Cross-Training for Runners – Increase your endurance with these cross-training exercises

“Don’t dream of winning; train for it.” 

Chances are when Mo Farah, the Olympic 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter gold medalist, said that he was in the throws of cross-training activities to prepare for the Olympic games.  He was right. 

To be an elite athlete, cross-training is essential.  It doesn’t just help your overall endurance and fitness.  It promotes injury prevention by engaging all muscle groups in a different way to ensure they are ready for anything. 

Spring is here.  It’s time to prepare for those 5K races, half-marathons, or full marathons.  If you haven’t signed up for one, do it now and then come back. 

You need to read all about how cross-training will bring your running to the next level.  

Cross-Training for Runners

The sky’s the limit when it comes to cross-training for runners. 

Anything that you can do to improve your endurance while training other muscle groups is beneficial for a runner. 

Runners love to run, and they experience endorphins known as a runner’s high.  For them, running is second nature to walking.  However, there might be other exercises that they enjoy as well. 

Some of the best cross-training activities for runners include cross country skiing, swimming, aqua jogging, running on an elliptical, cycling, rollerblading, yoga, and many more. 

All of these sports lend themselves to developing you more as a runner. 

Whether it’s developing your strength training, engaging your upper body for better posture, or stimulating your leg muscles differently, they all provide a cross-training experience that will have lasting effects on your races and keep you injury-free.    

Cross-Training Benefits

Not only does cross-training help to keep you injury-free, but it also provides a more dynamic all-around body conditioning program. 

If you cross-train and utilize muscles that might not get worked while running, you build muscle strength to provide endurance for your runs. 

Leg muscles and the core are used while running, but what about the upper body?  You pump your arms, but that is kind of a follow-along action and feels more like a swing. 

By incorporating weight training and other cross-training into your fitness routine, you will become a better runner.  More lean muscle mass makes for better metabolism and an all-around healthier individual.  

Sometimes you need a mental break, especially when you are training for a big race.  Cross-training allows you to step back and embrace another workout that might get you out of a rut.  We all get burned out, and cross-training is one way to prevent that. 

Changing up our routine might feel challenging at first as we are creatures of habit, but in the end, the change might be just what your body and mind need to increase your motivation.  Even changing up your run to a trail run might spark some much needed fun.

One thing to be careful about is muscle recovery when you are cross-training.  When you start using different muscle groups, the tearing and repairing of muscle fibers occur.  When the soreness sets in, make time to recovery properly. 

Sometimes when we don’t change our exercise routine, our body can become complacent, and we don’t always feel sore anymore.  Changing up our workouts will lead to sore muscles and the need to recover properly. 

Don’t rollerblade for two hours and then run the next day.  Maybe change things up and cross-train with yoga instead and then make time to put a run in your routine.  Slow and steady, people.

Cross-Training is Proven to Work

Our friend, Science, has our back on this one.  A research team studied the effects that cross-training had on women regarding fitness levels and injury prevention. 

Over 600 women participated in the study, where they performed cross-training in addition to their running workouts. 

In the end, there was a significant increase in muscle endurance and better performance when running on a 200-meter track.  It concluded that cross-training was highly recommended for people who are avid runners.  Science, you always come through for us.

How Often Should You Cross-Train?

When it comes to adding cross-training to your workout routine, you need to know your strength and experience. 

Naturally, avid runners and those with plenty of running experience will be able to do more when it comes to cross-training.  That doesn’t mean that if you are new to running, you can’t cross-train. 

You absolutely can, but you just need to watch the number of times you exercise per week to start.  Remember that muscle recovery is as important as your workouts.  

Our best advice is to start three to four times a week.  That way, you can work the muscles that might be neglected in your runs.  Think about a good strength training routine that incorporates upper body work. 

You can cross-train using your legs in another way, such as cross-country skiing.  The slide moves your leg muscles differently and promotes better hip and glute strength for your runs.  It will help to increase your range of motion as well.  So many benefits, so little time. 

After getting more acclimated to running and cross-training, bump it up to four to five times a week.  You will know shortly after you start if your body is ready for that jump. 

Many runners will notice the increase in endurance from the cross-training almost immediately.  You are lighter on your feet.

Best Cross-Training for Runners

We teased you with some spoilers.  Now it’s time to dive right into some high-intensity and not-so-high intensity workouts that will have you running like the wind. 

Run Forrest, run!  Lace up those crossfit shoes, and let’s dive in.


Okay, so maybe don’t put your shoes on yet.  We’re heading to the pool, and this workout is a cross-training champion. 

Low impact and yet working for multiple muscle groups, swimming gets that heart pumping for a full-body workout.  Can you say excellent shoulders?  Add in some aqua jogging and work your legs. 

The water’s weight is just enough to add some strength training to this exercise with the pool as your only equipment needed.


The weather is getting nicer, and that means we can utilize more water sports to cross-train.  If you go for a long run, those legs might feel like jelly. 

What better way to train than to sit in a kayak, pick up that paddle, and get your upper body workout done. This is a great core and cardio workout as well, so you get the intensity you need.


Never underestimate the power of yoga.  Its benefits are far-reaching.  From increased flexibility, stability, and balance, yoga wins all of the awards. 

Also, utilizing it with your recovery to stretch overworked muscles is the key to a runner’s success. 

Sore legs won’t get you too far, but active recovery with yoga can help.  Yoga also teaches you how to control your breathing which can help you when running.


Like we needed an excuse to hit the slopes! 

Skiing is an excellent form of cross-training as you utilize the legs and upper body, and it’s not too hard on your joints. 

Think of it as running without the pounding.  If you’ve never tried skiing or cross-country skiing, we encourage you to try it out as it’s an incredible cardio workout.


There is nothing like a good tennis match to get you in superb shape.  Change up the monotony of running by incorporating it into a sport. 

Also, running from side to side engages your legs differently, and you will feel yourself working harder.  Deuce!


This is one of the most common cross-training workouts for running. 

With less impact on your joints but still utilizing your legs, cycling is a great way to change up your workout.  Join that peloton craze and jump on a stationary bike.  Don’t forget your jams.

Barre Classes

Similar to yoga, Barre classes increase your flexibility and mobility.  This is a great way to build strength all over your body. 

If you have never tried a barre class, we recommend incorporating this gradually as you don’t want to overdo it and hurt yourself.  Also, while some apps offer barre classes, it’s best to go to a facility to ensure you are getting the proper training for the movements if you are a beginner. 

This will help to prevent injury as the barre workout is intense.


Let’s go back to the 90s when rollerblading was all the rage.  Oh, that was a good time. 

The truth is rollerblading is a fantastic cross-training workout, especially for runners.  The gliding action takes the pressure off the joints. 

Make sure you find a path that is smooth and incorporates some intensity like small hills.  Those climbs will get that cardio going and build your running endurance.  

Cross-Training and Running a Marathon

Cross-training is essential if you are training for a marathon. 

The best way to prevent injuries like Achilles tendonitis or shin splints is to incorporate some low-impact training that still works like an aerobic exercise.  Cross-training like swimming, cycling, and plyometrics will help build your speed and increase your oxygen levels. 

Learning how to control your breathing, so you are using the maximum amount of oxygen is essential for long-distance runs.  Plus, focusing on your breathing helps you to pace yourself. 

On race day, you will feel stronger and will be able to push harder because you incorporated cross-training into your fitness routine.

Final Thoughts

Runners love a good run, but let’s step outside of the box a bit. 

Change up the pace with a swim, some cycling, or a friendly tennis match.  Notice we said friendly.  Don’t let your competitive edge have you overdoing it. 

We are preventing injuries here.  Happy cross-training!

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Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.

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