurance #training is reduced or temporarily stopped due to injury or bad weather. Although training adaptations are reversible and may result in reduced performance when training resumes, it’s important that you don’t panic.

A well-planned and structured cross-training programme can help maintain your physiological and psychological fitness until you’re back on your feet again.

Short term (<1-2 weeks) reductions in training (i.e. due to bad weather) are unlikely to cause any issues with your level of fitness. The first stage of de-training is likely to occur within 2-3 weeks and may result in a reduction of VO2max (5-7%). These changes occur at a ‘central’ level (i.e. at the heart rather than in the skeletal muscle) and so alternative exercises can be introduced to prevent de-training and the reduction in VO2max. The second stage takes place over a longer period of time (8-10 weeks) and may result in VO2max returning to pre-training levels. Any rate of decline depends on your training status prior to your injury (Mujika & Padilla, 2000). This second stage of de-training is more specific to skeletal muscle and may mean that your body becomes less efficient at utilising fat stores. This places greater reliance on muscle glycogen during exercise at the same intensity. There may also be significant increases in blood lactate levels at the same work rate and decreases in muscle mass during longer periods of de-training (>8 weeks).

So, what should you do if you have to reduce your training?

Any cross-training programme should be planned in consultation with your GP, consultant or physio. As a rule of thumb, cross-training should be a sport specific as possible whilst avoiding any further aggravation of your injury. For runners, a treadmill is the obvious option provided there is no injury risk. Always ensure the gradient is set at 1% to take the lack of air resistance into account when running indoors (Jones, 1996). Cross-training using an elliptical trainer may be a suitable, sport-specific option. For all cross-training sessions, it’s important to maintain the same frequency, relative intensity (i.e. 80% maximum heart rate), and duration as your normal training sessions. If you are unable to take part in sport-specific exercise due to injury, arm cranking or deep water running in a swimming pool may help maintain VO2max or prevent a significant reduction. In some cases, you may be able to reduce workload (i.e. by 50%) rather than have a complete break and still maintain aerobic performance for up to 3 weeks. This shows that enforced time off should not always be viewed negatively provided low intensity exercise can be maintained.

For more information on managing an enforced break from training, contact me by email: or tweet me at: @PUREsportsperf

Marathon training - Christmas is over, what now?

Christmas is over and the New Year celebrations are just beginning to wear off! As we approach the beginning of January, you should be starting your marathon training if you haven’t done so already. For those of you new to marathon and half marathon training, here are some of my initial thoughts and suggestions:

Get yourself a training plan

It’s important to put some thought into your running - i.e. how many times a week? Where can you run? Who can you run with? Think about some long term, mid term, short term goals. Having some structure to your training is really important. It creates a sense of purpose to each training session, ensures that you progress in the right way and helps prevent overtraining. There are some really good plans available at:

Don’t try and rush your training. Have patience and faith in your training. The improvements will come but it is a progressive process.

Focus on building your endurance base

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a runner, cyclist or triathlete, your aerobic base training period will share the following characteristics:

  • Develop your aerobic fitness and improve endurance

  • The training volumes are likely to be high (but controlled)

  • The majority of your training will be at an easy/moderate training intensity

  • Predominantly involves the recruitment of slow twitch (type I) muscle fibres

  • You will get cold and wet!

Long ‘easy’ runs should form the bedrock of your marathon training plan. These runs help your body adapt and continued training will result in an increase in the density of mitochondria (the oxygen power house!) within your muscle cells and an increase in the muscle capillary network. Both of these changes enable the muscle to become more efficient at processing and extracting oxygen from the blood.

In addition, there chemical changes which take place as a result of endurance training that enable the body is able to increase the use of its fat stores and spare muscle glycogen at the same given work rate. The long training runs also result in repetitions of complex movement patterns which utilise the majority of major muscles and joints within the body. This may improve your running biomechanics and make you a more efficient runner.

The pace of your long, easy run should be a good 60-90 seconds slower than your 10k race pace and you should be able to hold a conversation.

Build up gradually

Your training, including your long runs, should be built up very gradually. Starting with a run 3 times a week or every other day, is generally a safe place to start and this can be progressed, as the body gets stronger.

If you follow a good training plan, it should aim to increase your training by about 10% a week. For your long runs, this will mean increasing the duration by approximately 10 minutes a week. Aim to build up your training by 10% a week for three to four weeks and then reduce or maintain the overall distance/time for a recovery week. This ensures that your body is able to recover and adapt to the increasing training load.


Make use of running groups and on-line resources like #ukrunchat on Twitter. It is a great way to share tips for marathon training and to encourage you through these next few months. Here are some final tips:

1)      Consistency is the key, it’s no good flogging yourself to near death on a long run and then being so shattered you can’t train the rest of the week.  You need to be out there a minimum of three times a week.

2)      Invest in your training – good shoes and a waterproof jacket are essential

3)      Get a regular sports massage

4)      Run with a buddy and remember to have fun!

Need help or advice?

If you have any training related questions then please feel free to contact me. You are more than welcome to make use of my Facebook page for training tips and updates or Twitter @PUREsportsperf - I will always try and respond as quickly as possible. Alternatively, if you want more specific, bespoke training advice then you can contact me via my website.