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4 Cross-Training Options For Runners With Specific Goals

If you have a specific goal—like getting faster or improving balance—we've got cross-training suggestions to get you there.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.


Coach Jenny Hadfield has cross-training options to fit the habits and goals of any runner.

Q: I love to run, but I need to mix up my routine. What are the best cross-training activities for runners?  – Maria

Variety is the spice of life! Cross-training (or taking a break from running to exercise in a different way) has a myriad of benefits. The upsides include decreasing impact forces on your body, strengthening muscles and joints, improving fitness and refreshing your mind—just to name a few!

From yoga to cycling to Zumba class, there are dozens of ways to cross-train. To hone in on the best workout for you, the trick is to first decide what you want out of mixing up your routine. Cross-training is the side dish to your running entrée—and everyone has different tastes. Some runners prefer to use cross-training as a gentle recovery tool. For others, it’s a way to get a killer workout and improve cardio fitness.

So what is your ideal dish? Choose which of the four intentions listed that speaks to you. From there you’ll find the best way to exercise to achieve your goal. The final step? Get sweaty!

INTENTION: Reduce impact forces.

Best for runners plagued by injuries, who need a break from pounding the pavement. Use these workouts as replacements for easy- to medium-effort runs in your schedule.


Elliptical: This machine mimics the motion of running, minus the impact. Go “backward” to work your glutes and hamstrings—the muscles that will help you run up hills.
Cycling: Without stressing the joints, riding a bike (stationary or outdoor) moves your legs in a rotational pattern that complements running.
Deep-Water Running: Strap on an inflatable belt and jump in the pool for a challenging, but completely weightless, workout that builds aerobic fitness.

INTENTION: Improve balance and strength.

Best for runners who struggle to maintain good form at the end of tough runs and wish to stride more efficiently while avoiding injuries. Perform these workouts once or twice a week as add-ons to your training.


Strength Work: This broad term includes body-weight exercises, free weights, machines and kettlebells—basically anything you would do in the weight room. Focus on total-body movements to enjoy the greatest bang for your buck.
Yoga: This ancient practice slows your mind while challenging your balance and mobility.
Pilates: Increase flexibility and strength in your legs, core and upper body with this popular routine. You’ll also improve balance and coordination.

INTENTION: Get faster.

Best for runners who want a new personal best but sometimes struggle with burn out. Use these cross-training activities in the place of hard runs, such as speed work or tempos.


Boot Camp: Military-esque classes, like boot camps and CrossFit, engage your muscles to build dynamic speed. These workouts are tough, so make sure to use them to replace high-intensity runs—don’t simply add them to your current routine.
Rowing: If performed properly, rowing is a total body activity that will get your heart rate soaring. Keep your spine neutral to prevent straining your back.
Stair Climbing: Walking (or jogging) up and down steps is a great substitute for hill work and can be done on a machine or a stairwell.

INTENTION: Recover actively.

Best for runners who want to avoid soreness by increasing blood flow after a tough workout or race.


Swimming: Splash around at an easy effort to reap the benefits of this vacation from impact. Floating in a pool is the perfect break from land-based training.
Foam Rolling: Invest in a DIY massage tool to release muscle tightness caused by repetitive impact.
Dance: Zumba, anyone? Dance classes are a complete departure from the mundane. Sway with the beat to rejuvenate your spirit and relax your mind.


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