Cross Training to Become a Better, Stronger Runner

Cross training can be and should be an invaluable tool to you as a runner.

I’ve seen too many people make the mistake of focusing on just their running. Not only can this lead to injury, but it can also lead to burn out. Have you ever wondered why you’re just not “feeling” your runs anymore, when it used to be your release, your happy place?

Women cross training on spin bikes during a spinning class

I’ve definitely been there myself. Times where I just didn’t feel excited to lace up my running shoes and head out.

Some might say to take a break from running. But I think that if you can cultivate alternate interests, you don’t need to “take a break” from anything. It can all be part of your routine. 

Here’s where cross training comes in.

When my running reached a particular point, I took up triathlon. Yes, I was “training” for 3 different sports, but I was also giving my legs a break from all that pounding and using my muscles in a different way.

When I overtrained and overdid it with long distance events (yup, been there, too), I had other forms of movement that I could rely on. I was able to stay active while recovering. For me, this was mainly yoga and stretching. I’ve also kept strengthening and plyometrics as an integral part of my typical routine.

Cross training, and it can take many, many forms, is SO important to your running. It will help to make you a better runner. It will allow you to enjoy running for a long, long time. 

So, What is Cross Training?

The definition on (yes, very official, I know) states: 

“The action or practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport”

So we should cross train, or pick some alternative activities to do, that help improve our main love, Running. 

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: most runners just want to run. They can’t be bothered with stretching or strengthening. But, I would argue that these are probably the two most important forms of cross training as a runner.

What are the Benefits of Cross Training?

There are numerous benefits of cross training, including:

  • Improved overall fitness, such as strength, agility, or endurance
  • Improved running performance (like being able to run faster)
  • Injury prevention
  • Prevent plateaus in your training (keeps your body guessing)
  • Continued weight loss (cross training helps prevent plateaus! See above)
  • Makes you a more well-rounded athlete
  • Helps beat work out boredom or even running burn out
  • Enhanced recovery/Active Recovery from harder effort runs or events

What can I do to cross train?

Cross training really falls into three main categories: cardiovascular training, strengthening and flexibility.

If you’re looking for an alternative cardiovascular activity, try:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Skiing/snowboarding
  • Hiking
  • Using a stair stepper or elliptical
  • Dancing
  • Plyometrics/Calisthenics

If you’re looking to get stronger, try:

  • Weight lifting
  • Body weight workouts
  • Use of tubing, free weights or weight lifting machines

If you want to increase your flexibility, agility or balance, try:

  • Yoga
  • Stretching
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi
  • Use of balance equipment like a balance board or a BOSU

Cross Training is a great adjunct to your running

Cross training gives you an alternative when you can’t go for a run because of weather–too cold outside/thunder-storming? Move your workout indoors and do some yoga or a strength session. 

Cross training gives you something to fall back on when you’re dealing with an injury. A lot of times, you can tolerate yoga, cycling or walking when you can’t do the thing you want to do most.

Cross training also helps you prevent injury. Because you’re alternating how you’re using your muscles and staying more well rounded, you’re less at risk for an overuse injury, like a tendinitis or bursitis. This will help run longer, without having to slow it down or take a break due to injury.

Lastly, cross training helps you develop speed, strength and improved endurance by working different muscle groups or the same muscle groups differently.

This ultimately makes you a better runner, a stronger runner and more successful runner being able to reach your running goals!

Questions? Comments?

I’d love to hear from you. What do you do to cross train??

Other Articles of interest:

Interested in some runner specific stretching/yoga poses or some strengthening? Take a peek at these:

Yoga Stretches for Runners: 4 Poses to Do Now

Exercises for Strengthening (This is actually an article on hip bursitis, however scroll down to the exercises for strengthening—these should be a part of your regular routine as a runner!!)

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