Fitness Articles

9 Cross-Training Activities for Runners

Boost Performance, Reduce Injury Risk and Beat Boredom

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The only way to become a better runner is to run, but the more running replaces other exercises in your fitness program, the more likely you are to become injured, suffer from burnout, or develop muscular imbalances. So what's a runner to do (besides run, of course)? Cross train.

Cross-training, or taking part in alternative forms of exercise, should be part of every fitness plan because it helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries, improves muscular balance, targets your muscles in new and different ways, and aids in muscle recovery. In addition, cross-training can also prevent burnout and add a little fun and variety to your workout routine, while still helping you stay aerobically fit.

In this article, we'll outline two approaches to cross-training for runners: 1) activities that complement running and 2) activities that enhance running. Depending on your training and health situation, you can select the activities that will work best for you. Try to include some form of cross-training at least one to three times per week for optimal results.

Cross-Training Activities that Complement Running
Complementary cross-training activities use your main running muscles in different ways, and engage additional muscles that you may never use while running. Performing these types of activities will allow you to build greater muscle strength and muscular balance, therefore reducing your risk for injury.

Swimming
Because swimming is a non-weightbearing activity, it gives the joints and connective tissues a break from the impact of running while allowing you to maintain aerobic fitness. Swimming can be a beneficial cross-training activity all runners, especially those recovering from injury. By targeting all the major muscle groups (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abs, lower back and upper body), swimming allows your legs a break while developing the upper body musculature that is often neglected in runners.

Cycling
Cycling indoors on a stationary bike, at the gym in a Spinning class, or outdoors on the road or trail is another low-impact activity that can give your body a break from the high impact of running. Biking targets the quadriceps and shin muscles, which are slower to develop in runners and helps strengthen the connective tissue of the knees, hips and ankles, which may reduce your risk for injury. However, some running experts advise against cycling on non-run days because it can still be strenuous and exhausting to your muscles. So what do you do? If you want to cross train with biking, include it on your running days by running first and then cycling later in the day.
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About The Author

Nancy Howard Nancy Howard
Nancy is an avid runner and health enthusiast. A retired pediatric nurse, she received her bachelor's degree in nursing from Texas Woman's University and is also a certified running coach and ACE-certified personal trainer.

Member Comments

  • Good suggestions. The water walking sounds like a lot of fun too! - 8/9/2014 11:19:25 AM
  • CHANGELIFE2016
    rollerblading is good too! - 6/25/2014 11:28:02 AM
  • Great article. - 11/17/2013 3:27:15 PM
  • Very good suggestions. - 7/15/2013 5:47:22 PM
  • There are so many options provided here that I can easily do. This is great. Thank you! - 7/15/2013 10:52:10 AM
  • Much good info here. I cannot walk or run for exercise because of back problems but I can do a mixture of Pilates and yoga. - 7/6/2013 7:07:03 AM
  • While this is a good article, I agree with all of your comments especially about strength training and stretching needing to be added to the list! I've worked out with several trainers over the last year and a half and they've all stressed the need for working strength training and stretching into my running in order to improve it! - 2/7/2013 9:00:16 AM
  • It's nice to see bike riding among the cross training list. For what ever reasons some people down play the importance and benefits of bike riding.
    Swimming is also a great cross training exercise especialy the wave pools - 11/15/2012 9:24:40 AM
  • Very surprised yoga is not on this list. That is my main cross training when training for a race. And upper body weight lifting. - 10/29/2012 2:42:07 PM
  • What a great article I do all these except cross country ski and water jog .....glad to know doing the right things - 9/16/2012 2:23:11 PM
  • Wow! This is great information! Just what I've been looking for and more.
    Thanks so much for putting your time into something that will be helping many I'm sure.
    Have a great day!
    G Sparker - 9/16/2012 9:26:56 AM
  • I love running (which is quite surprising - 7 months ago I would have laughed hysterically if you told me I would be up to 9+ miles while still weighing more than 200 pounds)!

    I've tried riding my bike for cross training... Unfortunately, however, I overdid it (6 mile ride on lots of steep hills my second week out) and really messed up my knees. Thankfully I could still run without any pain in my knees but bending and squatting were quite painful for a month. So if you go the route of cycling - make sure you have proper form on the bike and take it easy - building up your time and distance on the bike.

    I've also tried pool running when I'm at my parents house- it is truly very boring - but the hand floats you use help add a welcome arm workout while pool running.

    My go to activity between my running days is ZUMBA! I know it's not traditional at all - but it is TONS of fun! :) - 9/16/2012 8:41:35 AM
  • I agree with WAMCVEY ~ Yoga and Pilates are definitely missing from this list - 5/19/2012 9:12:47 AM
  • Walking is #1 for me,
    it does the best to my legs, better than cycling or swimming,
    and it doesn't require any equipment or preparation.
    At first I felt walking was a waste of time as it burns relatively fewer calories,
    but now I love walking on my cross training days. I burn the calories during running, no need to worry about them on rest days. - 5/19/2012 8:14:07 AM
  • I agree that some forms of strength training should be included in this list, although I noticed that it really focuses on other forms of cardio that can help running.

    Actually, the only thing I disagree with in this article is the first sentence: the only way to get better at running is to run. In my personal experience, the only way to get an injury is to run, and then run some more. I got better at running by running less; in effect, I got better at running by doing this list!

    I was trying to get my run times down, and I overtrained. I ended up with a stress fracture, which meant I couldn't run at all. For two full months I did the stationary bike and the rowing machine, the only two pieces of cardio equipment I was authorized to use (I'm in the Navy). I kept up strength training. When I DID start running again in March, I did a walk-to-run program. I started doing plyometrics for my legs instead of weights.

    I had a physical assessment at the beginning of May. I only needed to run 1.5 miles, but three weeks before the test, I was still only running for 5-8 minutes. I only got one trial run before my test.

    On the day of the test, I ran 1.5 miles in 10:19, my fastest time to date. I shaved 21 seconds off my last test time, which was in October. So yeah, I can't stress how important this article's points are, for preventing boredom AND injury, and the only thing I don't agree with is that first sentence! - 5/19/2012 8:01:53 AM
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