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Training Tips

Preparing for a Marathon: Cross Training Reduces Injury Risk

Expert: Dr. Lobo Louie, Associate Professor of Department of Physical Education, the Hong Kong Baptist University

Cross-training refers to various training exercises that supplement your main sport, with an ultimate goal of improving overall performance. The main training method for marathon is to build up your weekly mileage and in exercise physiology, mileage build-up helps train the muscular system and cardiovascular system. For novice marathon runners, a running distance of over 65km per week potentially increases the risk of injury, especially for the knee joint and lower body. Runners are thus advised to incorporate cross-training into their marathon training, enhancing power and body condition as well as reducing injury risk with a progressive training program.

Benefits of cross-training:

  1. Reduces the risk of chronic injury caused by excessive running
  2. Reduces exercise boredom
  3. Provides comprehensive training methods
  4. Enhances physical fitness as a whole
  5. Improves body coordination
  6. No negative effect on cardiovascular endurance even if you have to stop training because of injury

Common cross-training options for marathon runners include endurance swimming, deep water running, long distance cycling, machine exercises, elliptical trainers and so on. The aim is to allow the specific muscle group used in running to relax or rest, preventing repetitive strain and thus reducing the chance of injury. The assisting muscles that are used in running, like the iliotibial band (ITB) that runs along the outside of the thigh, could also be enhanced. The risk of getting iliotibial band syndrome could be lower and the overall running performance enhanced.


}        1km running: 3km cycling

}        4km running: 1km swimming

Cross-training is part of a modern, scientific training program. The amount of cross-training needed depends on your body condition and running goal, and usually 20-30 per cent of your overall training program should consist of cross-training. Using the mild muscle soreness experienced the day after training as reference point, serious muscle soreness indicates that you have trained too hard or for too long. Overtraining is counterproductive – runners are advised to create a journal to record their training exercises throughout the week, so as to adjust their training program accordingly.