Cross training for runners

by Mar 27, 2017Fitness0 comments

Cross training is defined:
cross training

  1. 1.
    the action or practice of training or being trained in more than one role or skill.
    “we do a lot of cross training, so all employees know three different jobs”
  2. 2.
    the action or practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport.
    “most serious athletes in any sport these days do some form of cross training”

We kind of all knew that right but the application of it hasn’t been around that long at an elite running level. As little as 15 years ago elite runners were not using cross training to maximise recover time and minimise injury chances.
The purpose of cross training is to either work the same muscle group in a different way, e.g. cycling instead of running or to even use different muscle groups altogether. BUT WHY?

  1. To ensure fitness levels do not drop while not getting bored, i.e. to keep activity levels up and hence fitness levels up cross training provides a great way to stay ‘in the zone’ without having to literally stay in the same running zone all the time.
  2. Using muscles in a different way builds new neurological pathways which gives the brain a rest from the same old same old but also the corresponding muscles.
  3. If a runner only ever ran at some point s/he may well break! Literally more so than metaphorically I’m sure but nevertheless there would be an injury, possibly not while running. By that I mean stepping off a kerb even! Chance of injury may well increase if particular muscle groups are being worked over and over with little change to routine.
  4. If that injury does occur then that is when cross training is of vital importance. See point 1. A lot of running injuries are re-injuries which indicates that whatever caused the problem in the first place has not been completely fixed. 
  5. Adding in non impact aerobic activity is a great way to keep your minutes up without pounding the body. Typically, swimming, biking and rowing are the kinds of activities that tick the box. 
  6. Strength training is the other great option and has been found to improve running efficiency and thus times. A study in Sweden saw runners replace 32% of their running programme with plyometrics over a 9 week period. At the end of the 9 weeks their sprint time, economy and 5k times were all shown to improve compared to a control group that remained on their prescribed running programme.
  7. Resilience: the final reason you should cross train. As hinted at in point 3 about routine, when muscles only get worked in a single plane of movement they get weak in the other planes. The brain isn’t used to working in the other planes and movement isn’t as strong or as natural as a result. Strength training in other planes of movement is crucial to a well rounded runner – meaning resilient and a strong ability to cope with more than just forwards or backwards movements.


These are the 3 planes of movement we have. This is due to the vestibular system in our ears which is made up of small canals which are set up in exactly these 3 positions and feedback to our brain when we move in these planes. A runner will mostly use just the Frontal plane with a little of the Horizontal or also know a the Transverse plane – twisting. There isn’t a great deal of Sagittal plane movement in running. Almost all sideways movements are generated while moving forwards. 
Cross training allows the muscles that aren’t frequently activated to be worked along with others to create different movements for a runner which over time, can add up to making a more robust, and injury resilient runner.
Get out there and…..cross train!

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