The human brain craves routine, and many of us pick a discipline – whether running, biking, swimming, or weights – and stick to it with fierce loyalty. By doing so, it’s easy to get stuck on automatic pilot. Adding other forms of exercise can complement your existing routine. For example, bike riding builds the fast-twitch power muscles of the glutes and thighs, making them more injury resistant, and because biking is zero impact, it spares the joints the pounding that occurs when you cover all your training distance on foot. Many triathletes believe that the fitness gains made on the bike carry over to running, that by building stronger legs and lungs, cycling actually makes for a swifter run. And race times prove this. Consider that in a recent Ironman 70.3 win in Spain, professional triathlete Javier Gomez ran a blazingly fast 1:11:49 half marathon, after a 1.2 mile swim and a 56-mile bike. And many Ironmen are known to run 2:40-ish marathons in the heat after a 2.4 mile swim and 112-mile bike ride on a relatively light (60-mile per week) running plan.
So, train like a triathlete. In other words, include any combination of swimming, biking, running, and resistance training into your regimen. While at the gym, instead of concentrating on pumping one muscle group, mix in pull-ups, burpees, dead lifts, and box jumps, moving between these exercises with minimal rest. This functional approach to training, recently made popular with CrossFit, has been shown in a November study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research to significantly decrease body fat and increase endurance for both men and women across all levels of prior workout experience and body composition. And don’t forget massage. A 10-minute appointment with your foam roller is a discipline in its own right, boasting preventative benefits that are arguably superior to the traditional static stretch.
Including two disciplines a day allows you to spice things up while reducing the amount of time doing any particular exercise, which staves off boredom. Rather than slog through an hour-long six-mile run, go for a 20-minute spin on the bike and finish with a one- or two-mile trot on tired legs. In the triathlon world, consecutive workouts on minimal rest are called bricks. Triathletes often follow a swim with a bike ride, or run after cycling, to simulate the muscle fatigue experienced on the day of their event. The name "bricks" is doubly appropriate. Not only are the brick workouts piled on like bricks, but they also make your legs feel about as heavy, especially if you bike, then run. Think: B(ike)R(un)ick. By exposing your body to various disciplines in swift succession, you shock it into greater fitness in less time while avoiding monotony.
A good way to practice a brick is to hop on your bike and cycle to a destination, like a track, park, or hilly neighborhood. Lock your bike and jog around the block. Your legs may feel heavy and blood-engorged from the cycling, or they may feel nice and warm and ready to run. You can also replace running with jumping rope, which works the slow twitch muscles of the calves. Jumping rope is great for increasing your cadence (the number of steps you take per minute), which itself is another strategy for running faster. One thousand revolutions with the rope is equivalent to running a mile. Another alternative is to run or bike to your local gym and either head into the water for some laps or hit the weights for a high intensity session, then run or ride home. The variations are endless. Try to incorporate a brick workout into your routine once a week.
Emphasize quality over quantity in a training regimen that includes a variety of disciplines to reach, even exceed, your fitness goals. You’ll find that a focused approach will make for a healthier, and happier, you.