Though the best way to get better at running is to run - there are definitely other activities that will aid in bettering your form, strength and power. Cross training can also help to make you more injury resistant. Adding in a day or two of some other sort of activity will help to make you a more rounded runner and, depending on the exercise, may have cardio benefits as well.
But the thing is, you have to choose the right exercises and add them in at the correct time in order for cross training to supplement your running, instead of detracting from it. Cross training adds additional and different stresses to training, and should be considered as part of the total program. You have to be smart and make sure the activity fits in to your complete stress/rest cycle. We know that Lydiard is big on the correct timing of workouts - this goes for cross training, too.
So what should we, as runners, consider for cross training?
Strength Training - Weight Lifting or Body Weight exercise - But make sure you’re doing the movements correctly to prevent injury.
Biking - Works some muscles not used in running with the added benefit of a cardiovascular workout as well.
Swimming - Another great cardiovascular workout. Low impact, and has the added benefit of also working your core and upper body.
Yoga - It’s all about balance, and can help you stretch and strengthen your muscles. Plus the focus on breathing can help with lung capacity.
There are many other options out there as well, but again, we’re focusing on what may work best for runners.
One of my favorite methods is cycling. I love that you can still be outside, and moving air through your lungs, plus it’s a great leg workout. There are a lot of great cycling groups out there - Velo City’s Tuesday Night Ride is my favorite in Holland. They have a lot of different options for speed (slow and steady all the way up to screaming fast). Be sure to check your local area and see what’s out there for you if you’re interested in joining a cycling group! I also do some strength training a couple of times a week.
It’s important to add some sort of cross training to your schedule - for variety, for strength, and for speed. But be sure to pay attention and talk to your coach about how it fits into your schedule so that you’re not overdoing it. And most importantly of all, be sure to listen to your body. Just like with running, cross training has a potential for injury. Pay attention and don’t over-stress your system!