Cross-Training: More Useful Than Once Thought?

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on August 6, 2009


On the treadmill today, I was reading my new Runner’s World and I came across a great article called, “The Rules: Revisited”.

IMG_1574  Basically, Bob Cooper is telling us new updates on conventional running wisdom. It was great to read because I found that many of my own experiences and hunches, were actually some of the new rules! I will be reviewing several of them in the next week.


First up:

1) Cross-train for Fitness

Conventional rule: Cross-training is fine for recovery days, but hard training should always be for running workouts.


New rule: Cross-training can effectively improve your running performance.

Basically the old rule, is that no cardio cross-training comes close to measuring up to running. Richard Gibbens, exercise scientist, challenges this assumption, “High-intensity cross training workouts that use the same muscle groups as running may be just as effective in improving running performance.”

Could this be why I barely ran before my 10km race, but found that I was still in tip top shape for the run? Most of my high-intensity workouts before the 10km race were treadmill hill workouts- and not running. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be ready for the run, but I found that I was more than prepared. For my 10-mile race, my weekly training mileage didn’t exceed 13 miles and my longest run was 8 miles, but I still finished with a strong time.

Could all of the cross-training I did at high intensities (heart rate avgs in the high 150-160 range for over 45 minutes at a time) have made all the difference while keeping me free from injury?

Gibbens also believes that the average runner only needs to run 3 times a week, which helps reduce the risk of injuries and burn-out.

I also think that this theory could be applied to virtually any sport (not just running). Cross training isn’t just for ‘rest days’ any more!


What are your thoughts about cross-training?  Do you try to mix it up a lot?

Have you seen improvements in your running with cross-training?

Do you try to target high-intensity activities to reduce the wear and tear on your joints that running often brings?

Do you think this approach is something you might try out?


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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Lizzy August 6, 2009 at 7:35 pm

since i’ve started taking boxing twice a week in February on top of my normal routine, I haven’t been running as much, however the few times I have run, I am faster, have more endurance, and enjoy my runs more because of that!


Sarah August 6, 2009 at 8:19 pm

When I was hardcore training for running last year, I cross-trained maybe once a week. But this year, I’m working with an every other day approach. Actually, sometimes I only run once a week (I’m sort of in an off season) but I’m using a lot of the same muscles in my other workouts and therefore I have not “lost” anything when it comes to running (except maybe my mental endurance).

I could totally do the 3 days a week thing, that sounds so much better than 5!


Anne P August 6, 2009 at 8:23 pm

I’m training for the Army Ten Miler in October and I made a 3 times a week running training plan, with cross and strength training on the other days, and one or two rest days depending how i feel. It’s been great so far! I just feel like if I ran more I’d get burned out or injured! It’s more fun to mix it up :)


Jenn Eats Nutritiously Now August 6, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I think cross-training is so very important! It’s helped me a lot to get my cardiovascular endurance up.


Sana August 6, 2009 at 8:48 pm

What a great post! Once you have been injured it is best to always becareful and never over do it. That is what I am currently TRYING to work on :(


Pam (Highway to Health) August 6, 2009 at 9:24 pm

I am trying to incorporate more cross training into my routine. It obviously worked wonders for you! I think running can be too hard on your body sometimes!


Lori August 6, 2009 at 9:46 pm

I cross train. I truly believe that is why I have never had any serious injury (knock on wood). I rarely do the same thing 2 days in a row, which also keeps me from getting bored!


Mary August 6, 2009 at 10:17 pm

After battling excrutiatingly painful shin splints 2 summers ago while training, I have consistently incorporated regular cross training into my running schedule.

Just like you experienced with your injury, I’d much rather be cautious than have to settle for a long-term nagging injury!


[email protected] RunningAroundNormal August 6, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I love to cross train on my non-run days. It gives my joints/muscles/ligaments and such a day to not work as hard, but my heart rate still gets up there! I still think nothing’s better than a nice sweaty run outside though (my new way of thinking! haha)


Lainie August 6, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Personally, I think cross-training is important: it (seems to) improve my endurance, keep me interested in fitness and allow me to get my heartrate up to different levels (depending on the exercise).


Amanda @ Panda Lunch August 7, 2009 at 12:23 am

I actually picked up that issue of RW for my husband and ended up reading it myself, even though I’m not a huge runner, it’s a great issue. I’m personally a fan of cross training.


christina mindful living August 7, 2009 at 12:30 am

definitely agree with what he is saying. i ran once the week before a 10k and managed to do awesome and get a medal in the race! i felt so unprepared but once i started running i felt great. i havent read the magazine yet- it just came today- im excited to read it!


Kimberly August 7, 2009 at 12:55 am

Hi Angela…good post! I just went to order some Glo Bars of your website, but I think I messed up my order…I didn’t put my order in the order inquiry box and as well…what form of payment do you take??? Shoot me an email with how to go about ordering and I will re-order!!! Thanks



Salina August 7, 2009 at 12:57 am

I had a question: If your a runner, what do you mean by “cross-training”. My partner is a cyclist, and to cross train he rides BMX.. which is much of the same thing.. Am i getting confused??


Samantha August 7, 2009 at 2:42 am

Ohhh I haven’t seen this issue yet but need to look for it. But I like these developments. Previously I just RAN. I taught dance as well but didn’t consider it part of my exercise regime. We moved from the states to Guam back in december and since then my body has just not allowed me to run. My longest was 13 miles which literally, left me recovering from heat exhaustion and dehydration for days (and I’m a former marathoner!) I pretty much “gave up” on running and have been following your lead, doing hill walks on the treadmill, using the rowing machine, cycling, and doing tabata intervals on my mag trainer. My running mileage that in Nov was 40+mpw with long runs of 15-20 miles is now a meager 10 (give or take) miles with a long run of 4-5 miles. I miss it, and have shied away from running much, thinking I’ve lost my fitness and endurance.

As an aside, last night I read all the installments of your health journey and am more inspired than ever. I’m trying to recover a sorely damaged metabolism while I recover from an eating disorder. Now that I’m no longer distance running (even though I get in AMPLE activity and eat very whole and moderately), I have put on 15+ lbs and it’s affecting me in so many ways. But I’m trying to stay focused and positive and continue doing the things I know will keep me healthy for a lifetime, not just quickly shed 5 or 10 lbs just for the sake of fitting in my old jeans.


Juicy Jessy August 7, 2009 at 3:05 am

I try to swim and ride my bike as crosstraining activities. I also like warming up by riding my bike for 15mins before running; I find that running goes a lot easier when I do this.


Amy August 7, 2009 at 9:01 am

I am a huge advocate of cross training. While in training I generally run 3-4 times a week, but I also try to get in at least one aerobics class, and a couple spin classes.

I must say though, I agree with the approach that “you have to run, to get improve your running”. I cut my distance waaaaaaay back in the summer; from about 30+km a week to about 15k a week. During that time I also increase my cross training to compensate. However, when I start increasing distance again in the fall, it sucks. BIG TIME. Despite all the cross training I do… for me personally, I have to run to improve my running. Make sense? haha


Susan August 7, 2009 at 9:44 am

I 100% percent agree!!! I injured my hip while training for a 10k and had to stop almost all run workouts for two months while training for a triathlon after that. As a result, I bumped up my swim and bike training to allow my hip to heal. Now, after the triathlon, I’m still biking tons, weight lifting, and have added running twice a week. My running stamina has increased by leaps and bounds from the period when I was training for my 10k. I feel stronger, I took a minute off my pace and I feel like I can sustain a high heart rate for longer periods. It’s awesome :D


Barbara August 7, 2009 at 11:38 am

Yet another wonderful post for thought!

I relish crosstraining, in fact I just started 3 months of Crossfit. It’s a pretty intense workout( a much shorter duraton and fast results. Most of the girl have shaved minutes off their running times and many can do REAL

I think keeping the body guessing is the only way to avoid plateau’s and I TRY to change it up allot. It’s not easy but worthwhile.



Angela (Oh She Glows) August 7, 2009 at 1:25 pm

They defined cross-training in the article as especially activities that use the same muscle groups as running. They said cycling was a great one. I’d also add hill walking and water running are good ones, specifically for running anyways!


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