What types of cross-training should I include as a runner? 

We discuss some of the best forms of cross-training to get involved with as a runner. 

As a runner, cross-training is a fantastic tool to maintain fitness while injured. As well as this, cross-training is frequently used alongside running to increase fitness while reducing your risk of injury.

The majority of runners at one time or another will find themselves injured, often turning to cross-training to maintain fitness. Whether this is cycling, weight-training, swimming, or even rowing, there are many benefits to be gained while injured.

However, once their injury subsides, many choose to drop their additional cross-training and instead focus solely on their running. While this isn’t a bad move, maintaining some form of cross-training alongside your regular running will undoubtedly improve your fitness, reduce your risk of injury, and, more often than not, reduce the time required to return to the level you were at previously. 

If you haven’t already, we also recommend reading the ultimate guide to cross-training for runners. Here you will find everything you need to know about cross-training, the benefits, how often to include it into your training, and even what to wear.

However, aside from this, the remainder of this article will discuss various types of cross-training you should look to include in your training as a runner – injured or not.

1. Weight/strength-training 

Strength training is becoming increasingly popular and heavily implemented in many sports as of recently, including that of running.

Regular strength training (2-3x per week maximum) as a runner will improve running economy, work on muscular imbalances (a common cause of injury), and strengthen muscles and tendons to produce more power, all while reducing our risk of injury. 

So, now that we know the many benefits of incorporating strength training into our routine, what kinds of exercises should you perform in these weekly sessions?

  • Bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, crunches, planks, and pull-ups are a great place to start
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Glute bridges
  • Walking lunges
  • Russian twists
  • Hyperextensions

Generally speaking, as a beginner, throwing together a mix of bodyweight and or weighted exercises alongside core and stability work is plenty, to begin with. As you become more advanced, you can focus on more complicated lifts such as squats and deadlifts, still with a heavy emphasis on core training. 

If you didn’t already know, a strong core is essential to remaining injury-free, improving running economy, improving posture, and overall running performance. Be sure to include some form of core training into your routine, you won’t regret it!

Related: Why and how strength training is essential for faster, injury-free running.

2. Cycling 

Whether you choose to cycle indoors or outdoors is up to you – however, the benefits remain relatively similar. Cycling is a very low-impact activity, especially when compared to running. This makes it the perfect activity for building up aerobic endurance while avoiding any impact injuries – unless, of course, you take a tumble and fall off your bike.

When cycling, we recommend including a mix of different training workouts. These include: 

  • Interval training (for example, 5×3 mins at a hard effort)
  • Long, slow rides
  • Sprints
  • Hills

If injured, you’ll benefit greatly from including a mix of all four of these cycling workouts. However, if managing regular running on top of this, we recommend only performing 1-2 per week, reducing your risk of overtraining.   

Cycling is particularly beneficial as it strengthens many of the same muscles used for running. As well as this, your cycling cadence can be mapped onto that of your running – even allowing for an improvement in your running economy. 

Related: 8 Signs you may be overtraining as a runner.

3. Walking 

If you can’t run, walk! Jeff Galloway suggests walking as this mimics running, just a lot slower and with less impact on the body. Walking, especially if injured, is a great way to recruit the same muscles as running as well as staying connected with being outside – a great psychological benefit to getting in those daily steps.

Likewise, if you haven’t already figured, you can walk a lot further than you can run! Take advantage of this. Head for a long hike, morning walk or stroll in the sun – allowing your muscles that key stretch and transition back into running, not to mention the relaxing benefits of walking itself. 

4. Swimming 

Swimming is an all-round great exercise for runners, even if it doesn’t follow a similar movement pattern, such as cycling. Regular pool training will improve core strength, endurance, and also strengthen important upper and lower body muscles.

Swimming is particularly useful for those suffering from ligament and or muscle damage, especially if they currently cannot run. Including regular swimming into your training, even when not injured, is a great way to reduce your risk of injury while keeping your training fun and varied. You never know, you may get involved in a triathlon further down the line!

5. Elliptical 

If you can get to your local gym, or perhaps have an elliptical in the garage, we highly recommend giving it a go! This is a great exercise to mimic the motion of running while increasing your heart rate, getting that sweat on, and increasing your aerobic endurance.

Be sure to increase the resistance to a hard yet sustainable effort, getting as much out of the session as possible. 

As with many forms of training and exercise, if you’re looking to mix it up, you can also include interval training. An example of interval training using the elliptical may be as follows: 

  • 5-minute warmup
  • 3-minutes at an increased resistance
  • 60-90 seconds at an easy resistance
  • Repeat 6-8x to begin with
  • 5-minute cool-down

The bottom line  

Whether injured or not, we highly recommend including some form of cross-training into your training schedule. Whether this is cycling, swimming, or the elliptical machine, you’re sure to reap many benefits – especially if you haven’t done it before! 

However, as always, everything in moderation is best. Try your fancy at the various cross-training methods mentioned in this article and see what’s best for you. You never know, you may find a new appreciation for another sport!

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