Benefits of Cross-Training for Halfs and Marathons

It’s running season!  Cross-training is one of the hot topics in the running world for those preparing to run a half marathon, full marathon, or even their first 5k.  If you’re wondering what cross-training is exactly, let’s break it down…

Cross-training is defined by ACE (the American Council on Exercise) as “an exercise regimen that uses several modes of training to develop a specific component of fitness.”  In other words, it means incorporating multiple different training aspects, such as weight training, resistance training, or yoga, into your workout plan in order to succeed in one specific training aspect, such as running.  

You may be wondering, “if I want to be really good at running, wouldn’t I just want to focus on running?”…so here is a list of the benefits of cross training to help you understand the big picture:

  1. Injury prevention:  Injury prevention is probably the most well-known benefit of cross-training, and for a good reason!  Many long distance runners come across injuries during View More: weeks of training due to the long, repetitive nature of running. These injuries can often be prevented by incorporating cross training into your regimen and removing a run or two each week.  Cross training could include things like adding a day of yoga or hopping in on a barre class. This will help lean out those smaller muscles to help build strength, as well as incorporating some stretching. 
  2. Increasing strength: Strength is very important for runners to help drive up hills and whenneeded, be able to sprint through that finish line. By implementing a day or two of lower-body strength training, you will definitely notice how you no longer have to slow down as much when climbing up those hills.
  3. Active Heart Rate Recovery: Including a couple high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts  will definitely help you manage your heart rate and recovery time. These workouts should get you near your max heart rate and then require you to quickly recover for the next interval. You  rarely get your heart rate up that high when on a long, steady-state run, but it is important to do so when training because it helps your body learn to recover faster which is needed after inclines or any increase in your running pace. Also, these workouts often include the strength training component mentioned in #2 so you can kill two birds with this type of workout. 
  4. Recovery & Rehabilitation: Having a couple of varied days in your training weeks will give your body the time it needs to recover and come back stronger for your next long run. Listen to your body, it knows when it needs to rest.
  5. Keeping it interesting.  When you are heading into those final few weeks before race day, those long run can become long.  With cross-training, you can switch things up and have a different, fun workout to look forward to! Cross-training can include any type of activity that you enjoy, even playing sports with friends or swimming laps at the pool.  
  6. Exercise Adherence.  Training for a race can be a great way to get on a healthy fitness regimen, and can make it easier to keep up with that regimen after the race.  If you start to implement things you enjoy now besides solely running, it will be easier to keep up with those things after race day.  

Read about Jason’s experience with using only HIIT training styled workouts paired with one weekly long run to train for his marathons.

Written by Natalie Szocs & Abby Johnson
Photos by Daniel White –