If you’re a runner and your only activity is running, this is my “how-to” and “why” guide to cross training. As an ultrarunner myself, I absolutely include cross training in my regimen. As a coach, it’s essential to include cross training built into my athlete’s programs too. It should be in good proportion to the athlete’s strengths, base, as well as goals and race distances. For those who don’t know my personal story, I’ve had to have several surgeries where cross training was key to my come back. Using a holistic approach, strength and non-impact activities are what I built on until I slowly made the transition into more running. I always keep strength as a priority though; it has benefits too!

“The action or practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport.”

Cross training can be divided into two things:

  1. Cardio cross training (any physical activity that is low or non-impact, for example: elliptical, walking, hiking, biking, aqua jogging, cross country skiing, etc.)
  2. Strength, plyometric type training

Importance of cross training

Cross training is exercise using low impact activities for gains in strength, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility. The benefits include:

  1. Active Recovery: Especially for those with ants in their pants, cross training is a great method to use to stay physical, yet injury free when recovering from other hard workouts or races). This also allows you to flush out toxins and increase flexibility
  2. Overall Fitness: For those who can or can’t run 6-7 days in a row) adding in some cross training can help increase endurance and volume without the injury. Spin cycling is a great illustration of a non-impact activity that allows you to work on your leg turnover and speed. This transitions nicely into running
  3. Motivation: Switching it up can help increase motivation taking you out of the tedious of days of relentless running
  4. Revitalize: Restore balance and find longevity in running. Over training is not healthy and no one should continuously run hard. This affects your immune system, adrenaline glands and is imperative to keep your insides functioning optimally as well as your outside!
  5. Explore: Finding new loves can make even the old ones that much better too!
  6. Rehab: A great way to get back in action without irritating an injury
Michele Yates photographed in Boulder, Colorado by Mike Thurk

Michele Yates photographed in Boulder, Colorado by Mike Thurk wearing new product for 2020

Lean muscle mass diminishes with age and YOU WILL INCREASE YOUR PERCENTAGE OF BODY FAT…if you don’t strength train. Therefore, strength training increases lean muscle mass and increases bone density. Whether you are a runner or not, you will have stronger bones and longevity to whatever sport or walking you do!

How Cross Training Affects Your Body

  1. Reduces the risk of chronic disease by improving insulin sensitivity
  2. Reduces your risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions (large waist circumference, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar) that raise your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease
  3. Reduces PMS symptoms
  4. Lowers inflammation. Especially heart disease and cancer-prone people
  5. Improves cognitive function and reduces anxiety and depression. Plus you look damn good.
  6. It can even increase your anaerobic and aerobic cardiovascular fitness. Try a circuit, higher intensity program to accomplish this.
  7. And of course reduces the risk of injury by building strength in bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons.
  8. And don’t forget to explode! I mean do some explosive strength training like plyometrics. This adds a whole new benefit to your running economy, not just the cardiovascular side (only add the plyos if you aren’t focusing on recovery and low impact!)

So How? What? Where? When?

  1. Get a coach that has credentials (not just an elite runner, but one that has a degree or certification…and an EDUCATION to back it up)
  2. Get a coach that uses a holistic approach. If they don’t take everything into consideration, you aren’t going to benefit as much. You will most likely lose motivation because the program doesn’t fit into your schedule, lack of communication can leave you with questions, and ideally you want to improve overall fitness for overall health and wellbeing too
  3. Consider participating in a running camp. One that includes a learning experience not just running on the trails! At Rugged Running, we include drills for running performance and efficiency, strength exercises for injury prevention, gait analysis, hill drills for strength and power, nutrition (both daily and race), mobility…and so much more
  4. Bottom line, you should always include recovery cross training after a race, and within your weekly program. Consider strength training full body 3x a week except the week after a race, and always try to back at through cross training if encountering and injury. Consider Rugged Running for all your running and fitness needs.

Michele Yates is the founder of Rugged Running, a coaching company for all types of runners for all distances.