Cross-training For Runners


Does the thought of going weeks without running make you shudder? Not just because, let's face it, life without running isn't the same...But also because all that hard earned fitness from regular running seems to disappear half as quickly as it takes to gain. It's at this point that runners often begin to think of alternate means to training, or as we call it; Cross Training. I'm going to run you through a few of my tried and tested ways to cross train to maintain base fitness levels and aerobic capacity whilst forced out of running. Now obviously, nothing compares to running and I'm not going to lie; none of these options will give you the same benefit as regular running training. BUT, if done correctly they certainly take the sting out of your come back sessions and are definitely a great way of maintaining fitness or even as a supplement to your regular training.

Swimming and Pool Running

This is my personal favourite when it comes to cross-training. It has the lowest impact, you can simulate almost any running session whilst pool running and there's thousands of variations of sessions to do combining swimming and pool running.

One of the main benefits of swimming is increase in oxygen capacity. Learning how to control your breathing while swimming allows increases in oxygen capacity and strengthens your lungs. When it's time to hit the running sessions again, I found my lung capacity was much greater and I could slow my breathing down, allowing deeper breathes and more oxygen into muscles.

Another advantage of swimming is the choice in swimming stroke. Freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke etc.. all use slightly different muscles and allows you to target different muscle groups simply by changing stroke. Swimming without using your legs is also an option if you need to rest up completely. This is tough but still holds aerobic and anaerobic gains whilst training your upper body muscles.

Pool running (deep or shallow water) is awesome for runners looking to maintain fitness. I run in deep water and use a floatation belt and tie it with a rope to the side of the pool so I can best replicate the angles of a natural running stride. As with cycling, the most important part about structuring a pool running session is the recoveries. Keep them short!! Other than that you can basically replicate any running session. For example; if you had a session of 10x200m (in 30secs) with 1min recovery, you could do a pool session like 10 x 30sec on, 15sec off, 30sec on. If done with the correct intensity, this could get you quite lactic!

Some other examples of pool sessions that I've done in the past are:

Session 1:  Swim 100-300m 6 x 45 sec run/ 20 sec rest (kick board 25m recovery) 6 x 30 sec run/15 sec rest (kick board 25m recovery) 6 x 15 sec run/15 sec rest (kick board 25m recovery) 10 x 10 sec run/10 sec rest (kick board 25m recovery) Repeat. Swim 100-300m

Session 2:  Swim 100-300m 5 x 1min run/20 sec rest 10 x 45sec run/20 sec rest 10 x 30sec run/10 sec rest 5 x 1min run/20 sec rest 5 x 45sec run/20 sec rest 5 x 1min run/20 sec rest Swim 100-300m

One problem a lot of runners have with swimming is boredom. I have had this myself, I find staring at the line at the bottom of the pool in silence and slogging away by myself quite boring! Never fear, I have found a solution. A company called Underwater Audio have taken normal iPod Shuffles and waterproofed them from the inside, out. This has been a game changer for me and I now use swimming and pool running as a supplement to my training and recovery, not just as a form of cross-training when I'm injured!

Check them out by clicking on the image below:

Underwater Audio


Riding a stationary bike is a great way to maintain lean muscle mass and aerobic fitness. Most injuries allow you to cycle immediately or at least after 1-2 weeks of complete resting. The main focus when using cycling as a means to cross train is the overall time you are exercising. It's easy to start feeling the 'quad lock-up' associated with cycling early on and think you've done enough after 10 or 15 minutes. Fortunately with cycling, your muscles recovery quickly due to the very low impact, and you can soldier on cycling. It's important to remember when you are doing cycling sessions to build aerobic fitness that recoveries between reps need to be kept short in order to keep your heart rate up! The only negative with cycling is that it is very targeted on your quadricep muscles. I've definitely noticed an increase in size and strength in my quads after a block of cycling cross training, and felt maybe the other muscle groups didn't get quite the same gains. Having said this, it's great to use and will definitely get you working hard!! Here are some example bike sessions I've done in the past:

Session 1: 10min easy cycle warm up 10 x Fast 30secs, Easy 30secs Easy 3mins 10 x Fast 20secs, Easy 20secs Easy 3mins 10 x Fast 15secs, Easy 15secs Easy 2mins 5 x Fast 15secs, Easy 15secs Easy 2mins 5 x Fast 30secs, Easy 30secs 10min easy cycle warm down

Session 2: 10min easy cycle warm up 3 x Fast 2mins, Easy 2mins Easy cycle 5mins 4 x Fast 1min, Easy 30sec Easy cycle 3mins 4 x Fast 45 secs, Easy 45secs Easy cycle 3mins 4 x Fast 30secs, Easy 30secs Easy cycle 3mins, 6 x fast 20secs, Easy 40secs 10min easy cycle warm down

Do you have other forms of cross-training you like? Tell me about it below! Would love to hear from you..

A. xx