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Cross-Training for Runners

Aerobic Exercise and Strength Training Round out Your Routine

© 2013 Michelle Rebecca; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Stationary cycling for cross-training; photo courtesy Michelle Rebecca

Running is a deceptively simple sport. Most people can run, and the simplest way to improve your running is, well, to run. Running alone, however, doesn’t provide the full-body workout many people desire.

Frequent running also increases the risk of shin splints and impact injuries. Many runners supplement their training with other activities such as lap swimming although their main focus remains running.

But by cross-training, they improve muscle strength, condition their upper body, and lower their overall risk of injuries. Because you will be using muscles in an unaccustomed way it is recommended that you begin your workout with some a dynamic warm-up routine. Read on to discover activities to broaden any runner’s workout routine.

Road Cycling and Spin Classes

Cycling is one of the most popular cross-training options for runners and historically interest really spikes during the Tour de France. Like running, cycling gets you out on the road and in the open air.

Both sports exercise the leg muscles, but in different ways. Additionally, cycling has less risk of impact injuries. The downside? This is one sport that can really get expensive.

Don’t neglect the stationary bike at the gym. High-power stationary bike workouts push your leg muscles harder than running hills, without any potentially damaging impact. Just be sure you understand how to use the stationary bike safely before you start.

While at the gym, do you want to take this workout to a much higher level? Most of the larger health clubs like 24-Hr Fitness now offer spin classes. Depending on your instructor they can be brutal, but at least you’ll be in the air conditioning.

Weight Training

Weight training has become so important for cross-training that it’s difficult to find a sport with athletes who don’t benefit from at least some weight or resistance training. Increased core and overall muscle strength has been shown to definitely reduce injury rates.

Members of the University of Maine soccer team who added weight training to their exercise schedule reduced their injury rate by 50 percent. Weight training also seems to improve running economy, or how fast you run on a given amount of oxygen.

A University of New Hampshire study reported runners who weight trained three times a week for ten weeks improved their running economy by 3.8 to 4.5 percent, depending on their running pace.

A gain of 3.8 percent may not seem like much, but it can have a significant impact on long-distance running performance. Over the course of a 10K race, it can potentially reduce your time by a full one or two minutes.

Most male runners are not concerned about bulking up their weight with the increased muscle mass, rather, they are after increased endurance. The solution is simple—less weight combined with more reps and sets.

P90X and other DVD Workouts

DVD-based workouts are nothing new, but few programs are as comprehensive as the P90X workouts. In addition to 12 workouts, you get “3-phase nutrition plan, specially designed supplement options, a detailed fitness guide, a calendar to track your progress, and online peer support.”

The same company that developed this program,, also offers other titles such as Slim in 6, 10-Minute Trainer, INSANITY, Turbo Jam, ChaLEAN Extreme, Get Real with Shaun T, One on One with Tony Horton, Hip Hop Abs, Kathy Smith’s Project You, and Power 90, just to name a few.


Swimming is a non-weight bearing activity and a good supplement for runners. Unlike running, lap swimming conditions the core, arms and shoulders, giving you a more complete workout. It is also a great recovery activity.

Of course it goes without saying that any athlete getting into triathlon has to spend some time in the pool as well as on the road and on the bike. The workouts should incorporate a blend of distance swimming and sets of sprints.

Are you injured? Pick up an aqua-jogging belt and hit the deep end of the pool. If offers just enough flotation so that you can keep your head out of the water while simulating running without the impact that the road gives you.


Plyometrics are high-intensity and explosive exercise drills focusing on jumping and hopping. Cross-training plyometrics can improve your strength, endurance, range of motion and push-off strength.

One of the DVDs in the P90X box focuses on this workout. This is not an easy workout. Be prepared to work hard, sweat a lot, and be a bit sore the next day. But it will take your game to the next level.

A word of caution however: plyometrics carry a high injury risk for all but the most conditioned of athletes. If you’re a novice or intermediate runner, weight training and cycling are much safer options to start off with.

Other Training Options

Ultimately, almost any exercise that strengthens the body or mind should bring some degree of benefit to runners. Whether you use yoga for relaxation, or train your mind to overcome its limitations with a San Francisco skydive, you’re improving yourself as a runner and an individual.

To be honest, women who fall into the very competitive category are beginning to have a harder time than men in one respect. The question of allowing transgender athletes to compete against women hasn’t been definitely settled but it certainly is moving in that direction. It seems to be a question of political correctness over common sense and fair gamemanship unfortunately.

Whatever exercises you choose to supplement your running schedule, make sure you understand how to perform them safely and properly. The goal is to increase your time running, not limit it with non-running injuries!

About the Author:

Michelle is a blogger and freelancer. She’s written about almost every topic under the sun, and loves constantly learning about new subjects and industries while she’s writing. Whenever she’s able to step away from her computer she enjoys spending time outdoors with her dogs.

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