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Cross Training Workouts for Runners: Run Faster and Longer

Cross training for runners may include activities like swimming, cycling, yoga, strength training, aqua jogging, rowing, and other fitness modalities that help you maintain your cardiovascular fitness without subjecting your body to the high-impact forces caused by running.

11 min readOctober 15th, 2023
SLWritten By Sara Lindberg

Cross-training workouts for runners are essential. If you’re part of the 49-plus million people who hit the pavement each year, then you understand why running is one of the most popular ways to get and stay fit.

But despite the appeal, running is also one of the leading causes of lower body injuries. Luckily, cross training can help you avoid those injuries.

This comprehensive guide explains the ins and outs of cross training workouts for runners, how to get started, and common cross training modalities that pair well with a running routine.

An Introduction to Cross Training for Runners

Cross training for runners involves incorporating different types of exercises and training modalities to vary a running routine.

In general, cross training refers to workouts, movement patterns, and activities that are not sports-specific but contribute to cardiovascular conditioning and muscular strength. It also diversifies your training program, helps minimize plateaus, and reduces boredom.

Athletes and recreational exercisers can benefit from cross training activities, but runners, in particular, may benefit the most from adding different cardiovascular, strength training, and flexibility exercises to a training program.

That’s because cross training deloads the most commonly overloaded joints, giving your body a break from the repetitive running motion, which may help prevent overuse injuries.

“You're also able to strengthen your core, hips, and lower extremities, creating a solid foundation and significantly reducing your risk of injury,” says Nicki Evans, DPT, Stride Physical Therapy and Wellness.

This is great news for competitive and recreational runners since lower body injuries like strains, sprains, patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, and plantar fasciitis are common in runners, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Another key advantage of cross-training, says Nicki Evans, is its ability to maintain your fitness level even if you're injured. “While you may not be able to run, cross-training offers a wide range of options, such as pool training or strength training, allowing you to continue your fitness journey without having to completely stop exercising, unless advised otherwise by a medical professional,” she adds.

Participating in various cross-training workouts allows you to develop skills using your body in different movement patterns and target under-developed muscle groups not typically used when running.

As a result, you may experience better performance and improved running mechanics. Balancing a running program with cross training activities also helps with recovery between workouts.

Plus, getting started with cross training is easy. One step you can take right away is to vary your exercise program by incorporating different workouts within a routine.

For example, a week-long running plan may include four days of running, one day of cycling, and one day of resistance training. For a lighter workload, consider swapping out another running day for a cross training workout like aqua jogging or indoor cycling.

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Cross Training Workouts for Runners

If you’re like a lot of runners, heading outdoors for a long road run or a muddy trip through the trails is something you look forward to daily.

And while including several runs in your weekly routine is critical to performance and improving or maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness, participating in too many training sessions can also wreak havoc on your body. That’s why running should not be your only form of exercise.

Instead, to reduce your risk of injury, increase your running performance, and boost your overall health, you need to cross-train. Yoga, weight training, swimming, and cycling are all excellent additions to your weekly workouts.

“It’s important to diversify the exercises to reduce the likelihood of repetitive stress injuries and prevent boredom,” says Nicki Evans.

One of the key recommendations Nicki Evans tells clients when incorporating cross-training into their program is to select activities that they find enjoyable. “It is crucial for people to find activities that they find fun in order to maintain consistency,” she says.

Cross-training activities for runners can include anything from yoga and Pilates to cycling, rowing, and cross country skiing. While not an exhaustive list, the following activities are all potential cross training workouts for runners.

  • Swimming
  • Aqua jogging
  • Water aerobics
  • Road cycling and mountain biking
  • Indoor cycling classes
  • Cardio machines such as the elliptical, stair climber, recumbent bike, and upper body ergometer
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Cross country skiing
  • Outdoor water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing
  • Rock climbing
  • Strength training
  • Group fitness classes
  • In-line skating

Cross Training Workout Videos for Runners

30 Minute Yoga For Runners with Ida May

The 5 Most Important Exercises for Runners

Water Aerobics and Strengthening Exercises: 20 New Ways to Jog in the Pool

Swimming and Pool Workouts

Incorporating no-impact activities like swimming, aqua jogging, and water aerobics allows your body to rest between running workouts by reducing the wear and tear on your joints while still providing a stimulus to maintain and in some cases, improve cardiovascular levels, muscular endurance, and strength.

Activities like aqua jogging (also called deep water running) also help runners dealing with injuries or chronic conditions like osteoarthritis to train in a similar movement pattern without having to worry about the high impact pounding that comes with running on pavement, trails, or even a treadmill. That’s because the water buoyancy reduces the weight-bearing on your body.

In fact, compared to the same activities on land, research shows you can reduce hip and knee joint forces by 36 to 55 percent in water. When training for a distance race, such as a half or full marathon, include one aqua jogging workout into your weekly routine.


Indoor and outdoor cycling is another low-impact cardiovascular activity that spares your joints from the jarring that comes with running while still strengthening the muscles in your legs and improving cardiorespiratory endurance. Plus, you have the added benefit of being able to train indoors and outdoors and on different types of bikes.

For example, when riding outside, you can hit the streets with a road bike for endurance training or head out on the trails with a mountain bike for a dose of endurance, power, and anaerobic conditioning.

When working out indoors, you have the option of taking a cycling class that targets aerobic and anaerobic conditioning or using a recumbent or upright bike for a slow and steady cardio session.

Another reason cycling is an excellent cross training workout for runners is it requires a significant amount of strength and endurance from the large muscles of the lower body, allowing you to train the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves without the high impact force from pounding the pavement.

And, if you don’t mind getting out of the saddle (standing up), you can mimic the body posture of running, which translates into more efficient training.

Strength Training

Strong muscles may reduce or prevent injuries, improve running performance, and boost your overall health.

Because running requires your upper and lower body muscles to work together, incorporating full-body strength training sessions into your weekly routine may help with power, endurance, speed, and balance.

According to research from the National Strength and Conditioning Association, performing strength training exercises at least two to three days a week can help improve running economy. Stronger muscles also help reduce your chance of getting injured.

When designing a strength training session, focus on movements that recruit the major muscle groups:

  • Squats
  • Deadlift
  • Lunges
  • Chest press
  • Lat pulldowns
  • Rows
  • Shoulder press

You can also add exercises that target smaller muscle groups, like biceps curls, triceps pushdowns, and calf raises.

And finally, don’t forget about your core, which includes the rectus abdominis, erector spinae, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, and multifidus muscles, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

These muscles work together, allowing you to flex, extend, and rotate your trunk. They also give you the power to propel forward while running, provide spine stability, and enhance balance. Exercises that target your core include:

  • Forearm plank
  • Side plank
  • Crunches
  • Superman
  • Dead bug
  • Hollowman
  • Glute bridge
  • Bicycle crunch
  • Flutter kicks


Runners often use cross-training activities like cycling, swimming, and rowing as replacement workouts to complement cardiovascular conditioning. But cross training is also ideal for active recovery.

That’s because your cardiovascular and nervous system needs time to rest, reset, and recharge for the next intense workout.

Swapping out one day of running with yoga and light stretching can help improve balance, stability, mobility, strength, and flexibility, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

It also improves breathing, reduces stress, and may lead to better running form. If you’re new to yoga, consider taking a class from a certified instructor. When practicing at home or the gym, focus on poses that target your legs and core, improve balance, and also encourage recovery.

Here are some yoga poses you can add to your cross training running workouts:

  • Downward-Facing Dog Pose
  • Warrior Pose
  • Warrior II Pose
  • Triangle Pose
  • Half Moon Pose
  • Mountain Pose
  • Forward Fold
  • Tree Pose
  • Reclined Figure Four Pose
  • Half Pigeon Pose
  • Bridge Pose
  • Waterfall Pose
  • Butterfly Pose
  • Low Lunge


If you’re looking for a cross-training workout that gets your heart pumping while also challenging every muscle in your body, then consider rowing.

This low-impact, aerobic activity is an excellent addition to a running routine because it recruits upper body muscles like your arms, shoulders, back, and chest that may not get used as much when running. Plus, you won’t sacrifice your cardio training.

A rowing workout can be designed to target both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning simply by adjusting the intensity.

Rowing also works your legs but reduces the high-impact force that comes from pounding the pavement.

Plus, there are several ways to add a rowing session to your week such as outdoors with a kayak, canoe, or paddle board or indoors with a rowing machine.

Fitness Classes and Outdoor Activities

Taking a fitness class online or at the gym is a great way to challenge your cardiovascular system, target upper and lower body muscles, and have fun.

Consider swapping out one of your lower mileage days for a dance class, TRX suspension training session, Zumba class, kickboxing, high-intensity-interval training or HIIT, boot camp workout, CrossFit class, Pilates Mat, or Pilates Barre class.

Pilates, in particular, is an excellent cross training activity for runners. In fact, research from a 2017 study found that recreational runners who underwent a six-week Pilates course showed significant improvement in functional movement, which may lead to a reduction in running-related injuries.

If you want to add a little adventure to your routine, consider an outdoor aerobic activity.

Of course, the weather and time of year may impact the workout you choose, but some of the top outdoor cross training workouts for runners include cross country skiing, hiking, in-line skating, and rock climbing.

Best Gyms for Cross Training

One of the best things about cross training is it can be whatever you want! So, choosing the best gym for doing cross training workouts is a lot easier than finding a facility with more specialized programs and equipment needed for routines like kickboxing or Pilates. That said, there are a few factors to consider when looking for the right gym to meet your needs.

In addition to resistance equipment, strength machines, treadmills, exercise bikes, rowers, ellipticals, and possibly a pool, runners may also want to consider a gym with an indoor track to use when the weather turns cold and wet. Here are some of our top picks for best gyms for cross training if you’re a runner.

Many national gym chains like Life Time Fitness, Crunch Fitness, Planet Fitness, Gold's Gym, Anytime Fitness, and 24-Hour Fitness have a robust selection of cardio machines, free weights, strength equipment, and other amenities like swimming pools, sports courts, group exercise classes, indoor tracks, and more.

Planet Fitness logo

Planet Fitness

Best for all around workouts

Planet Fitness is a fitness center that offers a comfortable and judgment-free environment, as well as affordable fitness options, to help people of all fitness levels reach their goals.

  • Great guest pass program

  • Affordable

  • Many open 24/7

Best Equipment for Cross Training

Whether your cross-training activities involve other cardio exercises, strength training, Pilates, or yoga, there’s a good chance you’ll need access to different types of equipment. The best gear for cross training is a blend of functionality, durability, and adaptability. It also ensures a well-rounded and effective workout that targets various muscle groups and enhances overall fitness. While not an exhaustive list, here are some top equipment choices to consider when adding cross-training to your running routine.

Cardio Equipment

Resistance Equipment

Bowflex logo


Best for assorted equipment

Bowflex is known for its innovative products and personalized workout programs that cater to the needs of customers of all fitness levels.

  • Variety of equipment to suit your preferences

  • JRNY App makes your equipment & workouts interactive

  • Financing options available

Other Fitness Equipment

Best Apps for Cross Training

Whether you’re new to cross training or just looking for some much-needed inspiration, using a fitness app can make your journey seamless, efficient, and a lot more fun.

That’s because workout apps serve as a comprehensive fitness hub, curating a diverse range of exercises that span from high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to strength and agility workouts. Most platforms are versatile and include routines for all levels and experience, making every workout a dynamic and engaging adventure. Here are some top picks to consider when adding cross training to a running routine.

Best Overall: Peloton

Best for Specialized Cross Training Programs: Future

Best for BowFlex and Schwinn Equipment Users: JRNY

Best for Cardio Workouts: iFIT

Best for Supportive Community: Jefit

My Personal Experience

One of my first forms of exercise outside of school sports was running. I started pounding the pavement at age 16 and continue to hit the streets at age 49. Although my mileage and pace have slowed way down, I continue to enjoy the benefits that running provides.

That said, 33 years of high-impact exercise can do a number on your body, including several overuse injuries, sprains, and muscle strains. It wasn't until I reached my late 30’s that I realized the value of strength training, Pilates, stretching, and rest (aka cross-training).

By incorporating other methods of exercise into my weekly routine, I’m able to stay fit, minimize injuries, and continue logging miles on my favorite running trails.

The Bottom Line

Adding cross-training workouts to a running routine is an effective way to enhance performance, maintain cardiorespiratory endurance, boost muscular strength, and reduce overuse injuries.

Cross training with activities like aqua jogging, swimming, yoga, and strength training also play a critical role in rehabbing running-related injuries.

If you’re unsure how to get started or have questions about the best way to add cross training to your running schedule, consider working with a certified running coach, physical therapist, athletic trainer, certified personal trainer, or strength and conditioning coach.

More Cross Training Advice from GymBird Experts

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