SparkPeople Blogs  •  cardio  •  running

The Benefits of Cross-Training: Now I'm a Believer

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about my current running injury. I’ve got Achilies tendonitis, and have been doing weeks of physical therapy which will (hopefully) get me running again. When the therapist told me I wouldn’t be running for at least 6 to 8 weeks, I panicked for a few reasons.

First, I love to run and use it as a stress reliever. So I’d have to find a new hobby, at least temporarily. Second, I didn’t know what else I was going to do for exercise. Aside from a few days of strength training each week, running has been my only form of cardio for a very long time. I became a very fit runner and was proud of the fact that I could easily go out for a 6-8 mile run any day of the week. And because I liked it so much, I never saw much of a reason to try any other activities. That is, until I became injured.

Being forced to try other activities has shown me that I’m not really as fit as I thought I was. Although I became a good runner, I was pretty unfit in a lot of other ways. My flexibility was terrible, and because I never cross-trained, other cardio exercises were more difficult for me than they should be. I know the benefits of cross-training and when people ask for my advice, I encourage them to try a wide variety of activities- both for enjoyment and for overall fitness. But there are many times when I don’t take my own advice, and this was one of them.

Four weeks ago, the thought of incorporating other activities into my permanent routine would have sounded ridiculous. The idea that I might only run 3-4 days a week would have been absurd. But I’m learning that if I want to be a lifelong runner, and if I want to be fit in a wide variety of ways, I’m going to have to cross-train. They might be activities that I don’t enjoy quite as much as a good run. But my running days are numbered if I don’t start taking better care of my body.

Whether your primary form of cardio is running or some other activity, you can still benefit from trying different exercises. Cross-training is a great way to condition other muscle groups that you aren’t regularly working. It also gives a rest to those muscles you’re consistently stressing, which helps prevent injury. Cross-training also helps prevent boredom and can add a boost of motivation to your regular routine.

Do you cross-train? Do you like trying a variety of cardio activities, or do you tend to stay with just one?

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JULIJULINN 3/24/2021
yes Report
I don't cross train enough Report
I cross train now and realized the same thing; I wasn’t in as good of shape as I thought. Rowing and spin were the real eye openers! And the stair climber, well, let’s not even go there! My goal is to cross train at least once a week. I’ve always incorporated strength yet have pushed that up a few notches, also. Report
it's more fun to cross-train. It keeps things more interesting! Report
Running is my primary form of exercise, but I've recently been really trying to mix it up a bit for all the reasons you outline in your article. I've got a bicycle going again - it's a different kind of cardio and definitely works different muscles. I've got my rebounder out - which is great. And a hula hoop. I do a yoga class once a week. I've also started doing little strength-training workouts with an app called Skimble. I do some squats and hamstring stretches whilst I brew my coffee. Swimming is the one thing that I know would be good to add in, which I haven't quite got into my regular routine yet. Report
I'm not injured but I am definitely seeing the need for cross training. I realized how incredibly weak I was in many areas even though I ran. Assessment soon! Report
This was helpful thanks SP Report
Love cross training!! It needs to be carefully planned each week though and that can get old or overwhelming after a while... Report
Informative article Report
I like to mix up the cardio and have added spin and Zumba in the last year. Report
Great article. Report
Just wish that they would tell you more about cross-training and explain what it is and how it helps your body. Report
Great article Report
Like you my primary exercise was running. Similarly, only after an injury did I modify my workout routine. I limit my "road time" to no more than 3 days a week and cross train on alternate days with one rest day. Report
Good information. Report
awesome...thanks for sharing.... Report
I enjoy reading about people who really enjoy running. It gives me hope that I might enjoy running someday. Right now I am overweight. My workout usually involves walking, when I do it. I know cross training would be great. I just wanted to say thanks for letting me know running can be fun. Right now I just want to do it because it's a challenge. When I do throw some running intervals in there I will ache so bad afterwards. Now I am more motivated to try again. Thanks. Report
I need more variety. I tend to do the eltipcal trainer because it uses more calaries. Great reminder. Report
I have added strength training along with my cardio exercises. I look forward to the change-up, rather than the same old thing every workout. Doing this has kept my attention on keeping on track of exercising period. Report
I like to do 10 minutes of the treadmill, then 10 of the elliptical and then 10 on the bike, so I get my 30 minutes done. Report
I constantly vary my workouts! I have over 3 dozen workout DVDs - step aerobics, Pilates, stability ball workouts, ab workouts, circuit training workouts, resistance band workouts and the Core Fusion series. I also have a Bowflex! These workouts range from 30 minutes to over an hour. I tend to cycle among 6 or so different DVDs and when I start getting bored, I completely switch up my routines. Report
I'm just starting C25K training, so I'm "running" MWF and bicycling TTh. Sat and Sun I may run, hike, play golf or walk with the dog. . . Report
I have been cross training for 5x a week sometimes doing high intensity training for 20-30min, or a steady state for 30-45min, and using a step machine for 10-15min 2x weekly. I also do strength training 3x a week but i feel that my fitness levels in cross training and running is not getting better. My weight loss has plateaud and i have added 5lb in the last month instead. I guess i need to start running instead and doing more cross training. thanks for the advise Report
One thing that makes it hard for me to enjoy cross training is that it seems to take away from my running. For example I did a few short intervals on a stationary bike Tuesday and then was dead legged yesterday when I tried to run. I would have been happier saving my legs for the run, but I need to burn calories on days I'm not running! Report
I like swimming but have a shoulder and bicep injury from lifting things while cleaning the shed... so I have been treading water instead which also is a good work out...just different Report
I'd be interested in what you did for cross training exercise. I am a walker . . . never liked to run . . . ever. Even when we had to run in the military I hated it. I think I could get into biking though. Report
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My first love will always be walking. I sometimes feel like I could walk forever! But walking stopped working for me as a weight-loss exercise when I became more fit. So last April, I started a Couch-to-5k program, and now I run 5k 3x a week. It was then that I realized I needed to get on the ball and get back to the gym to start strength training again. I had stopped last winter b/c it was inconvenient to get out after work on those cold, dark New England nights! My place of employment (luckily) is in a building that has a small gym. Now I am in that gym 2x a week on my lunch hour, doing 45-60 minutes of strength training. I stretch 3x a week after my runs, and on the weekends, I try to get at least one, if not two days of alternative exercise in. Last weekend, I rode my bike 18 miles on Saturday and went for a 3-mile walk on Sunday. Other times, I will rake my yard, mow the lawn, or do other yard work. In the winter, my husband and I try to cross-country ski one day on the weekend, and last winter we tried snowshoeing one time! We liked it so much we are taking a group of people in January to try it out with us. In the summer, we drag out our kayaks onto a small pond and paddle around for an hour or so. I am always looking for fun ways to get in exercise, so that I am not going to be bored with my regular routine (running and strength training), and also so that I can improve my running in the long term by utilizing other muscles on my off days. Report
I guess if you count doing different fitness DVDs every month, then I've been cross-training for a couple years now. It's fun to mix it up, I never get bored, even though I pretty much rotate my fav DVDs. Report
I love to walk, and that is my usual aerobic exercise. Good advice - I need to start thinking about how to become more well-rounded. Report
I definitely cross-train! I get so bored with the same thing over and over and I used to dread going to the gym or an aerobics class. So I singed up for dance classes. I started with tap and a ballet stretch class, graduated into a higher level of tap and have added hip hop and jazz. I also joined a fitness certification program at work which includes aerobics classes, strength and flexibility training as well as outdoor trail walking (which I LOVE!). I'm trying Yoga now again after many years away and I plan to get back to T'ai Chi soon too. When I'm doing the kinds of exercise I'm not as crazy about (aerobics classes and strength training), I keep reminding myself that they will help make me a stronger dancer as well as help with weight loss and keeping away the boredom that I find a "gym-only" exercise regime brings for me. So yes, cross-training is definitely for me! Report
I have ADD when it comes to exercise so I have to cross train. Report
I take bodycombat, taekwondo, bodystep and i thought it would be fine but i
wanted more exercise so i have descovered cyceling and it is going good so far. I like it Report
I didn't think much of cross training over the years until, like you, I got injured. I am primarily a runner too- nothing gives me that high like a long distance run. But since I'm older now (50), I find my body doesn't appreciate being puched that hard day after day after day. I need to use different muscle groups and I need to rest others. Running is hard on the body if you routinely go out for 6-10 mies. So now I swim about 2x/wk, walk some, go mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing and I do weights. My running times are better than ever and when I do get out for that run, my body is rested and I'm ready to go! I haven't been injured in a while now (knock wood), and if it's raining or freezing, I always have an alternative sport to do. Plus, my body doesn't hurt. That's a plus at 50! And I appreciate my long runs that much more now.

Trish Report
I have been cross-training consistently for over two years now -- I could never stick with just one exercise for more than a few days in a row. Especially now that I'm trying to build up my running abilities, I'm being even more careful to strategically cross train. I want to build up my strength and endurance by doing interval training on various machines and terrain, as well as give myself easy recovery days on the elliptical machine. I'm really improving my fitness, not just maintaining it -- that wouldn't be true if I were jogging the same 3.5 miles every day. Report
I try to cross train, but am limited to 3-4 different things only. Report
I was just walking and riding my stationary bike and thought that was enough. It wasn't. I have added Tai Chi, Qigong, pilates and yoga. I also so strength training everyday due to a torn rotator cuff. Someday when I have lost enough weight, I want to run...again. As a teenager I ran everywhere I went, just for fun. I want to do that again. Report
I started out my spark journey with just walking and then joined a gym a month ago. I would definitely call what I do cross-training. Monday I do about an hour of cardio, either in step class or rowing and biking followed by 30-60 minutes of strength training. Tuesday is Zumba in the morning and my Boot Camp class in the afternoon, Wednesday is yoga, Thursday is spinning and boot camp, Friday is a day off and Saturday is either a class or other cardio at the gym. I also add in walking outside on good days and things like trips to the zoo or hikes etc. Report
For a long long time I only used my stationary bike for cardio. This past year I have started walking and have now even walked a couple of 5k's... but I dearly WANT to run! One of these days I'm going to do it! I have GOT to find good shoes though... I have horrible fallen arches, and only when I discovered Sketchers Shape-Ups was I able to finally start WALKING! They push up on my arches and where before I could only walk MAYBE a half mile before my feet were killing me, with the shape-ups I can walk forever! BUT... I can not run in shape-ups. That just really won't work at all! So I need to find a shoe that really pushes up on my arches, but still allows me to come down on my whole foot when I run. (more info than you EVER needed in this lifetime!) But anyway... Yea... I DO like to cross train... And in the summer I like to swim too! Report
I run I walk and when the weathers nice I swim in my pool. I would love to have a recumbant bike. But no money for that. I think cross training is a good idea. Report
In the summer, I walk, garden and swim.

In the winter, I walk and use my stationary bike.

With major health problems, I have to split up training into various activities. My granddaughter just bought us (well, she and our son bought) Wii Fit. We're setting that up tonight and will add that bit of fun to our "just keep moving" time. Report
I do cross train. I love running. I just started running a year ago. In that time I have ran two half marathons and just ran my first full marathon. I could not do what I do without cross training. I need to use the elliptical some nights instead of pounding the pavement. I consider my cross training to be more beneficial for my long run days, as I feel more rested and recovered going into them. Additionally, I do yoga a couple times a week to stay flexible and healthy. Report
I love to cross-train. I found it is the only way my body will lose & keep off the weight. I get bored also doing the same thing repeatedly. I cross-train with Biggest Loser DVDs, Zumba, Walk-away-the pounds DVDs, walking, yoga, etc. The DVDs come in handy this time of the year when the weather is yucky. Report
I am a cross-training fiend! I do the following: strength training, cardio strength training, Insanity, Tae Bo, yoga, running, and zumba. I mix it up based upon my mood or how many calories I need to burn that day or week. Zumba is regularly on Tuesday nights because I go to my community center to do it, otherwise, I love to keep things hopping by mixing my cardio up regularly! I am in fabulous shape and the weight continues to drop as my endurance and strength levels go up. Cross-training is AWESOME! Report
I don't cross train enough, but will do more thanks to your blog.

Many Blessings! Report
I cross train with running, cycling, and swimming. It's a perfect combination, and I can do more than one each day if I have time. Report
I'm learning the importance of cross training as I research ways of training for a marathon. There is definitely nothing better than a good run though! Report
Thanks for sharing your story, love it, it's awful not to be able to run but your right about learning how out of shape we are on the other sports. I too have been crosstraining because of being injured. I'm feeling like I going to be a stronger runner when I'm ready to get back. May even be ready for a triathlon since I've been able to focus on my swimming and cycling. woohoo Report
I love cross-training and changing things up (bike riding, swimming, weights, yoga, etc.), but I do find it harder to fit that in and balance when training for a race. Next year I am going to set a goal for my first triathlon and hope that that training process will help me find new ways to do so. Report