Running gives you an amazing workout: Nothing else seems to get your blood pumping like a getting a few miles under your belt does, right? But in order to be the best runner you can be, Paul Hartmann, D.P.T., a physical therapist in New York City stresses that cross-training is key. “If you take the time to strengthen any weaknesses [you may have] and maintain good flexibility, you’ll be able to run stronger,” says Paul Hartmann, D.P.T., a physical therapist in New York City.
“Cross-training is essential for runners to prevent overuse injuries that are associated with repetitive impact activity, such as shin splints as well as hip, lower-back and knee discomfort,” says Samantha Clayton, Director of Fitness Education at Herbalife and former Olympic sprinter based in Malibu, CA. By adding one or more non-running workouts to your weekly routine, “you can drastically improve your running technique, speed and stride length, too,” Clayton says.
Read on for seven super-effective cross-training methods — then choose the one that’s best for you. Or, mix them up so you’re never bored. Best of all: Don’t be surprised if you start shaving off seconds from that PR.
7 Cross-Training Workouts Runners Need Now
1. Strength Training
Who It Benefits: The runner who starts slumping midway
Why It Works: Strength-building exercises, especially ones that ulitize your own bodyweight, help boost endurance and reduce risk of injury. According to Sulyn Silbar, a personal trainer in New York City and founder of Body + Mind NYC, strong hammies will improve long run performance; a tough butt will make you speedier. Specifically, work in some core exercises, which are key to being an efficient runner. Also, don’t forget the core. “Focus on strengthening the obliques, which will steady your core and keep you more upright [during your runs],” Silbar says.
What to Do: Deadlifts, box step-ups, calf raises and squats will all strength your lower half. You can also mix in some lunges, planks and seated leg raises, which will target your core, quads and hip flexors. Silbar recommends choosing 4-5 moves, and doing a 30-20-10 routine: Do 30 reps of one move, rest 1 minute; do 20 reps, rest 1 minute; do 10 reps, rest 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining 3-4 moves. Play with which exercises you use and the order in which you utilize them biweekly to keep your muscles guessing.
Who It Benefits: The runner who skimps on stretching
Why It Works: The repetitive motion of running can leave you tight, especially around your hip flexors. Enter yoga, which can be an effective means of counteracting this tightness, and opening up the hips. Plus, this ancient practice “is great for regaining your focus, and learning to move and connect with your breath, which is essential for running efficiently,” says Clayton.
The Workout: If you feel tight and overworked, Silbar recommends trying a restorative method (check out DailyBurn’s new Yoga Made Simple, which focuses on the practice’s fundamentals). Want more of an endurance session while you’re at it? Go for a Vinyasa flow, which will get your heart pumping, too.
RELATED: 26 Ways to Step Up Your Yoga Game
Who It Benefits: The runner with nagging (or newfound) injuries
Why It Works: When you’re first starting out as a runner, you can suffer from quick-mileage-increase injuries like runner’s knee or shin splints. Same goes for weekend warriors who decide to increase their total mileage by more than 10 percent per week. To cut down the impact, consider swapping one training run for some easy (read: no-impact!) laps in the pool, says Clayton. Bonus: “Swimming challenges you to control your core and drive from the hips,” says Hartmann. “Many runners can benefit from opening their hips to allow for greater hip extension and efficiency in their stride.”
The Workout: Swim laps for 30 to 45 minutes, adding in 4 to 8 lengths of just kicking with a kickboard to target your lower half) or 4 to 8 of them just pulling, with a foam buoy between your thighs (to target your arms and core). If you’re new to the lap lane, read up on the six mistakes to avoid while you’re swimming in the pool.
Who It Benefits: The runner who keeps dragging their feet
Why It Works: Plyometric exercises are “dynamic, high-velocity moves that can build explosive power and dynamic control,” says Hartmann. They challenge you to work at a quicker pace than steady-state strength exercises. You’re also moving all planes of motion. “Plyo moves can teach the legs to function as a more efficient spring system, allowing you to absorb the force of each step and use it to push off powerfully,” he adds. Translation: You’ll take off faster come race day, as well as zip around other racers with ease.
The Workout: Start slow — plyo moves are intense and high-impact. Begin by doing a few box jumps, jump squats or burpees. To take things up a notch, check out these tough plyo moves on a box from DailyBurn’s Black Fire program with Bob Harper.
RELATED: 6 Tips to Improve Your Swimming Now
Who It Benefits: The runner with weak hammies and glutes
Why It Works: “[Indoor or outdoor] cycling is a great form of cardio that improves your endurance without putting much stress on your joints,” says Silbar. Plus, it fires up the same muscles (your legs, hips and core) that you use while running, but in different ways. And when you’re clipped in to a bike’s pedals, you’re targeting your hamstrings and glutes more than you would while running — especially when you’re pedaling up a hill or cycling with lots of resistance and pulling up harder on the upstroke.
The Workout: Take a group cycling class or clip into a spin bike at the gym. Warm up for 10 minutes at a quick pace, build resistance (keep turning that knob to the right!) for a half-hour and then cool down for 5 to 10 minutes.
6. Aqua Jogging
Who It Benefits: The runner coming off a foot injury or ankle sprain
Why It Works: Clayton recommends aqua jogging (which is “running” in a pool with a floatation belt, like the Speedo Hydro Resistant Jog Belt ($35; speedousa.com) for extra conditioning and to give your joints a break. Plus, the resistance of the water helps you to build strength but won’t make you bulky, adds Clayton. It might even help you perfect your arm swing, which will help power you up hills.
The Workout: Start with a 10-minute warm-up, “jogging” in the deep end at an easy pace, then do intervals: “sprint” for 1 minute, jog at an easy pace for 1 minute, sprint 2 minutes, jog 1 minute; repeat 3 to 4 times, then jog at an easy pace for 10 minutes to cool down.
Who It Benefits: The runner who wants to explode off the start line
Why It Works: You may think that on your cross-training days, you should stick to moderate-intensity sessions. That doesn’t always have to be the case. “CrossFit is a great way for runners to condition their body because it targets muscles that don’t get worked while running,” says Silbar. Because of CrossFit’s signature and ever-changing WODs (workouts of the day) make you exercise at such a high intensity, they “also get your heart rate up, which helps with endurance training.” And explosive, power-based moves like snatches are great for sprinters and short-distance runners.
The Workout: Take a stab at your own WOD. After all, we’ve got plenty of ideas right here. These six (killer) CrossFit routines take just 12 minutes each and will truly test your strength. Never even been to a box? (No shame!) Try one of these five beginner WODs instead. You’ll be texting everyone you know the flex emoji when you’re done.