Know what’s really important for achieving optimum fitness? Cross training. Many people cringe at the phrase. It means you’ve got to do stuff you don’t normally. It’s out of your comfort zone. You’re no good at it — or so you think.

Like most things worthwhile, cross training can be difficult but it’s rewards are great. Plus, it can get you out of just about any exercise rut. As one who used to rely on magazine reading runs on the treadmill, I can tell my work out life improved like crazy when I started doing the “other stuff. ”


Muscles matter! And guess what? They are everywhere, even in the places you don’t like to touch. As a runner, I have struggled with getting myself to cross train but Crossfit has really put me over the edge on how beneficial it is.

When I enter marathon training (when I return from my Congo trip), crosstraining will play a major part. I’m trying to “Run Less, Run Faster” this time around. Knees that ache and legs that are prone to injury with high mileage are forcing but reading has shown me that this approach might very well be my best shot at a new PR.

12 Crosstraining Ideas for Runners

1. Crossfit
So this is obviously my number one cross training love right now (and incorporates lots of different things).  I don’t recommend this for the latter stages of marathon training but for everyday life, it’s a great alternate to days off from running. It’s a total body workout most days and garunteed to be an awesome challenge each time you go.

2. Crosstrainer Elliptical
Ellipticals are awesome cross trainers for saving your knees some hard times.  And don’t be fooled, you can get a serious workout on those things. Have you seen how high the difficulty levels go? Julie has some great elliptical interval workouts if you are looking for ideas!

3. Biking (stationary, real)
When my back was hurt two years ago, one of the only things I could do was the stationary bike. You can get I worked that thing like I never have before. Like the elliptical, intervals are your best route. The stationary bike isn’t for sissies if you do it right. I also like it because you can easily read a magazine or a book.

4. Swimming
Best crosstraining exercise ever! It’s certainly harder to make happen but swimming is so good for your body and works it out in a way no other exercise does. Plus — it’s hard work! Swim for 30 minutes and you will be exhausted. A good thing is, traditional swimming (front, back, breast stroke, etc.) or play swimming can work well. I love just gliding under the water, doing water gymnastics, jumping in waves, etc. All of these things when done with time and/or intensity can work you out!

5. Exercise Video
I got into a rut several years ago so I bought some half price P90X DVDs from Craigslist. Great investment! It’s something different and fun to mix it up. You don’t have to do P90X (though I highly recommend it) but pick something that’s “you” and will actually make you work out. I also went through a Taebo phase back in the day and that certainly gave me a run for my money!

6. Dance class (Zumba, Masala Bangra, Hip Hop)
I was always a little scared of the classes at the gym. I’d peek at them from my treadmill, wondering if I could actually fit in. One day four years ago, I quietly tiptoed into the back of a Masala Bangra (Indian dance) class at my gym. I had an unexpected blast. They played the exotic music super loud as we all learned mini-dances, did them together and then performed in groups the moves we just learned. With scarves and colors and yelling and doing the routine and again, I had so much fun with a bunch of strangers. I had the same experience when I finally tried Zumba — doooo it! he music is amazing and if anything gets me out of a rut it’s listening to something other than the gym’s radio or the same old playlist I’ve been running to for weeks.

7. Magazine Tear Out
You know how Shape and Self and Womens Fitness have monthly workouts (sometimes more than one)? Yeah, you can use those 🙂 I have been a subscriber for years but always just kind of skipped over the workouts, thinking they had too many details. One day I started a magazine tear out “book.” I began saving the ones that looked fun. Lo and behold, I began using them every few days and actually getting a great workout. Something different, something crosstrainer-esque.

8. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
Pick your poison — bike, running, elliptical, etc. and then decide on a time frame between 10-20 minutes to alternate minute by minute (more or less depending on your preference.) You’ll want to switch between high intensity (difficulty level) and lower intensity to get your heart rate moving up and down. It burns the most calories and seriously makes you feel worked on out a short period of time. I love to hate it.

9. Hiking
For some reason, I find hiking harder than running. Weird, right? Either way, I know it’s good stuff for crosstraining. Real hiking where you have to dig it up some hills, jump over some rocks, climb up some steep inclines. Usually, a you nee some great hiking sunglasses to help block the sun. This will leave you feeling exhausted and having worked some muscles you wouldn’t normally hit.

10. Rowing
You know that machine that always looks lonely at the gym? Yeah, that! I started using the rowing machine with Crossfit. I learned how to row correctly and you really can close your eyes and kinda sorta feel like you are on a boat. But, really, when you think about it like that, you’ll understand the way the rower is supposed to feel. And, like the stationary bike, you can get a serious workout with some crazy calorie burn with time and intervals in place. It’s hard to stay on it for a long time so switching between two machines is a good idea on this one.

11. Yoga
Great for your rest day or the day after a really tough workout. Yoga is no joke, though. If you are a newbie, be prepared to sweat and stretch parts of your body you didn’t know existed. I don’t like yoga much myself but…the benefits are obvious. It’s physical and mental — and can be a fabulous way to refocus and listen to your body. Do it.

12. In-line skating
Don’t laugh! I used to have a good old pair of roller blades and dang, that was a workout. It actually really got your core and was a full body workout. Pick a concrete path and go at it.


Final thoughts on crosstraining…my exercise life feels so much more fulfilling when I add some flavor to it. It’s hard for me to get out of my ruts but when I do, I never get burnt out and my body thanks me. I feel stronger and better and overall. It is so worth the effort to schedule this stuff and do it. Not only does it give you something new to look forward to but it’s a personal challenge each time. And, all of this — believe or not — contributes to make you a better you.

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