Why It Is Completely Idiotic Not To Cross-train As A Runner

How To Run Properly

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and we have our weekly prayer sessions at a local school.

As part our preps, there are two massive speakers that we have to lift. Often times, there’s more than enough men to carry the two speakers. And the best way to do this is to have two guys carry one speaker, each holding onto one end.

Occasionally, there aren’t enough guys. As a result, I have to lift that speaker onto my shoulder and carry it single-handedly.

As a regular athlete who runs ultra-marathons and completes on average about 90 kms every week, I am considered fit. To many, I should be able to complete any physical task quite easily because ‘I am fit’.

Yet, an out of the ordinary task like lifting speakers could land me an injury – very easily. Thanks to cross-training, I know I’m safe.

Sadly, many runners, especially long distance athletes, neglect to cross-train.

Why? Because, to them, mileage is all that matters. Sometimes, the time constraints of running everyday don’t allow them to cross-train.

In this article, I want to tackle the aspect of cross-training for both the long distance and casual athlete. In doing so, I want to convince any athlete reading the post that it is completely idiotic not to include cross-training as part of their training programme.


According to Wikipedia, cross-training refers to an athlete training in sports other than the one that the athlete competes in, with a goal of improving overall performance. It takes advantage of the particular effectiveness of each training method, while at the same time attempting to negate the shortcomings of that method by combining it with other methods that address its weaknesses.

Sounds too technical right?

Since this is a running blog, I’ll give a simpler definition in reference to running.

Cross-training is any training, either than running, which is geared at improving overall running performance by building muscles that running doesn’t use effectively or use at all.

4 Key Factors to Consider

There are four key factors to consider when you cross-train, largely because in-appropriate cross-training can have the opposite effect to improving your running.

Alternate your cross-training exercises

Runners who don’t cross train are the worst. But then, there are those who stick to only one form of cross-training.

As an example, you’ll find athletes who cycle and do nothing else. Whilst cycling is an awesome form of cross training because it assists with speed, it does very little for your upper body strength.

Equally so, others will go to the gym and spin, all-year round. Again, spinning is awesome but it does nothing for your strength.

Alternating the types of exercises during your cross-training is vital because it helps you focus on different muscle groups, thus ensuring that your cross-training is well-balanced.

Equally important, it helps you avoid over-usage of one type of muscle group and assists you to prevent common running injuries.

Cross-training must supplement, not override your road running

As addictive as running can get, I’ve come across lng distance athletes who simply fall in love with their cross-training – at the expense of their running.

Falling in love with your cross-training is an awesome thing.

However, when you begin to cross-train more than you run, you are headed for trouble.

As the saying goes: nothing replaces good, old-fashioned time on the road. A 3-hour bike ride will never equate to a 3-hour long run.

You’ve got to pile on the mileage if you are training for any long distance event. Cross-training is no replacement for road running.

Avoid hard impact or dangerous cross-training

Whilst playing rugby as a part of your cross-training is sure to make you stronger, it’s plain stupid to engage in such high impact sports as an athlete.

Likewise, soccer is not a good idea at all. One foul can mess up your entire running season. Tennis, although great for an intensive workout, is also not a wise cross-training activity because of the stop-start nature of the sport and the hard impact your legs go through.

Activities such as roller-blading and going ice-skating are dangerous. Although they are considered good cardio, your vulnerability to injury and sprains is too high.

Generally speaking, you need to use your discretion at all times when engaging in cross-training activities.

Cross-training should not replace your rest days

Rest is essential for any athlete. As a result of the demands of training for long distance athletes, the temptation is always there to cross-train when you should be resting.

Don’t use your rest days to cross-train.

Benefits of Cross Training for Runners

Considering the definition, it’s safe to say that the benefits of cross-training are overall improvement of your running.

Director of athletic training services at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, member of the board of directors of the National Athletic Trainers Association and professional athletic trainer Jim Thornton, MA, ATC, appropriately describes the benefits of cross-training as follows:

“Cross training takes into consideration the fact that many muscles in different parts of the body contribute to a single activity. So to get the most out of any activity, and to do it safely, you must pay attention to all the muscles in your body that are involved, not just the ones directly related to that activity.”

For example, while a runner needs to build strong leg muscles, he or she must also pay attention to the muscles that control pelvic movement, core strength – even the upper body. All these areas are utilized when you run.”

In essence: endurance, strength, ability to climb hills, strength  and recovery should all experience vast improvements from your cross-training.

In addition, because running – in particular long-distance running – takes your body through so much road impact, cross-training helps significantly in avoiding over-use injuries.

Below is a list of benefits of cross-training:

  • Improves flexibility
  • Increases upper body strength
  • Prevents injuries
  • Improves running economy
  • Decreases chances of burn-out
  • Injury rehabilitation
  • Alleviates muscle soreness and fatigue
  • Enables you to maintain your form and finish strong in marathons and ultra-marathons
  • Improves aerobic conditioning and endurance
  • Helps you with day to day activities such as bending over, climbing stairs, lifting objects

There are probably many other benefits. The above are benefits that any runner wants to derive from their cross-training activities.

Over my 6 years of running and covering an enormous amount in mileage, I have come to one conclusion: cross-training is not optional!

It’s almost like driving a car and never bothering to take it in for a service. Sure, the car will drive. It will give you warning signs. But, it will still drive. Eventually, it will break down.

Likewise, neglecting to cross-train will always give you warning signs that your body isn’t quite functioning the way it should. Eventually, you’ll burn-out or suffer an injury that forces you to start including cross-training into your running programme.

Neglect cross-training at your own peril.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the post and found value in it.

God Bless!

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