Unleash Your Potential: Cross-Training for Runners

cross training for runners

When runners only run, they use the same muscles all the time, which can lead to injuries. By adding cross-training, runners can strengthen different muscles and give their usual running muscles a break. It’s one of the best ways to add active recovery to their routine.

The benefits of cross-training for runners are clear.

It helps runners avoid injuries by balancing their muscle use and improving overall fitness. For example, swimming or cycling builds endurance and strength without the running associated risk of injury.

Plus, different exercises help keep the training routine interesting and fun.

Main Benefits of Cross-Training for Runners

Injury Prevention

Cross-training helps runners reduce injury risks. When runners do different types of exercises, they use various muscles, not just the ones they use for running. This means they’re less likely to get injuries that come from doing the same thing over and over.

Improved Performance

Different exercises also make runners faster and more efficient. For example, if a runner adds cycling to their routine, they’re not only running but also building strength in their legs, lungs, and heart in a different way. This can help them run faster.

Improved Recovery

When runners are injured, they can’t run as much, but they might still be able to do other types of exercises. For example, swimming can help you stay fit without making your injury worse. This way, you can keep training even when you’re recovering from an injury.

Also, cross-training workouts help increase blood flow that sends nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, allowing them to recover faster after hard work long run.

What Are The Best Cross Training Exercises For Runners?

There are a lot of cross-training workouts runners can choose from, each offering unique benefits.

The best cross-training exercises for runners are those that complement running by developing complementary muscle groups, improving cardiovascular fitness, and enhancing overall athleticism without overstressing running-specific muscles.

Here are some top cross-training activities that runners can incorporate into their routine:


Swimming is great for runners because it works out the whole body without any harsh impact on the joints. It helps build endurance and strengthens the lungs, which is beneficial for running.

To add swimming to your routine, start with one or two swim sessions a week. Choose days when you’re not running hard, so your body gets a break. Swimming after a run can also be a good way to cool down.


Cycling is another low-impact exercise good for runners. It strengthens the leg muscles differently than running, which can improve running performance.

Mix cycling into your schedule by replacing one or two runs with bike rides each week. Make sure you don’t overdo it—balance is key. Listen to your body to avoid getting tired.

Strength Training

Strength training is crucial for runners, especially when you lift heavy weights as you strengthen your muscles to handle the load.

Start with basic exercises like squats, lunges, and planks. Strength training should be done a couple of times a week, focusing on the whole body.

Heavy weights are recommended, but if you are just starting out, anything is better than nothing. You can start with a body weight training program and add weight as you get stronger.

Yoga and Pilates

Yoga and Pilates training programs are great for improving flexibility and improve your core muscles strength, both important for runners. They can help improve your posture, balance, and running efficiency.

Try adding a yoga or Pilates class once or twice a week. It can be a good way to relax and stretch on your rest days or after a run.

What Cross-Training Workouts should I choose?

I understand that reading the above cross-training options can be overwhelming. There is no way you can do all those things and still run 4-6 days a week.

My recommendation is to assess your biggest weaknesses and work on them first.

For example. If you are very sore after some runs, maybe swimming and cycling can help you recover faster and keep improving your overall fitness.

Or if you haven’t done any strength training in more than a year, you’ll probably benefit a lot from adding 1-2 sessions a week.

Just choose one thing to focus on, and when it becomes part of your routine and have the time and energy to add a new one, try something else.

Use Your Off-Season For New Cross-Training Activities

The off-season is the perfect time for runners to explore new cross-training activities. Without the pressure of upcoming races or the need to stick to a strict running schedule, you can try different exercises that can benefit your running when the season starts again.

Experiment with New Activities

Use this time to try out activities you’ve been curious about but haven’t fit into your regular training schedule. Whether it’s a dance class, rock climbing, or martial arts, engaging in a new form of exercise can improve your agility, strength, and even your mental approach to training.

In the winter of 2020, I enrolled in some rowing classes, and they quickly became one of my favorite cross-training workouts. Buying a rowing machine for my house has been one of the best investments I’ve made to improve my running.

Focus on Weaknesses

The off-season is ideal for addressing any weaknesses or imbalances. The best cross-training workouts help you become a better runner. If you’ve noticed that your core could be stronger or your flexibility could improve, now is the time to take yoga classes or commit to a regular Pilates routine.

Build a Base for Next Season

Use cross-training to maintain your fitness level while giving your running muscles a much-needed break. Activities like swimming or cycling can keep your cardiovascular endurance high without the impact of running.

Set Goals for Cross-Training

Just as you set running goals, set objectives for your cross-training. This could be improving your swim lap time, mastering a new yoga pose, or building up to a certain weight in strength training. This keeps your off-season interesting and challenging.

Plan for Integration

As you discover new activities you enjoy, think about how you can integrate them into your regular training routine once the running season begins again. This can provide a fresh perspective on training and help prevent burnout.

The off-season shouldn’t be seen as a break from fitness but as an opportunity to explore, strengthen, and diversify your training. This approach not only keeps your off-season dynamic but also contributes to a more balanced and enjoyable training regime when you lace up your running shoes again.

cross training for runners - rowing machine

Designing a Cross-Training Schedule

Creating a balanced cross-training schedule is crucial to get the benefits without overdoing it. Here’s how to blend running and cross-training effectively:

Balancing Running and Cross-Training

Ass mentioned before start by including one or two cross-training sessions per week, especially on days following hard runs. This approach helps in recovery and reduces the risk of injury. Ensure that your cross-training complements your running routine rather than adding extra stress.

Listening to Your Body

Pay attention to signs of fatigue or discomfort, which could indicate overtraining. If you’re feeling worn out, it might be time to cut back on cross-training or running intensity. Your body’s response is a key indicator of whether your schedule is sustainable.

Cross-Training for Different Running Goals

Tailoring Activities

Choose cross-training activities that align with your running goals. For marathon training, focus on endurance-based cross-training like cycling or swimming. If you’re prepping for sprints, incorporate more strength and speed workouts, like interval training or plyometrics.

Seasonal Adjustments

In the off-season, you can increase cross-training to maintain fitness while reducing running volume. As you approach race season, gradually shift the focus back to running, ensuring cross-training supports recovery and maintains overall fitness without interfering with run-specific training.

By carefully planning and adjusting your cross-training routine, you can enhance your running performance, reduce the risk of injury, and keep your workouts engaging and varied throughout the year.

Can You Cross Train And Run On The Same Day?

Yes, you can cross-train and run on the same day, but it’s important to do it the right way to avoid fatigue and injury. Here’s how to combine both effectively:

Time Management: If you decide to run and cross-train on the same day, space them out. For instance, run in the morning and cross-train in the evening. This gives your body time to recover in between.

Intensity Balance: Avoid doing two intense workouts in one day. If you’re doing a hard run, make your cross-training session lighter and less intense. For example, after a speed run, you could opt for a gentle yoga class or an easy swim.

Prioritize Running: If you’re training for a running event, make running the priority in your schedule. Cross-training should complement your running, not replace it or make you too tired for your running workouts.

Plan Recovery: Ensure you have adequate recovery time after doing both activities in one day. Proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep are crucial when you’re increasing your workout load.

By following these guidelines, you can safely incorporate both running and cross-training into the same day, maximizing your fitness benefits while minimizing the risk of overtraining or injury.

cycling cross training for runners

How Many Days A Week Should A Runner Cross Train?

The number of days a runner should cross-train each week can vary widely depending on several factors, including their running experience, fitness level, and specific goals. A running coach can help you findd the sweet spot.

For someone new to running, incorporating one to two days of cross-training into their weekly routine is a good start. This approach helps build overall strength and endurance while allowing the muscles used in running to recover and adapt to the new stress being placed on them.

Intermediate runners, who are more accustomed to regular running and have a solid base of fitness, might find it beneficial to step up their cross-training to two to three days per week. This increased frequency allows them to target a broader range of muscle groups, further enhancing their running performance and reducing the risk of injury.

The choice of cross-training activities can be varied, ranging from cycling and swimming to strength training and yoga, depending on what they enjoy and what benefits their running most.

For advanced runners, especially those training for specific events or competitions, cross-training remains a crucial part of their regimen. Up to three days of cross-training per week can be integrated, carefully chosen to balance out the running workload. The focus at this level is often on refining specific areas, such as increasing core strength, enhancing flexibility, or boosting endurance, all of which can contribute to improved running performance.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

When integrating cross-training into a running regimen, it’s crucial to be aware of some common pitfalls that can hinder progress or lead to injury. Here’s how to identify and avoid them:

A. Overtraining Risks with Cross-Training

Overtraining occurs when the cumulative stress from all physical activities, including running and cross-training, exceeds the body’s ability to recover. The signs of overtraining can be subtle but may include prolonged fatigue, a decline in performance, mood swings, and increased susceptibility to injuries and illnesses.

To avoid overtraining, carefully monitor your overall workout intensity and volume. Remember that cross-training should complement your running, not compete with it. Ensure you have adequate rest days and don’t replace all your rest days with intense cross-training sessions. It’s also essential to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and stay hydrated, as these factors all contribute to recovery.

B. Ensuring Proper Technique and Balance in Cross-Training Exercises

Another common pitfall is not performing cross-training exercises with the correct technique, which can lead to injuries or reduce the effectiveness of the workout. For example, using improper form during strength training can strain muscles and joints in ways that harm rather than help.

To ensure proper technique, consider working with a trainer, especially when trying out new exercises or equipment. Even experienced athletes can benefit from occasional form checks. Watching instructional videos or attending classes can also help ensure you’re performing exercises correctly.

Balance in your cross-training activities is also crucial. Just as running stresses specific muscle groups, so can certain cross-training activities if done excessively. Aim for a mix of cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, and balance training to create a well-rounded fitness profile. This approach helps prevent overuse injuries by not overloading any single muscle group.

By being mindful of these common pitfalls and taking steps to avoid them, you can make cross-training a valuable and safe component of your running training, leading to improved performance and reduced injury risk.

Recap of the key benefits and strategies of cross-training for runners

Cross-training is an invaluable element in a runner’s training arsenal, offering a plethora of benefits that enhance running performance and contribute to overall fitness. By engaging in activities like swimming, cycling, strength training, and yoga, runners can prevent injuries, improve endurance, boost strength, and enhance flexibility. These varied activities help balance the muscle use, reduce the monotony of training, and provide mental refreshment, all of which contribute to a more enjoyable and effective running routine.

Incorporating cross-training into your regimen requires a strategic approach—balancing intensity, ensuring proper technique, and listening to your body’s signals. It’s not about replacing running but about supplementing it to build a stronger, more versatile athletic foundation. The key is to integrate cross-training in a way that supports your running goals, whether you’re aiming to complete your first 5K or set a new personal best in a marathon.

We encourage runners of all levels to embrace cross-training, not just as a means to improve running performance but as a way to foster a well-rounded fitness lifestyle. This holistic approach to training not only enhances your capabilities as a runner but also contributes to your overall health and well-being. By diversifying your fitness routine, you’re not only working towards becoming a better runner but also investing in a more balanced, injury-resistant, and enjoyable athletic journey.





Diego Alcubierre, a passionate runner and coach, started his journey at 26 with a 10k time of 1:06:23 and has since slashed 30 minutes off his personal record. With five running and coaching certifications, Diego is committed to sharing his expertise and proven strategies to help runners of all levels enhance their performance, stay motivated, and enjoy the journey of running. At Bannister, he simplifies complex training concepts, empowering you to achieve your running goals.