If you want to be a better runner, you need to run more miles … right?
Not necessarily, experts say. Cross-training, or spending time on exercises that benefit your running (or other primary sport), can help prevent injury and build strength to make you a more resilient athlete. Mixing up your workouts requires you to exercise different muscles and take a break from the repetitive motion and impact your body feels from your primary sport.
The term "cross-training" is broadly used, and its meaning can vary. Some athletes consider cross-training to be any exercise outside their primary sport. For runners, this definition would include strength training, yoga, cycling, swimming, hiking, elliptical, or myriad other activities.
Some athletes separate cross-training from "supplemental training," or exercises that are not alternatives to running but train the same muscles used to run. Supplemental training includes exercises that should be part of any runner's training plan, like weightlifting and mobility work. Cross-training, which depends on personal preference, may include swimming, hiking, biking – any exercise that serves as an alternative to running and builds endurance and aerobic fitness.
Injury prevention is the primary benefit to cross-training. Running is a high-impact sport that demands a lot of the muscles you use to do it. By working out different muscles and taking pressure off the joints used in running, you can lessen the impact on your body overall. Cross-training can also help when you're injured: lower-impact exercises can help maintain your aerobic fitness while you recover .
Cross-training activities vary depending on your primary sport. If you're a runner, exercises like cycling and elliptical will train muscles you don't normally use. If you're a cyclist, you may consider walking, running, or hiking as cross-training to work your muscles in a different way.
Before you sign up for a spin class or hop in a pool, consider your goals for cross training that day. Are you looking for a low-impact activity to give your sore muscles a break? Are you looking for something that will get your heart pumping?
Below, check out our suggestions for cross-training activities to fit into your training plan. You should aim for 1-2 days of cross-training per week, depending on your schedule and goals:
Biking/Spin: Cycling helps you build aerobic fitness and work different leg muscles while putting less weight and pressure on your muscles and joints. A great aspect of this activity is its variety: you can opt for an indoor spin class or take your own bike out for a few miles. Like running, you can cycle solo or go with a group.
Swimming: The motion of swimming may not mimic the motion of running, but it is a great way to build cardiovascular fitness with no impact on your joints. As an added bonus, you'll work out your upper body – an area runners often overlook. Swimming can be a year-round activity, too — look for indoor pools nearby so you can continue workouts as temperatures drop this fall.
Hiking: A hike up and down uneven terrain will work all the muscles in your legs and feet, which makes hiking a great cross-training activity for runners. Going uphill puts the focus on your glutes; going down trains you for downhill running. If you're prepping for a long hike, be sure to pack essentials like your phone, keys, wallet, and fuel in a small backpack or waist pack for hands-free hiking. We like the Large Pocket SPIbelt and the new SPI Crossbody because the pouch has extra room that also gives you easy access to your phone for those nature pics you're going to want to capture.
Elliptical: This is a good way to mimic the motion of running without the pounding on your joints, making it equally beneficial to injured runners or those looking for a non-running workout. Add resistance to get a higher-intensity workout in!