The ultimate guide to cross-training for runners

Cross-training will reduce your risk of injury and make you a faster, more efficient runner.

Chances are you’ve heard of cross-training. Cross-training is any other training which is not running, for example, swimming or cycling. While there’s a variety of reasons to cross-train, the main one is to increase our aerobic capacity and reduce our risk of injury.

This article will go into further detail into what cross-training is, examples of cross-training, and the many benefits all runners can gain from cross-training.

What is cross-training?

Cross-training is any form of sport/exercise you partake in, in addition to your running. For example, you may run four times per week, swim once, and cycle twice. This would be cross-training. Further cross-training methods will be discussed below.

Cross-training methods

There are many different ways to cross-train. Some of the most popular are yoga, swimming, cycling, and weight training. Other cross-training methods include:

  • Hiking
  • Aqua jogging
  • Elliptical
  • Walking
  • Rowing

Cross-training benefits

There are several benefits to regular cross-training as a runner. These include reducing your risk of injury, improving your aerobic capacity, and training while injured as a runner. These, alongside other benefits, will be discussed below.

Reduced risk of injury

Replacing or supplementing your running with cross-training will reduce your risk of injury. Low-impact cross-training activities such as swimming and cycling are great for developing our aerobic fitness. Secondly, cross-training increases blood flow to our working muscles used while running to flush out toxins and reduce our recovery time.

With weight training being a form of cross-training, this complements our running and also reduces our risk of injury. Weight training allows us to strengthen important running muscles such as the glutes, hamstrings, and core while fixing imbalances.

Improved aerobic capacity

Many cross-training activities are great for improving our aerobic capacity. Examples of aerobic cross-training activities include cycling, swimming, and aqua jogging. Including these into your training alongside running will improve your aerobic capacity and cardiovascular system, essential for better running.

The main benefit to including cross-training, which works the cardiovascular system is to become a faster runner without actually adding more running to your training.

You won’t get bored as easily

Cross-training will allow you a mental break from your running. Whether running three or seven days per week, it’s easy for running to become boring. Including cross-training into your schedule allows you something to look forward to while also benefitting your running as a result.

You can train even when injured

One of the main benefits of cross-training is still being able to train when injured. Training through injury allows runners to maintain a high level of aerobic fitness, essential for a fast return to running. Be sure to clear all activities with a doctor beforehand, ensuring your chosen method of cross-training will not worsen your injury.

How often should I cross-train?

Beginners should look to cross-train one to two times per week. Look to cross-train either the day before your long-run to rest your legs or the day after your long run to recover your legs.

If already running six to seven days per week, supplementing your running with cross-training is an easy way to increase fitness without running. Try cross-training two to three times per week as well as your regular running.

Cross-training is also a great way to stay motivated. Take a couple of days off of running per week and replace these with cross-training. Slowly work your running back in, while leaving a couple of days to reap the cross-training benefits.

Cross-training vs. CrossFit

A common mistake people make is confusing cross-training with CrossFit. CrossFit is a different sport entirely and focuses on high-intensity functional movements. Runners can see improvements in their running from training CrossFit as well as their regular running. However, due to the different movements involved, there is an increased risk of injury.

How to get started cross-training?

Getting started cross-training is easy. Simply pick a cross-training method and work it into your schedule. Whether this be cycling in the gym, swimming in the pool, or attending a weekly yoga class.

Remember not to replace your running and to complement your training with cross-training instead. Mixing up your cross-training methods will also keep training fun.

Cross-training classes

Cross-training classes are also available. You can attend a spinning class, swimming training, or circuit training as a few examples. What classes are available depends on which form of cross-training you want to participate in.

Can you wear running shoes for cross-training?

Yes! Which shoe you choose for your cross-training is ultimately down to personal preference. We recommend wearing a low heel shoe to improve stability and prevent ankle sprains.

It should be noted that some cross-training shoes should not be run in. These are generally a much stiffer shoe and have a flat heel.

To summarise

Cross-training is a great way to supplement your running. Whether looking to cross-train once, twice or three times per week, there are many benefits to gain from cross-training. We recommend mixing your cross-training up and keeping your training fun. This will increase your motivation to train and more importantly keep your running fresh.

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