The Role of Arm Training and Cross-Training for Activities That Involve Mainly the Legs Part of the accepted dogma of training is that all training is absolutely specific. Thus it is believed that the greatest benefit is achieved if one trains only in the specific activity in which one wishes to compete (Clausen, 1977).
While this is essentially true, some evidence suggests that arm training added to normal leg training may enhance performance during leg exercise more than leg training alone (Loftin et al, 1988). Both the mechanism and the practical value of this finding are presently unclear. The trained arm muscle may be better able to remove lactate during high-intensity exercise and conversely store more glycogen prior to endurance exercise. By releasing lactate from those glycogen stores during prolonged exercise, the arms could make an important contribution to overall carbohydrate balance during prolonged exercise.
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A related consideration is the value of cross-training for runners. The growth of the triathlon in the mid-1980s was sustained largely by an influx of runners keen to tackle a new sport. Subsequently, elite triathletes have shown themselves to be not only exceptional swimmers and cyclists but also runners of very high class. For example, in 1989, American Mark Allen had to complete the final 26-mile marathon of the 139-mile Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in 02:40:04 in order to win by 58 seconds. To what extent does cycling hinder or enhance running performance? At present, cycling’s effects are not entirely clear, but certain possibilities are apparent.
Young competitive runners probably should run only; cycling will be detrimental to their running performance. However for marathon and ultramarathon runners, cycling allows the metabolic demands of prolonged exercise to be simulated without the same risk of muscle damage or injury. Dave Scott, the athlete beaten by Mark Allen, believes that a heavy cycling program aids distance-running performance and that this explains why elite triathletes seldom run more than 60 to 80 miles a week.
My experience is that cross-training with cycling offers the greatest benefits for those whose running training is limited by frequent or resistant injuries. Supplementing a less demanding running program with cycling may well produce the same benefits as a more strenuous running program but with a lesser risk of injury.
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