What You Should Know About Cross-Training

Dr. Bailey posted on February 22nd, 2017

I only like to run – why is it important to cross-train?

There are multiple reasons to cross-train. If you ask most runners, they will tell you that the importance of crosstraining is to enhance overall performance, mainly by using muscles and energy systems that are less specifically targeted during running. Cross-training also addresses strength imbalances such as weak hamstrings, flexibility issues such as tight hamstrings, and endurance. Research shows that cross-training improves your running economy, meaning you’ll go faster, longer and use oxygen more efficiently. Crosstraining can even help to rehabilitate injuries (under physician guidance) and to rejuvenate the mind and the body by giving yourself breaks from formal training. If you’re pregnant, you can still exercise, but it is very important for you to check with your obstetrician and primary care doctor before doing so. Certain exercises should be avoided during pregnancy.

Woman doing yoga

What kind of cross-training exercises are best for runners?

The most useful exercises are the ones that are closest to running in terms of muscles used and aerobic systems tackled. Try elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, swimming, water running, and cross-country ski machines. Use the rower machine at the gym in addition to the step machine. Try activities that improve your upper body or core tone and strengthening. Yoga and Pilates can be helpful as well.

Are there any sort of cross-training exercises runners should avoid?

Avoid activities which involve a lot of impact to the legs. Check with your doctor regarding appropriate exercises if you are injured as excessive or inappropriate cross-training can leave you hurting and can even end up hampering your return back to running. Also, make sure you’ve got the right shoes during your cross training exercises. Watch for signs of excess body stress such as elevated resting heart rate, increased fatigue, repeated illness/injuries, or severe or persistent muscle soreness.

How often should I cross-train?

Variety is the spice of life when it comes to cross-training. Every runner will have to listen to what their body is saying. I recommend once or twice weekly. Use cross training to replace part of your weekly mileage. The key is to make sure you are not overtraining and make sure you are taking 1-2 full rest days per week.

-- Dr. Westly Bailey

Dr. Westly Bailey is a non-operative Sports Medicine and Family Medicine physician with Perimeter North Medical Associates. Visit for more information or call 770-395-1130