The Best Cross Training for Trail Running

best cross training for runners
If you are like me, as I get older I find it difficult to run 5 or 6 times a week. I need to add more aspects to my training that helps my strength, conditioning, and endurance that have less of an impact on my body. Today I want to talk about what is the best cross-training for trail running that I have found works for me. Of course, this will vary on your activity levels, but cross-training is an awesome way to get fit and healthy without completely breaking your body. Just be sure to do things at your own pace.

What is Cross-Training

The dictionary quotes the following:

The action or practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport.

There are many benefits to adding cross-training into your routine, so I have outlined a few below. Active Recovery – Like with any training plan we all need to have recovery and rest days.
  • Injury Prevention – Running or doing the same activity every day can lead to overuse injuries in some cases. By adding a couple of Cross-Training sessions into your routine can help avoid this type of injury.
  • Enjoying other Exercise – We all love running right? But there is no doubt that doing other sports can keep things fresh.
  • Rehabilitation – If you are just coming back from injury, some cross-training exercises can be perfect. I know that cross-training has been invaluable to me at times when I couldn’t run.
  • Better Running Fitness – Some exercises when incorporated into your routine can improve running fitness and speed.
  • Increased Strength – Running uses a specific set of muscles. With Cross-Training, you can do exercises that use other muscle groups. Ultimately this will give better overall strength but also allow those running muscles to rest.

Cross-Training Options

Now to the good part. Time to outline what activities you can incorporate into your weekly routine that will help make you a better runner and help avoid those nasty overuse injuries that can occur.

Indoor Rowing

The rowing machine is my personal favorite. Whenever I’m not running and I visit the gym, this is the piece of equipment I head for first. As the video above shows, don’t just jump on and start rowing if you haven’t done it before. You really don’t want to be injuring yourself by using incorrect form.

If you haven’t used the Indoor Rower before then watch the short video

The indoor rower has so many benefits to the trail runner.
  • It’s a low impact exercise. Meaning you avoid the overuse injuries that can be sustained by just running.
  • It’s a great way of exercising when recovering from certain injuries that prevent you from running due to the low impact nature of the exercises.
  • It offers a full-body workout including some of the major muscle groups like your Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Back, and Core.
You can learn how to row fairly easily and it does give you a challenging workout – it’s definitely a love it or hate it equipment for sure. You control the workout. The pace and intensity are controlled by you. Below is a great speed work routine that simulates a track workout for runners (courtesy of
  1. Row easily for 5 minutes to warm up; get off and stretch briefly.
  2. Row two sets of (4 x 400m) as follows:
    1. Then Row 400m at moderate intensity.
    2. Row easily for 1 minute.
    3. Repeat for a total of four 400m.
    4. Row easily for 3 minutes.
    5. Repeat for another set of four 400m.
    6. Row easily again for 3 minutes.
  3. Row easily for 5 minutes to cool down.
  4. Stretch.

Strength Training

strength training for ultra runners
It had to be added. Strength training for Ultra Runners is a must. You should be doing a strength routine twice a week alongside your running. Now I’m not saying you need to become a powerlifter all of a sudden. However, the benefits of adding strength training are:
  • It will make you and your legs stronger which is important for those long hours on your feet.
  • It will make you faster
  • You will become more injury-proof
Personally, I don’t go with the big weighted barbells anymore. Although Squats and Deadlifts are the main lifts for overall strength. As I have gotten older I have found that I love using Kettlebells and bodyweight exercises. Seriously, this is all you need. No point in trying to push out ten 60kg Bench Presses if you can’t even manage 15 press-ups right? Mix your kettlebell workout with bodyweight exercises and you have a great Strength Training addition to your running plan.

Elliptical Trainer

elliptical trainer for runners
The Elliptical Trainer is one of those pieces of equipment that are great to use if you are recovering from an injury and want to avoid any impact on your joints. It is fairly light on the body to use, however, when you’re on it make sure you are giving yourself a decent workout. Go to any gym and you will see countless people just going through the motions at the same tempo (slow and easy) and not getting the benefit they could from this piece of kit. If you want to incorporate a good mid-week workout from this machine, here are a few you could try. The Elliptical has a number of settings you can use: Rolling Hills – 30 – 40 minutes at a resistance that’s going to make you work (8 – 10). Tempo Work (as you would Running) – 10 minutes easy at low resistance, 20 minutes at a comfortably hard resistance, 10 minutes low resistance easy pace. Interval Training – 10 minute warm-up at easy resistance and effort, followed by 8 – 10 sets of 2 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy effort, finish with 10 minutes easy effort.


Not too much to say about this one. Just get out there and ride. Enjoy the scenery, this is active recovery and your legs are getting a decent workout. I don’t tend to do any specific workouts for cycling as I look at it as a form of relaxation and enjoyment when I get the chance.


hiking for ultra runners
This one may seem a bit odd, but believe me, when you run Ultras this is one of the important training elements. If you have done an Ultra you will know that there is a decent amount of walking. Especially up steep hills. When your legs are shot from having just run 60 miles and you hit that big hill, you’ll be glad you did that hiking as you breeze up it. Believe me, when I say this, I have been in multiple races where I have powered walked up a hill keeping up with people trying to run up it. The other point is that when I reach the top of the hill I can start to run again. Those that tried to run the hill, or didn’t train to walk up them suffer badly. Learning to hike at a reasonable pace will keep you on track for a decent time during your races and it’s a nice break from the running while still moving forward.


There are many other activities that fall under the Cross Training umbrella. Activities like Swimming, Yoga etc. All of which can be implemented by you if you so wish. For me, Strength Training, Rowing and Hiking are huge parts of my overall training in general. I wanted to outline what is the best cross-training for trail running in this post and I hope I managed to do so. Let me know if you have any other types of cross-training you like to do. Please feel free to leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.


Hey! Mark here. Welcome to my blog. At the age of 47 I was a 212lb unhealthy mess. At the age of 50, I had run an 86 mile trail ultramarathon and converted to a Plant-Based Diet. I had turned my life around in 3 years. This blog is set up for those of you who want to make that change and I'm here to help.

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