Your Guide to Cross Train: How It Benefits You as a Runner

5 min read Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis
Written by
Chris Zibutis
Head Running Coach - that one person on earth who loves interval runs 🥵

Why cross-train? Cross training can make you a better runner– one that’s less prone to injuries. It can also help you stay active despite the injury.

Cross-training exercises come in many forms. For best results, it’s essential to choose the right exercises for your goals.

Here’s what you need to know to cross-train effectively without injury.

What Are Cross Training Workouts for Runners?

So, what is cross-training exactly? Let’s start with a simple cross-training definition for runners.

Cross-training is any activity, be it sport or exercise, that complements and enhances your running. It can also be defined as an approach to training that varies your fitness program by combining multiple exercise activities.

Cross-training workouts for runners can include swimming, walking, golf, pilates, yoga, cycling, strength training, and more. We’ll take a closer look at these in a bit.

But first, why do cross-train exercises?

Reasons Why Runners Need Cross Training

Cross-training comes with science-backed health and fitness benefits. Here are the key benefits that make cross-training so important for runners.

Injury Prevention

Cross-training activities can work your muscles without putting stress on your joints. Running, especially long distances, puts significant stress on your joints and can increase your risk of injury. When you cross-train, this risk goes down.

Cross-training can also be a way to recover after a demanding running workout without the further stress on your joints that a regular recovery run causes. According to this study, swimming is an effective way to recover 10 hours after a high-intensity run.

Overcome Specific Deficiencies

You’re mostly working with your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings when running. While it also engages some of your core muscles, it can leave your other muscle groups underdeveloped.

Cross-training is an effective way to balance muscle groups. The result will be a stronger overall physique that you can count on during runs. And beyond them.

Prevent Getting Bored or Burned Out

Running day in, day out can start feeling boring after some time, especially if you don’t have access to trails. This can happen even to the most enthusiastic runners.

At the same time, too much running can leave you feeling burned out. Long-distance runners who run dozens or more miles every week may experience mental and physical exhaustion.

Cross-training can give both your body and your mind a break from all that running. It can add much-needed variety to your workouts while at the same time allowing you to continue to improve your fitness.

Use Time Effectively for Injury Recovery

Injury happens to every runner at some point. It’s inevitable. Instead of feeling sad and frustrated while waiting for recovery, you can cross-train.

Cross-training can help you better manage the negative emotions that come with not being able to run. What’s more, it can help you maintain your fitness so you can spring back from your injury and reduce recovery time.

What Are Some of the Cross Training Workouts Runners Can Try?

The best cross-training for runners engages muscles used during running, aids with injury recovery, and helps you balance out muscle groups.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the best cross-training examples.

Swimming

Swimming is an effective cardiovascular workout for your entire body. It can help you build body strength, become more flexible, and boost your endurance too.

The best part is that when you swim, you give your joints a break from having to support your body. Impact forces on your joints when running are several times heavier than the weight of your body.

As we’ve seen earlier, swimming is also an effective recovery activity after a demanding run.

Aqua Jogging

Aqua jogging is another zero-impact cross-training option. You may have seen people at the pool running while treading water with a flotation belt around their waists. If you’ve ever wondered what they were up to, they were aqua jogging.

Aqua jogging is not only a great way to recover from an injury but an effective aerobic workout in itself.

Of all cross-training activities for runners, it’s the one that most closely resembles running. It uses the same muscles without the strain of your feet pounding the ground with each step.

Golf

Golf promotes rest and recovery. It keeps you moving but without straining you in any way. It also encourages you to use your arms while your legs rest.

Golf can also encourage a positive state of mind in which you’re focused but at the same time relaxed. And then there’s all the green surrounding you. And, if you have a golf partner, the exciting conversations.

Walking

Brisk walking at a pace of 3 mph or more can help you maintain your cardiovascular fitness on days when an injury prevents you from running. You can also use walking for active recovery in between demanding workouts.

Pilates and Yoga

Yoga is a relaxing way to improve your flexibility. Yoga requires focus and encourages deep breathing – two things that can come in handy for a long-distance runner.

Meanwhile, Pilates can improve mobility and flexibility and make your core stronger. Apart from reducing your risk of injury, it can help you improve your running form.

If you’ve never tried Pilates and yoga before, now’s a good time to do it.

Downhill Skiing

Skiing, and downhill skiing, in particular, is one of the more demanding cross-training cardiovascular workouts. It gives your leg muscles a serious workout.

However, the constant change in direction that downhill skiing requires means you have to be careful. If you do it after running or push yourself too hard, you run the risk of injury.

Important: Use skiing as a cross-training activity only if you’re well-rested and injury-free.

Cycling

Want to improve your leg strength and cardiovascular system? Add cycling to your training plan. It doesn’t put any stress on your joints since your feet remain off the ground.

Many runners cycle to recover or to simply add some variety to their workouts. Regular cycling will help you get fitter.

Strength Training

Our list wouldn’t be complete without strength training. Just about everything goes, including bench presses, kettlebell exercises, and bodyweight exercises.

Weight training for runners can help you balance muscle groups, develop strength, improve muscular endurance, and reduce injuries.

You can do many exercises at home. However, don’t push yourself too hard.

Elliptical

An elliptical machine gives you a cardio workout without putting too much pressure on your joints. Alongside aqua jogging, it’s the activity that most resembles running and uses the same main muscle groups.

The elliptical is also good for recovering after an injury. You’ll find one in most gyms, or you can get one for home workouts.

Frequency of Cross-Training for Runners

How often should you cross-train? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your fitness level, running goals, and what you want from cross-training.

One to three cross-training sessions a week can help most recreational runners benefit from cross-training.

You may find cross-training especially effective if you’re new to running, returning after a break, or recovering after an injury. Some cross-training activities are more demanding than others, so you have to choose those that match your goals.

Should you cross-train and run on the same day? If you’re at the beginning of your running journey, you may want to wait until your fitness improves. 

But if you’re already a fit runner, you can run and then use cross-training as a recovery strategy. Think swimming, elliptical, walking, cycling, yoga, or pilates.

Tips for Cross-Training

To reap all the benefits of cross-training, you need to do it right. Here are some of the things you should do. And the mistakes you want to avoid.

  • Always warm up and cool down before doing cross-training, same as you would before running.
  • Keep recovery cross-training sessions light and easy.
  • Try out different cross-training options to find out which works best for you and stick to them. Consider not only your fitness goals but also the enjoyment factor.
  • Don’t do too many types of cross-training activities in a short period, or you’ll risk injury.
  • Use cross-training to complement your running workouts, not to replace them.
  • Don’t load your training plan with cross-training. Rest days are important.
  • If you add high-intensity workouts to your plan, do it in small doses to alternate hard days with easy days.
  • Get the right gear for your chosen activities. The best cross-training shoes for runners will reduce stress on your joints while feeling comfortable.
  • Avoid overuse injuries from cross-training by alternating activities, i.e., don’t do the same cross-training activity several times a week.
  • Make it social by inviting a friend or two to tag along.

Takeaways

Before you cross-train, here are some things to remember:

  • Cross-training can help you prevent injury, recover faster, boost your fitness, balance muscle groups, and more.
  • Some cross-training activities can work your muscles without putting stress on your joints.
  • Aqua jogging, swimming, elliptical, golf, or walking are effective cross-training recovery strategies.
  • Cross-training can rest your mind and your body as well as boost your mood. It can be fun.
  • Pick cross-training activities you enjoy so that you’d stick with them.

Start running today

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