What is cross training? Essential cross training tips for runners

What is cross training? Essential cross training tips for runners

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Controversial as it may sound – runners don’t lack mileage, they lack strength! There are so many strength training and cross training tips for runners out there, so where do you start?

Cross training is often overlooked by many runners as they strive to reach their running goals. It’s important to push your body in different ways and include other types of activities and workouts in your routine to build your muscular strength, stamina and endurance.

I’m a big advocate for strength training and cross training. I’ve been a runner for well over 10 years now and for so long I neglected this side of my training. I’d only focus on getting more miles under my belt.

Although satisfactory for the short term when training for a half marathon or marathon, it harmed my body in the long term because I wasn’t testing it with different types of movement.

Running is great for your cardiovascular fitness, but over time it can start to negatively impact your muscular strength and endurance.

That’s because running focuses mainly on your aerobic energy systems and targets the muscles in your lower body – your glutes, quads, hamstrings and hip flexors.

This creates an imbalance.

By including cross training and strength training in your routine, you even out this imbalance and strengthen weaker or underused muscles, therefore making you less susceptible to injury.

There are so many exercises and workouts out there to choose from. The key is to choose the right ones based on your fitness levels and running goals.

I use these a lot in my training at home or at the gym as they’re simple, effective and fun to do!

So what is the best way to include cross training in your training plan? Where do you start? In this blog post, I’d like to share some cross training tips for runners. 

cross training tips for runners

Cross training tips for runners

According to a 1995 study, cross training was found to improve the performance of well-trained athletes.  

If you’re someone that likes a bit of variety in your training plan, then cross training is a good thing for you to practice regularly.

Cross training is all about including a range of exercises and activities in your training plan in order to push your body and muscles in different ways and improve overall athletic performance.

It focuses not only on your aerobic fitness, but looks to improve your flexibility, balance, coordination, core strength and endurance.

Your body is a good at adapting to different types of movement and it likes to be tested in different ways.

Cross training is proven to strengthen your muscles and help speed your recovery, so it’s good practice to include at least one or two cross training activities in your training routine to really reap the benefits.

Here are some tips for including cross training in your training plan.

Use cross training to supplement your running

Cross training should supplement your running, not replace it completely. The amount of cross training you do will depend on how you’re feeling – both mentally and physically. Don’t push yourself too hard.

Try to include at least 1-2 days of cross training in your training plan. If you’re recovering from an injury, you may need to include more cross training days each week.

Use cross training to rediscover your running motivation

Every runner has a time in their running journey where they either stop training for a period of time or find they uninspired to run.

Cross training is a great way to work through those times when you’re lacking motivation to go running. 

Take a few days off running each week and do another activity. This will help you get excited about returning to running.

cross training tips for runners

Cross training activities for runners

Here are some popular cross training workouts for runners.

Swimming

Swimming is good for runners because it allows your body to recover after miles and miles of pounding the pavement. It’s another form of cardiovascular exercise but doesn’t impact your joints as much.

A lot of runners swim when they’re injured to aid recovery as it’s low impact.

Cycling

Cycling is a good substitute to running as it works a lot of the same leg muscles, but without the high impact on your joints.

The downside of cycling is that you need quite a lot of equipment to get started – a good bike, a helmet and other bits of gear and safety equipment depending on how fast and far you want to go.

cross training tips for runners

Walking

It’s surprising how much energy you can burn whilst out on a brisk walk. It’s a great way to whip up a sweat without raising your heart rate too much like you would do in running.

Many beginner running programmes like Couch to 5k incorporate walking intervals as it’s a form of active recovery.

Walking is a great way to recover after a long run, but it’s not advisable to substitute things like temp running or interval running for walking.

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP)

I first tried stand up paddle boarding last year and I couldn’t believe how much upper and lower body strength I had to use to do basic movements on the water.

I underestimated how much strength and stability I’d need during the paddle. I certainly felt it the following day!

Stand up paddle boarding is all about core strength and stability which can go a long way to improve your overall performance as a runner.

Rowing

Going all out on a rowing machine for two or three minutes is a killer! I love to use the rowing machine in the gym after a strength training session as it really raises your heart rate and gets your body used to using different energy systems.

When you run, you use mainly the aerobic and lactate energy systems.

Rowing pushes you to use your creatine phosphate (CP) energy system towards the end of your workout to power you through it – think explosive power that lasts for around 2 to 10 seconds.

Yoga

Yoga is a great way to improve your flexibility, balance and core strength.

It strengthens the key supporting muscles used in running such as quadriceps, hamstrings and hip flexors. The movements used in yoga really allow you to focus on your core strength which will help you stay injury free.

Yoga is also a great way to practice your breathing as it gets you into the habit of conscious breathing where you become more aware of sensations in the body.

When running, it’s important to practice rhythmic breathing to bring about a more relaxed mental state and increase oxygen intake on those long runs.

There are lots of yoga poses that are good for runners to practice on a regular, if not daily basis.

Some of these yoga poses, when held for long periods of time, help to loosen your muscles and make your joints, ligaments and connective tissues more elasticated, therefore allowing you to move more freely.

It’s good to get into a habit of stretching every day as a runner, preferably in the morning when you wake up.

cross training tips for runners

Pilates

Similar to yoga, pilates allows you to improve your flexibility and strength. When you run regularly, you repeatedly use some muscles and underuse others.

Pilates allows you to activate and strengthen any underused or weak areas and create more balance in your body.

It’s also a great tool for tuning up your body for running as it improves your core strength, balance, coordination and posture.

Barre

Barre is great for runners as it helps to improve your flexibility and strength. You can also do a barre workout from the comfort of your own home. 

If you’re not familiar with barre, it’s a workout technique inspired by elements of ballet, yoga and pilates. It focus on low impact and high intensity movements designed to strengthen your body in ways that few other workouts can. 

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Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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