Cross-training for Runners for Maintenance During the Off-Season

Cross-training is an important part of any runners training program, during preparation for races and during the off-season. Cross-training can be used to maintain fitness during rehabilitation from an injury and during the off-season. This article focuses on how to effectively use cross-training during the off-season to maintain fitness.

What is cross-training?

• Performing exercises which elevate heart rate and maintain cardiovascular and skeletal muscle fitness

• Includes:

– Swimming/deep pool running

– Outdoor cycling, exercise bikes, spin classes

– Elliptical machine

– Rowing machine

– Cross-country skiing

– Snowshoeing

– Aerobic-type classes

– Team sports including basketball and indoor soccer

– My recommendation: Choose the mode(s) that are most enjoyable for you

Cross-training does not include strength training, although strengthening exercises should be part on a maintenance program as well. The importance of strength training during maintenance and guidelines will be discussed in an upcoming article.

Why is cross-training important?

• Helps maintain or even improves fitness

• Helps prevent over-use injuries

• Helps reduce muscle imbalances

• Helps maintain or even improve body composition

• Provides a psychological boost when you return to running by providing variety

It can be beneficial to take a couple of weeks off from running at the end of the season. However, research has shown if we stop exercising for only a couple of weeks significant aerobic fitness adaptations can be lost. Therefore, cross-training during this time is important.

Guidelines for cross-training:

• Frequency: Minimum of two-three days/week, no more than five days/week

• Duration: 20-60 minutes

• Intensity: Low to moderate

– Once every 2-3 weeks perform 4-6 high intensity intervals for 30 seconds each with full recovery between intervals

Cross-training activities that occur in different planes of motion than running can be particularly beneficial. These would include skating and cross-country skiing using the skate technique. These modes of exercise use muscles primarily in the frontal plane (side-to-side motion), as opposed to running which primarily in the sagittal plane (forward and back motion). Team sports such as basketball and indoor soccer can also include motion in different planes (frontal and transverse). Many of the injuries common to runners result from lack of development of muscles responsible for frontal and transverse plane motion (for example, outer hips or hip abductors).

Other considerations

• Swimming:

– Strengthening rotator cuff muscles to prevent injury due to muscle imbalance

– Rotator cuff exercises (external and internal rotation):



• Cycling:

– Make sure properly fitted on your bike to avoid IT Band syndrome

– Cadence should be at least 85 revolutions per minute

– Stretch hip flexors after cycling workout:


• Rowing:

– Pull with the muscle groups in descending order of power using the legs first, then the back and then the arms (legs, back, arms)

– To return to the starting position use the reverse order extend the arms, lean forward, and finally pull forward with the legs (arms, back, legs)

– Keep the back straight by pivoting from the hips rather than bending from the waist

• Spin classes:

– Adjust to proper fit (slight bend in knee at bottom of pedal stroke, slight bend in elbows)

– Don’t do drills which you wouldn’t do on a road bike, such as very high resistance which causes your cadence to be very low or moving into odd saddle positions

Final Note: Although this article has stressed the importance of cross-training in the off-season, especially the winter in which it can be difficult to train outdoors, you should not discontinue running for a significant period of time. You may take a 1-2 weeks off from running, but otherwise you should run at least two days per week in the off-season. In future articles, I will provide more information on what to do in the off-season for maintenance to help you transition into the 2014 running season.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I appreciate your questions and comments.

See you on the road or trail,


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