Combining cross training with your running

February 2, 2023

Do you want to train more whilst building your running volume gradually?
Do you want to run more but can’t?
Do you want to run faster but want variety in your training plan?

Cross training might be the answer! The term ‘cross training’ gets thrown around but, what
does it actually mean? Cross training is non-impact or non-weightbearing form of
cardiovascular training. For example, a runner who finds it difficult to increase running
volume, might add some cycling to their routine so they can still work their cardiovascular
system without the impact on their legs and therefore reduce the chance of injury. Other
forms of cross training include swimming, rowing, and elliptical trainer.

When I first started marathon training, I had no idea what mileage would be expected for an
elite runner – because I wasn’t one. I followed a plan that was appropriate for someone who
currently ran 3-5x a week and had a good base level of fitness. Over time, I learned more
about marathon training and that large volumes of running were common for elite runners.
After speaking to other athletes, reading articles, and following professional runners on
social media, a ‘100 mile’ week and double run days appeared to be not uncommon. I
wasn’t even running 100km, let alone 100miles! This is a lot of running and it can take years
to build up to, so is not achievable for most people. However…that doesn’t mean you can’t
get fitter and faster!

When building running mileage, it is advised to increase by no more than 10% each week. I
tried this – it didn’t work for me. I wanted to run more but I would get struck by niggles that
would set me back again and again. I love running, but I also love training in general, so
during these setbacks I would spend time on the elliptical trainer or bike working on my
fitness. I would replicate run sessions on the elliptical and track my HR wearing a chest strap
to ensure I was working hard. For example, if I had 1k reps on the plan, I know that each rep
would take around 3:10-3:20 so I would hop on the elliptical and do the session but to time.
When returning from injury, I started to keep up these sessions alongside my running.
Double run days seemed too risky for me, but I could add a session on the elliptical or bike.
Instead of focusing on my weekly running mileage, I focused on building non-impact cross
training sessions into my routine.

The most challenging thing people find about cross training is getting the intensity and
volume right, and this will vary depending on how much running you are doing and what
you are training for. When training for a race (and injury free!), my cross-training sessions
are generally focused on building my aerobic base and recovering from harder run sessions.
The intensity is kept lower, which can be done by keeping HR or RPE in the same range as
your easy runs or, if using power on the bike, around 60% of your FTP (functional threshold
power). When I need to take time out from running due to injury or recovering from a race,
I would add intensity to my cross training sessions to make sure I am training all zones and
keeping as fit as possible. You could use my example above of replicating your running

sessions, but you could also join a spin class or follow an FTP training plan on the bike
(Wattbike, Zwift, Trainer Road).

For runners, cross training options can include cycling, elliptical, rowing or swimming, but
my advice would be to do what you enjoy the most. It will add variety to your routine when
you are running fit and healthy, but it will also make it a lot easier to adapt if you are
injured. Set yourself goals and challenges whilst you can’t run – you will enjoy it a lot more!