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The Best Cross-Training Activities for Summer Workouts

With these eight suggestions, you can maximize the summer sun and avoid workout boredom.

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Summer is a great time to mix up your training routine, especially if you’d rather spend your time in the sun than the same gym (or home gym) you frequent year-round. And nice weather opens up possibilities and choices. As personal trainer and running coach Sue McDonald says, “The number one rule is to find a cross-training activity you enjoy and find fun so that you actually do it.” 

Here are eight ways to build strength that feel more like fun than effort.

Pool Time

Lap swimming and aqua jogging (or deep water running) offer runners a cardio workout without the impact of running. Both are total body workouts, have a quick recovery period, and provide resistance from the water that strengthens muscles and joints. But McDonald points out that there are differences between the two, which could help you narrow down which activity is right for you.

Swimming uses more upper body, lower back, and core muscles compared to aqua jogging,” she says. She adds that the use of a kick board could help you focus more on your leg muscles or use pull buoys to focus even more on upper body strength. 

Swimming also trains your cardiovascular fitness differently than aqua jogging. “Most swim strokes require held or staccato breaths,” says McDonald, “forcing you to work with the oxygen available to you which can help you improve your cardiovascular fitness whereas in aqua jogging, your head is out of the water.”

Aqua jogging will you give you more of a run-like workout. “It provides a neuromuscular workout that also has aerobic benefits to help keep your runner-specific muscles active,” says McDonald. She adds that it’s important to keep a good running form, even in the water. “I recommend using an aqua belt rather than some other flotation device, as it holds you in the proper position and allows your arms to move freely.”

McDonald’s pro tip: If you want a more challenging workout, “attach a bungee to one end of the pool and challenge yourself during your sprints.”

Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP)

Summer is made for spending time on the water (kayaking, canoeing, rafting, SUP, you name it). And while stand-up paddleboarding is generally viewed as a more leisurely activity, it certainly has the potential to work up a sweat. “Whether you are standing or kneeling on the paddleboard, you use your shoulder, arm, back, and abdominal muscles,” says McDonald.

Standing has the added bonus of working your quads and hamstrings to stabilize and keep you upright, or you can lay down and use your biceps and triceps like you would on a surfboard.

Get even more out of your lake sesh by combining SUP with another cross-training favorite: yoga. Check out these beginner poses from Yoga Journal.


Like in running, this summer workout can be done almost anywhere, so you can decide if you prefer road or trails. “I would say that road biking is a better choice of cross training for runners because you don’t have to have that extra skill set needed to maneuver the trails, and you can more easily mimic running workouts,” says McDonald. However, mountain biking does utilize more muscle “due to the nature of uneven terrain, sharp turns, and hills.”

Here are two workouts McDonald recommends on the bike:

Brick Workout:  Transfer your cadence immediately from biking to a run. By substituting biking for a portion of the long run, you’ll mimic the feeling of running while fatigued without the entire impact from running.

Interval Bike Workout: 10 x 1 minute all out with 1 minute of recovery.

Hiking and Walking

If you’re looking for something more slow-paced to really take in your surroundings and be in the moment, get out for a muscle-building hike or walk. “Hiking is a low impact, slower activity that improves balance, leg strength, engages the stabilizer muscles and works muscles that have been ignored,” says McDonald. She recommends swapping out an easy run for a hike once a week to take strain off of knees.

McDonald’s pro tip: Pick trails with a good portion of uphill climbing to get the best results. “Uphill climbs utilize the glutes and mimics the act of running.”

And just going out for a walk has its benefits. According to America Walks, walking can improve your sleep, prevent the onset of arthritis, lower blood pressure, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. “Power walking can make walking a more challenging exercise and get a better aerobic workout. Power walking is usually performed at between 3 and 5 mph,” says McDonald. 


Sure, you can do yoga year-round, but why not take your practice outdoors during the summer months? McDonald recommends a Vinyasa flow for runners who tend to have tight hip, back, and leg muscles. “Vinyasa strengthens stabilizer muscles to help reduce injury risk,” she says. Along with your mat, don’t forget to bring any props (bricks, cushions, blankets) before heading to a park or out to your backyard. If you are really tight, the props will help you get into position without injuring yourself. 

Other types of yoga to try: Hatha for beginners to learn the postures (or Ashtanga if you get antsy, like McDonald, and want something faster-paced) and Yin yoga for runners who need to relax and restore.


“Rollerblading incorporates strength training due to the resistance from pushing your own body weight as well as contributing to your cardiovascular fitness,” says McDonald. “Rollerblading works the muscles in your legs such as your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves along with all the smaller muscles that help you stabilize and balance your body.”


Obstacle racer Amelia Boone recently added this contraption to her cross-training routine. McDonald describes the ElliptiGo as “a cross between a bike and an elliptical machine.” It is designed without a seat, so you have to stand while riding it.

She recommends it because it makes for a great cardio workout and creates a stride very similar to running without the impact. And it “works the glutes, which seem to be a weak muscle in many runners.”

On twitter, Boone recommended the long stride models (8c or 11r) for runners.

Head to the Park

The best part about body weight strength training is that it can be done anywhere, including the park. “Find yourself a bench and you can do dips, step-ups, push-ups, and plyometrics,” says McDonald. “Add some cardio exercises to build your aerobic capacity such as burpees, jumping jacks, and running drills such as high knees, long skips, and quick skips.”

As for McDonald’s favorite way to train when the weather is nice? She prefers hiking, cycling, swimming, and deep water running. “Living in Santa Barbara, I am a bit spoiled as we have nice weather all year long which allows me the opportunity to do these activities most days of the year.”


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