The Top Ten Rules of Cross Training for Runners

By Rick Morris

Cross training is a valuable form of training for all athletes including runners. Cross training for runners will help training secondary muscles, help prevent injury, provide for some active recovery and even give you a mental break. Here are our top ten rules of cross training for runners.

Match Your Sport

You’re a distance runner so you should try to choose cross training activities that closely match the motions, muscles and energy systems used for distance running. Cycling, cross country skiing, basketball and tennis are all good choices. Golf and bowling – not so good!

Match Your Goal

Both the duration and intensity of your cross training activities should also closely mimic your running goal. If your goal event is the marathon your should try to extend the duration of your cross training for long periods of time and keep the intensity to more moderate levels. If you are running the mile, keep your cross training at high intensities for shorter periods of time.

Don’t Just Do It

A very large and powerful sporting goods company out there uses the slogan “Just Do It”. With apologies to that company, before you begin cross training have a reason for doing it. Don’t just do it! Good reasons for cross training are injury rehabilitation, insuring muscle balance, burning additional calories during recovery days and increasing your average weekly workout intensity. If you don’t have a reason for cross training just stick to your running workouts. They are the most efficient way to improve your running performance.

Work It

Cross training can be used to get in an extra moderate to high intensity workout and still give your running muscles a break. Take advantage of that opportunity for extra quality workouts. Work your cross training activities hard so you can gain the calorie burning and fitness benefits of more high intensity training.

Beware of Over Training

The extra quality workouts that cross training provides you can improve your overall fitness but keep a close eye out for symptoms of overreaching or over training. Runners often perform cross training workouts when what they really need is total rest. If you notice your resting heart rate rising, chronic or excessive fatigue, frequent illness, heavy legs, increased perceived exertion or mental burnout you probably need extra rest, not extra workouts.

Sub it In

If you are new to cross training you should add it into your schedule gradually. Instead of adding in extra workouts, substitute some of your easy run days with cross training. Begin by substituting 25% of your running workouts with cross training. Gradually increase your total number of workouts as you progress through your program.

Don’t Aggravate It

Cross training is a great way to stay in shape when you have a running injury but make sure your cross training doesn’t aggravate your injury. Choose a cross training activity that doesn’t place stress on your injured muscles or joints.

Know When to Say When

If you’re half way through a cross training workout, beginning to struggle and you are feeling a high level of fatigue it’s probably time to stop. Your cross training workouts are intended to assist with your running training and give your over worked running muscles a break. If it is having the opposite effect you should stop. Know when to say when.

Enjoy It

Cross training isn’t just for a physical break, it also provides an opportunity to avoid staleness by providing some variety and refreshing you mentally. A cross training workout you enjoy will provide you with those benefits. Pick a cross training activity you like, not one you hate. If you’re a big fan of basketball go find yourself a pickup game. If you love to cycle, hop on your bike. If tennis makes you miserable it would probably be a really bad choice for your cross training workout.

Don’t Overdo It

Cross training is a good tool you can use to maintain your muscle balance, add variety and assist with recovery but don’t overdo it. One of the most important rules of training is the rule of specificity. The vast majority of your training should be very specific to your sport. Since you’re a distance runner most of your workouts should be running workouts. Your running workouts are your bread and butter training sessions. They are the ones that will improve your running performance. So use cross training as a tool but always keep your focus on your running workouts.