Piedmont High Harriers Cross-Train to Gain an Edge by Mark Sutro, co-founder CRUfit Oakland


Cross-country runners face a dilemma - they know that more training can make them faster, but too much running without adequate recovery time can lead to slower times while increasing the probability of injury.

Finding the right balance is essential to achieving optimal results.

In order to improve performance, runners go through numerous overload and recovery cycles. Overload sounds ominous, but simply means that an athlete is taking on a bit greater training load than he or she has recently. That could mean slightly longer or slightly more intense training sessions. Immediately after training, the runner is actually weaker, but if the ensuing recovery phase (the period between bouts of exercise) is optimal, the body adapts and comes back stronger.

How does a cross-country team drawn from a relatively small student body compete effectively against the big schools? Training smart is a key element. High-school runners are particularly susceptible to back, hip, leg and foot injuries. Unless effectively managed, risk of injury increases with training volume.

Piedmont High School Cross-Country Coach Jeanine Holmlund has been very aggressive in seeking ways to keep training volume up while simultaneously managing the recovery process and minimizing risk of injury. As a result, the PHS harriers run a lot but also blend in a fair amount of strength and cardiovascular cross-training. The benefits are both physical and mental.

For the past two seasons, the PHS harriers have included indoor rowing at CRUfit as part of their preparation for the race season. Once a week, a typical agenda calls for them to meet after school, run 2.2 miles up the hill to Montclair, hydrate, row at CRUfit for 50 minutes, hydrate — then run back down the hill.

WATCH A VIDEO of the team training at CRUfit

Rowing is a non-impact activity that has been shown to have numerous benefits for runners. It gives them a break from the impact-related stress of running while building their cardiovascular fitness and full-body strength. The result is a stronger, more injury-resistant athlete. The rowing machines allow the runners to do both speed work (think sprinting) by powering through shorter harder sets, and aerobic foundation work by working steadily through longer sets.

For the past 2 seasons the Piedmont Girls have placed first and tied for first in the Western Alameda County Conference (WACC) and gone on to take a fourth place and a fifth place in Division 4 at the State Championships. Last year the Piedmont Boys made big strides from previous years by placing first in the WACC. They placed 4th in the North Coast Section (NCS) and missed the cut off for the State Championships by 1 point. While it is difficult to determine how much of their success can be attributed to the aggressive use of alternative training, it is clear that the PHS harriers are doing a lot of things right.

Piedmont Cross Country Team CRUfit Oakland 09222016 Piedmont Cross Country Team Rowing CRUfit Oakland 09222016

 CRUfit Montclair offers personal training and a variety of group training classes including cycling, rowing, TRX, circuit training, boot camp, boxing and Zumba for adults. In addition, CRUfit hosts fall training for PHS cross-country, winter training for the Oakland Composite (high school) mountain bike team and after-school teen programs for youth at all fitness levels. 

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