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What is cross-training, and why should runners do it?

A runner prepares for a cross-training workout while looking at their watch.
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Runners love to run. We know this. But nobody is meant to be a one-trick pony. And training your body like it's born to (only) run may end up slowing your running progress and performance. The most effective running plans include cross-training workouts focused on strength, mobility, and preventing the most common areas of injury for runners.

What is cross-training, and what are the benefits?

What is cross-training? It's a form of exercise that's not your primary sport or workout. For runners, that's anything that's not running. Strength training, yoga, swimming, cycling — or all of the above. Here are the key reasons to try it.

1. Improved strength

Yes, running strengthens your legs. But what about your back, core, shoulders, and arms? Show them some love with full-body strength training. Plus, running mainly hits the front and back of your legs. It doesn't do much for your side muscles, which also generate power, stabilize your body, and improve your form. In the end, research shows that stronger runs are faster, easier runs.

2. Greater flexibility and mobility

Activities like yoga, Pilates, and dynamic stretching can help ease tight muscles and allow your joints to use their full range of motion. Excessively tight muscles and joints can keep you from fully pushing off the ground or taking a full stride. They can also up your risk of aches and pains. Make flexibility a regular part of your weekly routine and, over time, you can improve your mobility in a big way.

3. Lower injury risk

Improved total-body strength plus flexibility equals a lower risk of running injury. Cross-training can also reduce the likelihood of running into overuse injuries by switching up which muscles and tissues you target throughout the week, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

After all, running is a very repetitive activity, and it's important to give your body time to recover between repeat workouts. Apart from reaping all of these physical benefits, you just might enjoy trying a new way to move! Try our 8-week training plan to get started today.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
K. Aleisha Fetters

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Headshot of Aleisha Fetters

I'm a quirky (aka nerdy) strength coach with a passion for science and sweat. I love to help people meet their body goals, but it's their mental and emotional gains that make me do a happy dance. My flirtation with running includes two half marathons and, someday, I will run 26.2.