9 Best Cross Training Activities For Runners

9 Best Cross Training Activities For Runners

“We are being subjected to the idea that we have to run in order to run… no, we don’t. Being strong allows you to run. Running does not make you stronger. If being stronger allows you to run but running does not make you stronger, then what do you do? You train to get stronger.”

That is a direct quote from Mark Rippetoe, a highly-respected strength and conditioning coach. 

Coach Mark has helped athletes from different sports – including running – improve their performances by integrating other disciplines into their training program. 

Under Mark’s coaching, runners have improved their times in the long-distance races. He has also helped enlistees pass the military’s tough fitness tests which include timed runs at 1.5 miles, 2 miles, and 3 miles. 

What Coach Mark is saying is that running by itself will not make you a better runner. All athletes have imbalances or deficiencies that cannot be fixed by practicing the same skill over and over again. 

You may have to cross-train in physical activities that require you to learn new skills and perform movements which allow you to work on those weaknesses directly. 

3 Benefits Of Cross-Training For Runners

Each sport follows a specific mode of training that is designed to develop a particular skill and components of fitness such as strength, power, mobility, flexibility, and endurance. 

For example, soccer is a sport where the athlete changes speed frequently during the match. A soccer player could go from walking to a full sprint toward the ball ina matter of seconds; much like High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). 

A runner who tends to fade at the homestretch can use soccer as a cross-training activity to help build a more powerful finishing kick. 

If your back tends to tighten up at the halfway point of a marathon, you should consider cross-training in Yoga which can strengthen your core, improve balance, mobility, and flexibility. 

Here is a short list of benefits that runners can derive from cross-training in other sports:1. Improve Overall Conditioning  It does not always follow that if you can finish a marathon, you can complete 3 rounds of boxing. 

These are 2 distinct physical activities that utilize different muscles and energy systems. Learning new skills opens up neural pathways that are largely unused in running. 2. Allows Injured Runners a Form of Physical Activity – If you’re injured, the worst thing you can do is to stay inactive for long periods. Your body needs constant blood circulation to promote proper healing. 

Assuming your injury keeps you from hitting the treadmill, hit the pool instead and do a few laps. 3. Reduces the Risk of Injury – If all you do is run, the muscles of your outer thigh and lower hamstrings will be stronger than the muscles in the inner thigh and upper hamstrings. 

As the imbalances get more pronounced and the stronger muscles become more dominant, the weaker muscles get worn out. This is the ideal situation for muscle tears to happen. 

Performing compound exercises such as wide-stance Squats, Romanian Deadlifts, and Lunges can effectively fix these imbalances and reduce your risk of injury. 

9 Best Cross-Training Activities For Runners

There will be days when you don’t feel inspired or motivated to run. If those days turn into weeks, it may be time to include another activity that will shake you out of the doldrums and keep you on track of your fitness goals. 

Here are 9 cross-training activities that can complement your running program: • Swimming – Swimming is the perfect cross-training activity for runners who have been dealing with injuries and chronic discomfort. 

Your joints are kept safe because your body doesn’t experience severe impact forces unlike when you are running. 

It is a great activity for building upper body strength, endurance, and flexibility.• Yoga – Yoga strengthens your muscles by using your body weight as resistance. You will have a better understanding of how your body moves and functions when doing Yoga. 

It helps you improve on overlooked skills such as proper breathing technique, balance, flexibility, and correct body alignment. Yoga also involves meditation which helps your body relax and de-stress.• Pilates – Similar to Yoga, Pilates focuses on achieving balance, stability, and flexibility. Pilates’ exercises emphasize the core – the group of muscles that allow your body to move and function properly. 

Cross-training in Pilates can help you strengthen and stabilize the hips and lower back which are susceptible to wear and tear in running.• Weight Training – Weight Training allows you to fix imbalances and strengthen weak muscles by using specific weight-bearing exercises. 

Compound barbell-based exercises like the Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, and the Power Clean are efficient because they utilize all the major muscle groups in the body including the core. 

Unilateral dumbbell or kettlebell exercises such as Walking Lunges, weighted swings, and Single-Leg Deadlifts are great for working the smaller, supportive muscles. 

A proper weight-training program will improve your level of strength, power, mobility, agility, flexibility, and conditioning. • Zumba – Zumba is a fun aerobic activity that has gained immense popularity in the last few years. 

It may look like dancing, but Zumba uses a lot of the muscles that are keysto running such as the hips, thighs, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. 

Zumba also improves coordination, agility, balance, and mobility.• Rowing – Rowing is an excellent exercise for the upper body. It hits the Latissimus Dorsi muscles of your back, the shoulders, arms, and activates the core section. 

Rowing will also teach you proper breathing technique. If you don’t breathe correctly, you may find your abs cramping after a few minutes! 

By adding rowing to your fitness regimen, you give your tired, worn-out legs a rest and shift focus to strengthening the upper body. • Elliptical Machine – An elliptical machine is a low-impact form of cardiovascular exercise that can fast-track the rehabilitation of your knee injury while improving leg and hip strength. 

If you have problems running up hills and uneven terrain, a workout on the elliptical machine should be part of your training program. 

To reduce pressure on your knees, you can pedal the elliptical backward and shift more of the resistance to your hamstrings, inner thighs, and glutes. • Inline Skating – Are you suffering from Achilles tendonitis or shin splints? Try inline skating as your cross-training activity. 

It is a low-impact form of exercise that targets the muscles in your thighs, glutes, hamstrings, calves, hips, and lower back. As long as you don’t slip and fall, inline skating is a safe cross-training activity.• Cross-Country Skiing – Cross-country skiing uses a gliding movement that stretches the hamstrings, glutes, and calves. 

When muscles are more flexible, they become resistant to injuries such as pulls and tears. To maintain balance in cross-country skiing, you have to keep your core braced and engaged to stabilize your hips and lower back. 

Cross-country skiing is a valuable cross-training activity because you are working the same muscles for running but with considerably less impact. 

Sample Cross-Training Workout Schedule For Runners

Pick 2 to 3 cross-training activities and include them in your running program. If you are nursing an injury and have been advised by your doctor to avoid running indefinitely, then use the cross-training activities to fill out your exercise and fitness program.

Otherwise, you can set aside 1 to 2 days for running and the other 3 to 4 days for a cross-training activity.

Here is a sample cross-training program for runners:

RunningSwimmingRestWeight-TrainingRestYoga, Pilates or ZumbaRest


Can you cross-train in other sports that were not covered in this article? Yes, but make sure the sport does not increase your chances of getting injured. 

For example, tennis is a wonderful form of exercise that builds power, speed, coordination, mobility, agility, and flexibility. 

But it is an activity where one side of your body will be more dominant than the other and may exacerbate strength imbalances. Likewise, the sudden stops and quick shifts in movement in tennis may lead to knee, lower back and hip injuries, and muscle tears.

The thing to remember when you are cross-training is that you are using the sport to improve weak areas, fix imbalances or as a form of rehab. Don’t go too hard on it!

And let’s not forget to take moments to thoroughly unwind on occasion with your favorite bottle of wine.  Wine is rich in healthy antioxidants that can fight off free radical damage which occurs during high intensity or long-duration exercises.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with your community. Also, check out our selection of fine California wines (www.wine4runners.com). You may want to gift a friend – or yourself – after a tremendous race event!

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