Why It’s Important For Runners to Cross Train
Maybe you know a runner, or you’re a runner yourself. Even if you have only observed runners from a distance, you know that they are focused. Sometimes they are focused to a fault, seeing into running like a well-lit tunnel but forgetting that there are other training options. It’s not just that these options exist, but they are crucial for you to see progress in stamina and endurance. It’s not unusual to attend a running group and to chat with fellow members only to find that the only form of exercise and activity they are engaged in is running.
I ran my first half-marathon without any form of cross training. My original thought was that only running could produce the best ability to run. If you are a longstanding runner or you’re aspiring to experience the incredible rush of chemicals that comes from this healthy form of exercise, then dive in, but remember one thing: incorporating leg workouts for running enhances your performance! The time you put into outside training doesn’t take away from you as a runner, it builds you up. Give leg workouts for running a try, and you will become a speedier and more efficient runner.
How Should Runners Cross Train?
It’s not snobby. Cross training for running is different from training for other athletic pursuits or doing general gym workouts. Runners need a strength-training program that focuses on balance. It’s essential to focus on developing the primary muscles involved in the running motion. Dr. Kevin Vincent, MD, Ph.D., is the Director of the University of Florida Running Clinic. Dr. Vincent makes an essential point about cross-training: “what you have to decide is what purpose it is going to serve.” Dr. Vincent says that cross training serves essential purposes, mainly by:
- Improving your cardio
- Strengthening your muscles
- Speeding your recovery
The Strengthening and Balancing Effect
Cross training with an emphasis on leg workouts balances the muscles in your body. In cross-training activities, you strengthen non-running muscles and give your running muscles a break. Here’s a myth-buster: a run, even an extremely long one, is not a leg day. When you cross-train, you can put your attention to targeted muscle groups.
This multidisciplinary approach plays a role in injury prevention and makes you a stronger, faster and more balanced runner. For instance, your inner thighs may not get as much attention as needed during your regular running pattern, and so, by focusing your cross-training workouts on strengthening this area of the body, you will create equilibrium in the muscle groups. Ultimately, your body will be happier!
A Role in Injury Prevention
The importance of balancing your weaker muscles with your stronger ones to prevent injury cannot be emphasized enough. Integrating leg workouts for running is instrumental in injury prevention. The joints take a lot of assault in the running. As such, choosing low-impact cross-training activities such as swimming will holistically strengthen your legs, while giving the joints a rest.
Maintaining Or Enhancing Cardiovascular Fitness
If you love to run, you crave the endorphin hit that comes from a cardiovascular workout. You also likely enjoy the benefits to your endurance, strength, and the energy and vitality that comes from keeping your body and mind in peak condition. Running isn’t the only place where you can gain these benefits. There are many excellent cardiovascular workouts, and it can be fun and adventurous to try out different options that give you the same release and maintenance to your bodily strength. You might surprise yourself and find that after trying some of these alternate forms of cardiovascular exercise, you’re in better running shape than ever before!
It’s easy to get into a running rut. Sometimes you just can’t keep yourself from taking frequent walking breaks, and you lose the motivation to show up for your Sunday run. Other times, runners become hyper-fixated and can’t stop thinking about their time or their miles in between runs. In any case, it’s good to branch out and doing so with new leg workouts for running can open up your interests.
It’s not just the physical break that we need from our routines but the mental break that affords us the motivation and inspiration to return with a fresh angle and newfound energy.
Continuing to Train While Healing Injuries
If you are a runner with an injury so severe you can’t put your training runs in, there is nothing more agonizing—unless it’s living with an injured runner. Many runners are addicted to the fuel their brain’s chemicals provide them with for the day. Running is a chance to unwind, to work through challenging thoughts, analyze complex situations, and sometimes just tune out the world. When that outlet is taken away from a runner, they often don’t have a backup plan, and the repercussions can be catastrophic.
Luckily, there are many leg workouts for runners and you can supplement your run during your time of healing. Engaging in alternative activities gives runners a chance to strengthen their muscles and meet their daily dose of sanity and relaxation. You might even come back to your running workouts with a new set of assets, compared to your running friends, from building your weaknesses in cross-training activities.
Building a Training Schedule
Coaches will tell you that one of the most critical parts of building a training schedule and program is to make it balanced.
- When you start to approach your training schedule, map it out on paper. Crucially, to make the training schedule attainable, you want to take into account all of your outside commitments, including work, family and friends. This preparation will help you to create buffers in your training schedule, and, most of all, assist you in taking a realistic approach that you can actually follow through with.
- Once you have determined how much you can commit to your training, write down what days you will commit and characterize the workouts that you will do on those days. For instance, specify whether it is speed training, distance training, hill training or cross-training. You can also take note of any goals you might have. Goals could relate to a PB (Personal Best), your breathing pattern, nutrition and sleep, or technique. Make sure to be as diligent about your rest days as you are about your training days.
Cross training is a balancing act. You can cross train too much and equally, you can cross train too little. Both will will harm your running performance. For this reason, it’s important to think systematically about the physiology of the running body and the muscles that perform in the activity of running. If you have a running goal in mind, going to a bunch of unrelated studio classes may not benefit you—no matter the appeal of ClassPass.
When Should You Cross Train?
Type of Runner
Run 3-4, X-T 2-3
Run 4-6, X-T 1-2
Best Leg Workout Exercises for Runners
Back Extension (10-12 reps)
- Use a stability ball and lie face down over it
- Spread your feet apart wide to keep your balance
- Bend your elbows behind your ears
- Lift your torso in a straight line, squeezing your glutes as you rise
- Hold for two seconds
- You can also do the exercise on a mat, without the ball
- To make it more challenging, hold light dumbbells
Squat to Overhead Press (10-12 reps)
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart
- Hold your arms, facing each other at 90 degrees
- Bend into a squat
- As you rise, lift your arms overhead
Overhead Forward Lunge (8 reps per leg)
- Hold your arms in parallel with one dumbbell over your head
- Keep your elbows locked, arms straight
- Take a step into your left leg
- Bend until your left knee is bent at 90 degrees
- Press into the left heel and return to your starting position
- Repeat with the opposite leg
Stability Ball Leg Curl (6-8 reps)
- Lie stomach up on the floor
- Place your hands face down on the mat beside you
- Place your feet on a stability ball with your legs fully extended
- Roll the ball toward your glutes, bending your knees
- Try the exercise with just one leg to increase the challenge
Popular Cross Training Activities For Runners
So, what counts as cross training? You heard me right, yoga, strength training, barre classes, swimming and yoga—they’re all exercises that can be built into your exercise regime. The big question is how to work in leg workouts for running effectively.
Do’s and Don’t of Cross Training
Build 1-3 cross-training workouts into your weekly schedule
Focus on cross-training ahead of running
Focus on strength-based training workouts
Do running-focused sports, like soccer or rugby
Do something you like
Choose low-impact activities
Do workouts that make you so sore you can’t perform during your runs, or worse, have to skip them
Pick an activity that lets your body move differently than when you are running
Take on a new activity without allowing your body to adapt
Include more cross-training into your regime in the off-season
Increase your strength training during the taper
Incorporate movements to offset your running weaknesses (for instance strengthen your glutes to make your running stronger and avoid injury)
Take a break from sweating so much and get in some pool time! Swimming is significantly easier on the joints and muscles than running because the buoyancy of the water keeps the pressure off. This can give you endurance in the pool. Swimming is a full-body, low-impact workout. You will be able to swim for longer because your joints aren’t hitting the pavement, but amazingly, you will strengthen quickly from the resistance of the water.
Here’s an interesting fact: the resistance of the water is roughly 12 times the level of air resistance. You can increase the intensity of your workout by using a kickboard to elevate resistance. Additionally, if you swim in warm water or sit in the hot tube after, your muscles and achy joints will gain a soothing effect.
Alright, here’s a bet; you’ve run on land but not in water. Ok, maybe you’ve run into the water, but have you sustained your workout? Deepwater running, also referred to as aqua jogging, is a multi-purpose activity. If you’re injured on land and looking for leg workouts for running, it’s an excellent alternative. It provides less stress on the hips, knees, feet, and back and for the same reasons, it is an excellent form of cross training. You get the benefits of strengthening without the strain. With water running, you’ll protect your body and keep up your fitness!
Cycling or Spinning
If you’re looking for another low-impact exercise for enhancing your cardiovascular fitness and strength, cycling or spinning are optimal leg workouts for running. One of the most essential aims of cross training is to work muscles that are not utilized in running. Not only are the muscles used in cycling or spinning underused in running, but they run in opposition to your running muscles, particularly the quads and glutes. As a result, cycling and spinning are high yield workouts with protective benefits.
Looking for another full body workout? Try the elliptical. The elliptical is a combination that has the muscular benefits of walking, stair climbing, and cross-country skiing. The elliptical can be used with a forward or backward motion, which gives you the ability to work all of the cross-firing muscles in your leg. The elliptical is a reliable alternative to running when you have an injury because the motion and muscles used on the elliptical are similar to running.
Cross Country Skiing
Cross country skiing uses similar muscle groups that become activated during your run, but working out on snow is easier on the joints than pounding pavement. This feature makes cross country skiing a fantastic activity for runners who are recovering from injuries. Cross country skiing consists of a gliding motion, and while strengthening the quads and hamstrings, you will also increase your range of motion and flexibility in your hips. The stretching motion can be a relieving sensation for your calves, hamstrings, and lower back muscles.
If you have skied for a few days in the mountains, you know that nothing replicates the quad burn of cross country skiing. Not even a hot tub and a beer at the end of the day can fully reduce the pain. When you downhill ski, you position your body to create balance and rhythm on the hill. This posture and stability work benefits your running greatly.
One characteristic unifies runners—they’re tight. Yoga is a fantastic counter workout to improve your flexibility and release muscle tension. Yoga can also allow you to focus on meditation techniques that might help you persist through gruelling, long training runs or focus and still your mind before a race. Yoga is structured to include many leg workouts for running. Some poses to strengthen and stretch your legs include:
- Downward dog
- Big Toe Pose
- Bridge Pose
- Chair Pose
- Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose
- Extended Side Angle Pose
- High Lunge
- Firefly Pose
- Extended Triangle Pose
If you’re looking for new leg workouts for running, ice skating is another no-impact option. Ice skating can provide a substitute form of exercise if you are recovering from knee injuries, Achilles tendonitis, or shin splints. You’ll strengthen your glutes, quads and lower back muscles in no time!
How to Strengthen Legs for Running
- Strength Training
- Speed Walking
Many the Miles
For many runners, their sport is a point of great pride and satisfaction. That feeling in the last stretch or in the hours after a beautiful morning run is irreplicable. To sustain the activity of running, which can be hard on the body, incorporating leg exercise for runners can be an invaluable part of your care.
When you strengthen your legs for running, you give yourself the opportunity for a well-rounded run. Exploring the best leg workout for runners and how you can incorporate it into your exercise schedule and routine will help you develop into the best and most balanced athlete you can be. With this intentional and healthy approach, running can be the foundation of your personal growth and self care for years to come.