Why Cross Training Is Great For Runners

By Carissa Liebowitz

Runners tend to be active people in general and often have other fitness pursuits. When training for a half marathon, it is easy to think that dropping other activities will free up more time for running.

(MORE: 13 Essential Tips for Your First Half Marathon)

However, it is important to continue doing other activities as cross-training is a great tool for runners. Cardiovascular activities like cycling and swimming will help you maintain your endurance.

Yoga is great for runners looking to strengthen their core and increase their flexibility. Team sports like basketball and tennis are wonderful for social runners.

Alternating rest, running and cross training

Choose your cross-training days wisely. Make sure to rest the day before long runs or speed work. Do your cross-training activities either the day before an easy run or the day after a hard run. Because your training will take precedence, it may require you to cut back on other activities.

Kelly, a first-time half marathoner from New Orleans, swam once a week while training for her first half.

“It gave my legs a break and a good chance to stretch out,” she says. “It also gave me a mental break from running. No matter how much you love running, it’s easy to get burnt out when you really start to increase mileage for the first time.”


Swimming is a great, non-weight bearing exercise that can be a good alternative to running. It provides many of the same cardiovascular benefits that running does. Katelyn, a nine-time half marathoner from Ontario loves swimming because, “I feel like it works on my breathing.”


Many runners also enjoy cycling. Whether on a road bike, in spin class, or alone on a stationary bike, cycling is another great cardiovascular exercise. “It gives my legs a workout but I breathe a lot easier so it doesn’t hurt as much,” adds Jamie, a three-time half marathoner from Kentucky.

Running and cycling are akin in that they require a lot of leg muscle and endurance. Limit your cycling to 1 to 2 times a week while training for your half marathon as they utilize many of the same leg muscles. Overdoing it can lead to fatigue during training runs.


Yoga is a great cross-training exercise for runners looking to increase their flexibility and strength. Flexibility is essential for runners who need a good range of motion in both their arms and legs.

A better range of motion allows for the best form possible and reduces runners’ chances for injury. Many yoga disciplines incorporate a degree of strength training in their programs.

(MORE: The Best Time of Year to Train for a Race)

By eliminating week spots in the body, runners can optimize their speed and stay injury-free. Other active pursuits can provide runners with a mental break from running.

A simple change in scenery is often enough to motivate runners to get back into their training program. Pick something else you enjoy doing (almost as much as running) and don’t take it too seriously.

If you find your cross-training sport is too hard, too boring, or just isn’t fun, find something else. You can always revisit your feelings about it once you have completed your half marathon.

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