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How to use cross training to improve your running

Cross training is hugely beneficial for runners and you are seeing more and more runners now move away from running and entering multi sports (but that is for another blog). This blog is about how cross training can improve your running! 

What is cross training? 

Cross training is defined as engaging in two or more sports/types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in your main sport. In other words, if you’re a runner and you go swimming then that is cross training. 

I personally as a coach like to think of 4 key benefits of cross training and they are as follows: 

1. Reduced risk of Injury 

This is a no brainer if it reduces overuse injuries and keeps you training then you will be consistent in your training and you will see progress.  If you are injured then you will keep chasing fitness and won’t see much improvement. In my opinion, us runners are the worst! They carry on running with overuse injuries and they want to just run loads of miles all the time, but you don’t need to. 


If your aerobic capacity is better, as a result from cross training then you get stronger and more efficient and therefore improve. This can be seen in triathletes that train in 3 sports. Run, swim and bike. You will find triathletes have the one of the best aerobic capacity. 


You are training different muscle groups and therefore your body is getting stronger as a result. For example, if you did strength training it has been proven to keep injuries to a minimum and if you’re stronger you will see improvement. 


Training smart will allow you to recover quicker. If you’re running a few times a week and then cycling and swimming, your training different muscles etc. This means it gives time for the other muscles to recover. So, if you ran 5 days a week you would recover less than someone who ran 3 times a week but supplementing it with swimming to aid recovery. 

I do a lot of cross training but I am a triathlete so my week is broken down with cycling, swimming, strength work and even a Pilates session a week if I can fit it in. So, I am not just running. However when I was just running, I got injured a lot and when I introduced strength work I managed to see less injuries. However, the big difference for me was when I started swimming, I saw less injuries, breathing was better and I saw improvement in my running over the next few years. 

Once I started cycling as well I found more improvement in my running and I am running way less now, but I felt stronger, I can run faster now and I find I recover quicker. I am not trying to get you to do everything but simply doing one other activity will be a huge benefit to you. 

You are also seeing now, more and more marathon runners not doing massive mileage anymore due to cross training benefits. There are many athletes that do a lot more cycling to help them in their marathons. Cycling is low impact so for example if you cycle for an hour and then went for a run, this will again have huge physical benefit for you. 

Using a treadmill to mix up running from outdoors is important, because being able to control your runs helps decrease the risk of injuries. 

For example, if you run outside you might struggle with going too fast and on the treadmill you can control the speed much easier. At the same time not only does it help reduce injury risk but if you’re coming back from injury it’s a good place to start up again. Because if you are just coming back and are out for a run you may get stuck a few miles from home if the injury comes back and therefore need to get back home and make the injury worse. Where as if you are on the treadmill you ease off or stop if your body does not feel right.

My conclusion is if you want to stay injury free, improve from consistent training and maybe enjoy the change more then you need to cross train. I hope this blog was useful to you.

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Yiannis Christodoulou
Yiannis Christodoulou
European and National Aquathlon age group champion.

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