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9 of the Most Useful Cross-Training Workouts for Marathoners

Cross-training workouts are essential for runners. If you want to be successful in your training cycle and during your goal race, it’s a must.

Cross-training is a word that gets used a lot within the workout realm. If you’re a runner you’ve likely heard the term at some point.

If you’re a runner, you should be using cross-training to get the best out of your body’s abilities. If you’re already asking, “what should I do to cross-train for a marathon?” you’ll find plenty of useful options here.

What is Cross-Training for Runners?

Cross-training is any activity that’s not running or your primary type of workout.

An activity as simple as walking is considered cross-training.

There are cross-training options for everyone. Choosing the best for you can be a little overwhelming or confusing. Here you’ll find nine great options for a runner looking to add cross-training to a marathon training cycle.

What are the Benefits of Cross-Training for Runners?

The reason cross-training exists is to improve overall capability.

A runner who only runs risks weakness in muscular and skeletal systems. Although you run often, you might not have a strong core. This leaves you susceptible to injuries.

The following are some of the best benefits of cross-training for runners:

👉🏼 Strengthen muscle groups not used for running.

👉🏼 Provide stability for the body for running.

👉🏼 Prevent over-training in a marathon training cycle.

👉🏼 Help with recovery from running.

👉🏼 Reduce the chance of becoming injured from long distance running.

What are the Best Cross-Training Options for Runners?

Finding a good cross-training exercise for you will help to make your marathon training less boring.

Find a few different activities that pique your interest. You’ll run faster thanks to your new cross-training workouts.

The following nine examples of cross-training for runners should help you find the perfect activity to help you in your next marathon training cycle.

Strength Training

Utilizing strength training as a cross-training option for runners is very wise. With strength training, you can build muscle, control body fat, and reduce your chance of injury.

Strength training includes any activity where you’re lifting weight or working against resistance to build muscle.

✅ Pros: Some strength training can be done with just body weight which means this can be easy to do at home. Bodyweight activities may include wall sits, squats, and push-ups.

❌ Cons: You need some equipment for certain activities. Invest in resistance bands, kettlebells, or dumbbells to increase your depth of strength training. Another option is to get a gym membership.

Yoga

Yoga incorporates bodyweight resistance training along with beneficial mental health aspects. Various types of yoga benefit a runner training for a marathon.

Beginning your day with meditation can improve your overall mood and lead to happier running miles. Yoga is unique because you can practice it in a studio or at home. You can also practice for 10 minutes or 90 minutes.

Three women are practicing yoga in half pigeon pose. Yoga is a helpful cross-training workout for runners to improve flexibility.

Yoga with Adriene is a superb, free option for those new to the practice or who don’t yet feel comfortable practicing in a studio setting. Yoga is the perfect cross-training for runners to do at home.

✅ Pros: Yoga tends to be low impact and is excellent for mental health. Yoga can also help to stretch tight muscles (think calves, lower back, and hamstrings). Practice from the comfort of your home!

❌ Cons: Many people think they need to be flexible to practice yoga. Understand that these things take time, and with consistent practice, you’ll see improvement in your range of motion that can lead to strength for your running.

Cycling

Cycling is a great low-impact option for runners.

Cycling can be especially beneficial because of the focus on the lower body muscles. These muscles are essential for running. Strengthening them with cycling as a cross-training workout is a great option.

✅ Pros: Cycling is low impact and tends to work muscles that compliment the leg muscles used for running.

❌ Cons: A bike is required for this activity. If you don’t already have a bike, buying a new one can be quite an investment. Finding a safe place to ride a bike can also be a challenge. Remember that a stationary bike can provide the same benefits for cross-training!

Swimming

Swimming is one of the lowest impact options when it comes to cross-training. Being weightless in the water allows you to strengthen your joints without causing much strain on them.

When I suffered a stress fracture in my foot I used swimming as a way to come back to running. Swimming is the best cross-training for runners when injured. Just be sure to check with your doctor to know that it’s suitable for you.

A swimmer is swimming in a pool lane. Swimming is a low-impact option for cross-training for runners.

Along with swimming in a pool, you can also run in the water to build strength with limited impact. This is usually referred to as aqua jogging. While it sounds like it might be easy, you’d be surprised at the challenge!

✅ Pros: Swimming is one of the lowest-impact workouts available. It’s also a great way to keep cool in the summer heat. This is often the most beneficial training when returning to running post-injury.

❌ Cons: You must have access to water. You might prefer to swim in the ocean, a river, or a lake. Finding the right place to swim can be an obstacle to getting started.

Core Workout

The muscles of the core are crucial for running marathons because they’re the muscles that stabilize the body.

It’s important to understand that the core is not just the abdominal muscles. Having six-pack ab muscles does not necessarily mean your body’s core muscles are indestructible.

The core includes your pelvic floor muscles, back muscles, internal obliques, transverse abdominis, and diaphragm.

✅ Pros: Core work can be done at home, often using little or no equipment.

❌ Cons: You must have good form for proper execution. This can be difficult if you don’t know the proper form or have a coach to help guide you.

Rowing

Rowing is done on water or using a machine. This makes it a fascinating choice as cross-training for runners because you can do it in water or on land.

✅ Pros: Rowing is excellent for cross-training as it works the upper body muscles while also helping to strengthen the leg muscles. It’s done while sitting, making it a better option for those who spend all day at work on their feet.

❌ Cons: You need access to a boat and water or a row machine/gym membership to complete this cross-training workout.

Cross-country Skiing

The action of cross-country skiing is similar to that of running.

This can help to build the essential core muscles and strength needed for marathon running. Cross-country skiing is also less impactful on the joints. This is useful because the joints constantly absorb the shock of running, sometimes leading to overuse injuries.

✅ Pros: This is a unique and potentially fun way to complete your cross-training workout.

❌ Cons: You’ll need access to snow, cross-country skis, and gear. You’ll also need the knowledge of how to cross-country ski.

Elliptical

Elliptical cross-training for runners is a superior option for cross-training as, like cross-country skiing, it allows runners to complete a similar motion to running with a much lower impact on the joints.

✅ Pros: Training on an elliptical is a very low-impact activity as your feet never leave the machine.

❌ Cons: You’ll need to buy an elliptical or a gym membership to do this cross-training workout.

A gym room featuring ellipticals.

Roller Blading

It turns out that roller blading is an unbelievably great cross-training activity for runners.

✅ Pros: Rollerblading is a lower-impact workout. This makes it a fantastic cross-training workout for runners who place a lot of impact on their joints. It also helps to strengthen muscles that tend to be secondary muscles used when running.

❌ Rollerblading requires some skill. If you don’t already know how to rollerblade, you may want to steer clear of this cross-training workout. It’s one activity that often leads to broken wrists.

Is Cross-Training Important for Runners?

Cross-training is vital to a successful training cycle.

If you’re a runner, you may be able to complete a training cycle without engaging in any cross-training. However, you risk becoming injured or missing the mark on achieving your full potential at your marathon race.

Cross-training has many benefits. While cross-training, you’ll improve your cardiovascular health and gain strength, prevent injuries, and find new ways to enjoy your fitness journey.

How Many Days a Week Should You Cross-Train?

The answer depends on your body. If you’re a new runner, take it slow.

If you’ve just begun running and now you immediately add on cross-training, you could burn out quickly.

Instead, focus on adding a day of cross-training to your routine. Choose something that’s low impact but highly enjoyable. If you can run 2 miles several days and cross-train one day a week, you’ll be well on your way to success.

If you’re more confident in your fitness level, you can complete two to three days of cross-training a week. Remember that cross-training can be as simple as going for a walk. Accomplishing this goal is simple when walking around the neighborhood with a friend counts as cross-training.

If you’re just getting started on your run journey and feeling overwhelmed, consider getting the ball rolling and using the run/walk method.

Runners legs and feet during a road race.

Final Thoughts: Cross-Training for Runners

The addition of cross-training to your run training cycle is going to provide you with a lot of great benefits. Beyond the physical benefits, you’ll ensure that your workout routine is enjoyable with plenty of variation.

Several cross-training options are especially great for distance runners. Remember to consider your options carefully. Intense workouts for cross-training can lead to injury that will end your running indefinitely. The best cross-training option for you as a runner will be different than your running buddy.

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