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Cross-Training For Runners

cross training for runners
Cross Training For Runners

Choosing the right form of cross-training can have an excellent effect on your running ability.

If you want to get to the next level in your sporting performance, then engage in training workouts that draw from other sports.

Whether you want to boost your cardiovascular system or gain greater strenght, power and flexibility, then take a look around at what other sports and training regimes can bring.

Training the Upper Body

Some cross-training activities can be used to focus efforts on the upper body rather than the legs. Rowing, canoeing, surfing and kayaking all provide great strengthening sessions for the upper body.

Muscle Imbalance

Long-distance runners often get muscle imbalance due to their long runs and neglect the rest of their body. Performing upper body cross-training can make a big difference and should therefore be included at least once every couple of weeks.


Cross-training for runners is a great way to cope with the stress of injury. Cycling and swimming are excellent examples of activities that can be taken up when recovering from a running injury.

Cross-training examples


A great overall boy conditioner that has a great impact on the upper body, which is just what runners need. Swimming is also perfect for improving the cardiovascular system due to the hypoxic effects of holding your breath under water as a stroke is performed. Due to its non-impact and non-weight bearing nature, its great fro rest sessions, easy sessions and injury rehab.


Cycling is also a great cardio builder and can provide a workout that’s relatively non-impact. This makes it a great precursor to running after injury or as a low impact alternative once a week. It also builds the muscles of the legs which can be detrimental to runners if performed too often. Spin classes at gyms, recumbent exercise bikes, road biking and mountain biking all offer unique options to try out.


If you have never done a 500m sprint on an ergo in the gym, give it a go. If you consider yourself fit, try ten sprints with two minutes between each and see how you feel. Rowing really is an all-over body workout and is especially good at building a strong cardio base. Rowing is particularly good for runners as it builds the upper body, the core and the lower back muscles. Kayaking and canoeing are also great outdoor alternatives especially if you want to mix sport with fun.

Martial Arts

True martial art forms encourage a lot of stretching, which is great for any runner, as is the absolute power their techniques encourage in the body. The downside is that injuries can occur, especially from the mixed martial arts that are popular today. If your main goal is running then avoid sparring. If martial arts are you main goal then running is a great supplement for cardio-vascular fitness.


Yoga has all the benefits of flexibility, joint mobilisation and lengthening of the spine. It is also very good a relaxing you, especially at times of stress, like injury. Some of the positions need holding for significant lengths of time, and therefore encourage upper-body strength that isn’t always provided by running.


Pilates is very similar to yoga in its uses to a runner, providing relaxation, strength, mobility and flexibility. It is also amazing at sorting out any little imbalances and injuries, especially in the back and in the core abdominal muscles. Pilates is an excellent addition for injury prone or core-weak runners.


For general, non-specific fitness, circuit training is probably the best one-off method for developing endurance, stamina and strength. However, although it is a great overall fitness tool – it is just that – a tool. It shouldn’t be used in isolation but as a supplement to other types of training.

Only one or two cardio circuit workout sessions should be undertaken each week and should also be combined with longer running-specific sessions.

Other Sports

There are of course many other sports which can aide the performance of a dedicated runner. Games like football, soccer, rugby, basketball, netball, hockey are all excellent cross-training examples however be aware that as “contact” or “semi-contact” sports knocks and injuries are unavoidable.

If running is your main sport and you are cross-training in the build up to a race or specific performance goal, be aware that these “normal” sports are much more likely to set you back on the injury front.

Whatever method of cross-training you choose, be sensible in the choice and try to get a balance between your main activity and the cross-training alternatives.

About Stewart Wilson

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