• Helen Phillips

7 Cross-Training Activities for Success

Cross-training is a sport or exercise that supplements your running. Whether you're a beginner runner or an experienced marathoner, your fitness and running can benefit from cross-training. Read on for 7 Cross Training Activities for Success!

Why Should I Cross-Train

Many runners find out the hard way that the repetitive action of running makes it easy to overwork the muscles and joints used, which all too often leads to niggles and injuries.

Supplementing part of your weekly running programme with other forms of exercise, cross-training, helps to even out muscular imbalances, strengthen muscle weaknesses and helps avoid the likelihood of over-training or overuse injuries ... and can relieve the boredom of running day in day out when you're training for a marathon!

If you’re injured or have a bad niggle from running during training, it is often best to take a break from running to allow the injury to recover. It’s ok with some injuries to cross-train to maintain your fitness and deal better with the frustration not being able to run for a bit. Cardio cross training helps you maintain your fitness if you have a niggle or injury, or if you’re coming back to fitness following injury.

When Should You Cross-Train?

The amount of cross-training you do alongside your running depends on how much time you have available and how you're feeling, both mentally and physically. Try to fit a cross training session in at least once a week, think of it as active recovery, more if you need to focus on a particular issue area or weakness that needs attention.

If you're injured and not able to run you may be able to cross-train more frequently. Talk to your doctor or physio to get advice on what activities are best for your specific injury. Cross training can help you retrain your cardio fitness as well as strengthening and working on any areas of weakness that might have caused the injury in the first place.

What Cross-Training Workout Should I Do?

There really isn’t any one size fits all cross-training workout, but it’s a good idea to select a complementary cross training activity that targets a few areas of fitness that you're not already focused on with your running and engage muscles that you don’t currently use. You could also choose an activity that will help build up any weaknesses or weak spots you might have, such as balance and coordination, flexibility, leg strength, core, hip and glute strength.

When you’re heavy into marathon or half marathon training you’re already going to be doing a fair amount cardio activity, so rather than doing more of the same your cross training could be something else that focuses on an area of weakness.

If you are looking to improve your cardio fitness try an aerobic activity - preferably one that uses different muscle groups to running, such as swimming which primarily uses the upper body allowing the lower body (legs) to recover.

If you want need to improve your muscle strength, especially your core to help you improve your running form, then include weight training, Pilates or Yoga.

And, if you have an issue with flexibility then try a stretching classes or Yoga.

If you’re injured or stuck in a rut and fed up with running, then it might help you get your mojo back by trying another cardio activity to keep your fitness levels up. Pick an activity you've been dying to try and give it your best shot. You may love it, you may hate it, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. What's important is to keep yourself active during this ‘time out’.

When Should I Cross-Train?

With your marathon training programme running three or four days a week you should be able to include a couple of cross training activities into your schedule, still allowing for rest days. But remember, rest is also an important part of marathon training too, so don’t neglect it!

Treat cross-training like an aerobic active recovery day. Schedule your cross-training workouts after hard running days and keep your effort level low enough to ensure your body recovers from your runs. But if you’re injured and can’t run, you can cross-train harder to maintain fitness.

So now we know what, why and when you should be cross training, here's 7 that are particularly good to complement a good running programme.


Cycling works a lot of the same leg muscles as running, so cycling is a good way to substitute some of the pounding you get from running and still get a good aerobic workout. Cycling and spin classes are also low-impact ways to boost your cardiovascular fitness and strength.


Swimming is an excellent cross-training activity for running because it's not weight-bearing, so it gives your joints a break from the stresses of running. It allows you to build strength and endurance, and also improve flexibility. It's a great balance for running because is works your upper body and gives your leg muscles a rest.

Swimming is great if you’re are prone to running injuries or are recovering from an injury.

Water Running

Running in water works the same muscles as running on the road. But with the buoyancy of water there’s less impact on your body, so it’s a great alternative if you’re injured and want to keep up with running! While you can run in the water without flotation aids it’s best with a special belt or vest that helps to keep you afloat.


Lots of runners struggle with their posture and form in the last few miles of a long run. Running hunched over means you breathe more shallowly, which can decrease how much oxygen you take in – which isn’t what you need! Using a rowing machine can help with your posture since cowing strengthens your core, back and arms which can help you keep good running posture and form. You will also get a great cardio workout and strengthen your legs from rowing too, which can help with your long runs.


Walking is a great substitute for easy running, especially if you're recovering from a long run or speed workout or an activity to do for active recovery. Walking in the afternoon or morning after a hard race or a long run gets the blood flowing and stretches out your running muscles without putting additional strain on them.

Walking mimics the movements of running so, unlike other cross training activities, it strengthens and increases endurance of the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments that are used while running. However, there’s a lot less pounding and impact on the body, so it’s a great option if you’re injury-prone or who are returning from an injury. If you’re injured and can walk pain-free power-walking is a good way to maintain your cardiovascular fitness while you're recovering.

Elliptical Machine

Using an elliptical machine will give you a total body cardiovascular workout. The elliptical machine works the glutes and hamstrings, two important muscle groups for runners and can be used backward or forward, providing the opposing muscle groups with some balance in your workout. Because the muscles used are similar to those you use when running, it’s a good low-impact alternative when an injury prevents you from running.


Runners need flexibility to be able to move fluidly through the full range of running motion. If you’re stiff in your hips this can shorten your stride and limit your speed and stiffness in a other muscles can cause changes to your gait that can lead to injury.

Yoga can help with muscle imbalances, prevent overuse injuries and correct poor running form. Yoga will give you similar benefits to strength training since you use your body weight as resistance to strengthen your muscles. It builds strength in the core, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors and can help you run more efficiently and stay injury-free.

Yoga also improves your flexibility since it involves a lot of stretching and balance as there are lots of single leg poses such as tree and eagle.

Yoga also requires concentration and attention to breathing. Breathing well is essential for running, as your ability to uptake oxygen directly affects your speed. Being able to control and monitor your breathing gives you with better control over your pace and is especially important in harder workouts.

There are lots of different styles of yoga class to choose from and no single style that's overall best for every runner. When you're ramping up mileage doing hard marathon training workouts try a relaxing slow paced class such as Hatha. When your training is lighter, you can increase the intensity and frequency of your Yoga workouts.

Barre class

Barre workouts are focused on improving core strength as well as developing the stabilising hip muscles. They aregood for improving core strength, flexibility and muscular endurance.

Barre workouts wont usually give you a cardio workout and are not designed to improve muscle strength but can help improve your balance, flexibility, posture and core strength.


Pilates workouts build strength, particularly in the core and trunk area. Pilates workouts incorporate upper body work, especially the back, and hamstring and glute work, which helps us runners who are usually quad-dominant and have weak glutes. Pilates, even though it’s a mat based workout, is demanding, as you’re constantly engaging your muscles and working your core hard.

Pilates builds your body’s ‘foundation’ from your core, which includes abs, obliques lower back, hips, and glutes. In Pilates, your core is called your ‘powerhouse’ because it is where every movement comes from. Running also relies on power and strength from your core. Your glutes, even more so than your quads or calves, are responsible for your stride and speed. Your core helps you maintain proper upright running form. Pilates teaches you to better generate power and strength from your core and glutes, which will give you greater power, strength and economy as a runner.

Pilates is also a great cross training activity if you’re injured, especially if your injury has stemmed from weak hips.

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