What is the Best Cross Training For Runners?

Running more mileage isn’t the only way to improve your race times. A cross-training regimen can strengthen the muscle groups you use for your run while minimizing your risk of injury. Many runners embrace cross-training when they get hurt and want to maintain their fitness, but it can become a valuable part of any workout schedule – injured or healthy. This article discusses how cross-training works and some of the ways you can get started.

What is Cross Training?

Cross-training is defined as any workout that takes you away from a running regimen. Your body needs time to recover between runs, cross-training improves your overall fitness while allowing your legs time to recover. 

How Effective is Cross Training for Runners?

Cross-training diversifies your training and gives your body time to rest between runs. Cross-training as part of a comprehensive training program will help avoid overtraining injuries Cross training with certain exercises may also strengthen stabilizing or auxiliary muscle groups which are not directly strengthened through running but may help prevent injury. For example, cross training workouts might target your arms, as arms are involved in both balance and momentum while running, or core exercises that help maintain an upright posture over running long distances.

Does Cross-Training Prevent Injuries?

Runners get faster by challenging themselves, but overtraining or overexertion can lead to injuries. Cross-training is a middle ground that lets you continue training while giving yourself a break from high-impact activities like running. Swapping runs with cross-training sessions won’t hurt performance as certain exercises are designed to strengthen other muscle groups you use during your runs. If you are nervous about a lingering pain, it can help to take a few days off from running and focus on cross-training instead.

9 Best Cross-Training Workouts for Runners

Cross-training can improve your fitness and prevent runner’s knee, but which cross-training workouts should you try? This article provides a few ideas to help you get started.

Strength Training 

Strength training adds weight or resistance to regular movements. Lifting weights, swinging kettlebells and pulling at TRX bands can strengthen and develop elasticity within your joints and muscles. When considering a strength training routine, incorporate upper-body strength training to support your stability and arm momentum on a run. A more efficient running form isn’t just about adding more mileage, strength training for runners can help strengthen muscles so there is more efficiency and power in your running form.

Circuit Classes 

Circuit classes provide variety within your cross-training schedule. These classes consist of multiple exercise groups split into reps with quick transitions. Circuit classes often incorporate pushups, burpees, squats and similar exercises combined into a workout with high repetitions under time restrictions. You can mix and match the exercises and reps in your circuit class based on the desired intensity or look for an instructor-led workout online. You can strengthen key muscle groups without putting more pressure on your tendons and ligaments through a run.


Yoga is a slower-paced cross-training routine that improves your breathing and lung capacity. These exercises also strengthen your mental focus and stamina, which may help undergo stress during a race. Some yoga exercises address overall fitness, while others stretch out muscles. Yoga stretches increase strength, elasticity, and mobility in a runner’s joints, which can reduce the likelihood of injury.


Pilates is cross-training that combines core exercises with deep breathing. This exercise routine focuses on slow, controlled form and over many repetitions. Leg lifts and toe taps are some of the common pilates exercises that target the core and abdominal muscle groups. 


Running and cycling each place emphasis on using your legs to cover mileage. Cycling engages your quads, glutes and core more than running. Strengthening these muscles can help you run faster times. Cycling is also very cardiovascularly demanding without the impact of your foot stomping the ground, which is valuable when considering exercises for your non-running days.

Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy isn’t just for recovering from an injury. This type of cross-training is meant to use your body weight alone to prevent injuries. Foam rolling and walking lunges are popular physical therapy exercises. Doing some of these exercises five to 10 minutes before or after a run will warm up or cool down your body


Swimming is a cross-training exercise that is a full-body cardio workout. You will strengthen the muscles you use for runs without the high impact of running on pavement or another hard surface. Swimming does not stress your tendons and ligaments, which need more time to recover after a run. You can even aqua jog in the water to produce a similar effect to running while protecting your leg from overuse.   


Rowing can be an excellent addition for runners seeking a low-impact solution that addresses multiple muscle groups. Rowing is a challenging exercise that builds strength in your legs, upper body, core and hips. The advantages plus accessibility of rowing machines make this cross-training method a great one to consider for your routine. 


Hiking at a leisurely pace puts less pressure on your legs, and you could encounter plenty of hills depending on which trail you take.  Hikes strengthen core and quad muscles and have the added benefit of being able to walk on nature trails. If you want to cross-train but don’t like the idea of staying in the gym, hikes can be a great addition to your workout schedule. 

Simple Tips for Sticking with Cross Training as a Runner

Cross-training feels tremendous when you get started. You will feel different muscle groups getting more fit than usual. These sessions enhance your workout quality as a runner, but the high of cross-training can fade if you are inconsistent. Once you stick with cross-training for a few weeks, it can turn into a habit. These strategies will help you stick with cross-training, so it eventually becomes habitual. 

  • Stick with workouts you like: If you don’t like swimming, don’t force yourself to swim. Focus on exercises you enjoy. 
  • Hire a trainer or workout with a friend: Investing money in your cross-training or committing to a friend can turn your exercising into a habit. If you work with a trainer, they can come up with the workout and provide guidance about your form. 
  • Work out in a gym: Some runners prefer the outdoors, but gyms attract people who take fitness seriously. Seeing other people work hard may inspire you to stick with your cross-training, and you may make friends at the gym, too. 
  • Join a local group: If you want to bike, look for a cycling group in your area. Working out with a group reinforces commitment. You can also join social media and virtual groups to meet more people with similar goals. 

Level Up Your Fitness Gains with Cross Training

A cross-training routine can help muscle groups your runs don’t normally address. Many runners do not prioritize upper-body and core workouts, but addressing these parts of your fitness can improve your running. Combining cross training with running can also minimize injury risk because you are giving your body more rest in between runs. 


How many days a week should a runner cross-train?

Cross-training for one to two days per week can help you gain fitness while reducing the risk of injury.

Do you need to cross-train for a marathon?

Although you do not have to cross-train for a marathon, it is extremely helpful for your form. Runners who cross-train can improve their times.

Is CrossFit good for runners?

CrossFit strengthens many muscle groups associated with running. It is a good addition for many runners.

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