Cross Training for Runners

Cross Training for Runners

 The Benefits of Alternative Exercises for Runners

As a runner, pounding the pavement day after day can take a toll on your body. That’s why cross training for runners is such an important part of any running training program. Cross training simply means participating in another sport or activity that complements your running. There are many benefits to incorporating cross training into your running routine. Here are some of the top reasons you should add cross training:

Injury Prevention

One of the main benefits of cross training is that it helps prevent running injuries. When you repeatedly do the same motions, like running, you use the same muscles over and over. This can lead to muscle imbalances, overuse injuries, impact injuries, and general wear and tear. Cross training allows you to strengthen muscles that you don’t normally work while running. It also gives some of your running muscles and joints a break from the high impact nature of running.


For example, cycling is easy on your joints but builds leg strength. Swimming engages your upper body and core more than running does. Even doing yoga a few times a week can improve flexibility and balance. All of these activities complement running by working your body in different ways. This variation makes you a stronger, more well-rounded athlete. You’ll feel the difference on your next run as you’ll be less prone to common running ailments like Runner’s knee, IT band issues, shin splints, hamstring pulls, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis.


Improved Cardiovascular Fitness

Most forms of cross training are also aerobic activities that can boost your cardiovascular endurance. Participating in various heart-pumping workouts beyond just running leads to better overall cardiovascular fitness. You train your heart and lungs to function more efficiently as you challenge them in new ways.


Activities like swimming, rowing, or cycling vigorously use large muscle groups and elevate your heart rate for an extended time. This leads to positive cardiovascular adaptations over time. So on your next run, you may notice you aren’t huffing and puffing as much going up hills. You’ll also see faster race times as you’ve improved your VO2 max and lactate threshold through diverse training.


Prevents Burnout

It’s easy to get burnt out only running all the time. The mental fatigue can sometimes be harder to overcome than the physical fatigue. Adding new workouts throughout your training calendar gives you something different to look forward to. It breaks up the routine and keeps running feeling fresh.


For example, doing a spin class, playing basketball with friends, or going rock climbing once a week is just plain fun. It gives your body and mind a little break from running but still addresses overall fitness. The cross training days end up being as refreshing mentally as they are physically. You return to running feeling recharged and motivated instead of feeling drained or demotivated.


Builds Muscle Balance

Most runners focus mainly on building lower body and core strength. However, full body strength and balance are vital for optimal running efficiency and injury prevention. Imbalances between muscle groups can contribute to poor running form. Weak upper body muscles can also cause injuries over time as your lower body has to work harder to power you forward with each stride.


Cross training allows runners to address total body fitness, not just the typical running muscles. Activities like rowing, yoga, strength training, climbing, and even dancing strengthen muscles runners generally neglect. Developing muscular symmetry helps eliminate muscle imbalances or weaknesses. So incorporating cross training leads to better running form, posture, coordination and overall performance.


Supports Running Goals

Cross training is also very beneficial when you are training for a big race. Key workouts can supplement your running mileage and boost your fitness. Adding cross training to your running program helps build the endurance, strength, and resilience to tackle any race distance.


For instance, training for a marathon, you can simulate the event’s endurance by doing long sessions on the elliptical trainer, indoor rower, or bicycles. The low-impact nature prevents excessive pounding on joints during heavy mileage weeks but keeps your cardiovascular system primed. These workouts also build essential muscle stamina you need to complete the 26.2-mile distance on race day.




Training for a 5K or 10K? Include strength training to give you more speed and power. Exercises targeting core muscles, glutes, quads and hamstrings will make you stronger and faster. This translates into better race times as you can better propel yourself with each stride.


Cross Training Options for Runners


Clearly, there are significant reasons for runners to embrace cross training. Here are some top cross-training choices that optimally supplement a running program:



Cycling builds tremendous quadriceps, glutes, and hamstring strength. It’s a non-impact cardio activity that vastly boosts aerobic capacity. You can cycle outdoors on roads or trails, use spin bikes at the gym, or leverage Peloton for guided classes. Level of intensity is easily adjustable.

Cross Training - spinning


Yoga boosts flexibility, balance, core muscles, stability, body awareness, and mental focus. All of these attributes lead to better running economy and form. Prioritizing yoga 1-2 times per week keeps muscles long and limbs properly aligned.


Plyometric moves like box jumps, lunges, and burpees build explosive power. They train muscles to apply maximum force in short intervals. This ability boosts speed and efficiency. The impact also strengthens bones and connective tissue to prevent injuries.


Swimming works the entire body with no impact and in a horizontal position. It builds incredible muscular endurance to keep going mile after mile. Choose swimming workouts that keep your heart rate elevated for sustained cardiovascular benefits.

Swimming - cross training

Strength Cross Training for runners:

Lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing targeted strength exercises boosts muscle, ligaments, tendons, and bones. You become stronger and more resilient against running aches and pains. Prioritize glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings, hips and core. Read this article all about this point.


Rowing machines provide an intense full body workout that skyrockets your heart rate. Thisstrengthens the back, arms legs and engages nearly all major muscle groups with no impact. It’s one of the most efficient cardio and strength workouts.

As you plan your running training program, aim to incorporate 1-3 cross training workouts per week depending on your goals and time availability. Consistency with cross training is key to reaping the full benefits for your running performance. Find activities you authentically enjoy as those tend to be built into your long term routine more seamlessly. Properly integrating appropriate cross training with your running is one of the best things you can do as an athlete. The combination unlocks your full potential and prevents frustrating injuries that often sideline runners. Your body will thank you in the long run!


Unlocking the Full Potential: The Comprehensive Benefits of Cross Training for Runners


For avid runners, the repetitive impact of pounding the pavement can lead to various physical challenges. Recognizing the need for a well-rounded approach, cross training has emerged as a crucial component in running training programs. This article explores the multifaceted advantages of incorporating cross training into a runner’s routine, delving into injury prevention, improved cardiovascular fitness, prevention of burnout, enhanced muscle balance, and support for running goals.

Injury Prevention. One of the primary benefits of cross training lies in its ability to prevent running injuries. Engaging in activities that target different muscle groups helps counteract the muscle imbalances, overuse injuries, and wear and tear associated with repetitive running. For instance, cycling, a low-impact activity, builds leg strength without subjecting joints to the impact of running1. Similarly, swimming engages the upper body and core, complementing the lower body focus of running1.

Improved Cardiovascular Fitness. Beyond injury prevention, most cross training activities are aerobic, contributing to enhanced cardiovascular fitness. Activities such as swimming, rowing, and cycling challenge the heart and lungs in distinct ways, leading to positive adaptations over time2. This diversified training approach can result in improved VO2 max and lactate threshold, translating to increased endurance and faster race times. Read my article on VO2 max here.

Prevents Burnout. Mental fatigue is a significant challenge for runners. Cross training injects variety into the training routine, preventing burnout. Activities like spin classes, basketball, or rock climbing provide a mental break while maintaining overall fitness, making the return to running more refreshing and motivating3.

Builds Muscle Balance. While runners typically focus on lower body and core strength, cross training addresses the importance of full-body strength. Imbalances between muscle groups can contribute to poor running form and injuries. Cross training activities such as rowing, yoga, and strength training target neglected muscle groups, promoting muscular symmetry and improving overall running efficiency4.

Supports Running Goals. Cross training becomes particularly valuable when training for specific running goals. For marathon training, low-impact activities like elliptical training simulate endurance without excessive joint impact, contributing to essential muscle stamina5. Strength training becomes crucial for 5K or 10K races, enhancing speed and power for better race times5.

shin splints

Examples of cross-training activities include:

  • Cycling/Spinning: Builds quadriceps, glutes, and hamstring strength.
  • Yoga: Boosts flexibility, balance, and core strength.
  • Plyometrics: Enhances explosive power and speed.
  • Swimming: Develops full-body endurance with no impact.
  • Strength Training: Targets muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones for overall strength.
  • Rowing: Provides an intense full-body workout with minimal impact.


In conclusion, incorporating 1-3 cross training workouts per week, tailored to individual goals and preferences, is key to realizing the full benefits of cross training for runners. This approach not only enhances physical performance but also guards against common running injuries. As runners strive for peak performance, a holistic training regimen that includes cross training proves to be a fundamental strategy for long-term success.


  1. Source: “The Benefits of Cross Training for Runners,” Verywell Fit
  2. Source: “Cross-training for Runners: Why and How to Do It,” Healt.hline.
  3. Source: “Cross Training for Runners: The Benefits and How to Do It Right,” Runners Blueprint.
  4. Source: “5 Cross-Training Activities Every Runner Should Add to Their Routine,” Men’s Journal.
  5. Source: “Cross-Training for Runners: What It Is and Why You Need to Do It,” MapMyRun.

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Happy running!



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