Katherine Hopper: Cross-Train To Become A Better Runner

When she's not running, Katherine Hopper prefers a spin class at her gym. Photo: Katherine Hopper

I have not yet found any other type of exercise that makes me feel as happy and fulfilled as I am when I’m running. It’s tough to compete with the simplicity and beauty of running outside. I love getting fresh air, seeing new place, and having an escape from a busy day. It’s even better when you can share the experience with friends. I like the simplicity of being able to just throw on some running shoes and head out the door. And the feeling after finishing a tough run is pretty unbeatable.

So it may come as no surprise that I’m not a huge fan of cross-training. If I have free time to be working out, I’d rather spend it running than doing anything else. However, in order to remain injury-free and become a stronger and faster runner, cross-training is necessary.

My favorite way to cross-train is to take a spin class. It’s a pretty efficient and fun way to get on a heavy sweat session. It’s an hour of loud music in a dark room and if you use your imagination, you can pretend that you’re at a concert and not actually torturing yourself in a sweaty room. The gym at my school has unlimited free classes, so there’s no excuse not to go.

Spinning is a great low-impact way to strengthen different muscle groups. Spinning targets many muscles that are involved with running, but it also helps strengthen weaker, less-used muscles, which can help lead to an improved muscle balance.

Spinning also allows you to work on both slow-twitch (endurance) and fast-twitch (quick to fatigue) muscles, depending on what you’re doing in the class. You can crank up the resistance knob and get out of the saddle or you can stick with fast and flat.

Fitting cross-training into an already packed day is difficult, especially when it involves driving to the gym, finding parking, changing clothes, etc. The best way to get myself to a spin class is to make plans to go with a friend. If I can’t find anyone who is able to go with me, I’ll just put it on the calendar and treat it like a non-negotiable date with myself. I make sure to pack a bag with my spin clothes ahead of time in order to decrease the amount of excuses that I can come up with to skip out or show up late.

During a week of heavy mileage or if my legs are feeling fatigued from a tough run, cross-training can actually be a refreshing change of pace. I have found that doing a spin class even once or twice a week allows my running muscles to grow even stronger and recover more effectively.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.

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