Training Tips: Benefits and Implementation of Cross-Training

Training Tips: Benefits and Implementation of Cross-Training

Cross-training is meant to be utilized as a way to limit the impact on your body while still providing benefits like muscular strength, improved running economy and running performance, injury prevention, and many more. However, if implemented incorrectly cross-training can hinder your running training.

Types of Cross Training

  • Aerobic non-impact includes cycling, spinning, swimming, pool running and elliptical.
  • Aerobic impact could be CrossFit, boot camp, dance or aerobics.
  • Strength work is free weights, drills, yoga and Pilates.

Benefits of Cross Training

Many studies have found that cross training can improve running performance, running economy, and overall fitness, as well as reduce the risk for injuries, without decreasing VO2max and blood lactate markers, and without increasing your body mass.


A 2018 review of literature aimed to determine the effects of a strength training on physiological determinants of middle- and long-distances running performance (Blagrove, et al.), found many benefits to adding in resistance training to a running training program, including:

  • Time Trial Performance
    • Of the articles reviewed, researchers determined that there were significant performance improvements in time trial performance in a variety of conditions (outdoor athletics track, indoor athletics track, and under race conditions).
    • Moderate to large effects were seen in two studies that tested longer distances of 5-10km, however, there were similar improvements in the studies that tested shorter distances; meaning improvement occurs regardless of distance.
  • Body Composition
    • A lot of runners are concerned that strength training will add to their overall weight and increase the amount of weight they have to carry while running and as a result, slow them down. However, researchers found that there were no significant changes in body mass from baseline testing to exit testing in 18 studies ranging in duration of strength training programs. In other words, strength training won’t increase your overall weight and therefore won’t slow you down!
  • Running Economy
    • Running economy, is defined as the energy or oxygen demand for a given velocity of submaximal running and is determined by measuring the steady-state consumption of oxygen (VO2) and the respiratory exchange ratio. So pretty much, when your running economy is high, your body’s demand for energy and oxygen is greater than when your running economy is lower.
    • In general researchers have found that participating in a strength training intervention, lasting 6-14 weeks, added to the running training program of a distance runner appeared to enhance running economy by 2-8%. An improvement of this significance should ideally allow a runner to run at a lower relative intensity and as a result improve training and/or race performance.
    • These improvements were observed in moderately-trained, well-trained, and highly-trained participants, which tells us that runners of any training status can benefit from strength training.
    • Researchers found running economy improvements in studies whose protocol required free weight and multi-joint exercises, 2-3 days per week. Studies using resistance machines, single-joint exercises, and a lower frequency of sessions showed no improvement in running economy.

How to Incorporate Cross Training

As research has begun to show the benefits of cross-training many athletes have started incorporating cross-training into their programming. However, many fail to implement it effectively, because they do not understand how to add it into a running training program. Adding new training elements takes planning and thoughtfulness, and a little trial and error. Different types of cross-training require different approaches, below is a short summary of each type and how to implement it into a training program.

  • Strength Training
    • Strength work should be secondary to aerobic work, and is easy to add in on top of your running program. Adding in 15 minutes of core work or a 30 minute strength circuit at the end of a run is a great way to incorporate strength training. Strength training should never replace a running workout but be utilized as a supplement to your runs. Strength sessions should be short in duration and focus on form and body awareness; they should not be taxing or overly exhausting.
    • 2-3 days per week, 60-80% of 1RM, 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.
    • Training program can be anywhere from 6-14 weeks for improvements, however, a program of longer duration (14+ weeks) was found to be beneficial as well.
    • What type of strength training? Free weight exercises, multi-joint exercises are most beneficial. Examples include: Single leg half squat, step-up, lunges, split squat, counter movement jumps, jump rope, high knees, RDL, calf raises, squats, hurdle jumps, leg extension.
  • Aerobic Non-Impact
    • 2–3 times per week.
    • These are the easiest to incorporate into a running program, because they can be used to replace a recovery day or a harder workout day. Ideally these should replace a recovery day and not compromise a harder running workout. If you are dealing with an injury, swapping a harder run with a harder cross-training workout is a good option.
    • You will need to consider the duration and intensity level of these workouts. Non-impact exercises allow you to workout longer and harder than running. For example, if you had planned a 60-minute run, you could replace it with a stationary bike workout for 80-100 minutes or a run on the elliptical for 70-80 minutes at a moderate intensity.
    • If you are thinking of replacing a running workout with cross-training an aerobic non-impact workout should be your first choice.

  • Aerobic Impact
    • 1-2 times per week in the off season.
    • During the off season when you are not training for a marathon or another specific event, is the best time to try out a CrossFit, Orangetheory, or a fun dance class.
    • When training for a target goal this type of cross-training can be difficult to integrate and can hinder your running-specific development. The impact and higher intensity group classes and workouts increase your likelihood of an injury.

When integrating cross training into your running program remember that cross-training is meant to limit the impact on your body while providing other benefits like muscular strength, minimal recovery time, improvements in running economy, and increasing your overall fitness. Find what cross-training workouts are best for you and utilize them a couple times a week.

Review of literature article mention above:

~Sierra, The Tunnel Marathons Trainer