Cross Training for Runners

6 Cross Training Methods for Runners

If you want to be the best runner you can be, including cross training into your running plan is a must. Some runners think that the only way to get good at running is by running. I don’t totally disagree.Cross Training.jpg

Since I’ve been injured often, it’s been imperative to supplement my running with cross training.

Now, as I’ve gotten older, cross training has been a blessing as I’ve been able to get in shape or stay in shape without all the pounding that running can be associated with.

Below, I’ll outline 6 ways that cross training can be used to supplement your running – whether it’s because you’re injured and can’t run or because you need to add to your training regimen with non-running activities.

6 Modes of Cross Training for Distance Runners
6 Modes of Cross Training for Distance Runners

Cardio based Cross Training

The goal of cardio based cross training is to get your heart rate up to a “high” level, keep it there through repetitions and increase your cardiovascular fitness without the pounding from running. While there are plenty of varieties of cardio-based cross training, TrainwithMarc focuses primarily on 3 as they are typical in most gyms and available to the majority of gym-goers.


Outdoor biking and indoor cycling/spinning are excellent ways to cross train. It’s easy to get your heart rate up during an indoor cycle class with a highly motivated instructor. Of course, you can go as hard as you like without doing too much damage to your running legs.

Bike Transition at Ironman Vancouver
Bike Transition at Ironman Vancouver


The elliptical is a great form of cross training for those who like to mimic running pretty closely. The machine is really useful because you don’t have to hold on to the handles and you can get even closer to the running form you’d have if you were actually running. The elliptical is great if you are healthy and looking for a low impact workout.

If you are nursing an injury where running would be difficult, the elliptical is probably not the cardio machine for you until you get healthy.

Swimming/Pool Running

I think swimming and pool running (albeit often the most difficult for runners) is the most effective and efficient way to get in a low impact cross training workout.

When I’ve had lower leg injuries, the pool has saved many of my seasons. I would warm up and cool down with freestyle swimming and then move to pool running.

Pool running mimics running very closely and can be done with or without a pool-running belt. Personally, I do repeats that are done in a 3:1 ratio of work to rest. This means that for every 3 minutes of work, I rest for 1 minute. I’ve found that short reps work best because you can work very hard for a short period of time, and recover equally as quickly.

Overall, these are 3 of the best cardio-based activities I’ve found to replace running when I’m (or one of my runners) is injured or to supplement running miles with non-running activities. Each has a benefit and a setback and so you have to find what works best for you and your situation.

Non-Cardio based Cross Training

The goal of non-cardio based cross training is to supplement your running with strengthening your joints, tendons, and muscles. There are so many different types of cross training routines and modalities out there – I’m going to look at 3 that I have used or continue to use to improve my running.


I can’t stress enough how good for the body and soul yoga is. I personally prefer hot yoga. We have a fantastic studio near us that does a great job of providing low-cost classes and excellent instructors.

6 Modes of Cross Training for Distance Runners
6 Modes of Cross Training for Distance Runners

My favorite pose is Warrior 1 and I LOVE trying head and hand stands although I need more practice to get better.

CrossFit/Strength Circuits

I am a big fan of strength circuits for running performance. I believe in performing exercises with good form and so I prefer doing my strength at my local gym as opposed to in the “rah rah” atmosphere of a CrossFit gym.

Strength Routines I Swear By:

That being said, I recently attended a CrossFit session and thoroughly enjoyed my workout. As a runner, Olympic lifting has never been in my repertoire and because of that, I find CrossFit to be a little too far out of my comfort zone of strength training with good form.

Megaformer Workout

I’m new to the Megaformer Workout but swear that it is a REALLY good way to get in strength training with very effective movements. I am lucky that my wife teaches in a studio (Sculpt360) in our neighboring town and get to drop in on classes every once in a while.

Recapping Cross Training

Overall, it’s my opinion that there are two main sectors of cross training: cardio based and non-cardio based. The cardio-based workouts include swimming/pool running, biking/indoor cycling, and the elliptical. The non-cardio or strength based workouts include yoga, strength training/CrossFit, and Megaformer workouts.

Using Cross Training to Improve Your Running
Using Cross Training to Improve Your Running

To supplement running miles, I strongly suggest cardio based cross training. What that means is, if you wanted to run 40 miles in a week, but need some non-running miles, I would do elliptical or swim.

More articles about cross training!

To supplement your running [in general], you should include non-cardio based cross training, like strength circuits. This builds overall strength, endurance, power, and promotes good overall health.

You really can’t get into a good running routine without doing some form of cross training. Whether it’s cardio or non-cardio based, cross training is so important to any runner’s overall running program.


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Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

I am a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!


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