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Cross Training for Runners

Updated: Nov 29, 2023


As we enter into September, we start to catch glimpses of the cooler autumn weather...

That means many of you are training for running races this fall!


We want to provide some insight into cross training for running to help you fill in the gaps of your race training, prevent injuries, and feel strong.


Modern sport science research demonstrates that cross training is a key component to a successful, safe, and competitive running season. What exactly is it, and what should you really be doing?




Let's start with the running program itself....


A Standard Running Race Training Plan Will Consist of:

  1. Running 2-6x/week on a progressive training plan (usually at least 12 weeks long or more) leading up to the date of the race

  2. A mixture of other cross training activities to supplement training

  3. Rest days for recovering

During a training plan, you can usually expect your runs to increase in length and/or frequency as you get closer to the race date, and then taper down some during the last few weeks.


It is important that you keep this in mind as you schedule your other workouts. At the start of your run training, your run volume (total amount of running days x time spent running) is low, so you have more time and energy to focus on other cross training activities. As your run volume increases over time, you should decrease the intensity and time spent doing other activities to allow you to get the most out of your run training, and get adequate rest and recovery.



So What is Cross Training?


  • Exercise done to supplement your running program

  • Any form of training that is not running can be considered cross training

  • Stretching, Yoga, Pilates, Weight Training, Hiking, Walking,

  • Boxing, Rowing, Cycling, Swimming, Skiing, Tennis, Rollerblading

  • Tai Chi, Dance, Foam Rolling, Ultimate Frisbee, Pickleball, Basketball, etc.



Components of Cross Training


4-7x/week Flexibility Training (according to the ACSM)

  • Dynamic stretching

  • Static stretching

  • SMR - foam rolling, massage balls

  • Getting a massage

  • Yoga or stretching class


We typically find that More Run Volume = More Flexibility Training Required




1-3x/week Strength Training

  • Resistance exercises using body weight, bands, free weights, and/or machines

  • Balance and stability training for hips, knees, ankles, feet, and torso

  • Agility or coordination training that tapers as run volume increases

  • These exercises should complement the muscles used for running, not overtax them, and intensity/volume should decrease as you get closer to race date





0-3x/week Other low-impact or aerobic exercises or rest

  • You may or may not want to incorporate other aerobic exercise in to your training

  • Some of the best low impact activities are swimming, walking, cycling, rowing, etc.

  • Other sports or activities could be an option, keeping in mind your recovery time needed and the impact on your joints, as running is already a high impact exercise






At FIT Carrboro, we mainly specialize in helping create workouts that build in the Strength Training components of cross training, and incorporate the other components as needed for each client.



The Workout


There are five main sections of a total body cross training workout, which are best done in this order:

  1. Dynamic Warm Up

  2. Agility & Balance

  3. Core

  4. Full Body Strength

  5. Static Cool Down


Step 1 - Dynamic Warm Up


The goal in a warm up is to increase your body temperature, increase blood flow and blood volume in to your muscles, and prepare those muscles for the demands of the workout by dynamically moving them in their full ranges of motion. Warming up prevents injuries and makes your workout more effective. A lot of people skip this important step!


Step 2 - Agility & Balance


While these two components are not in every workout, they are very important for runners and should be included often. Agility training helps improve your ability to change direction, speed up, or slow down while already in motion. Balance training helps you strengthen the muscles that keep you upright. Both of these things clearly matter when you think about running, especially outdoors. It is better to focus on these components more when your running volume is lower, such as taper weeks or earlier in a training program.


Step 3 - Core


Training the core muscles is vital to maintaining body position and proper breathing mechanics during runs. Many muscles make up your core - think about all the parts that connect your pelvis, spine, and ribs together and help you hold or move your torso. A good core program for runners incorporates both holding (isometrics) exercises and moving exercises and a focus on breathwork, as it becomes more challenging to maintain your core positions as your breathing gets more labored during longer or faster runs.


Step 4 - Full Body Strength


This main section of the workout helps to balance out the muscles in the entire body - particularly those that aren't already getting lots of work during a run. Additionally, working in other planes of motion is important to keep variable load on all of your joints. When you run, it is most often in the forward direction. But bodies are made to move in all sorts of directions - to the side, rotating, up and down, climbing, etc. Incorporating movements with all parts of your body and in multiple directions ensures balance to the joints and muscles you won't get from simply running.


Static Cool Down


Finally, the work out is done and you'll want to cool down gradually by slowing down your movements and performing static stretches on any areas of the body that you exercised. This means holding a single stretch for 20-30 seconds to allow the muscle to relax and return to a resting state. This brings down the body temperature and allows your heart and lungs to return to a resting state, too. Skipping this step may lead to greater soreness or tightness in the body later in the day or the following day which may hinder your next run.



Happy cross training!

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