10 Fantastic Cross-Training Ideas For Runners

cross training for ultra 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 than running alone.

There are many options available to incorporate some cross-training into your routine and today I wanted to show you my top 10.

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.

  • Indoor Rowing
  • Strength Training
  • Elliptical Trainer
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Climbing
  • Canoeing/Kayaking

What Is Cross-Training?

Cross-training is 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, as outlined below.

  • 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 a machine I do like to use if I’m ever in the gym. Whenever I’m not running and I visit the gym, this is the piece of equipment I head for first.

To make the most of the rower it’s crucial that you understand how to use it and the form you need to keep. Too many people climb onto it and are hunched over, pulling with arms before the leg drive and it’s a really inefficient way of working, plus you will get a less beneficial workout from it.

If you haven’t used an Indoor Rowing Machine before, please check out this video which shows you how to use one correctly.

The indoor rower has many benefits for runners and trail runners.

  • 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 Concept2.comOpens in a new tab.):

  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

It had to be added. Strength training for runners is a must.

You should be doing a strength routine once or twice a week alongside your running to keep you strong and help avoid injuries, especially if you have been prone to them in the past.

Now I’m not saying you need to become a power lifter 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 KettlebellsOpens in a new tab. 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

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 your 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.

Cycling

keeping fit during lockdown

Just before the Covid-19 lockdown I had purchased myself a mountain bike because I wanted to cycle to work.

Little did I know at the time, but the lockdown gave me the opportunity to cycle a lot more than I thought I would at the time.

One of the things I really noticed the more I used the bike was how my running had started to improve during this time. I was going off onto the trails with the bike and cycling up and down hills quite a lot.

I started to see a noticeable improvement in my quad strength through biking which was transferring to my trail runs on various terrains.

So, if you own a bike, why not replace one of your weekly runs with a bike ride instead. It will not only mix things up, but you might also see an improvement in your running at the same time.

Hiking

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 a trail race or an Ultra you will know that there is a decent amount of hiking, especially when you hit a steep hill or two.

When your legs are starting to get tired from having just run 60 miles and you hit that big hill, you’ll be glad you did all 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. It’s just more efficient to walk.

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.

Next time you are out for a long trail run, take the time to walk hard up the hills to train for future races. You will be surprised what a difference it can make.

Swimming

I have to admit it, but I don’t like swimming. It’s not because I cant, its just that I’m not great at it. I should really consider a coach as I know swimming has many benefits for running.

The main advantage of adding swimming into your routine is the fact that its a very low impact exercise as well so you get the chance to give those joints and muscles a well earned rest.

There’s also the fact that it is a fairly decent upper body workout where you are using your shoulders, arms, and core, during your workout.

Yoga

One of the things we often neglect when we do a lot of running is our flexibility and mobility – well I do anyway.

By adding yoga into your weekly routine will help eliminate this issue. Plus it’s a great break from all the stresses and strains of our day-to-day training.

Don’t be fooled though, as yoga can be as tough a workout as anything else you will do. I remember going into a class one day with the attitude of it being easy – I didn’t have that attitude at the end believe me. I got my ass kicked.

Walking

Don’t confuse walking with hiking – yes they both involve walking, but hiking is a completely different form and the terrain will be very different as well.

When I talk about actually walking, I mean going out for a leisurely stroll with friends, or perhaps walking the dog.

Whilst walking primarily uses the same muscles as you would with running, you certainly aren’t putting the same stress on the body.

I’m lucky in the fact I have dogs so they are walked every day for at least 45 minutes. Whether I’m training or not, the walk with the dogs is always the first exercise of any day.

Climbing

If you want a really good workout away from the gym then finding somewhere that you can do some indoor climbing is a great option.

I have tried it a few times and boy it’s a tough old workout for sure. The next day was a wake up call when my muscles had been worked like I can’t even remember when.

Climbing will give you an all-over strength workout that will also focus on your supporting and stabilizing muscles – something that’s really important for runners.

Canoeing/Kayaking

I remember an adventure holiday in France where we canoed down the Ardeche Gorge for 2 days with the kids.

Not only was it one of the most amazing experiences I had with the family, it was also a great workout that focuses primarily on upper body and core whilst giving your legs a well earned rest.

It’s not always about the workout though – there’s something about being in nature and feeling free that just does something special for the mind and mental health.

In Summary…

If you are training hard for your next running race, or you are a runner that just wants to mix things up, then you should consider adding some cross-training into your life.

Not only will it change the monotony of the running routine, but it might just help make you a better runner overall.

My personal picks when it comes to mixing up my training are:

  • Cycling – I try to cycle to work when I can. It gets the legs turning over and makes a nice change from running.
  • Strength Training – So important as you get older. I always do at least one strength training session per week, but aim for two when I can.
  • Walking – As the owner of 3 dogs I don’t have much choice. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. There is nothing better than a forest or river walk with your pet.
  • Yoga – I have recently learnt that flexibility is pretty non-existent in my body. Therefore I’ve started yoga and it’s working wonders.

Whatever you decide to do to add cross-training into your routine, my advice is to take the time to enjoy it and the world around you. As well as training the body, it’s important to train your mind and your mental health.

Mark

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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