Fitness Articles

9 Cross-Training Activities for Runners

Boost Performance, Reduce Injury Risk and Beat Boredom


Elliptical Trainer
The elliptical trainer is one of the most popular cardio machines in the gym, and because it mimics running action without the impact, it makes an excellent cross-training activity. Even though the elliptical is a weight-bearing activity, it is low-impact for the joints. The elliptical also helps develop a runner's core and leg muscles, and if you use one with the arm levers, the pushing and pulling motion allows you to develop a stronger arm swing therefore helping make you a more efficient runner.

Cross-Country Skiing
While many of us may not have the snow (or snow gear) to participate in this cross-training activity, an indoor cross country ski machine such as a Nordic Track offers similar benefits. Cross country skiing can help improve running economy (the amount of oxygen used during a run). Because the hips, quadriceps, core and upper body are all utilized in performing this workout, it allows for development of the weaker quadriceps without the impact. And one of the greatest benefits is the high-calorie expenditure that comes from doing this activity. If you are looking for an activity that burns as many (or more) calories as running does, the cross-country ski machine may be a great addition to your workout routine.

Please remember that cross-training should not replace a scheduled day off from running. Rest is just as vital to your training as running is, for it is during recovery that your body begins the adaptation process to making you a more efficient runner.

Running too much can lead to a greater incidence of injury and actually slow your progress and running performance. This is why cross-training plays such an important role in keeping us active and injury-free. Cross-training activities are meant to complement and enhance your running by giving your muscles a break from running while still allowing you to burn calories and develop greater aerobic fitness. And by adding variety to your workout routine, you may find yourself looking forward to your runs, which can help make you a life-long runner.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Coaches Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainers.

Burfoot, Amby. 2004. Runner's World Complete Book of Running. Rodale.
Fitzgerald, Matt. 2004. Runner's World Guide to Cross Training. Rodale.
Galloway, Jeff. 2002. Galloway's Book on Running. California: Shelter Publications.
Glover, Bob, Jack Shepard and Shelly-lynn Florence Glover. 1996. The Runner's Handbook. New York: Penguin Books.
Sparks, Ken. 1996. The Runners Book of Training Secrets. Pennsylvania: Rodale.
Stanton, John. 2010. Running The Complete Guide to Building Your Running Program. Ontario: Penguin Books.
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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

  • I also like to do tabata style high intensity intervals while water jogging. It definitely gets the heart rate up there. Then for "dessert", our pool has a hot tub. :) very nice. - 11/23/2015 8:56:19 PM
  • Good suggestions. The water walking sounds like a lot of fun too! - 8/9/2014 11:19:25 AM
    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

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