How Often Should I Cross Train for Running?

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The theory of specificity training states that to become better at a sport you must train in that particular sport/skill. Runners train by running, swimmers train by swimming, bikers train by cycling. 

So why cross train?

Research has shown that cross training improves oxygen use and running economy. 

Improved Running Economy means that you can run faster over a given distance, or maintain a specific pace for a longer period of time. Go faster, go longer, and use oxygen more efficiently: I don’t know any runners who would turn that down. 

Additionally, cross training can correct muscular imbalances caused by training for a specific sport, help prevent injury and improve strength and endurance. If you sustain a running related injury, cross training can help you maintain your fitness as you let your body heal. 

If your primary training focus is Running:

If you are training for a specific running event you can complete cross training three times per week. You can avoid overtraining by reducing your weekly mileage by 25-30%, and replacing it with cross training (Runners World: Cross Training). 

Runner’s World recommends keeping your heart rate at or above 70% of your maximum heart rate during cross training. This means you should be sweating and working during your cross training workouts. 

As with a regular running program, be alert for signs of overtraining (listed below). 

Jesse’s primary focus is running, and he cross trains 2-3X per week with BenderFitness workouts. This month we are also implementing a stretching program to help improve his flexibility. Flexibility is important for runners because it helps maintain proper biomechanics and protect your knees, hips and joints.  

If your primary focus is Fitness:

If you run/race because you enjoy it, and you workout to stay fit, you can cross train between 3-5X per week and run 3-6X per week. Pay attention to the overall volume of your training. Workouts should last 60-75 minutes maximum (with the exception being long run days), including both running and cross training. 

For example, if I am doing a 15 Minute HIIT workout and a 30 minute run I will repeat the HIIT 1-2X to keep my total workout time to 60 minutes (30 minutes HIIT, 30 Minutes Running). I do not run and cross train every day. Some days I do running only, and other days I solely cross train. 

The key here is making sure you are alert for the signs of overtraining (which are listed below), and making sure you take at least 1-2 full rest days per week. Including a yoga day will also benefit your overall health and running ability. 

Each person handles training differently and it is imperative to listen to your body. Over-training will not benefit you, it will injure you. 

Signs of Over-Training

1. Elevated Resting Heart Rate. Take your heart rate in the morning before you get out of bed. Do this over the course of several days, and figure out the average. If you notice an increase in your resting heart rate it is a sign that you need to ease off and take a rest. 

2. Increased Fatigue: If you are completing the same types or runs/workouts and noticing that your effort is much higher and you aren’t performing to the same level it’s a sign of overtraining. 

-For example: I repeated an interval run 2 weeks in a row. The second week I felt that I was working much harder, buy my average pace was nearly a minute slower than the week before. It was time for a rest break.

3. Injuries/Illness: If you notice your self getting injured or sick more often it can be due to overtraining without allowing your body enough rest. 

4. Extensive Muscle Soreness: If you are sore for more than 72 hours take time off and allow your body to heal. Muscles tear during your workout, and re-build (increasing strength and endurance) when you rest them. If you repeatedly tear the muscle without allowing it to re-build you will not achieve optimal results from your workout. 

*These are just a few of the signs of over-training. Pay attention to how you are feeling, and don’t feel guilty if you need to take a day off. Training does not benefit you if it comes at the cost of your health. 


Improving Running Economy Through Strength Training

2 thoughts on “How Often Should I Cross Train for Running?

  1. Tricia

    Thanks so much Melissa! I never really did strength training or diligent cross training until I found your blog. I used to run a lot of miles per week and eventually had to back off due to right-sided hip pain. Now I incorporate your workouts into my weekly routine and have begun running again with no pain. I recently trained for a half marathon while living in the Midwest (with no hills), and then ran the race in San Fransisco (super hilly!). While training, I put on less miles overall but kept up with my long runs and incorporated your workouts 3-5 times per week. I felt like the HIIT workouts really helped me with those SF hills. Best of all, no pain, and I beat my personal record 🙂

    Thanks of all you do!!!

    • benderfitness

      Congratulations!!! Thats huge! A new PR in a Super Hilly city! Thank you for working out with us, and I am so glad the workouts helped!

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