The Best Cross Training Exercises for Distance Runners


The key to successful racing is in balanced workouts that include cross training.  Cross training offers the runner the benefit of training different muscle groups while taking a rest from the grueling pounding of running on the feet and joints.  Cross training also offers the runner a mental break from distance workouts while maintaining the level of fitness that is required to keep up with training and complete the race.  Let’s face it; distance running can take its toll on the mind as well as on the body.  Breaking up the regimen with a little variation in your workouts produces more enthusiasm prior to and during the workouts and helps to keep your body in top shape.

Lots of Options Exist

Cross training can take a variety of forms.  The best cross training exercises are those which push the runner in cardio-vascular endurance while targeting alternate muscle groups.  If you can achieve an anaerobic threshold during your cross training exercise, while targeting muscle groups, you are doing right by your training regimen.  Cycling, rowing and swimming are excellent, low impact exercises which allow the runner to work on fitness outside of the running regimen.  Swimming is particularly helpful as it allows for optimal breath control and is entirely low impact, creating the opportunity for the ideal recovery workout.


Cycling offers runners a low impact exercise that is excellent for muscle groups in the legs and torso.  It is often the preferred exercise for runners who become injured, and yet is one of the best exercises that can be done to prevent injury (related to over training).  Stationary or road cycling offers the same benefits, as well as the opportunity to keep up with interval training to maintain the pace and progress conducive to your distance program.

Weight Training

Weight training for runners is a debatable topic.  The reason for the debate is because weight training causes a lot of stress on the muscles which can lead to strain or injury because of the lack of proper recovery time.  If you do choose to lift while training for a distance race, it is recommended that you use lighter weights and avoid doing too much leg work.  Of course, there are some experts who recommend that strength training offers great benefits to runners and highly recommend it.  These experts even go as far as to recommend heavy weight lifting and leg work for distance runners as a beneficial to the training program.  Whatever you decide works for you personally, the key to a successful training program is finding balance.  If you find that strength training has benefits for your endurance running, by all means pursue it.  However, if you find yourself running with soreness that is not attributed to typical workout aches and pains, it may be time to cut back and drop to lower weights.

Do What Works for You

Distance training is a personal effort.  All of the advice in the world must be taken in stride with your individual needs as an athlete.  What works for some runners may not work for others.  For additional advice on cross training, check out some of our other articles at

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