6 Cross-Training Activities for Marathon Runners

You may have heard the term cross-training (also referred to as XT) loosely thrown around the running world, often as runners schedule out cross-training days on their training calendars as a way to stay active and give their joints a break.

If you’re thinking about updating your cross-training routine, don’t miss these important tips and ideas:

How Does Cross-Training Benefit Runners?

When it comes to playing sports, cross-training explicitly means engaging in two or more sports (or exercise activities) to improve overall fitness or enhance the performance of one’s primary sport. When it comes down to it, additional benefits are bountiful. Cross-training . . .

Aids Injury Recovery
Cross-training may be just the ticket for keeping you on track with training even if you are nursing an aching runner’s knee or dealing with IT band syndrome. Visit this page to learn more about IT band syndrome. Running is considered high-impact because of the pounding force it exerts on the body and the sheer shock absorption consistently required of the feet, legs, and knees. Cross-training in a low-impact sport with moderate intensity reduces the stress placed on the body while still helping you work out core muscle groups and practice good form.

Improves Cardio
Want to boost your overall endurance and time to exertion? These key elements of marathon running are largely dependent on the strength of your muscles, including your heart and lungs. Cardio training outside of running which helps you practice breath control and increase lung capacity (and therefore oxygen uptake) can benefit your marathon training and ultimately your race performance.

Engages Supporting Muscle Groups
Cross-training activities avail runners of the opportunity to engage other muscle groups that don’t see a ton of action during their normal runs. Honing flexibility and coordination through cross-training with yoga practice or barre class are great examples, or working out upper body muscles with rowing and swimming. Peak overall fitness is achieved through a comprehensive bolstering of prime mover muscles and their antagonists.

Adds Variety to Training
There is something to be said about adding a little variety and flare to your training routine that keeps it interesting, fun, and memorable. Cross-training days don’t have to simply mean hitting the treadmill instead of the pavement. A variety of activities from rollerblading to pick up soccer games can take you out of your same ol’ routine and reinvigorate your love of physical activity and exercise.

6 Stellar Cross-Training Sports for Runners


Whether you’re mountain biking, cycling around town, SoulCycling, or riding a stationary bike at the gym, this go-to cross-training activity is great for building up strength and endurance. If you’re a runner, then a bike could be one of your most valuable training tools. Incorporating challenging cardiovascular fitness into your training with weekly cycling regimens will benefit your running performance while minimizing the impact on your body, and shortening your recovery time. If you’re just getting into cycling, visit Cycling Hacker to find the best entry-level bike and improve your running performance.


Engage some of your less-used muscles with the upper body workout of swimming laps. Swimming in cool water (less than 80 degrees) not only gives your legs a break, but it can also have anti-inflammatory effects which aid recovery. Pool running also serves as a beneficial cross-training activity which when done correctly helps you hone even better form and technique, and exercise the lungs.


You might be thinking, “Golf, really?” Really. While it often seems like golf is a standing and waiting game, it’s physical benefits can’t be denied. Walking 18 holes with a 15 or 25 pound bag of clubs is in itself a cardio workout unless you have a push cart, and the relaxed nature and outdoor setting of golf can help tackle emotional stressors which might accompany marathon training.


Employing a rowing machine in the gym might look like a hard workout for the legs, but in truth, rowing is simultaneously as much of a upper body workout as it is a leg workout. Rowing engages 8 prime muscle groups including the core, back, arms, and legs. Strengthening posture and extending the spine with rowing can also enhance your running form and prevent overcompensation injuries.


While seemingly super low-key compared to running, yoga actually provides a much-needed workout for the body and mind which helps reinforce flexibility and running posture through stretching, strengthen muscles and bones through various poses, and expand lung capacity with deep breathing. Yoga’s mindfulness and meditation component can also help runners practice greater body awareness when running as well. 

Soccer – technically a high-impact cross-training activity, playing soccer can benefit runners in that it involves a similar amount of forward running effort, but also added side to side engagement that requires key muscles you may not normally exercise. The start and stop of soccer play can be frustrating for some runners, but a low-key pickup game with friends might be just what you’re looking for.

Other cross-training activities runner’s should try include playing tennis, rollerblading, ultimate frisbee, hiking, cross-country skiing, and utilizing an elliptical. It’s important to remember the injury risks and other hazards associated with cross-training in less familiar sports and activities, i.e. spraining your ankle playing soccer or falling and hurting your knee while rollerblading. Be careful and have fun!

By Joe Flemming from ViveHealth

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