Cross training is an essential part of having a healthy, injury-free running journey.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Cross training for runners used to be something that you only saw occasionally on a training plan for someone as they worked in to more mileage. Which was perfect for our mentality…
I just want to run.
My life is busy and if it comes down to my run or strength training, I’m always going to run!
I hate the gym.
Admit it, at least one of statements have passed your lips since becoming a runner!
The truth is that cross training for runners, when done correctly, has massive benefits. It’s going to help you run faster, farther and reduce the chance of injuries.
Personally, I used every single one of those for many years to avoid strength training, let alone pre-hab or stretching!! Sure I would do yoga here and there or remember to hoist up a weight once in awhile, but it lacked: CONSISTENCY.
The key to progress in running or any fitness endeavor is consistency.
In this article, you’ll learn more about what cross training really is, why you should consider doing it as a runner, the types of crossing training to avoid, and the best options out there for you.
What is Cross Training?
Cross training for runners is any alternative complementary workout or exercise that’ll improve your running performance.
I’ve heard many folks lately say that we should stop calling it cross training for runners and just call it training.
Fair enough, if you really want to run through your 50’s and beyond, then you need to do more than run.
Cross training for running is utilizing your muscles in a variety of ways to help:
- correct muscle imbalances
- increase core strength for endurance
- improve leg strength for endurance and speed
- prevent injuries through stronger hips
- maintain muscle mass (often lost with distance running)
- ensures full range of motion and flexibility for better running, endurance and speed
Every cross training activity will have its pros and cons, but you should also note that not all types of cross training are good for runners.
This article will explain all the different types that are good for you as a runner, and also the ones you should steer clear of.
How Does Cross Training Prevent Injuries for Runners?
Running involves repetitive movements that can lead to overuse injuries and muscle imbalances. The next thing you know, you have peroneal tendonitis or runner’s knee.
Cross training can address not only those imbalances, but also promote active recovery to avoid overuse injuries and overtraining.
It also helps prevent injury by helping our skeletal system strengthen just as fast as our muscular system has due to running.
Muscles adapt relatively quickly, but tendons and ligaments can take much longer.
The reason for this is that tendons and ligaments don’t have the same blood flow as our muscles do, so they take longer to adapt to the stresses they face while we run.
That’s why, if all you do is run and you progress with running too quickly, you could easily end up injured. By incorporating cross training into your training plan, you’re allowing your body to strengthen through different means simultaneously.
Our ankles, knees, and lower backs aren’t used to the repetitive impact running entails. But with cross training, you’re able to improve endurance without overexerting your most vulnerable joints, muscles, and connective tissues.
Which Cross Training Activities Should Runners Consider Avoiding?
There are certain cross training activities that runners should consider avoiding because they include quick lateral movements that increase the risk of injuries for runners.
This means you might want to avoid exercises and activities that require fast movements with a lot of change in direction.
This includes basketball, soccer, and tennis.
TO CLARIFY!!! As a running coach, I love to see you have a variety of interests. But if you go from only running to adding in a lot of these quick movements, it’s very easy to get an ankle injury. So, just as with your running, add them in gradually.
The reason for this is simple: since runners are used to moving in one plane of motion (forward), and so including these activities too quickly and with high intensity can be harmful and has the potential for injury.
Not all lateral movement is bad, in fact it’s great and necessary. Just remember we need to build up, so start with slow and controlled movements to strengthen muscles for runners that are often neglected.
What are the Best Cross-Training Workouts for Runners?
Let’s be honest with distance running there are only so many hours or energy left in the day for cross-training.
I love the following methods because they improve our running, which I find keeps many of us motivated to stay on track.
Strength Training for Cross Training
All of my athletes now know that strength training is no longer an optional part of their plan.
It’s a requirement because there is too much evidence supporting it as the best cross training for runners.
It’s how we develop a stronger core, speed, endurance, and well injury prevention. Plus, I know a lot of you start running with weight loss as a goal and nothing is going to help that as much as strength training.
Strength training reduces injury risk, improves running endurance, and helps strengthen muscles that are often neglected or weakened by running.
You can also do compound exercises with strength training that’ll focus on several big muscles groups at the same time. This means exercises such as weighted squats, lunges, and chest presses.
You don’t have to suddenly start Olympic lifting to get results!!
- ✅Checkout our follow along strength training for runners courses >>
- Bodyweight training ideas
- My favorite online strength training resources
- Upper body workout (helps power you up hills)
- TRX full body workout
I’m always sharing more of my gym sessions in my Instagram Stories because I think it helps to keep getting ideas and see that other runners really are doing it!!
Yoga for Cross Training
Try a Vinyasa style class where the continual movement helps runners keep from feeling bored when initially transitioning to this slower workout style. Additionally, the focus on breathing can help you expand your lung capacity and keep you from feeling winded on runs.
Remember that Yoga can be an active recovery day option when you keep it low key!
Not every workout you do needs to be hard, fast or intense. Take this opportunity to slow down, let your nervous system calm down and work through some tight areas that could lead to pain on the run.
Consider trying a Yin Yoga or Restorative Yoga class.
✅Read more on how yoga improves your running >>
I’m a full believer that the more we know about it, the more likely we are to do it.
Cycling/Biking for Cross Training
Focusing on a cadence of 90 RPM will help you become a better runner by increasing your foot turnover.
90 RPM mimics the desired 180 steps per minute (running cadence) recommended by many running coaches because it decreases time contacting the ground, increases your speed without allowing you to over stride!
Head to a spin class, hop on a stationary bike to watch a TV show you wouldn’t otherwise or get some extra motivation by heading outdoors.
I have used the bike off an on over the years, but struggle to stick with it. I know the value though, so it’s key to find what will help you. In my case, finding some places with great views got me far more excited to stick with it.
But you may enjoy spinning at home with the guidance of an instructor.
Don’t be afraid to keep testing things to see what works.
Physical Therapy as Cross Training
Most runners think of physical therapy exercises as a way to recover from injury, but I’ve found that by adding many of them to my routine I can stay out of the doctor’s office!
In fact, you’ll see a ton of PT based moves included in the Dynamic Warm Ups and the 30 Day Core Challenge that so many of our runners utilize.
Here are some of my favorite moves for the IT Band and hips, which are the two most common reasons we end up with knee pain:
Swimming for Cross Training
Swimming is another fantastic way to improve lung capacity and create core stability, which will help you run longer with better form.
The low impact cross training can be an amazing way to stay on track during most injuries or to get in a cardio workout when you might need a break from intense run training.
Because you aren’t putting stress on the tendons and ligaments, many endurance athletes have started to turn to aqua jogging. It’s a way to really build up the cardio system and head off injuries, particularly for those who notice injuries occur every time they hit certain mileage points.
Remember that this is cross training, so you need to weave it in to your schedule in a way that doesn’t exhaust you for the next run. If you’re already putting in tons of miles on the roads, consider if you truly need another cardio workout.
Many triathletes have expressed that adding in swimming or biking, improved their running overall. I think this goes back to simply giving the body a break from the intense pounding, while still getting in a great aerobic workout.
Pilates for Cross Training
These workouts develop strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance, and good posture — with a much lower chance of injury than with other forms of exercise.
The discipline emphasizes correct form instead of going for the burn.
That correct form is going to help you maintain good posture while running, as well as learn how to fully activate your core muscles: hips, glutes, abs and back. Personally, I felt this most when doing a reformer class.
While they are more expensive that doing mat Pilates at home, it was worth the sessions I attended to learn some really great skills.How to Cross Train for Extra Running Benefits #runchat Click To Tweet
Circuit Classes for Cross Training
I admit to not being a fan of group classes for a long time, but lately I’ve started to realize that with the right instructor I love them.
Feeling strong is very empowering and of course we need to get our strength training on to keep the hips strong, create arms that power us uphill and a core that will keep us from hunching over as we get tired during long runs.
In most circuit training classes you’ll be doing a combination of strength, endurance and plyometric style exercises. We absolutely need all three components as runners.
However, the timing of the classes in your marathon training plan is HUGE.
Because these classes are very intense, you are going to need to take out a day of speed work or switch to something closer to a 10 Day training cycle. This is to ensure that you are getting enough recovery between workouts.
If you stick to your standard marathon plan and add in 2 Circuit Training Classes each week, you are very likely going to end up over trained and either not make it to the start line or get injured.
Instead, think of these as perfect during base building or as a once a week in place of speed.
While you may not do workouts that are as long on the rower, it’s a huge benefit to the power of your running.
In fact, I’ve gotten so many questions about it that there is now a full breakdown of rowing vs running for you!
Whether you use it for HIIT style training or simply to work your full body in a different way, you’ll find the benefits are numerous and will leave you sore!
Life is Cross Training
That’s right your entire day can be part of cross training!
From using a standing desk, to taking the stairs, to enjoying a hike or trying something new like paddle boarding. All of this keeps you from sitting, our enemy, and helps you engage different muscles.
Depending upon my current goals, the number of days I cross-train varies, but I like to do a full body strength training session three times a week in the beginning of a program and then reduce that as intensity increases.
All other cross-training activities are added in a few times a week, also depending on program intensity.
Tips to Stick With Cross Training
For those like me who may not LOVE cross training, but understand the benefits here is some of what I’ve found over the years to help make it part of my routine…
- I pick things that are going to make me a better runner (see below)! Then I’m more motivated to stick with it for the long haul.
- Others find that variety makes running even more enjoyable.
- Being determined to not get injured again.
- Hire a coach to hold you accountable.
- Schedule cross training classes as time to connect with friends.
- Get to know people in the gym, who will notice when you’ve been gone.
- Track your progress in terms of reps, body image, running power.
- A desire to build more muscle to improve overall body appearance.
- A goal to feel stronger, complete the pull up, do the full push up.
- And of course to run faster
Until there is a benefit big enough to overcome your cross training excuses, you’ll continue to find reasons not to commit.
BONUS: Read my post on how to stop relying on motivation!>
Embrace At Home Workouts
One of the things which I have found to work best for MANY runners is doing it a home!
The plus side is you save time from traveling, no excuses about weather and you can control the intensity of your workout, which I think is key when it’s being done during race training plan.
However, if you don’t have some instruction you might find yourself doing the same body weight exercises or TRX exercises repeatedly….which is why I’m such a fan of tools like DVD programs like P90X or online programs like yoga!
To get going at home, checkout these posts:
- HIIT Running Workouts
- Best cardio machines for runners to cross train
- How to create a basic home gym
- 27 Body Weight workouts for runners
How often do you cross train?
What’s your favorite cross training?
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I recently got Grokker – now I need to actually use it. I do go to the gym about once a week and hit the weights, but I don't think that's really enough.
My recent post My new toy: Nordictrack treadmill
I wasn't using it and then realized how much I really wanted to get back to Pilates, so I started just picking out one's to watch later and that got me going!
My recent post Why You’re not Cross Training (and what you can do about it)
I really hope that you will link up with our Running Coaches' Corner Link up!
Cross training is so important to staying injury free during training–I have become such a better run since incorporating a variety of activities into my training!
My recent post What Does a Running Coach Do? Running Coaches Corner 2
Injuries suck big time, but I think they end up making us all smarter runners!
My recent post Why You’re not Cross Training (and what you can do about it)
Heading to the bike as I read this! I recently bought a Wahoo cadence sensor for my bike, and it has made my indoor training so much more fun and effective. I watch any of the myriad of YouTube cycling videos to pedal along with. Some are better than others–last week's video had ads? Hello?
You know I love my cross training. I simply can't run those high miles anymore.
My recent post Running Serendipitously
whooop love gadgets that get me excited!
My recent post Why You’re not Cross Training (and what you can do about it)
I used to be one of those people who hated the gym. I couldn't stand group fitness, lifting weights, etc. BUT then I got hurt not once, but multiple times and suffered hormone imbalances that forced me to stop running. That forced me to find other forms of fitness I love as much as running and honestly, I'm thankful for my health issues for pushing me out of my comfort zone.
My recent post What Is Your Biggest Regret?
Love to run but I know I have to mix it up. I do yoga, lift, and bike. I also vary my running workouts with intervals and hill running.
My recent post Product Review and Giveaway!
My marathon PR happened when I committed to and stuck with cross training! I need to try Grokker.
My recent post Monday Motivation
I love workout videos that help cross training from home! Pilates is my favorite for cross training, especially the intense Pilates videos that include a lot of glute and upper body work. And then I love hiking for cross training as well!
My recent post Snowshoeing in Snoqualmie Pass
Did you write that just for me??
I just run. i want to do more but i always find an excuse. it’s odd. I never find an excuse for running. I see the end result. There’s a race. I see my pace..my finish time. But working out….so hard to justify!!
EB @ Running on E
This is just what I need. I focus all my workouts on running and any attempts at cross training usually fall flat at some point. I like the idea of focusing on running specific improvement. Hopefully that will get me to stick to it better!
My recent post February Recap
It certainly helped my brain get on board!
There’s definitely a lot to know about this topic. I love all the points you have made. I usually do cycling. It complements different components of running. Standing while pedaling does the muscle work of running, while spinning at a high cadence (over 90 revolutions per minute) mimics turnover and quickens my step.
Personally, I like using bodyweight exercises to supplement my running. Using weights helps too, but i like the feeling of using just my body, as it feels like it helps my running more.
Well, I really love your blog. As I’m also your regular reader. It feels great to stay fit after reading your blog as it helps me to stay fit.
Thanks so much.