Cross Training for Runners - what to do & what to avoid (+ activity list to keep it fresh!)

Cross training can be an important component of being a  healthy, strong runner.

If your only form of exercise is running then you are only working part of your muscles. In order to maintain fitness you need to try and work all of your muscles - not all of the time but give them each some tender loving care.

should all runners cross train though?

The answer to this is going to be dependent on your running goals. 

If you are a recreational runner or training for a race simply to have fun and complete the distance then I would definitely recommend cross training at least once a week.

If you are training for an intense running goal such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon then it's going to depend on what cross training activity you are including, how often you include it and whether or not it begins to interfere negatively with your training.

When you have a tough workout schedule it can be more beneficial to take a rest day or go on a recovery run versus going to hot yoga. 

If you find it does negatively impact your training then stay focused on your running for the time being. 

Everything has a season. 

Benefits of Cross Training

  • Can be substituted once in a while for an “easy run”. Sometimes you just don't have it in you to go out for a run. That's fine. It happens. Try something else. Go for a bike ride. Lift some weights. Do some Pilates. 
  • Some exercises can strengthen muscle groups that are related to and serve as injury prevention.
  • It ups our fat burning potential
  • Increases our upper body strength (very important for marathoners as your upper body can become fatigued during a marathon or long run).
  • Can give you a new attitude towards your running especially if you are in need of some motivation. Adding something new will to your routine will keep you excited about running when you are feeling as if something is lacking.'

Best Cross-Training Activities for Runners

You benefit when you cross train as long as you remain injury free.

Prevention is one of the best benefits of cross-training so choose an activity that will enhance your injury prevention.

Everyone is different so there is no right or wrong way to cross train as long as it plays a positive part in your exercising.

The best cross-training activities that runners should participate in are non –impact sports that do not place added stress on your body that you already receive through running.

the best non-impact activities are:


Cycling, whether on a stationary or outdoor bike is a highly beneficial way to cross train. It works muscles that are related to the muscles you use while running which gives your more leg strength, translating into more power, speed and fatigue resistance.


Swimming is mainly an arm workout since you use your arm muscles to pull your body through the water. However it is also an swimming is also a full body workout activity and is very beneficial to the body especially for marathon runners.

Swimming can be very relaxing and a great way to loosen tight muscles. It is a fantastic non-impact aerobic activity and my favorite form of cross-training! 

cross-country skiing

Cross country skiing is said to be as strenuous as running but it targets different leg muscles and like cycling brings to your leg muscles speed, strength and fatigue resistance.

strength training

Lifting weights is extremely beneficial for your upper body which is very susceptible to fatigue during endurance events such as the marathon. Just don’t go overboard or you will end up with pulled, strained or stressed muscles.

See our examples of beginner strength exercises and intermediate strength exercises

If you want 11 simple strength workouts for marathoners and half marathoners then see this strength training pdf package of workouts designed specifically for marathoners and half marathoners.


Rowing is an excellent all-body exercise as it works muscles from the shoulders, arms, back, buttocks, and legs. You can reap the benefits of rowing whether it’s outside on the water or inside on an egrometer (rowing machine).

Power walking 

Of course walking is a great exercise that allows you to step it down a notch from running but also has excellent health benefits! 

Download a free cross training activities list & keep your training fresh!

Pop in your email, receive your activity list, print it off, tape it up and choose a new activity to do every week on your cross training day!

Sports that you should avoid as a runner:

If you are training for a marathon or have a big race coming up then it is in your best interest to keep your body healthy and injury free in order to be able to have a strong race. 

here are some activities that are high impact that you might want to avoid as your risk of injury increases

  • tennis
  • volleyball
  • soccer
  • downhill skiing
  • those exercises that are high impact as they involve sudden starting and stopping which can be very damaging to the knees, especially a runner's knees.

This doesn't mean that you have to give up these sports especially if for example you love playing tennis as I do.

Just be aware that they are high impact and can do great damage so if you are in a marathon training program or want to make a certain time goal you may want to limit yourself to in how often or at what intensity you play high impact sports.

One of the worse things to have happen to you when training for a marathon is having to stop when so close to your goal because you have a running injury 

The key point to choosing a way to cross train is to make sure you enjoy doing it. Otherwise you will not feel the need or the desire to keep doing it.

Cross-training can add a whole new dimension to your running program and make you an all-round better runner.

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