Cross training ideas for runners

Some ideas for your non-running workouts

Alternating your running workouts with other sports such as swimming or cycling can have many benefits. If you do cross training correctly, you wreak the benefits and prevent injuries. Let’s see what cross training is and go over some cross training ideas for runners.

running up stairs

What is cross training and what are the benefits?

In cross training you combine sports from other disciplines than the sport you normally practice. For a runner this can be cycling, swimming, fitness, yoga or strength training. With these training forms you can strengthen specific muscles that you need during running, like your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves,… You can also train muscle groups that you use less as a runner in this way. For example, your upper body. The result is a completely trained body that is powerful and flexible.

Cross training also prevents injuries because it tackles an imbalance in the muscles. It also helps to recover from injury. An additional advantage is that it makes your sports sessions varied, which is good for your motivation. It can also help you lose some weight, if needed.

What to look out for when doing cross training?

If you want to try cross training as a runner, you have to take into account a few points of attention:

  • For cardiovascular sports like cycling, ensure a heart rate of at least 70% of your maximum heart rate (zone 3). You can work yourself up a sweat. Yoga and strength training is less ideal if you want to build endurance. But they can help you to prevent injuries. 
  • Watch out for overtraining. Check your morning, resting heart rate regularly if you can. If it increases, it indicates fatigue. Then do less cross training.
  • Running should remain the main focus of your training. However, per week you can replace 25 to 30% of your running training with cross training. 

How to incorporate cross training into your running schedule?

Cross training fits into the running schedule of any runner of any level. I live near my office, so I cycle to work every day. Once a week, I go on a longer ride for an hour or so. Next to that, I do a half hour workout on the elliptical on the weekend and a half hour swim session during lunch break on Wednesday. Runners who are prone to knee overload should incorporate strength exercises into their schedule to strengthen the muscle groups around the knee.

The message is to work healthily. Don’t start with long cross training sessions out of nowhere. 

Cross training ideas for runners

Last but not least, I have gathered some cross training ideas that you can try out and maybe incorporate into your running schedule.


Swimming is a great cross-training activity for running because it is a low-impact sport. Because of this, it is recommended for runners who are prone to injury or those who are recovering from one. 

While swimming, you particularly strengthen your upper body muscles while giving your legs a break.

A lot of public swimming pools have long opening hours so you might be able to go for a swim before or after work. 


Cycling is another low-impact sport to improve your cardiovascular fitness and strength. 

While you are cycling, you train other muscle groups then those you use while you run, specifically your glutes and your quads. 


Rowing, both on a rowing machine or in the water, is yet another excellent cardiovascular, low-impact activity. While rowing, you strengthen your hips, buttocks and upper body. If you want to give your legs a break, then kayaking is a great alternative activity on the water.

Strength training

Strength training allows runners to improve the strength in muscles that are not used during running. This way, the imbalance between muscle groups can be corrected. If you are sidelined because of an injury, some light strength training can maintain the strength in your legs.

You can do resistance training or bodyweight training, where you use your own body weight for resistance (for example during push-ups). Or you can do weight training, where you use weights for resistance. Strength training is an excellent way to strengthen your core, helping runners avoid fatigue and maintain their form.


Yoga is also a low-impact activity that offers some of the same benefits as strength training, because you use your body weight as resistance to strengthen your muscles. Doing yoga will also improve your flexibility as it involves a lot of stretching. Many runners find yoga a great way to relax after a long run or hard workout.


Walking is a good low-impact activity to replace an easy running day. It is also a great activity during a recovery day after a long distance run or speed workout. Speed walking is a good way to maintain cardiovascular fitness while you recover. Walking is probably the easiest cross training activity to incorporate in your daily schedule. Walking your dog, get off one stop earlier, walking around when making phone calls are all examples that everyone can fit in their planning.


Last but not least, using an elliptical or cross trainer is maybe the best full-body low-impact workout you can do. While using an elliptical, you mimic the natural movement of cross country skiing, walking and climbing stairs, all at once. Because the muscles used on the elliptical are similar to the muscles you use while running, the machine is a great low impact alternative when an injury prevents you from running.