Should Runners Cross-Train?

Runners have long debated cross-training.

To be a good runner, you’ve got to run. But cross-training can still be an important part of your performance.

Although it varies from athlete to athlete, the consensus among most coaches is that running is ultimately going aid in your running specific goals more than cross-training. Simply put, running is the best thing you can do for your running. The more time you spend running, the better you will be.

But it’s unrealistic to think everyone can handle a high level of running volume all of the time. Running’s tough on the body and there are advantages to mixing up your routine. Supplemental cross-training can benefit your overall performance without the impact of running. Adding cross-training to the mix puts less wear and tear on your body than unrelenting daily runs. Less risk for injuries means increased longevity in the sport.

Not all forms of cross training are of equal value to runners, however. While spending thirty minutes in child’s pose might be good for the mind and soul, it won’t directly act as supplemental training specifically for running, and therefore will not directly benefit you as a runner. On the other hand, cross-training activities such as weight lifting may not make you immediately faster or fitter, but offers lasting strength and durability.

So what cross-training exercise should you choose as supplemental running volume? Much of that depends on your preferences. Would you rather train outside or does the convenience of a gym appeal to you? Cycling, swimming, elliptical and the stair-stepper are all low or non-impact exercises that provide aerobic workouts, which makes them valuable training options for runners.

Running coach and personal trainer Jeff Horowitz says the key to cross-training for runners is to mimic how your muscles are used and aerobic systems are taxed during during a run. Keep your heart rate at or above seventy percent of your maximum heart rate to replicate the aerobic stresses of running. In other words, you should be working hard and sweating a lot to get the same benefits. Horowitz suggests combining cross-training with running to maximize running fitness with lower actual mileage, substituting up to twenty-five percent of your weekly volume with cross-training.

If you’re trying to maximize running fitness without breaking your body, replacing a few runs a week with cross-training can be hugely beneficial. You can intersperse the cross-training between running days or even use it to tack on volume to a single run. Depending on your priorities, you can even cross-train more frequently than that. But remember, as long as your body can handle the volume, the best way to improve your running is to simply run.