Top Cross-Training Exercises for Runners

by - 10:54 AM

Incorporating cross-training into your weekly workout routine is essential to any type of race prep and just for your body in general. Any runner will tell you that one of the keys to half or full marathon training isn't how many runs you do - but what you do on the "off" days that can count the most.

Active Recovery

Cross-training is crucial to contributing to your body's "active recovery" - that is, recovery days from running where you are still activating muscle groups. Most importantly, these workouts help to release lactic acid that has built up in your body from your run, enabling you to have an even more effective run the next time.

When you are sore from a run or a workout the next day, part of that soreness and stiffness is the lactic acid sitting in your legs. If you just sit around on your off days, that acid sits with you, and doesn't get moved around until your next run - which as you can imagine, doesn't make for a very awesome run.

Preventing Injury

Cross-training is also key for preventing injury - it is important to exercise and challenge other muscle groups and parts of your body to give your legs and joints a rest and a chance to recover.

Below are my top 3 picks for cross-training during my half-marathon race training. I also incorporate them into my weekly workout routine in general throughout the year.

Top 3 Cross-Training Exercises for Runners


Biking is an awesome form of  cross-training because cycling works your legs in a similar motion to running, without any of the impact.

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You can bike both outdoors or in a spin class on one of your off days - just make sure it is not the day before your long run. If you haven't biked in awhile, you may be a little sore the next day! It's a great mid-week workout for cardio and active recovery training.


Yoga is probably my favorite type of cross training activity, mainly because I have to weave classes into my race training schedule to get my yoga "fix" and help balance out my body.

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Yoga helps build both physical and mental endurance, which are great fuel for your race. Yoga also allows you to loosen up tight muscles (hello hamstrings) and ligaments that tighten up during activities like running. I have always wondered how much better I would have been as a runner and heptathlete had I practiced yoga in high school or college.


Runners World magazine calls pool workouts "hands-down the best cross-training for runners." That's because swimming offers your body a great workout while providing buoyancy in a zero-impact environment - the ideal way to aid in active run recovery. 

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In addition to swimming laps, pool running is also a highly effective way to cross train or even train while injured. Pool running is essentially running "laps" in a pool with a buoy belt - you may look silly, but trust me it is NOT easy! 

Tip: Don't have a gym with a pool? Check your local high school or local college recreation center. They almost all have community swim passes and pool hours.

Remember - the best thing you can do for your body is to mix it up! Any low-impact workout is better than just sitting in between runs. Make sure to give yourself at least 1 full recovery day a week to prevent injury (and keep your sanity).


PS - Make sure to Like The Fit Girl's Kitchen on Facebook for mid-week training tips and other recipes!

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