Runners Shouldn’t Fear Tennis

My training plan controls my life during racing season. And once the season is over, I’m always a little fearful of doing other sports. Even without a race on the horizon, I continue full-steam ahead on the summer’s sports routine and intensity. While I yearn for the fun and freedom of other physical activities, my comfort with my routine and fear of injuries keep me locked into my training plan.

But this morning, 10 days after the Leadville 100 and in the meat of my offseason, I traded running shoes and routine for a friendly tennis match with an old friend.

I was terrible. Even so, I was smiling ear to ear between whiffing the ball and chasing it down. I could not have had more fun. A bonus? I could see how playing a game or two of tennis while in out of season could help my running game.

Let’s look at three sports you should consider doing in the off-season. These sports might help you be a better racer next season if you properly fit them into your training plan.

Tennis

I’ve always known that tennis involves powerful bursts of speed, hand-eye coordination, endurance and teamwork. What I hadn’t realized is that the psychological benefits seem to be unmatched. Tennis builds self-confidence and self-esteem in young players and reduces stress. Jack Groppel, an exercise physiologist at the United States Tennis Association, says it improves cognitive abilities in adults and seniors. Several studies show how tennis can help improve mental awareness and assertiveness while reducing depression. Sports psychologist John Murray says tennis instills a positive image in players and helps them develop self-control. Lastly, research indicates that the alertness and tactical thinking required by tennis and similar sports may create new connections in the brain, which encourages continued brain development.

In the offseason, you could swap strength training for tennis once or twice a week. Because of the intensity of tennis, count it as one of your two and no more than four weekly intensity days.

Swimming

Finding a non-weight bearing, cardio-intensive sport you enjoy is like hitting the jackpot. Swimming targets areas of the body that are massively under-exercised on the road, like shoulders, arms and chest. Some runners are vulnerable to upper-body injury. Swimming builds upper body muscles, helping prevent injuries and adding extra pump power to your running. It also improves flexibility and carries a minimal injury risk, although runners need to take care to not overextend their groin swimming the breaststroke. Take advantage of the dwindling summer and find an open body of water to lap in the place of a pool.

Rock Climbing

Climbing gyms are cropping up all over the country. Retail trend analysts report that climbing industry is reaching new heights, with 2017 sales reaching $175.5 million, up $59.2 million since 2014.

Climbing involves strength, flexibility, coordination and problem-solving, all of which are useful for endurance athletes. Moreover, navigating rock with fingers and toes helps strengthen muscles that rarely used in endurance athletes.

While on the wall, you are moving laterally, up and down in the vertical plane in contrast to the movement patterns of runners, who move in a forward, limited direction. Your lower body will gain hip strength and flexibility by moving side to side, up and down.

There are hundreds of other sports that you can include in your off-season training. No matter what you choose, start slowly. Fitness in one sport does not always transfer over to another sport and going fast risks injuries.

Enjoy your off-season by trying a new sport. Focus on having fun and being with friends. You’ll build a new skill set, improve your strength and feel refreshed when it’s time to start ramping up again in the spring.

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