Improving Running Performance: Should you Cross Train?

I’m feeling a bit achy after a good week of running, so I might just give the blogging a rest, put my feet up with a cuppa and read this guest post from Fitness First (or I might go to the gym).

As a former competitive runner I know what it takes to succeed, whether it’s a local fun run or a marathon or you are amateur or professional, there are always benefits to incorporate cross training to your training program. It was only over the last 5 years that I realised how important it was to cross train and now I would like to explain how it could benefit you. 

Cross Training – This is simply integrating alternative exercises and equipment into your training program. An example for a runner would be, swimming, cycling, weight training or functional training. These types of additions to your program will allow you to:

  • Help prevent injury
  • Train when rehabilitating
  • Keep yourself motivated
  • Keep your routine varied
  • Can prevent body stress and ‘burn out’. 

It is common knowledge that the biomechanics of running causes impact and stress on the joints of the ankle, knees and hips. Therefore, continuous running week in and week out, will more than likely lead to injury at some point. Cross Training will allow you to continue to improve your cardiovascular fitness and work all the muscles associated with running. Your interval or constant pace sessions can be replicated in the swimming pool, on a bike or X-Trainer, all of which are non-impact and will reduce risk of injury and weight lifting will strengthen your joints and muscles, which again is non-impact. Examples of weight training exercises designed for a runner’s fitness program are dead lifts, squats, cleans. These exercises target the areas runners often neglect, as well as the muscles activated whilst running. This counteracts muscle imbalances and in turn helps to prevent injury. The volume of training must be taken in to consideration, as a runner looking to gain power or strength will complete a different number of reps and sets to a runner look for strength endurance. Here is a table to guide you: 

Reps Intensity Training Effect
1-6 85 – 100% of Max Relative Strength
6-8 79 – 84% Functional Strength
8-12 70 – 78% Hypertrophy (muscle growth)
12+ 69% or less Strength Endurance


Functional training is a form of cross training that can really give you added benefits. Functional simply means movements that are associated with everyday life. Therefore, for a runner it would mimic the mechanics of running. With the use of a variety of gym equipment such as, kettlebells, steel Bells, ViPR, suspension training and stability balls a program can be designed to work the core and quads. As the above table suggests there are specific ways to achieve different results, so ensure you consider these options before you start training. Speaking to a fitness professionals or participating gym floor classes would be a great start.

The non-impact exercises associated wit the above make them a great way to train when injured. Many exercises can be completed while rehabilitating and they will not have a negative affect on the healing process. In fact in some cases the non-impact weight bearing exercise can speed up recovery. 

In addition the varied routine that is designed in a cross training program will keep your ‘body guessing’. Your body is a clever machine that quickly gets accustomed with similar routines. Once this occurs it can cause a negative effect on the body and sometimes causes stress or ‘burn out’. Burn out is where the body stops making physical gains, due to stress or over training, instead it can reverse the gains made and waste months, if not years of training. 

To conclude, cross training is an important and an essential component of a runner’s training program. There is plenty of evidence that suggests cross training can lead to improved performance, in particular a sports medicine review in 1994 confirmed this. Use it to keep yourself motivated, prevent injuries and improve your strength and fitness levels, with a program of weight lifting, functional training and a variety of cycling and swimming. Please ensure that you consult one of our experienced fitness professionals at your home club to make full advantage of your gym membership and training.


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