The Best Cross-Training Exercises For Runners

by | Jan 11, 2023 | Run, Training "How To's"

Cross-training should be a part of every runner’s training program, regardless of fitness (and trail-running skill) level. Not only will it help to improve your overall cardio fitness and prevent injury, but it also goes a long way to keeping your training exciting (which helps with motivation).

Firstly, let’s look at the benefits:

Improves Fitness

One of the most important benefits of cross-training for runners is that it can help to improve overall fitness. Running is a repetitive motion that primarily works the legs and cardio-respiratory system, but cross-training allows runners to work other muscle groups and systems that may be neglected. For example, strength training can help to improve the runner’s power, speed and endurance.

Injury Prevention

In addition to improving fitness, cross-training can also help to prevent injury. When a runner only trains one way, they can become susceptible to overuse injuries from the repetitive motion of running. Cross-training allows runners to use different muscle groups and movements, which can help to reduce the risk of injury.

Increases Motivation

Another benefit of cross-training for runners is that it can help to keep workouts exciting. Let’s be honest, running (and especially road running) can be a monotonous activity, so cross-training helps to switch things up and keep your training interesting.

What types of cross-training activities should you add to your program in 2023?

Strength training

Cross-Training For Runners
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Strength training is highly underrated among runners. It will go a long way in making you a better all-around trail runner and helps strengthen your muscles against potential overuse injuries. This can include weightlifting, resistance band training, or bodyweight exercises. Pros such as trail ace Ryan Sandes make it an integral part of their annual schedule, learn more here.

Swimming

Cross-Training For Runners
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Swimming is a great low-impact cardio workout that can help to build endurance and improve overall fitness. It can be intimidating and, dare we say it, boring, at first, but push through those first few sessions and you’ll learn to love it and are bound to see some great results.

Cycling

The cardio and leg-strengthening benefits of cycling can be helpful for runners. This low-impact activity is also great for recovery after heavy training blocks. You will see benefits whether you ride on the road, mountain, a stationary bike on a trainer or a spinning bike in the gym. If you don’t own a bike, join a structured ‘spinning’ class at your local gym. Or, if you have an indoor trainer and own a bike, make the most of the time you have by doing a combination of sprint and endurance intervals during the week. For a beginners guide to the Watt Bike (a hugely beneficial training tool, click here.)

Yoga

Cross-Training For Runners
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Yoga can help to improve flexibility, balance, and core strength, which are all important for running.

Plyometrics and HIIT workouts

Both these types can help improve power, speed and endurance. Learn more about good HIIT workouts and interval sessions, here.

Rowing

Aside from running, one of the most efficient all-around cardio exercises (for the time input vs fitness outcome) is rowing on an ergo machine.
According to rowing coaches who formed part of the coaching team who prepped the South African gold-medal rowing crew at the Rio Olympics , “it’s about 50% leg and hip drive, 30% trunk extension and only 20% arm and shoulder work.” All good rowing machines measure time, intensity, stroke rate and power output making them great tools for tracking improvement. Start slow and work your way up to intervals through a 20-minute session.

There you have it, as a runner, you should consider incorporating a variety of cross-training activities into your training program to maximise the benefits. Inspired to start running in 2023, here’s how to get off the couch.