You might be training for a big race and need to run x number of miles a week. Or maybe you just love running, and that’s the only type of exercise you want to do.  The thing is, your running muscles need regular rest to perform at their best. Cross-training is an effective way to rest your running muscles and avoid injury, while maximizing your running performance.

Cross-training helps build balanced muscle function. Using the same muscle groups over and over can create weaknesses in the supporting muscles that increase the chance of injury. Cross-training also helps to change up your routine so that you don’t get bored of running half-way through your training (believe me, it happens to the best of us!).

So what kind of things can you do to cross-train? A variety of activities! Don’t over think it! Check out this list and find a couple of options that you would enjoy doing the most, so that you don’t dread your cross-training days but actually look forward to them.

1. Elliptical. This is a pretty standard form of cross-training, since it was built to simulate the movement of running without putting so much strain on your joints. You can usually adjust the settings to target specific areas of the legs. While exercising on the elliptical machine, it can also be fun to put on your favorite show or read an interesting magazine to help time pass more enjoyably. (See Gym Fears and Misconceptions if you struggle with heading indoors to workout)

2. Dancing. Join a Zumba class, get out on the dance floor at a wedding, or turn up the music in the privacy of your own home. I decided that all the dancing I recently did at two weddings in one weekend should count as some serious exercise (think super dorky wedding line dancing and jumping up and down to songs like YMCA)!  I calculated that my small frame still burned 300 calories per hour dancing, so if you’re of average size, then you’ll burn even more calories when you get your groove on.

3. Strength training. Using free-weights or doing bodyweight exercises are both great ways to target specific supporting muscles for running and should be done 1-2 times per week along-side running. (See 5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners)

4. Biking. Biking is a great complement to running because it isn’t hard on the knees, and it helps to build up the muscles in your quads. You can choose between riding an indoor stationary bike or getting outdoors, depending on the weather or your mood!

5. Swimming. I’m not an avid swimmer myself, but the awesome thing about jumping in the water is that even if you’re walking around in a waist-deep pool, your muscles are still getting torched due to the extra resistance.

6. Walking. Walking is basically the same motion as running, only easier on the knees. Walking medium to long distances (the number of miles depends on the race you are training for or your comfort level with distance running) helps to build endurance in your legs. Depending on how quickly you’re going, walking can build your cardiovascular endurance as well. I prefer taking walks outdoors when I can, but walking on a treadmill makes it fairly easy to multi-task by reading a magazine or good book (just make sure you have good balance and that you use the safety clip).

Whenever you’re cross-training, always try to make your workout about as intense or as long as a week-day run would be.  Devoting just as much energy to a cross-training session as you would to a run, will help you build the cardiovascular endurance or strength that will support your running ability.

If you haven’t integrated any of the above cross-training activities into your weekly routine, pick a couple to try for the next few weeks.   Then, track your running times and see how your performance has improved!


1. Are you training for a race right now? Which one?

2. Which of the above options will you choose to integrate into your workouts this week?

Originally posted 2013-09-30 16:41:54.


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