So What Exactly Is Cross Training?


It was -8 this morning and we were really bundled. But it was a lot of fun and I survived wearing a Red Wings hat in Chicago!

The term “cross training” has started to be used in loose terms to refer to any workout you do when you are not running or as exercise on your days off.  Technically cross training is any training you do outside of your primary sport that uses similar muscles, actions, and aerobic levels as your sport.

For runners this would include activities such as the elliptical machine, cycling, cross country skiing, and even water running.  These types of activities can be used as complementary workouts for your training regime or as a replacement activity on your day off or during injury.  For example, a few years ago I had plantar fasciitis and could not run.  My physical therapist had me start cycling as a form of cross training that would help speed my return to running once I was cleared from the injured list.  By using the bicycle, I was still engaging my running muscles and getting an aerobic workout.

This time of year is perfect for many of us to go cross country skiing.  Last year I was introduced to the sport and beforehand was pretty sure I wouldn’t really like it.  I immediately took a  sideways spill as soon as I had my skis on (I’ve mentioned my lack of coordination off of the ice),  but soon began to love skiing.  I am always one to say that nothing is as great as the workout that running provides.  Although cross country skiing may not quite replace running, it can come pretty darn close.  It provides a heck of an upper body workout and despite thinking I have really strong legs, they are always singing when I finish a ski trip.  If you live somewhere cold and snowy like I do, this can be a perfect addition or even a replacement on those days when running on a foot of snow is just not an option.


How fun does that look? Skiing on a frozen river last year in Northern Wisconsin.

Cross training is great for “days off” from running as it is recommended that you get some form of light activity in, not just veg on the couch the entire day (although sometimes your body needs that too).

I often hear people refer to other workouts such as yoga, weight lifting, or a pick up game of flag football as cross training.  In its truest form these are not modes of cross training as they do not by definition mimic the actions or use the same muscles we use in running, nor do you engage in the same level of aerobic activity.

However, I personally like doing yoga as another form of exercise.  I also like weight lifting  and strength training to help tone those awesome muscles I have developed from my running.  There is nothing wrong with these extra workouts and in fact they might help to develop muscles that running doesn’t really work, creating an overall stronger body.  But keep in mind that these workouts are not technically considered cross training.

Not looking very perky here.  I told you it was cold!

Not looking very perky here. I told you it was cold!

If you are truly looking to add workouts to your training that help aid in your running, you will be best suited to look for a workout on the bike, elliptical, skiing machine, or a run in the pool.  Try them out and see which one works best for you.  These workouts will help add extra training to the muscles you are looking to strengthen the most in your running without adding extra miles on the road.  This in turn will help lessen your odds of an overuse injury.  Keep in mind that cross training should only cover about 25% of you total weekly training plan.

Personally, I know that I will never be an elite runner so to me I would prefer yoga over an hour on the bicycle…and that’s ok.  I simply just want to add workouts in that supplement my overall health and training.  Call it what you want, but to me that is my own form of “cross training.”

It warmed up and the sky was just beautiful this evening so we threw in a quick run to finish the day.

It warmed up and the sky was just beautiful this evening so we threw in a quick run to finish the day.

16 thoughts on “So What Exactly Is Cross Training?

  1. This is a great post – cross-training is so often misused, and while it doesn’t mean the other forms of exercise aren’t good, they are just different! Honestly, I don’t cross train much, I run and yoga. That’s it. 🙂

  2. Right now, my cross training is pretty much Les Mills Combat DVD program. I’d like to start biking, but with all the snow, that won’t work very well for me. I’d love to swim, but our YMCA is expensive, and I like free exercise. I may have to try skiing. I haven’t skied in like 6 years.

  3. Looks like a great workout…we don’t get to do much snow skiing here in Texas!
    The reasons I love yoga and weightlifting, etc. for my cross training is because they do work different muscles than running. I’ve found it helps keep me injury free if I have a good balance.

  4. Great blog! I would love to try out xcountry skiing. No snow in Atlanta :-/ I have decided to continue with xtraining on the elliptical or bike even after I’m cleared to run. I have a lot of strength training involving yoga stretches and Pilate exercises from physical therapy to help me. I’m hoping to amp up my training and make it more rounded in hopes of avoiding injuries next in 2014.

  5. I will admit, I hate doing anything but running. Now that I’m recovering from an injury I’m learning to do other things like swim and bike…and stretch. Wish I lived someplace that I could x-country ski, looks like fun!

  6. First off, thanks for stopping by my blog! I am glad I stopped by here. What a good article. I love that you have the opportunity to cross train in this way! I am in middle Tennessee and we have a winter advisory for tonight and you would think we were going to get like 10 feet of snow! The local radio station just put a picture on facebook of the bread aisle at Wal-Mart…it was completely empty except for a couple packages of brown and serve rolls and like, cinnamon swirl bread. We will probably only get a dusting at best. All that to say, if we DID get snow, and I did something like this for cross-training, rest assured they would carry me off to the loony bin as soon as it melted.

    Question: have you ever had piriformis muslce issues? I am looking for cross training ideas for that injury.

    • I used to live in Indianapolis, so I know exactly what you are talking about with the grocery stores.

      I had piriformis trouble during my marathon training. Check out my article on the lacrosse ball. I used this every evening by the recommendation of a physical therapist and it really did help. If you are looking for some cross training that won’t aggravate it, I would hit the bike. It is boring, in my opinion, but will take the pressure off of it while you heal. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!

      • I will check that out! My last half was October 12. I took off from then until right after Christmas. I did two and a half miles, then 2 miles, then last week I did 4.5. The first two miles were great! No pain at all. Then after the 4.5 run the infamous pain was back. I have a foam roller that helps for the time being, and I go to a massage therapist who is REALLY good at getting relief for me, but as soon as I run again, it’s right back. I would have thought after giving 2.5 months off that things would be looking better. I am a little discouraged, but I will hang in there. I love to run way too much to throw in the towel. Thanks for the bike suggestion, and like I said I will check out your other post.


  7. Pingback: Cross Training Day | Run Your World

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