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We know that running is an amazing way to support your mind, body, overall health, and even community. But like other aerobic activities, it’s catabolic, meaning it demands more oxygen and breaks down your muscles. Lots of catabolic exercise over time decreases muscle mass, lowers your metabolic rate, and can even lead to injury.
If you’re looking to decrease your injury risk, increase your stamina and speed, and even boost your metabolism, don’t quit! Instead, add to your fitness. The straightforward solution is strength-based cross-training exercises for runners.
If you don’t have access to a gym, that’s no problem. Follow along as we share a version of the top lower-body and core-strengthening exercises that you can do anywhere—no special equipment necessary.
13 Essential Cross-Training Exercises for Runners
Muscle Group: Gluteus Maximus
The gluteus maximus is your major running power generator, as well as your low back and knee protector. Strengthen it by selecting from these exercises:
- Stepstool or Park Bench Step-Ups
- Suitcase Squats (Hold a weighted object in each hand, then lower into a squat)
- Hip Thrusts (Upper back on a chair)
Muscle Group: Hamstrings
Hamstrings are the assistants for your gluteus maximus. They are essential for running speed. Strengthen them by selecting one of the following exercises:
- Hip Bridges
- Single-Leg Deadlifts (with any weighted object)
- Kettlebell Swings (with a water jug)
Muscle Group: Quadriceps
Taking the stress off your knees for the repetition involved in running requires strong quads (as does powering downhill). Select from the following exercises:
- Heels-Elevated Squat (Put books or another similar object under your heels.)
- Wall Sits (Hold for time instead of doing reps.)
- Goblet Squats (Hold a water jug at the center of your chest.)
Muscle Group: Low Back
Your low back is the link between your core and legs. Strength and efficiency here increase speed, power, and stability. Try one of the following exercises:
- Straight-Leg Hip Bridge with Feet Elevated (Use a sturdy chair.)
- Bird Dog
Muscle Group: Side Core
Your obliques and gluteus medius connect the front and back sides of your core. You can actually target both of them in a single do-anywhere exercise:
- The Side Hip Bridge (aka Side Plank on Knees)
When you do this exercise, aim for hold time instead of reps. Start with 10 seconds, and gradually work up to 90 seconds over several weeks or months.
Build a Program
Now that you’ve got the top cross-training exercises for runners on your radar, you need a program.
- Pick one exercise from each muscle category.
- If the exercise is new to you, start with no external load (extra weight). Build up to 3 sets of 20.
- Once you can do 20 reps with good form, find household objects to increase the load to the point that you sense muscle fatigue at 12-15 reps. Then challenge yourself to complete 3 sets of 15.
- Once you achieve step 3, add more external load. Aim for 3 sets of 8-12.
- Once you achieve step 4, you are ready for a new program!
Repeat the process, selecting different exercises. Changing your cross-training exercises each month keeps you getting stronger, while minimizing wear and tear on your joints, ligaments, and tendons.