8 Cross-Training Workouts for Runners

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Running gets your blood pumping and helps you maintain good health. However, you can’t keep running if you sustain an injury. Prevention is key, and cross-training is one of the most effective preventative methods. It alleviates knee, lower back, and hip discomfort while improving your stride length, speed, and technique.

This article will give you the best cross-training workouts for runners. But first, we’ll explain the basics of these activities and how they benefit you.

What Are Cross-Training Workouts for Runners, and What Are the Benefits?

Cross-training workouts include any activity that complements your running sessions. They help improve your running skill by addressing several issues. First, they increase strength and endurance and prevent imbalances.

This brings us to the benefits of incorporating cross-training workouts:

Injury Prevention

Running requires you to repeat the same motion numerous times. This can result in imbalances in the kinetic chain. For instance, one muscle may tighten while another weakens. Then, before you know it, your knees flare.

Cross-training enables you to address these imbalances. It lets you prevent injuries by strengthening tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

Adding Volume

The best thing about cross-training workouts is that they can improve your cardiovascular health without putting unnecessary strain on your body. This is perfect for novice competitors or those returning to the activity after an injury. In addition, the sessions can be alternated with running exercises, allowing you to increase your endurance gradually through more volume.

If you’re an experienced runner, you can incorporate cross-training as an additional workout to prevent junk miles (training with little to no benefits). Alternatively, use them on your recovery days.

Lower Risk of Over-Training and Burnout

You probably run several miles during your workouts, but doing so daily can lead to burnout. This is because you only work specific muscles, resulting in overuse injuries, mental fatigue, and overtraining syndrome. Mixing up the schedule with cross-training helps keep your mind and body fresh.

Improved Endurance and Running Economy

Cross-training goes a long way in enhancing your running economy. In particular, targeting your legs through strength workouts makes you a much better runner and raises your endurance. Coupled with appropriate running form, stronger legs let you easily cover longer distances. Plus, they slow down fatigue, which is pivotal in endurance sessions.

Accelerated Recovery

Hitting the elliptical, cycling, and other cross-training exercises are also known as active recovery. This is because they enhance blood circulation to your muscles, accelerating your recovery between runs.

Moreover, active recovery can lower lactic acid in your muscles, eliminate metabolic waste and alleviate muscle pain or tears. Best of all, cycling and doing the elliptical aren’t the only activities that can speed up the repair process. Any low-intensity movement that activates your body works great too.

Faster Weight Loss

Whether you want to lose 5-6 pounds or achieve more ambitious weight loss goals, cross-training workouts are a perfect way to do so. They safely burn calories, which helps remove excess fat.

Combine them with your running sessions for fast progress. For instance, you can perform 2-3 exercises for half an hour per machine to optimize your fitness journey.

Motivation to Follow Your Regimen

Running is effective, but it can also get boring fast. Doing the same movement repeatedly may cause you to lose your motivation. Cross-training can help prevent this. A broader range of exercises is involved, so you’re more likely to follow your routine and accomplish your goals.

On top of that, it’s highly flexible. If one aspect is tedious, you can switch to another to stay motivated. Plus, it’s comprised of safe exercises, resulting in fewer breaks from running due to injuries.

What Are the Best Cross-Training Workouts for Runners?

You could include workouts in your cross-training regimen to enhance your running performance.

1. Strength Training

Strength training is an integral part of practically any sport, including running. It’s beneficial for runners that start out great but slump midway through the race.

You can boost endurance dramatically through strength-building exercises and lower your risk of injuries. This is especially true if you perform bodyweight exercises. This is because they engage more muscle groups, making them more effective than isolation workouts.

Hamstrings and glutes should be at the core of your sessions. Strong hamstrings increase your endurance, while tough glutes can make you faster.

You should also include core exercises, as this body part is critical to running efficiency. However, focus on obliques and not front abs because they keep your body upright and steady when running.

Lastly, follow these tips to make the most of your strength-based sessions.

  • Do a variety of exercises to strengthen your lower body, including deadlifts, calf raises, squats, box step-ups, planks, seated leg lifts, and lunges
  • Choose 4-5 moves
  • Perform the 30-20-10 routine: do one move for 30 reps, rest for 60 seconds, do 20 more reps, rest 60 seconds, do 10 reps, and rest for 2 minutes; repeat for the other 3-4 moves and experiment with the order until you find the most suitable routine

2. Swimming

Swimming is an excellent choice if you’re a runner with newfound or chronic injuries. For example, when you start running, you may suffer from injuries caused by increased mileage, like shin splints or a runner’s knee. The same holds for seasoned warriors that want to ramp up their volume by over 10% per week.

Swap out a training run for a few laps in your local pool to alleviate the impact. Swimming can take your performance to a new level because it pushes your body to the limit. It forces you to drive movements from your hips and control the core. As you practice opening up your hips, you can extend more and make your strides more efficient.

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Nevertheless, don’t rush headfirst into the water. Despite the urge to plunge into the pool and swim vigorously, take a patient approach if you’ve only recently incorporated swimming into your plan. It may look simple, but like running, this is a technical activity with a moderate learning curve. Learn the correct freestyle technique before planning your sessions.

Furthermore, don’t go as quickly as possible as soon as you start. This can develop bad habits and cause injuries if you swim with bad mechanics.

To make the most of the workout, monitor key swimming metrics, such as the heart rate. There are several sensors you can use by clipping them onto your goggles. Another option is to invest in a waterproof watch. Besides tracking your heart rate, it can also measure the distance, strokes, and pace in real-time.

Here’s what a swimming session can look like once you hit your stride:

  1. Do laps for 30-45 minutes
  2. Add 4-8 lengths of kicking in the water to target the lower body
  3. Include a thigh foam buoy as you grow stronger to target the core and arms, which translates to more endurance when running

3. Plyometrics

Plyometrics is a cross-training workout comprising jumps that force your muscles to contract and lengthen at high speeds. The most famous example is hopscotch.

Basketball players and triple jumpers utilize plyometrics for greater explosive power, allowing them to jump higher off one leg. But when you consider the principles of this activity, runners can gain as much benefit.

Think about it; running is a series of hops. Now, imagine if you could make those hops more powerful. The stride would be longer and quicker. And if your stride were longer and faster, you’d be able to complete your race more rapidly and with less effort.

That’s precisely what plyometrics can do for you. It can bolster the muscles shielding the ACL, a ligament highly susceptible to injury. It also improves the range of motion in the ankles to help minimize the risk of sprains and twists.

As plyometric movements are high-impact and intense, your workout can go like the following.

  1. Start with a few burpees, jump squats, and box jumps
  2. Kick it up a notch with box dips, burpees over a box, and inchworm pushups

4. Cycling

Cycling is a match made in heaven for runners since it develops fitness, endurance, and stamina without jeopardizing leg muscles. It’s a fantastic, low-impact cardio workout too. Including it in your regimen makes you a better runner by placing minimal stress on the body.

The strength gained from cycling can’t be overlooked. This activity uses several muscles, like the quads, core muscles, and glutes. These complement the hamstrings and other groups primarily used when running. Once you reinforce the complementary groups through cycling, you’ll improve your stride and efficiency. Uphill rides are the fastest way to do so.

Another reason cycling should be a staple in your running plan is because it facilitates recovery. It provides more blood to glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quads, flushing out any lactic acid so they can repair faster. Additionally, the very motion of cycling lessens joint and muscle stiffness. This means you can get back on track sooner by cycling.

Finally, cycling enables you to overcome the biggest obstacle: injuries. You need to take a break to let your body heal whenever you sustain one. Cycling allows you to stay in great shape until you can return to running.

This is because cycling can be just as effective as running without all the impact on your legs. Of course, it can lead to some knee stress, but it’s much less severe than running. Hence, you get to keep exercising and working on your fitness goals despite being sidetracked.

When it comes to your cycling workout for running, there are many potential solutions. Most runners hit the spin bicycle at the gym or take group cycling classes. However, here’s what you can do early on:

  1. Warm up at a fast pace for 10-15 minutes
  2. Turn the dial to your right to build resistance
  3. Cycle intensely for 30 minutes and tone it down for about 5-10 minutes

5. Aqua Jogging

Aqua jogging (deep-water running) is a type of cardio that replicates jogging movements while you’re submerged. It can be performed by running in place with a flotation gadget around your trunk or by running circles in a pool. If you opt for the former, your flotation device keeps the body suspended, enabling your limbs to move while maintaining the head above the water.

Now, you might be thinking, what does jogging in water have to do with running? What can it do for my performance?

The answer is simple. Aqua jogging should be part of your running plan because it keeps you active without aggravating any injuries or causing discomfort. After all, water is much easier on your legs than on the rough pavement. In fact, it can help you recover from injuries much faster and stay in optimal shape until you can return to the trail.

Many other things make aqua jogging a phenomenal cross-training workout for runners.

Same Motions

The most important feature of this activity is that it lets you recreate the same motions as on land. By incorporating aqua jogging into your schedule, you can improve your cardiovascular health, form, posture, and muscular strength, and minimize the strain on the body.

Alleviates the Pressure on Your Lower Body

Aqua jogging can drastically lower the stress on weight-bearing joints, including the knees and hips. These can become extremely painful after running on land. Fortunately, you can use buoyance to lower the stress on your spine and other body parts. This can enhance your movements and let you run without pain.

Steadies Your Temperature When Training

Running on pavement or land has many drawbacks. Besides increasing the chances of injury, it also exposes you to bad weather. For example, winter is often too cold, while summer can get too hot and cause profuse sweating. Conversely, aqua jogging exercises usually take place in indoor pools. Thus, you can run without worrying about external temperatures.

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You can gain a lot from aqua jogging, but only if you wear proper equipment. You’ll need goggles, a swimsuit, and a belt that enables you to run in place. Although a flotation device is optional, you may not be comfortable if you’re just starting out. If so, wear a belt to boost your confidence and improve your workouts. You’ll also lean forward, which your body normally does when running.

The duration primarily depends on training goals. Most workouts typically take approximately 30-45 minutes. A sample workout for runners can involve the following activities.

Warmup – Warm your body up at a slow pace for 5-10 minutes by jogging and doing high knees in place

  1. Medium-intensity laps – Do 2-3 medium-intensity laps, sprint one length of the pool before jogging back with moderate effort (about 50%)
  2. High-intensity jogging – Perform 10-12 2-minute high-intensity jogging rounds
  3. Rest – Recharge your batteries by running for 1-2 minutes in place at a low intensity
  4. Recover – Wind down for approximately five minutes and repeat if you’re an advanced runner
Cross-Training Workouts for Runners

6. Physical Therapy Exercises

You probably view physical therapy as a method to deal with injuries. Still, adding these exercises to your routine can keep you from the doctor’s office. Most runners perform this cross-training workout with bands. The key is to keep the planted foot pointing forward. Rotating it reduces the strength gained and changes your range of motion.

The Matrix is a highly effective band exercise. It comprises a series of lunges that activate your hips and help enhance your balance. Repeat the following routine at least five times.

  1. Front lunge
  2. Front rotation lunge
  3. Front crossover lunge
  4. Backward lunge
  5. Side lunge

Other physical therapy exercises focus on different issues. For example, this isometric hold can help you remedy your runner’s knee.

  1. Lie on your back and put both legs on the floor
  2. Bend the right leg
  3. Pull it toward your chest
  4. Place your hands around the right thigh to create light resistance
  5. Push away with the right leg for about 10 seconds
  6. Position your knee behind your hands for more light resistance and push the leg toward the chest for 10 more seconds

7. Pilates

Pilates is a fantastic cross-training workout, as it develops endurance, coordination, strength, good posture, and flexibility. Rather than go for muscle burn, this discipline promotes correct form to lower the risk of injury. This form helps you maintain proper running posture while teaching you to activate all necessary muscles.

Pilates exercises focus on engaging the core and ensuring better core stability. Contrary to popular belief, your core doesn’t include the abdominals only. It also consists of various stabilizing muscles of your neck, shoulders, back, and hips. Strengthening hip stabilizers and lower abdominals is particularly significant for runners to eliminate the stress on limb joints and your lower back. That’s where Pilates comes into play. You learn how to activate the entire core to relax your upper body and keep an upright posture.

The single-leg stretch is a great Pilates exercise for runners.

  1. Lie on your back and put your legs in the tabletop position (knees at 90 degrees)
  2. Exhale to raise the shoulders, neck, and head off the ground and look at the knees
  3. Inhale and place your hands on the sides of the knees
  4. Exhale and stretch one leg at a time at no more than 45 degrees; don’t arch your back
  5. Reach with your other hand to the other ankle
  6. Inhale and return your knee to the tabletop position
  7. Repeat with your other leg

You can also try the one-leg circle.

  1. Lie on your back and straighten your legs while maintaining a fixed pelvis
  2. Exhale and raise your leg while keeping a slight bend in the knee
  3. Make circles with the leg—don’t let the pelvis move during the motion
  4. Repeat 4-5 times in both directions before switching legs

8. Yoga

High-quality cross-training for runners isn’t just about improving strength and speed. Recovery is a big part, and yoga might be the best method. If you need a low-impact session to rejuvenate your body, follow this routine, holding each position for 10-20 breaths.

  1. Downward dog
  2. Cobra
  3. Half split
  4. Pigeon
  5. Low lunge
  6. Forward fold
  7. Toes pose
  8. Kneeling quad stretch

This plan is perfect if the cross-training occurs after an intense session or long run. The poses are ideal for runners because they target essential running muscles, including the quads, hamstrings, and core. Once you complete the routine, you’ll feel refreshed and well-prepared for the next day.

What About CrossFit?

You can’t have a discussion about cross-training without including CrossFit. This activity is controversial because it can increase your risk of injury if you handle heavy weights using an improper technique. That said, it can enhance your running performance if incorporated correctly.

The strength aspect is the main reason runners include it in their regimen. Like weightlifting, it makes you stronger and less susceptible to injuries. It can also advance your running economy, allowing you to cover more miles easily.

However, it heavily relies on HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercises, which can do more harm than good. The intense cardio sessions can sap your energy, making you less productive in your next workout. You can follow the HIIT method only through standard running exercises: fartleks, hill sprints, and hill running. Otherwise, the risk of injury is too high.

You shouldn’t combine CrossFit and running when preparing for your race since high-mileage weeks can lead to burnout. Instead, try the activity in the offseason and see how your body reacts.

Never Stop Running

These cross-training workouts will be a lifesaver if you’ve hit a plateau or can’t seem to avoid injuries. But don’t just rely on one exercise. Instead, try them all and see which activities suit your body best. Once you make them a permanent part of your routine, your running performance will soar to another level.

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