Five Beneficial Types of Cross-Training for Runners

It’s no secret that run­ning can be hard on your body. It’s a high impact sport; your body impacts on itself each time you land on the ground—thousands of time per run. When put that way, it just seems like com­mon sense that you ought to give your joints, mus­cles, and oth­er run­ning parts the occa­sion­al break. This doesn’t have to mean anoth­er rest day though.

Incor­po­rat­ing cross-train­ing into your sched­ule one or two days a week can do won­ders to help run­ning injuries — or poten­tial injuries — heal, as well as build new strength to aid in your over­all run­ning per­for­mance.  Although many oth­er sports and forms of exer­cise could poten­tial­ly strength­en your body for bet­ter run­ning, there are a select few that stand above the rest.

Check out our top five picks below:

Five Beneficial Types of Cross Training

Walk­ing
This is the most obvi­ous choice as move­ments involved are most sim­i­lar to run­ning. Walk­ing, how­ev­er, is far gen­tler on the mus­cles and joints, since your feet nev­er leave the ground at the same time caus­ing your entire body weight plus grav­i­ty to come crash­ing down on itself. Walk­ing uses many of the same mus­cles as run­ning, but it also incor­po­rates addi­tion­al mus­cles, includ­ing mus­cles a run­ner may relay on dur­ing a long run or race when their pri­ma­ry run­ning mus­cles have been exhausted.

Renowned run­ning coach Jeff Gal­loway has also made famous the con­cept that walk­ing allows run­ners to push their envelopes fur­ther than they ever would by just run­ning. His argu­ment? You can walk a hell of a lot far­ther than you can run. It’s hard to argue with that. Gal­loway specif­i­cal­ly rec­om­mends incor­po­rat­ing walk­ing into your run­ning, such as walk­ing one minute for every six or sev­en you run. This is a very effec­tive long-run strat­e­gy and one many ultra-marathon run­ners uti­lize, even in races.

Cycling
When cycling as cross-train­ing, be sure to engage in a vari­ety of work­out types, such as inter­vals, long rides, sprints, and hills. High-pow­er bike inter­vals can work your legs even hard­er than uphill run­ning with­out the injury poten­tial of repeat­ed impact. Cycling strength­ens the low­er body, par­tic­u­lar­ly the calves and ham­strings, and can even help with form. Form is so impor­tant in cycling that it helps train your mind to focus on it while phys­i­cal­ly per­form­ing. This can eas­i­ly trans­fer over to running.

Swim­ming
Most run­ners have heard of pool run­ning, but may have nev­er tried it. The answer why is sim­ple; you look like a dork. There’s real­ly no way around that, but what’s an hour or so each week of look­ing a dork mean if it will improve your run­ning per­for­mance and ulti­mate­ly make you feel bet­ter phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly about your run­ning? Pool run­ning is a full-body work­out, par­tic­u­lar­ly strength­en­ing your back and core, two mus­cles groups often attrib­uted to run­ning injuries when they are weak. 

Swimming

Yoga/Pilates
Most run­ners know the impor­tance of stretch­ing and obtain­ing over­all flex­i­bil­i­ty in order to stave off run­ning injuries, yet many either don’t stretch enough or don’t stretch at all. (Tsk tsk!) Yoga and palates have been proven to increase flex­i­bil­i­ty, core strength, and con­cen­tra­tion – all vital­ly impor­tant char­ac­ter­is­tics to healthy running.

Weight TrainingWeight Train­ing
Weight train­ing offers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to focus on spe­cif­ic mus­cles or mus­cle groups used in run­ning that may need addi­tion­al strength­en­ing, such as the core, back, and hip sta­bi­liz­ers. Weight train­ing has also been shown in some stud­ies to improve the oxy­gen used in mus­cles, which could help a run­ner per­form at their usu­al pace with less effort. This, of course, means you could also poten­tial­ly run faster at the same effort lev­el that you used pri­or to incor­po­rat­ing weight lift­ing into your rou­tine. Also awesome.

Most run­ners engage in this sport because they love it. But like all good things, you can have too much of it and end up injured if you don’t take prop­er care of your body. Incor­po­rat­ing a cou­ple cross-train­ing activ­i­ties into your week­ly sched­ule pro­vides your body with the rest it needs from run­ning while still remain­ing active and gain­ing strength elsewhere.

What are you wait­ing for? There’s noth­ing to lose!