Cross training is an essential part of a sustainable, healthy, strong, and injury-free running journey.

Mixing up a training plan with other activities, such as strength training, yoga, or swimming, is important for helping to level and hit new PRs.

Cross-training can be beneficial to your running game, but only if done correctly. If done incorrectly, it can actually harm your running performance. We spoke with running coaches and health experts to help you safely add cross-training to your routine in a way that will improve your running game.

What Is Cross Training For Runners?

Cross training is any activity that helps improve your running skills. This can include activities such as swimming, biking, or even weightlifting.

Not all cross-training is effective.

Some activities are more specific and more helpful than others. Different forms of cross-training can :

  • Reduce the risk of a running injury
  • Improve your cardiovascular and muscular endurance
  • Strengthen your body, which can improve your endurance and running economy
  • Provide a mental and physical break by switching up your training
  • Allow injured runners to maintain their running fitness while off their feet.

Each cross-training activity has both benefits and drawbacks when it comes to improving your running ability.

Yoga may help improve mobility and strength, but going to the gym may be better for increasing muscular endurance.

What Are The Benefits Of Cross Training For Runners?

Cross training ensures that you are strong all around, have good endurance, and are less likely to experience injuries or imbalances.

Overuse injuries are the most common type of injury among runners, and can often be prevented from occurring or recurring, according to Steve Stonehouse, certified Run Coach and Director of Education for STRIDE.

This means cross-training is especially useful for:

  • runners returning after an injury,
  • runners running high volume,
  • and new runners.

If you question a successful runner who has not been injured in the past few years, they will most likely tell you that they stick to a good cross-training plan, according to Thomas Watson, Marathon Handbook coach.

According to Stonehouse, beginner runners who lack strength and flexibility can greatly benefit from endurance cross-training.

You can improve your endurance without causing impact damage to your lower joints and back by cross training.

What Are The DOs Of Cross-Training?

Here are 6 DOs of Cross-training for runners:

  • Do incorporate cross training regardless of whether you are a novice or experienced runner, says Buckingham.
  • Do keep your cross-training easy when it’s a recovery cross-training session or after a challenging running workout. 
  • Do warm-up and cool-down before a cross-training session just as you would before a run.
  • Do choose the type of cross-training you enjoy and that fits the purpose of what you need on that day, whether that’s focusing on endurance, strength, flexibility, or something else, advises Stonehouse.
  • Do find a running coach to help guide you in how to best incorporate cross-training to stay healthy and get stronger, adds Stonehouse.
  • Do wear a heart rate monitor to ensure you stay in the appropriate heart rate zone for your workout. 

What Are The DON’Ts Of Cross-Training?

Here are 5 DON’Ts of Cross-training for runners:

  • Don’t do too many new types of cross-training too soon. Doing so could result in injury, says Buckingham.
  • Don’t treat a cross-training workout as something you just have to “get through”. “Cross-training can have similar benefits to a running workout and can be very beneficial in your training,” he adds.
  • Don’t skip your run to do a cross-training session. it might be hard to believe, but to be a better runner, you have to run!
  • Don’t push hard in your cross-training sessions unless that is the purpose of the workout. Stay true to the goal.
  • Don’t let cross-training distract from your goal of running. “Sometimes we can add so many ‘other’ things that the additional volume is just too great,” warns Stonehouse. This can put you at risk for burnout. 

How Does Cross-Training Prevent Injuries?

The reason cross-training helps prevent injuries is because it strengthens the cardiovascular and muscular systems faster than the skeletal system.

According to Todd Buckingham, a lead exercise physiologist at Mary Free Bed Hospital, muscles adapt quickly, but tendons and ligaments adapt much more slowly because they don’t have the same blood flow.

You might get injured if you only run too quickly, so cross-training is a good complement for a new runner.

4 Tips for Choosing a Cross-Training Workout

Your cross-training activities should complement your goals. If you’re looking to improve your endurance, you might try a low-impact activity like swimming. There is no one-size-fits-all cross-training workout. You will need to think about your usual routine and find activities that complement your goals. Try to find a low-impact activity if you want to improve your endurance.

Add a Complementary Routine

There are five fundamental aspects of fitness: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.2 Most workouts are created to improve a few of these components however might not target them all. As an example, cycling, running, and swimming are all terrific exercises for improving cardiovascular endurance, and they can also intensify muscular endurance to some degree. Nevertheless, they aren’t the best activities for constructing muscular strength or versatility, and they may or might not contribute to considerable enhancements in body composition, depending upon other elements such as diet.

It is a good idea to pick a cross-training workout that is complementary to your regular routine and that focuses on one or two of the five components of fitness that you are not already focusing on. For example, if you do a lot of running, you might want to start working on muscular strength or flexibility. You could do strength training and/or yoga a few times a week as part of your cross-training.

Alter Your Impact

High-impact activities are great for getting your heart rate up and building bones, but they can be tough on your joints. Low-impact activities put less stress on your joints, making them a good option if you have joint issues or are carrying extra weight. And no-impact activities are ideal if you’re injured or just starting out.

Activities that have a high impact, such as running and jumping, are great for developing lower-body power and building strong bones.

While they can help develop fitness skills, they can also be harmful to your joints and soft tissue if not done carefully.

Activities where your feet are always in contact with the ground, such as walking and strength training, are effective at building strong bones in your lower body.3 You can do these activities in many different ways to get a well-rounded workout routine. They aren’t as effective at developing skill-related components of fitness, like power, agility, and speed, though.

Swimming and cycling are two no-impact activities that take pressure off your bones and joints, which significantly reduces the likelihood of overuse injury to your lower body. No-impact activities are also often appropriate for individuals who are recovering from injuries or those who are training for extreme endurance events and don’t want to risk an overuse injury. However, no-impact activities don’t have the bone-building benefits of low- or high-impact exercise.

You might want to change the intensity of your workout by doing something different. For example, if you like to do high-impact workouts, you could try something low-impact, like indoor cycling. Or if you usually swim, you could try strength training or jumping rope.

Alter Your Direction

The three planes of human motion are the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. Different muscle groups are required to move in each plane, and if a person only moves in one plane, they can develop muscle imbalances that may lead to injuries. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Sagittal Plane: This plane of motion cuts an invisible path through the center of your body, dividing you into left and right parts. When you move in the sagittal plane, you’re engaging in forward or backward motion that runs parallel to this plane. Running, cycling, and biceps curls are just a few examples of exercises that take place in the sagittal plane.
  • Frontal Plane: The frontal plane cuts an invisible line through the center of your body dividing you into the front and back halves. When you perform exercises in the frontal plane, you’re moving side-to-side in a path parallel to the plane. For instance, cartwheels and inline skating take place in the frontal plane. Inline skating is interesting because it requires frontal plane movement of your extremities while your entire body moves along in the sagittal plane. Other examples include performing the breaststroke in swimming and doing a side lunge at the gym.
  • Transverse Plane: The transverse plane cuts an invisible line through the center of your body, dividing you into top and bottom halves. When it comes to actions, the transverse plane is the hardest to conceptualize because it involves rotation and twisting movements. Swinging a golf club or a baseball bat are clear examples of moving in the transverse plane, but they’re not the only ones. Activities including boxing, dance, and yoga often involve rotation and twisting, and strength training exercises like wood chops and Roman twists are other clear examples.

If you notice that your workouts always involve movement in one plane, you should try a cross-training routine that uses multiple planes of motion to even out muscle imbalances.

Just Try Something New

If you’re bored with your current workout routine, trying a new activity can help reinvigorate your motivation. It’s not important whether you end up liking the new activity; what matters is that it helps mix up your routine and keep your body making progress.

What Are The Best Cross Training Exercises For Runners?

The best cross-training activity for runners varies from person to person, as different activities have different effects on running performance. Some activities may improve performance, while others may hinder it.

But runners should choose an exercise that:

  • compliments their running – and preferably includes some strengthening work,
  • they enjoy,
  • is preferably low impact.

Cross Training Activities To Consider Avoiding

Lateral movements that are done quickly can be harmful to runners because it increases the risk of injury.

Buckingham explains that runners should be careful about adding exercises that require quick movements and a lot of changes in direction, such as tennis, basketball, soccer, or downhill skiing, to their repertoire. This is because runners are used to moving in one plane of motion (forward), and adding these activities too quickly could result in injury.

Adding lateral movements to a runner’s routine can help to strengthen muscles that are often overlooked.

He says that the movements should be slow and controlled to avoid injury, and that it would be silly to hurt yourself doing something for fun and then being unable to run.

The Final Word

Rather than stressing about the details of a cross-training workout, aim to perform two to four workouts each week of your favorite routine, then add one or two sessions of a completely different activity. Once a month, make a few changes.


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Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

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