Why cross-training is a great way to burn fat and avoid injury.

I first got into running in high school when I joined the track team as a sprinter my freshman year.

Running quickly became my go-to workout. At one point, I was running three to five miles every day, seven days a week—on the treadmill, outside, wherever I could run.

At first, I noticed my body changing. I began to lose weight and build some muscle in my legs. But eventually, I plateaued. My lower body was strong, but my upper body was fairly weak. My penchant for running began to wane, as I wasn’t seeing results, and my shins, knees and back began to ache frequently.

A few years ago, I realized that I needed to start incorporating other exercises like weight lifting into my routine—to give my knees a break and to build strength all over my body. But I hated lifting weights on my own, so I started taking BODYPUMP a few days a week, and other boot camp classes that incorporated weight lifting exercises.

And then something crazy happened: I noticed a significant improvement in my running.

Here’s how weight lifting changed my running for the better.

I avoided potential injury

Overusing any muscle by doing the same repetitive movement is not good for your body and can lead to injury. (Think tennis elbow, runner’s knee.) This is called repetitive strain injury or overuse syndrome. Running every day for many miles a day causes repetitive micro-traumas in your bones and joints, which can eventually lead to severe pain and injury over time. By rotating your workouts, you are allowing different areas of your body to heal while you strengthen or work another area of the body.

Furthermore, resistance training and plyometric exercises allow your muscles to contract forcefully and quickly, which is an important part of avoiding injury while running or performing any other form of cardio.

My endurance and stamina improved

I was able to run longer, faster and more efficiently because my body was stronger all over. Lifting weights leads to lean muscle tissue and stronger joints, and can result in greater range of mobility, balance and flexibility—all of which are essential for runners.

Here are ten essential strength exercises for runners. And here’s a runner’s strength workout.

My body beat the plateau

When I started lifting weights and doing body-weight movements, I began to see an overall body change. I was burning fat and gaining muscle definition and tone. Now, I aim to run a few times a week, incorporating weight lifting, walking, HIIT/boot camp classes, and rest days into my routine. By mixing it up and keeping my body guessing and working hard, I don’t hit the plateau that I hit when all I did was run.

If you are a dedicated runner, up your running game by incorporating weight lifting into your routine a few times a week. Take a BODYPUMP class, lift some free weights, do some body-weight exercises. Mix it up, and chances are you’ll feel and look better in your body than you ever imagined possible.

Five ways to train your body smarter.

Photo credit: Studio Firma, Stocksy