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Best Cross Training for Runners

What Is Cross Training For Runners?

Cross training complements a runner’s regimen, enhancing performance and preventing injury. By integrating activities like strength training, yoga, or swimming, runners can target overlooked muscles and challenge primary ones differently. This diversification boosts endurance, fortifies the physique, offers mental refreshment, and helps maintain fitness during injuries. Popular cross-training options include cycling, swimming, yoga, hiking, HIIT, and skiing. However, its effectiveness varies; while beneficial, it shouldn’t entirely replace running.

What Are The Benefits Of Cross Training For Runners?

Cross training is an excellent way for runners to improve their overall fitness, reduce the risk of injury, and enhance their running performance. Here are some of the benefits of cross training for runners:

  • Injury Prevention: Engaging in different types of exercises reduces the risk of overuse injuries. By not constantly stressing the same muscles and joints, runners can maintain better overall health and avoid common ailments.
  • Enhanced Recovery: Some cross training activities, like swimming or cycling, are lower impact than running, allowing muscles to recover while still getting a workout.
  • Enhanced Fitness: Cross training aids runners in boosting cardiovascular health, increasing muscular stamina, and strengthening overall physique.
  • Muscle Balance: Running primarily targets specific muscle groups. Cross training helps in working out the less-used muscles, ensuring a more balanced physique and reduced risk of imbalances that can lead to injury.
  • Mental Refreshment: Engaging in a variety of exercises can break the monotony of a strict running regimen, rejuvenating the mind and keeping motivation levels high.
  • Better Performance: Strengthening different muscle groups and improving overall fitness can lead to enhanced running performance. Activities like strength training can improve a runner’s power and speed.
  • Flexibility: Engaging in practices such as yoga and Pilates offers a respite from running while also increasing flexibility, contributing to injury prevention and better running posture.
  • Skill Acquisition: Taking up activities like swimming, cycling, or even team sports can lead to the development of new skills, making one a more versatile athlete.

Incorporating cross training into a runner’s routine can thus offer holistic development, ensuring they’re not just better runners, but also fitter and healthier individuals.

Cross training is crucial for sustainable, powerful, and injury-resistant running. It helps runners achieve comprehensive athletic prowess, boost their overall health, and refine their running capabilities.

How often should runners incorporate cross training into their routine?

The frequency of incorporating cross training into a runner’s routine depends on various factors, including their fitness level, goals, injury risk, and interests. Here are some guidelines for how often runners should include cross-training:

Beginner runners: Cross training one to two times per week, either the day before a long run to rest the legs or the day after a long run to aid in recovery. These sessions should last anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, but be careful not to overdo it to the point where you can’t run the next day

Experienced runners: Supplement your running with cross training two to three times per week, in addition to your regular running schedule. This can help increase fitness without adding more running to your routine

Strength training: Integrate strength exercises into your regimen twice weekly. This can enhance your running efficiency and lower injury risks.

Injury prevention and recovery: During high mileage training plans or when returning from an injury, dial back cross training to one or two sessions per week to maintain strength and endurance without pushing too hard

Recovery and easy run days: Consider cross training on the same day as a run, even on a hard training run day, to leave yourself a recovery day or an easy run day the following day. This can help prevent overexertion and allow for proper recovery.

How can runners track their progress with cross training?

Monitoring advancements in cross training can inspire runners and let them witness the positive outcomes of their dedication. Here are some ways runners can track their progress with cross-training:

  • Keep a training log: Keep a training log to track your cross-training workouts, including the type of activity, duration, and intensity. This can help you see your progress over time and identify areas for improvement.
  • Use a fitness tracker: Use a fitness tracker, such as a smartwatch or fitness app, to track your cross training workouts. This can help you monitor your heart rate, calories burned, and other metrics.
  • Set goals: Set specific goals for your cross training, such as increasing the duration or intensity of your workouts. This can help you stay motivated and focused on your progress.
  • Track your performance: Track your performance in specific exercises or activities, such as the number of reps or the amount of weight lifted. This can help you see improvements in your strength and endurance.
  • Monitor your recovery: Monitor your recovery time after cross-training workouts to ensure that you’re not overdoing it. This can help prevent injury and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your workouts.

Overall, tracking progress with cross training requires commitment and consistency. By keeping a training log, using a fitness tracker, setting goals, tracking performance, and monitoring recovery, runners can stay motivated and see the benefits of their cross training efforts.

What are the Best Cross Training Workouts for Runners?

Cross training is an essential part of a sustainable, healthy, strong, and injury-free running journey. By mixing up your training plan with other activities, you can level up your running and hit new personal records.

It’s essential to choose activities enjoyable to the individual runner, ensuring consistency. Cross-training can make runners more well-rounded athletes, decreasing the monotony of training and reducing the risk of burnout.
Here are some of the best cross training exercises for runners:


is a full-body workout that engages muscles from head to toe, offering an excellent alternative to the impact stresses of running. Its buoyancy provides a joint-friendly environment, making it ideal for those recovering from injuries. While improving cardiovascular endurance, swimming also significantly bolsters the upper body, an area often less targeted in runners. Different strokes, like freestyle or butterfly, challenge various muscle groups, enhancing overall strength and flexibility. Additionally, the resistance of water ensures muscle toning and promotes better lung capacity. Incorporating swimming into a runner’s routine can provide a refreshing change and assist in achieving a balanced fitness profile.

The elliptical machine

is a popular gym staple that simulates running motions without the hard impact on joints, making it a preferred choice for those looking to reduce strain on their knees and ankles. By adjusting the resistance and incline, users can intensify their workout, targeting different leg muscles and improving overall strength. The machine’s dual-action handles also provide an upper body workout, ensuring a holistic fitness approach. Incorporating varied stride lengths and intensities can simulate different terrains, akin to hill runs or sprints. The consistent motion on the elliptical aids in boosting cardiovascular endurance, essential for long-distance runners. Lastly, it’s a versatile tool for interval training, enhancing both aerobic and anaerobic capacities.


For runners, it addresses key areas like flexibility, working to elongate muscles and release tightness built up from rigorous running routines. The various asanas or poses in yoga promote balance, which is essential for stabilizing strides and preventing injuries. Additionally, yoga emphasizes mental clarity and focus, aiding runners in building mental stamina to push through challenging distances or terrains. The deep-breathing practices integrated into yoga sessions can also improve lung capacity and oxygen utilization, enhancing overall endurance. Moreover, yoga’s restorative practices aid in post-run recovery, soothing muscles and facilitating faster healing.

Strength training

a fundamental component in many athletic regimens, involves lifting weights and resistance exercises to build muscle mass and enhance power. For runners, integrating strength training can lead to better running economy, meaning they use energy more efficiently over distances. By focusing on muscle groups that might be underutilized in running, strength training aids in preventing imbalances, which can be a significant factor in injury risk. Regular sessions can also bolster bone density, thereby decreasing the likelihood of stress fractures—a common concern among long-distance runners. Additionally, developing core strength can improve a runner’s posture and stability, leading to more effective and consistent strides. Lastly, by enhancing overall strength, runners can increase their explosive power, aiding in sprints and uphill challenges.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

is a dynamic workout regimen characterized by short bursts of extreme activity followed by recovery periods. For runners, HIIT can turbocharge cardiovascular endurance, allowing the heart and lungs to process oxygen more efficiently during extended runs. These workouts are time-efficient, often taking less than 30 minutes, but they can deliver the same or even more benefits than longer, moderate exercises. The anaerobic nature of the intense intervals can also boost muscle strength and power, essential for sprinting or tackling challenging terrains. Furthermore, HIIT has been linked to post-exercise calorie burn, known as the “afterburn” effect, optimizing fat loss. Incorporating HIIT can also combat workout monotony, introducing variability and challenge to routine training sessions.


often likened to outdoor cross training on wheels, provides a smooth, low-impact glide that’s easier on the joints compared to running. For enthusiasts and athletes alike, it serves as a formidable cardiovascular workout, elevating heart rates and enhancing lung capacity over extended sessions. The lateral movement and balance required for rollerblading target different leg muscles, especially the outer thighs and glutes, leading to improved leg strength. The continuous stride and push-off action can also help runners develop a strong core and better stability. Incorporating varied terrains or sprint intervals while rollerblading can mimic the demands of hill runs or speed workouts. Ultimately, rollerblading presents a fun and efficient way to cross-train, combining the joys of speed and the benefits of full-body engagement.

Barre class

inspired by ballet techniques and movements, combines elements of Pilates, dance, and functional training. For fitness enthusiasts and athletes, it offers a low-impact yet intense workout that primarily targets the core, thighs, and glutes. The meticulous and controlled movements in barre help build lean muscle mass, enhancing overall body strength. An emphasis on posture and alignment in these classes not only refines balance but also aids in functional movement and injury prevention. Stretching segments interspersed throughout the session work on flexibility, increasing the range of motion, which is beneficial for dynamic activities like running. With its unique blend of strength and flexibility training, barre class provides a holistic approach to fitness, ensuring both muscle toning and enhanced physical agility.


a water-based sport involving paddling with a double-bladed oar, provides a unique blend of adventure and fitness. At its core, kayaking offers a rigorous upper body workout, engaging the arms, shoulders, and core as one propels forward against water resistance. Over extended sessions, it proves to be an effective cardiovascular activity, enhancing heart health and aerobic capacity. While primarily targeting the upper body, kayaking also requires a surprising amount of leg engagement, particularly in the thighs and calves, to stabilize and steer the kayak. The rhythmic motion of paddling, combined with the challenges of navigating water currents, also boosts overall body coordination and balance. Beyond physical benefits, kayaking offers a mental reprieve, with the tranquil water environment aiding relaxation and stress reduction.


often overlooked in the realm of fitness, is a fundamental and versatile activity that offers numerous health benefits. As a low-impact exercise, walking steadily boosts cardiovascular endurance, promoting heart health and improving lung capacity. Regular brisk walks can also contribute to weight management by burning calories and improving metabolism. For athletes and runners, walking serves as an excellent active recovery option, helping to ease muscle soreness and accelerate the healing of minor strains. The rhythmic nature of walking can foster mental well-being, reducing stress and elevating mood through the release of endorphins. Additionally, walking encourages better posture and can be easily integrated into daily routines, making it a sustainable fitness choice for individuals of all ages.


the adventurous act of walking in nature, offers a multifaceted approach to fitness and well-being. The varied terrains, from gentle slopes to challenging inclines, ensure a dynamic cardiovascular workout, enhancing heart health and lung capacity. As one navigates through trails, the diverse landscapes work different leg muscles, leading to improved strength and toning, especially in the calves, quads, and glutes. The uneven paths and shifting grounds in hiking also promote better balance and coordination, essential for overall physical agility. Beyond the physical, hiking is a mental tonic; the immersion in nature can reduce stress, boost mood, and increase mental clarity. Furthermore, the added weight of a backpack can intensify the workout, building endurance and core stability.

It’s important to note that not all cross-training is created equal, and different forms of cross-training can have different benefits. It’s also important to remember that cross-training should be complementary to your running training and not replace it entirely.

Tips to Stick With Cross Training for Runner

Cross training can be a great way for runners to improve their overall fitness, reduce the risk of injury, and enhance their running performance. However, it can be challenging to stick with a cross training routine. Here are some tips to help runners stick with cross training:

  • Choose the right cross-training: Choose cross training activities that you enjoy and that align with your goals and intention. This can help make cross training more enjoyable and sustainable.
  • Make it a regular part of your routine: Incorporate cross training consistently from the start. This can aid in building strength and equipping you with the expertise for an effective workout.
  • Secure a cross-training buddy: Having a partner for cross training can boost accountability and motivation. It also adds a social, enjoyable element to the workout.
  • Mix it up: Mix up your cross-training routine to prevent boredom and keep things interesting. This can also help prevent overuse injuries by working different muscle groups.
  • Set goals: Set specific goals for your cross training, such as improving your cardiovascular endurance or building strength. This can help keep you motivated and focused.
  • Track your progress: Keep track of your progress and celebrate your achievements. This can help you stay motivated and see the benefits of cross training.
  • Be patient: Be patient and give yourself time to adjust to cross-training. It can take a while to develop the strength and know-how to get a good workout.

Sticking with cross-training requires commitment, patience, and a willingness to try new things. By following these tips, runners can make cross-training a sustainable and enjoyable part of their training routine.


Cross training is an essential component of a well-rounded running training program. It not only helps prevent injuries by addressing muscular imbalances, but also improves overall conditioning and enhances performance. When it comes to choosing the best cross training activities for runners, there are several options to consider. Low-impact exercises such as swimming and cycling are excellent choices as they provide cardiovascular benefits without placing excessive stress on the joints. Strength training, particularly focusing on the lower body and core, helps improve stability and power. Additionally, flexibility exercises like yoga or Pilates can help improve range of motion and prevent muscle tightness. By incorporating a variety of cross training activities into their routine, runners can achieve improved overall fitness and enhance their running performance.


What is cross-training for runners?

Cross training for runners involves integrating various exercises beyond running to enhance overall fitness, prevent injuries, and boost running performance. It diversifies workouts, targeting different muscle groups and promoting balanced development, while also offering a break from the repetitive nature of running, thus reducing the risk of overuse injuries and aiding in recovery. Activities can include swimming, cycling, strength training, and yoga.

Why is cross training important for runners?

Cross training is vital for runners as it reduces injury risks by preventing overuse, offers muscle balance, and breaks the monotony of constant running. Incorporating diverse workouts improves overall endurance, strength, and flexibility. Additionally, cross training aids in faster recovery, enhances performance, and ensures that runners have a well-rounded fitness regimen, making them more resilient and versatile athletes.

What are the top recommended cross training exercises for runners?

The top recommended cross training exercises for runners include cycling for cardiovascular endurance, swimming to engage the full body without impact, strength training for muscle balance and power, yoga for flexibility and balance, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for stamina and metabolic boosts. These activities complement running, promoting overall fitness and reducing injury risks.

How often should I include cross-training in my running schedule?

Incorporating cross training 1-3 times a week in your running schedule is beneficial. The frequency depends on individual goals, fitness levels, and the intensity of running sessions. Cross training provides a break from running, reduces overuse injuries, and addresses different fitness aspects. It’s essential to balance both to achieve optimal results without overtraining or risking injury.

Can cross-training help if I’m recovering from a running injury?

Yes, cross training can aid in recovery from a running injury. It allows athletes to maintain fitness levels without stressing the injured area. Choosing low-impact activities like swimming or cycling can provide cardiovascular benefits without further strain. However, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional before undertaking any exercise during recovery to ensure it’s safe and beneficial.

Can beginners benefit from cross-training?

The equipment needed for cross training depends on the chosen activity. For example, cycling requires a bike, strength training might need weights, and swimming necessitates a pool. However, many cross training exercises, like bodyweight workouts or yoga, require minimal to no equipment. It’s essential to ensure you have the appropriate gear for your selected activity to maximize benefits and ensure safety.