Cross Training for Runners

Article #5: Cross training for runners

Casey Goheen, Registered Physiotherapist MPT, MSc, BSc 

As a runner, you may ask yourself, should I incorporate cross training into my program to help balance my training? Although running may be your main sport, it is important to give your body a break from the high demands of running. Cross training can be a great way to supplement your running, help in injury prevention and may even allow you to continue training when recovering from an injury. 

Benefits of cross training

The goal of cross training is to improve performance in your main sport by using other forms of exercise to support your training. Cross training can also keep you motivated and allow you to focus on areas of the body that may be less developed. Due to the nature of the sport, runners tends to develop patterns of muscular imbalance. In long distance runners, we tend to see highly developed type I slow twitch muscle fibers that specialize in endurance, especially in the quadriceps. In contrast, we see less developed hip abductors such as the gluteal muscles (1). To improve running performance, strength training should target the non-dominant running muscles (1, 2). In doing so, we can then properly engage them during our run.

What type of cross training should I be doing? 

A well-developed cross training program should incorporate elements of strength, endurance, and mobility. The goal is to choose an exercise that puts less mechanical stress on your joints and challenges the non-dominant running muscles. In terms of mechanical stress, running, jumping and plyometrics tend to be on the higher end of this scale (3). On the lower end of this mechanical stress scale are swimming, cycling, yoga and pilates (3). We are likely to gain the most benefit from combining running with forms of exercise that have less mechanical stress. 

What to DO and what NOT to do 

  • Higher volumes of cross training are most effective during the off-season. During the running-season, it is recommended that cross training be performed 1-2x/week. As you get closer to race time, start to taper off your cross training volume. 
  • Build gradually. As with any form of exercise, it takes time for our body to adapt to new loads. Try to gradually add in more cross training volume and intensity over time. 
  • Low impact is key. Try to incorporate exercises such as cycling, spinning, yoga, barre, strength, swimming, and pilates into your cross training.
  • Most of all, choose a cross training exercise that you enjoy doing, the more you enjoy doing it, the more likely you are to keep up with it! 


  1. Niemuth, Paul E., et al. "Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners." Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 15.1 (2005): 14-21.
  2. Storen, Oyvind, et al. "Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 40.6 (2008): 1087-1092.
  3. “New Trends in the Prevention of Running Injuries.” The Running Clinic. 2018. Accessed 17 Feb. 2020