Tri Cross-Training for Runners: No Swimming Required

>> Tuesday, May 18, 2010

There's no question that triathletes are amazingly fit and hardcore. Swimming, biking, and then running -- all in succession -- work all the major muscle groups (and then some) as well as promote incredible endurance. I've been reading blogs and following a number of triathletes (like Healthy Ashley, who recently completed a Half Ironman!) in wonder.

I'd love to get into triathlons. But I have a small problem. The swimming part. It isn't a matter of not being able to maintain a stroke for any given time. I actually don't know how to swim efficiently. I haven't ever successfully done the freestyle stroke. Instead, my "stroke" is more of a frog style. When I was young, I failed out of my swimming class. It's for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I got 1,000,000 ear infections . . . almost always after swimming. So, I developed this fear of (and now habit that keeps me from) having my head under water (to this day, I've never done a dive of any kind either!). Eventually, I'd like to take a swim class.

For now, I developed this fun workout that gives runners at least some of the benefits of triathlon training -- all on land!

The workout is simple: Push-ups, biking, and running. Before you start, lay out all the stuff you'll need. For me, this meant just getting my bike and helmet out, stashing a water bottle in our yard, and grabbing a pair of sunglasses.

PUSH-UPS: (Of course, this is subbing for the swim portion -- Swimming is a total-body pusher for sure. Push-ups are good because they work your arms and core. Not the same, but still challenging.) For this workout, I did 100 of them. It's sort of my favorite non-running workout, and I've been working on them for a while. So, if you haven't, don't feel you need to start this high. I did one set of 60, waiting one minute, did a set of 35, waited one minute, did a set of 15. So, actually, as I'm now writing this: I did 110.

If you're new to push-ups, do enough sets to get to 15 or 25. Intermediate? Try to get up to 50 or 75 or more. Don't wait too long between sets -- that way, you'll be sure to feel the burn. And make sure to stretch when you're done.

BIKE: I planned to bike 20K (about 12.4 miles), which is the distance of the bike portion for a sprint triathlon. Problem: I was doing this workout at rush hour, and I don't live in the most bike-friendly area. Traffic got in the way (and cars didn't seem to notice or care that I was there -- I even got cut off at one point!), and as I made my way through three loops for a 4+ mile course, the traffic got heavier and heavier.

So, I stopped at about 8.3 miles (30 minutes total). No shame in that. It was mother-flippin' dangerous.

As you'll notice, I don't have a fancy road bike. I don't have fancy bike shoes. I don't have fancy gear. I rock a hybrid that likely makes me look like more of a wannabe than anything else. But it's a bike, folks! All you need is wheels. Oh, and a helmet. Ride on!

RUN: Again, I planned to run a 5K (3.1 miles), which is the distance of the run portion for a sprint triathlon. Respect the workout, though. If you're not used to biking and then running, even you cocky runners might have some trouble. My legs felt tight -- I was maintaining an 8:11ish pace the whole time, but didn't feel like going the full distance would be good for me (Also, I ran 12 miles the day before . . . So, too much, too soon after a hard workout -- I listened to my body).

In the end, I ran 2 miles in around 16:23. Then I returned home to stretch.

Total workout time: Approx. 50 minutes. In the coming weeks, I'm hoping to improve on my times and distances (eventually working up to maybe 200 push-ups, 40K bike, 10K run). It's a great cross-training activity, and it's actually a lot of fun. Something different for those of us who would rather run than do anything else.

What's your favorite cross-training workout? Are you training for a triathlon? Have any swimming tips for me? Just leave a comment or email us at

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