Written by
Casey Green
Written by
November 23, 2021

In order to maintain a long, healthy, and successful running career (whether you’re a “weekend warrior” or an avid marathoner), cross training is required. Cross-training is planned aerobic and strength exercises/activities other than running. These low-impact or non-impact motions allow for muscle and bone recovery. Cross-training activities can be particularly beneficial if you are dealing with any overuse or chronic injuries. Low/non-impact cross-training activities take pounding out of the equation while continuing to build strength and aerobic capacity. Swimming, biking, yoga, nordic skiing and climbing tend to be the most common cross-training activities for people looking to reduce impact.

Cross-training workouts can be integrated seamlessly into a week’s training schedule in place of a run or even in addition to a run in a safe, sustainable way. The most common cross training question asked of coaches is “what cross-training is best?” There is no simple answer to that. In determining what cross-training activities to add to your regimen, you should consider what YOU need compared with what THE ACTIVITY provides.

Weight lifting is great cross-training for runners!

What do you need?

There should be a goal to your cross-training routine. Don’t simply bike because we tell you to or do yoga because there’s a cheap studio across the street. If you know why you need to integrate cross-training, you’ll be better able to choose the proper activities at the proper times.

Are you recovering from an injury?

The initial key to an active recovery is to start with exercises that produce no pain in the injured area whatsoever. Since running injuries tend to occur in the motion of running, this means avoiding similar activities for a time. Swimming and biking are great alternatives since they are non-weight bearing and can still elevate your heart rate to the aerobic zone. Once you can tolerate a bit more weight on the injured area, you can transition closer to running related activities. Aqua jogging (still non-weight bearing but duplicates the running motion while in water) or elliptical machines are great next steps. A long set of either is a great way to feel like you’re working hard and “feeling the burn" while also avoiding too much impact.

Are you looking to add aerobic mileage to your week without running more?

As an athlete, you may not be able to achieve the full mileage load per week in order to meet your training goals. Cross-training in this situation can be a great way to get in your necessary aerobic miles without risking injury. For this, your best option is the elliptical or an Alter-G Treadmill. The Alter-G essentially props you up while running to reduce the percentage of body weight you’re actually running at. These activities will give you your best “bang for your buck,” most closely matching a 1-to-1 time ratio to running while biking may take 3x the time in order to get the same aerobic results as running.

Are you striving for additional muscular and mental variety in your training?

This is my own personal use of cross training in my weekly regimen. Running day after day can be mentally draining as much as it can be physically fatiguing. To add a bit of variety and also make your body more fatigue-resistant, a healthy dose of cross-training is key. If your goal is variety, it is of course recommended that you keep mixing up your routine. A week of biking as your cross-training, followed by a week of yoga, then a fun week of Cross Fit before restarting your cycle. This variation in activity will also help develop the strength of those muscle groups not necessarily used while running. Muscular balance is a key piece of building fitness, speed, and injury prevention.

Cross-training like swimming is a great activity for runners!

It’s time to pick the right cross-training activity:

Is it aerobic in nature?

Teaching your body to effectively use its energy stores while exercising is key. Part of this energy use education is reaching an aerobic zone for an extended period of time (60 minutes or more). This effort and duration uses your fat stores to fuel your activity. Even during cross-training, the activity of your choosing should be able to mimic this outcome as closely as possible.

Is it no-, low-, or minimal-impact?

Training as a runner requires a certain amount of high-impact training. Otherwise when it comes time to race, your body will be so unaccustomed to the impact that it will certainly become injured. However, this does not mean that every day and every workout needs to be ground-and-pound, high-impact work. Reducing muscular and bone impact to a low level a few times per week with a good choice of cross-training activity avoids unnecessary stress and promotes longevity of training.

Does the activity compliment your running and aid training goals?

An activity that does not simply match the exact same muscle activation of running is a great choice for cross-training. The complement to running should be an activity that works other elements of your body outside. Running muscles will already be strong and conceivably flexible from your normal training. Now is the time to work those oft forgotten muscle groups. Put in some extra work on your core, strengthen your deltoids and pectorals, and don’t forget to work that back!

Variety is the spice of life as all of those wise people say. So, have some fun, add some variety and get to cross training! Ice sculpting, axe throwing, competitive bass fishing or tug-o-war, every little bit helps!

5 Best Cross-Training Activities for Runners:

1. Cycling

2. Swimming/Aqua Jogging

3. Elliptical

4. Nordic Skiing

5. Low Weight/Bodyweight Lifting

Learn even more about cross-training for runners from all of Charge's professional, certified running coaches! Sign up now for your next live run or workout!