Cross Training for Runners - Balance Chicago Physical Therapy

Cross Training for Runners

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Cross Training for Runners

In Chicago, the winters always overstay their welcome. Every year I look forward to that first nice day in the spring. The city comes alive buzzing with energy. People are out milling around the downtown area and the lakefront pathway becomes filled with runners and bikers who have seemingly come out of hibernation all at once. With the uptick in running that occurs in the spring, we at Balance Chicago see a corresponding increase in running-related injuries

Let’s talk about the importance of cross training, particularly strength training, for runners, and how this relates to injury occurrence.

What is Cross Training for Runners?

Cross training involves adding in other types of exercise to your running program. Cross training is performed one to three times per week. In my opinion, three times per week is ideal.

Why is Cross Training Important?

Cross training is important to help protect your body and prevent overuse injuries, such as shin splints, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and iliotibial band syndrome. Running is repetitive in nature, loading the same tissues over and over again.Your muscle strength, muscle endurance, aerobic capacity, and mobility need to match the demand you are placing on your body. This is where cross training comes into play. There are many different options out there for cross training, each providing different benefits. Some potential benefits of cross training include:

  • Improving strength and muscle endurance
  • Improving aerobic capacity while off-loading the joints
  • Improving mobility
  • Preventing burnout
  • Improving running mechanics
  • Improving your running time and/or distance
  • Ultimately, reducing the risk of injury or assisting in recovery from an injury

What are Common Types of Cross Training?

There are many different options for cross training, each with their own pros and cons. Here are a few common types:

  • Strength training
  • Biking
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Plyometrics

Full disclosure here… I am biased and have a clear favorite type of cross training. This is because strengthening made such a big difference for me, personally, when training for past races. Adding strength training to my routine, at a minimum of two times per week, allowed me to run better times and kept me pain-free while running. 

With that being said, there are benefits to all of the above listed types of exercise. For example, yoga can help with mobility, body awareness, and core strength/stability. Biking and swimming can help with aerobic capacity and muscle endurance while off-loading your joints. Plyometrics can help with power and muscle coordination. 

What are the Benefits of Strengthening for Cross Training?

Strengthening certain muscle groups can help reduce the load and stress placed on your joints and bones. If your muscles are active and strong, they can help absorb the forces created with each step you take. In addition, strengthening certain muscle groups can improve your running mechanics leading to a more efficient running stride. The end result is a reduced risk of injury and pain.

When to Start Strength Training

Ideally, start strength training at least six weeks prior to initiating a running program. There are adaptations within the nervous system that make you feel stronger within the first two weeks. However, muscle hypertrophy (change within the muscle itself) takes about six weeks of consistent strength training to occur. If you are already running, that is okay. Add in some strengthening as part of your cross training now!

What are Typical Muscles to Strengthen with Example Exercises?

Although a strengthening program should be tailored to each individual, most individuals should include abdominal, hip, and thigh muscle strengthening into their program. 

I have prepared a few videos of my favorite exercises, including planks, bridges, and squats (particularly single leg squats). These videos include some variations but do not review proper form. Make sure to consult with a professional if these exercises are new to you.

Give cross training a try as you get yourself back to running! You will not regret it!


The Balance Chicago Team is here to help you! For more information, or to schedule your appointment, give us a call or click the link above. We look forward to working with you soon!

Blog Written By: Dr. Maria Brady, PT, DPT

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