Go Low Impact

In theory, you’re supposed to be slower at 44 than you were at 41. But ask any masters’ runner and you’ll likely hear, that was my fastest time in three years. At an age when many runners find they need more time to recover from workouts, others are training as hard as ever. The key? They’re cross-training. But not cross-training to recovery from injury; cross-training so that they can work harder without getting injured in the first place.

The idea of cross-training when healthy isn’t new, but the problem has always been specificity: swimming and biking don’t develop running-specific muscles. Options like anti-gravity and underwater treadmills, which closely mimic running form while minimising impact, have emerged only recently.

Alberto Salazar, whose athletes use both techniques, is among the earliest proponents of these machines. Olympic silver-medallist Galen Rupp has an underwater treadmill that allows him to add 48 kilometres a week to the 160 he runs on land. The good news for the rest of us is that these options are becoming more widely available. AlterG, makers of the Anti-Gravity Treadmill, now have machines available in physios and rehab centres in most capital cities (visit alterg.com.au for a location finder).

But don’t expect to use these machines to duplicate your dry-land workouts with no adjustments. “You have to throw ‘speed’ and ‘pace’ out the window,” says Berra. Here’s how to get the most bang for your cross-training buck:


Underwater Treadmill

Adjust the belt speed of the treadmill and the jet speed of water flowing past you to get your desired effort level. Any speed will feel harder than it does on land due to water resistance. Add easy sessions to your routine or replace dry-land workouts.

Workout: To simulate 12 x 400 metres in 70 seconds with 2:00 recovery, Berra sets the belt to 13 kilometres per hour and the water jet to max; for the recovery, he turns the jets off and slows to 6.5 kilometres per hour. For longer intervals, reduce the jet and belt speeds.


Anti-Gravity Treadmill

By enveloping your lower body in a bubble of pressurised air, these machines bear part of your weight. The result: You can go further with less impact. Run between 85 and 95 per cent of your true weight to keep the training stimulus close to normal.

Workout: With reduced weight, you’ll run with higher turnover. Try a tempo workout of 5 x 5:00 at half-marathon pace with 1:00 of easy jogging to recover.


Pool Running

There’s still value in the old standby: pool running. Wear a flotation belt so that you can focus on good form instead of not drowning, and use a heart-rate monitor to gauge effort.

Workout: US Olympic bronze medalist Brian Diemer, now a running coach, used a killer pool-running workout before the 1992 Olympic Trials.

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