Cross Training for Runners


If you run every day, it’s in your best interest to remove a couple of those days each week and replace them with cross training for two of your running days each week. Athletes who stick to running only incur a greater risk of overtraining pain and injury, in my professional opinion and personal experience. You can increase your chances of staying injury-free by preparing your body for distance running with the help of cross training, as well as a rest day or two each week to give your body a chance to recover from the stress of training. 

Cross training includes, but is not limited to walking, hiking, swimming, elliptical or arc trainer, row machine, or spin bike.  Incorporating these exercises into your routine enables you to increase cardiovascular endurance while reducing the stress on bones and tendons inherent to running. Cardiovascular and strength training, both elements of cross training, build important muscle structures needed to keep you running pain-free.

Remember not to overdo it when cross training. It should enhance your running, not hurt you or slow you down. Workout to your own standard that you can handle; if that means reducing the tension on the spin bike or skipping a jump or two during class, feel free to do so and don’t beat yourself up for it. Remember to apply specificity of training to your plan, which should always be to to run better, whether that means running with better form, faster, or free of pain.

For the athletes I train, I prescribe two cross training sessions per week into their training plans, alternating with running days. Each cross training workout should take between 60-90 minutes of your day. Our cross training sessions typically start with 20-60 minutes of cardio, with the duration depending on the athlete’s current progress and goals. Cardio is followed by a 20-45 minute strength training sessions targeting muscle groups crucial for runners. 

Remember, running days are just for running. Running days are for warming up with dynamic stretches, prescribed drills and other calisthenics, along with after-run static stretches and foam rolling. When you do the appropriate warmup, stretching, and foam rolling with your run, you will notice that those recovery methods will take just as long if not longer than the actual run itself.

Your strength training is ONLY to be done on your cross training days. Stick to doing the right exercise on the right days, while not forgetting to rest, to make the most safe and rapid progress toward your goals.

Jessica Diaz is an ultra runner, loving wife & mother, owner of a Siberian Husky, RRCA Running Coach & Race Director, as well as Digital Manager at The GYM Cape Carteret Aquatic & Wellness and CEO of Diaz Media Marketing.