Cross Training for New Runners: 4 Key Activities to Try

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

If you’re a new runner, you are likely overwhelmed at times with the thought of how you’re going to finish that 5K you signed up for.  The last thing you want to hear about is having to do more training!  But before you cast this article aside, please consider the benefits of cross training for new runners.

I tell you this as somebody who isn’t perfect with his cross training either.  Incorporating extra workouts aside from running is tough on our busy schedules.  However, as somebody who ran five half marathons and one marathon, I have experienced what it was like to prioritize (and not prioritize) cross training.

To run your best and feel your strongest – especially as you’re in for the final stretch – you need to cross train.  It’s as simple as that.  By not doing so, you’re limiting your potential as a runner.

Let me walk you through four important workouts you can work into your running schedule. Then, decide which one(s) you want to start with.  Sound like a plan?

Walking is a great way to begin cross training for new runners.

So, I started you off with an easy one.  We all can walk.  Why not use it as a way to enhance your training?

The best part about walking is that it builds endurance.  Plus, you can incorporate it into your running, which will allow you to cover longer distances and build up your mileage.

As explains:

“You can walk a lot farther than you can run. Although about 15 years ago runners tried to avoid walking, with the onset of the Jeff Galloway Marathon Training Program, walking has become an integral part of marathon training for some. Galloway suggests that for every four to seven minutes of running, you walk for a minute. (The slower your pace, the more often you take a walking break.) He says this stretches your endurance levels and allows you to push back the wall.”

I think sometimes that walking has this stigma in running circles and oftentimes with beginners.  I actually walked through the water stops of my marathon.  Why?  Well, it gave me some time to consume the water and gave me a brief breather.
Walking is key and one of the best ways to start cross training for new runners.  Plus, it’s a great strategy to increase your distance.  If you want to incorporate an easy cross training activity, walking is the way to go.

Aqua running takes the pressure off your legs, while giving your oxygen intake a boost.

You may have heard of aqua running as a means to continue running while you’re injured.  And that’s true – people do use aqua running for that.

In fact, in my cross-country days in high school, I often suffered from shin splints.  No fun!  The assistant coach lived in my neighborhood and was kind enough to let me use his pool for aqua running.  The activity itself was awkward at first, but it allowed me to keep my endurance level.

This is something you can do at a local YMCA, in your own pool if you have one, or at a community pool. Just pick up an Aqua Jogger belt, strap it around yourself, and hit the water.  It takes some getting used to, but you will feel its effects right away.  It’s definitely a workout – and I remember sweating while in the pool!

Here’s a fartlek routine you can use to start aqua jogging from Runners Connect:

10 minutes easy warm up
30 seconds sprint (95-100% of maximum heart rate or all out sprint)
30 seconds medium (87-92% of maximum heart rate or what feels like tempo effort)
30 seconds sprint
30 seconds medium
30 seconds rest
Repeat 12-15 times
10 minutes easy cool down

Now, of course you can adjust this to your liking.  This is just a guide for cross training for new runners.  But, if that doesn’t build your endurance, enhance your oxygen intake, and strengthen your legs … I don’t know what will!

Swimming is certainly a full body exercise that will build a runner’s endurance.

I’ll say it – I hate swimming.  I can swim, but not very well.  Preferably, I’d rather float or doggy paddle.

My own bias aside, similar to aqua running, swimming had many of the same benefits for runners of all ability levels.  I’ll let Competitor sing the praises of swimming for you:

“What’s more, the full-body nature of swimming requires wholly different movement patterns, giving a runner the opportunity to work some of those oft forgotten muscle groups. Although the theory of specificity suggests that a runner must run to improve, many of our bodies aren’t built to achieve optimal fitness through running alone. The muscle imbalances that occur over many miles only worsen with each step. Swimming introduces new ranges of motion and strengthens muscle groups that have been neglected, helping a runner avoid classic overcompensation injuries.”

To get started, just find an open lane at your local pool and do laps for 20 to 30 minutes.  If you need to, take breaks at times, but keep your heart rate up.

And if you’re not the best swimmer (like me), get somebody to watch your form and give you tips.  My wife grew up swimming, so I would go to her for advice.  Although, I think she considers me a lost cause!

Biking is a great way to bring the whole family into your cross training.

My son isn’t old enough for a bike yet, but I know the family will be doing plenty of bike rides when he is.  Why not incorporate your cross training into family time?  True, it might not be at the highest intensity, but it will give you a workout with less of an impact on your legs.

That said, you may want to get serious about your cross training and think biking is the way to go.  So, you’re probably asking yourself, “What workout can I do to get started?

Let’s get that answered from a triathlete.  In 2015, Runner’s World’s Coach Jenny spoke with Linsey Corbin about the benefits of biking for runners.  As Linsey explains:

“…once a week I do a very challenging workout that involves all-out sprinting for short intervals. It spikes your heart rate to max levels and enforces a quick turnover (cadence) as well. It starts with a short warmup. Then I do 10 x one minute all-out, best effort, sprinting, as hard as you can go, with a two-minute recovery of super easy riding. Then I cool down for 10 to 15 minutes.”

And what if you don’t have a bike?  Linsey suggests you “take a local “spin” class at the gym to see if you like it or to head to a local bike shop and rent a bike for the day.” 

There are plenty of options for cross training for new runners.

As you can see, there is a variety of ways to begin cross training as a new runner.  But, the hard work and dedication are up to you.

What you need to do is try a few and see what works.  Then, see how you can make it a priority in your training schedule.

The benefits of cross training on your running ability and overall health are clear.  It comes down to what you as an individual are willing and able to do on a daily basis.  After all, it’s the grind day in and day out that separates an athlete from the competition.

I wish you the best in your training and future races.

What cross training do you incorporate into your running schedule?  Is there one or two types of cross training you prefer?  Let us know in the comments and share this article with your fellow runners!

About The Author: David Domzalski


Dave Domzalski lives in Gettysburg, PA with his wife and son.  He’s completed 5 half marathons and the 2015 Philadelphia Marathon.  Check him out on Run The Money, where he discusses the intersection of physical health and financial health.  Follow Run The Money on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

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