• Caroline

Why every mum should be cross-training

Last November I ran a 10k in 53 minutes with minimal running under my belt. I had a good level of general fitness but I had only run a couple of 5k before race day so I wasn’t sure how I was going to fare on the day. As you can imagine, I was pretty pleased with the result.

Since then, I've been incorporating running sessions - interval training as well as longer runs and some hill sprints - into my schedule in preparation for several subsequent 10k races and also a half-marathon this weekend. And you know what? Every single 10k has taken me 58-60 minutes! So how did I end up performing worse when I was putting in the ‘right’ training?

Well, in my case it's a case of overtraining. I move my body a lot during any given week: I cycle between clients and classes and do most of the exercises with my mums during eg Buggyfit or Strength. So by the time I turn up to my own training sessions, my legs have already done about 2000 squats and lunges. Overtraining never produces good results. Muscle fibres break down during exercise (which is a stressor on the body) and recover and get stronger as we sleep, rest and re-fuel (mainly on protein).

I've been feeling tired during these running sessions and they haven't felt particularly good. So now I've decided to listen to my body and go back to doing what I was doing before ie cross train. A mixture of HIIT, strength and Pilates is the perfect cocktail for me ahead of a 10k and just to feel balanced and strong in general. A few years ago when I was taking my personal training exam I met another trainer and runner who had been rowing and doing Pilates for 8 months due to an injury. When he went back to running he hadn't lost any of his speed or endurance.

But outside of fitness circles, the enormous benefits of mixing up your training isn't as widely known. Furthermore, the exercise that you used to do pre-children is sometimes not suitable into your 40s and beyond. Many mums who come to my classes still believe that cardio and flexibility are the most important things for their bodies. But as they tune into their bodies and learn more about how the female body works, they come to realise that strength and mobility are two of the most vital components of any training programme.

Let's take a closer look at the benefits of both:

Strength training: -As women age, we lose muscle mass and bone density. Loss of muscle mass means the joints are less supported and loss of bone density can lead to osteoporosis and bone breakages. If we want to prevent this, we need to incorporate strength training, preferably twice a week, into our schedule. For my running mums, I suggest replacing at least one run with a strength session that includes single-leg work (eg jumping lunges, single-leg squats or single-leg bridges) to build the muscles needed for running.

-Strength training can be done in all three planes of motion (unlike many cardio activities such as cycling which are often done in a single plane). Think woodchops, side lunges and back squats. This variety helps to balance out the muscles in the body so that they all are doing the job they were designed for and also prevents unnecessary wear and tear. This becomes even more important after pregnancy and childbirth.

-Strength training is a highly efficient way of training which increases our metabolic rate and burns calories after the session has ended. These shorter sharper training sessions are so much more helpful for busy working mums than eg a 1-hour run or 2-hour bike ride.

-Building back strength, starting with the deep core foundation, is crucial for mums who have recently had a baby. This includes the pelvic floor which will need at least 3-6 months and often 12-18 months to recover from childbirth.


-Mobility exercises (sometimes called dynamic stretches) are a great way for mums to prepare their body for exercise and they can also be done as a stand-alone session. This will help to reduce common aches and pains in mums such as mid-back tightness, neck stiffness and hip soreness.

-Over-stretching a very tight muscle rarely works (foamrolling it might, or looking at ways of reducing the movement that is making it tight in the first place). Many mums find this concept difficult to grasp and often think they should be stretching more. Once we've been able to loosen up a tight muscle, the best way forward is to strengthen the surrounding muscles who are most likely not pulling their weight.

-Mobility means controlling the range of movement around a joint using the muscles while flexibility means going to a passive end range, often using momentum. In hypermobile mums, injuries can happen if they overstretch. If they have recently had a baby, the hormone relaxin will remain in their body (thus increasing their hypermobility) for as long as they breastfeed. Therefore, using slow, controlled movements and building strength is vital.

If you need any help putting together a training schedule, get in touch with me at hello@mamaste-fitness.com to book a consultation or 1-1 session.

Photo credit: Andreea Tufescu Photography

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