Goal Specific Cross Training Exercises for Distance Runners

By Rick Morris

Do you perform cross training? Most distance runners do some form of cross training on a consistent basis during their training. If you are including cross training in your training schedule, do you know why? What are you doing it for? Cross training can be a valuable part of your training program but to maximize the benefits of cross training you should know why you are doing it. You should have a specific goal or reason for performing cross training and you should be doing the form of cross training that will most efficiently help you reach that goal. These goal specific cross training exercises will help.

Cross training can be used for many reasons including as a way to improve endurance, increase your fitness, raise your speed or build your strength. The key to efficient cross training is doing the right type for your goal.

Here are just a few possible cross training goals and the best type of cross training to help you meet that goal.

Build Your Strength and Power

This is probably the most common goal of cross training for distance runners. High levels of strength and power are essential for top distance running performance. The best cross training choice for building strength is a no brainer; you should be performing strength training on a consistent basis. Include a combination of general strength, running specific strength and plyometrics. Focus on general strength early in your program then switch to mostly running specific strength while gradually adding in plyometric exercises.

Improve Your Running Economy

The description of this one is short and sweet – see above. Strength training improves the resiliency and energy return of your muscles, especially your all important calf muscles. A higher degree of energy return in your muscles translates to easier, more efficient running.

Increase Your Foot Speed

Increasing your foot speed or stride rate while maintaining stride length will improve your pace and running performance. Strength training will help increase foot speed but another type of cross training – high intensity cycling or spinning may help even more. The fast cadence of high intensity spinning does a good job of mimicking a very fast running cadence. It makes your normal running stride seem slow. Include some high power pedaling in your schedule and you might find your foot speed go through the roof.

Improve Your Endurance

You’re a distance runner. Of course you want to improve your endurance! Your weekly long run is the best way to improve your endurance, but is there a form of cross training that can help? Yep, there sure is if you can stand the cold! There are very few activities that can match the endurance and VO2 max building ability of running. One sport that matches or may even exceed the endurance benefits of running is cross country skiing.  Why does cross country skiing result in higher endurance and VO2 max values? Because cross country skiing uses more muscle power, specifically more arm muscle power when poling, than running does. So strap on your cross country skis and hit the trails for some valuable endurance cross training.

Injury Rehabilitation

You’re hurt and unable to run. A real bummer! You have two choices. You can sit on your gluteus maximus or get out there and cross train. You’ll need to remove most of the impact forces from your workout to protect your injury. The best form of cross training to accomplish that is swimming. You’ll get in a good cardiovascular workout, maintain your fitness and still protect your healing injury.