Sunday, March 5, 2023

Can Fitness Classes Help Your Next Ultra Marathon?

I was a little skeptical before I read the article which suggested that fitness classes in gyms can help prepare you for your next trail or ultra race. The article by Vincent et al (2022) found that trail runners who took a multifaceted approach to training significantly lowered injury risk through better movement and reduced fatigue during runs. 

Then I read that these gym classes (in the article) were fitness classes that bring together multiple components like strength and aerobic exercise while introducing variety and fun at the same time. I realized it's just cross training put in a fanciful way. Note that this cross training is not CrossFit

The term cross-training first became popular back during the running boom in the late 1970's and 1980's. Runners who got injured and wanted to keep their fitness would 'cross-train' by doing another kinds of workout like cyclingswimming or even weight training. Runners who were not injured and wanted to prevent injuries would cross train to correct muscular imbalances on some days. Plus the variety in training prevented burnout and boredom. It subsequently lead to an increase in popularity in triathlons the the birth of cross training shoes (*see below).

Back to the article, which found that the majority of of acute and chronic trail and ultra running injuries occurs in the lower leg usually. Especially in the knee and ankle. More than 70 percent are due to overuse (or an increase in load). Ankle sprains are the most common acute injuries. 

You need to be looking ahead to respond to to the variations in ground surfaces, make selections on which obstacles to avoid, read the weather signs etc when running a trail ultramarathon. Hence, you need to anticipate, predict and react to maintain balance while navigating trails. Especially when fatigued and hungry

The article found that trail runners who took a multifaceted approach to training significantly lowered injury risk  through better movement and reduced fatigue during runs.

Since trail running is repetitive, gym classes create movement variation that will expand your range of motion and activate different sets of muscles to reduce overuse injuries. All of which can keep you health and injury free to help you cross the finish line.

Gym classes do not just mean spinstationary cycling or treadmill running. You can choose a class that is  heart rate based interval workouts that include resistance training, rowing or bootcamp etc. You can practise specific aspects like pushing or pulling sled, using the rower to increase overall force production that you might not do on the road or trails.

Studies show that concurrent strength and endurance training help improve running performance by improving strength and running economy. Runners can then run for longer periods of time without fatigue. This is really important if you are training for ultras.

If you plan to go down this path, have a specific goal race in mind and create an objective for what you want to achieve with gym classes. It can be as simple as bouncing back quicker from your long run or running faster up a certain hill. Those who use heart rate monitors may need to find classes to monitor your heart rate zones.

Gym classes should not affect your long term goal. Start with one every week to help you get a feel for the class and to allow for ample recovery especially if you find the class challenging. 


Vincent HK, Brownstein M, Vincent KR (2022). Injury Prevention, SafetrainingTechniques, Rehabilitation, And Return To Sport In Trail Runners. Arthros Sp Med Rehab. 28;4(1): e151-e162. DOI: j.asmr.2021.09.032.

*The Nike Air Trainer 1 (in chlorophyll, above) was originially created as a multi purpose performance shoe back in 1986. Nike's goal was to have one shoe so that you can run, weight train, do other sports and exercises with it so you don't have to carry a few pairs of shoes with you around. 

John McEnroe used it when he was still playing professionally. Click on the link to see the picture (Getty images copyright, so I can't use it here).

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