Cross Training For Runners: Pros & Cons

by James Eacott

Cross Training For Runners: Pros & Cons

Running is superb for physical and mental health. However, there are some downsides to running due to its high-impact nature which can hammer joints and muscles. This is where cross training comes in and - we believe - its an essential part of any runner’s training.

What is cross training?

Cross training involves engaging in any other exercise which benefits your running fitness...but isn't running! So anything that helps you improve your heart and lungs, overall strength, posture or even mental resilience - all of which make you a more well-rounded athlete.

Why is cross training good for runners?

Cross training helps runners improve fitness and reduce the risk of injury. Running places a lot of stress on the body, and if you only ever 'just' run without taking breaks or incorporating other types of training, it's easy to develop overuse injuries. By cross training, you give your running muscles, tendons and joints time to recover while still building strength in other areas.

Swimming is a great cross training activity for runners

Cross training can also help you break through plateaus in your running performance. When you only complete one exercise, your body becomes super efficient at that activity and accustomed to the route, which impairs gains. By incorporating different exercises into your routine, you challenge your body in new ways and avoid stagnation.

What are the best cross training exercises for runners?

Some of the best cross-training exercises for runners include:

  • Swimming: Swimming is a low-impact exercise that can help runners build cardiovascular endurance and upper body strength while also providing a break from the impact of running on the legs and feet. For those who've great lower body strength but feel limited by their cardio fitness, swimming could be your next win
  • Cycling: Cycling is another low-impact exercise that can improve cardiovascular endurance and leg strength. It can also help to improve flexibility and range of motion in the hips and lower back
  • Yoga: Yoga is great for flexibility, balance and core strength - all of which help prevent injury and improve running form
  • Strength training: Strength training (read all about it here, including the best exercises for runners) can help to build leg and core strength, which can improve running performance and reduce the risk of injury
  • Pilates: Pilates is a low-impact exercise that improves core strength, flexibility and balance. It can also improve posture which is a common weak point in runners, particularly those who sit at a desk for hours each day
  • Hiking: Yep, even a good ‘ol hike is great! It’s highly specific in that it uses similar muscles and movement patterns, but removes the impact element of running. This reduces injury risk while still building strength. Add a weighted pack for extra gains

Give pilates a go - you'll be amazed at how much it improves your running (and how hard it is!)

Sounds great, but are there any downsides to cross training?

I suppose there's a ying/yang effect of everything and, while we're huge proponents of cross training for runners (more than any other sport, probably), it's worth touching on the potential downsides too, which include:

  • It's not running. Well yes, but that's the point. However, it could be argued that while cross training can improve overall fitness, it may not provide the same benefits as running-specific workouts. For example, cycling or swimming can improve cardiovascular fitness, but they don't use exactly the same specific muscles and movements used in running
  • Risk of overtraining: Adding too much cross training to a program can lead to overtraining, which can result in fatigue, injury, and decreased performance. It is important to balance cross training with adequate rest and recovery
  • Time constraints: Cross training can be time-consuming and it may be challenging to fit it into a busy training schedule. This can lead to a decrease in the amount of time dedicated to run-specific workouts
  • Mental fatigue: Cross training can be mentally taxing, particularly if you don't enjoy it or see it as a chore

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