Unleash Your Running Potential: A Head-to-Head Comparison of Cross-Training vs Strength Training

Strength training and cross-training are two of the most popular methods for runners to improve their performance while preventing injuries. 

Strength training is a form of exercise that uses resistance, such as weights or body weight, to build muscle and increase overall strength. Cross-training, on the other hand, involves participating in different types of physical activities outside of running to enhance overall fitness and reduce the risk of injury. 

This article will compare strength training and cross-training for runners, exploring their benefits and differences and determining which method may be best for you.

The benefits of cross-training for runners

Cross-training offers several benefits for runners, including reduced risk of injury, improved athletic performance, and increased cardiovascular fitness.

By participating in swimming, biking, and yoga activities, runners can strengthen muscles and joints that are not heavily utilized during running, reducing the risk of overuse injuries. Participating in various physical activities can help prevent boredom and burnout from your primary sport (in this case, running). 

However, it is essential to note that cross-training may only be suitable for some and may require additional time and resources compared to traditional running training. It is important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of cross-training to determine whether it is the right choice for you. If your schedule is already burning both ends of the candle, let's wait until things slow down to add cross-training to the mix. 

Types of cross-training for runners 

Cross-training involves participating in different cardiovascular activities to enhance overall fitness and reduce the risk of injury. 

Some popular kinds of cross-training include

  1. Swimming - Swimming is a low-impact exercise that can help build cardiovascular endurance and improve overall fitness.
  2. Biking or spinning (Peloton/stationary bike) - Biking is a great way to build cardiovascular fitness and leg strength while also giving the joints a break from the impact of running.
  3. Hiking or trail running - Trail running and hiking offer a change of scenery and can help build leg strength and endurance while reducing the risk of overuse injuries from repeated impact on the same terrain.

RELATED: Is running really bad for your knees? 

These are just a few examples of the many types of cross-training that runners can do. The most important thing is to find enjoyable cross-training that fits well into your overall training plan.

Advantages and disadvantages of cross-training for runners

Advantages of cross-training for runners

Disadvantages of cross-training for runners

  1. Reduced risk of injury - Cross-training can help build strength in muscles and joints not heavily used in running, reducing the risk of overuse injuries.
  2. Improved athletic performance - Cross-training can increase cardiovascular fitness and build muscular endurance, leading to better athletic performance.
  3. Increased variety and enjoyment - Participating in different physical activities can help prevent boredom and burnout, making exercise more enjoyable.
  4. Enhanced mental well-being - Cross-training can also positively impact mental health, helping runners stay motivated and reduce stress.
  1. Increased time and resource commitment - Cross-training often requires additional time and resources, such as access to a pool or gym.
  2. Reduced specificity - Cross-training can enhance overall fitness, but it may provide a different level of specificity than traditional running training. 
  3. Increased risk of injury - Participating in new and unfamiliar physical activities can increase the risk of injury, mainly if proper technique and form are not utilized.
  4. Potential for decreased running performance - Cross-training can also lead to decreased running performance if it interferes with the volume or intensity of running training.

The benefits of strength training for runners

Strength training offers several benefits for runners, including improved endurance, reduced risk of injury, and increased speed and power. By building strength in the muscles used for running, runners can run longer and faster with less effort and reduced risk of injury. 

Weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, and plyometrics are all effective forms of strength training for runners. Incorporating strength training into a runner's routine is an important aspect of overall training.

Types of strength training for runners

Strength training involves using resistance to build muscle and improve overall strength. 

Some popular kinds of strength training for runners include

  1. Weightlifting - Weightlifting involves using weights or resistance to build muscle and improve strength. Including traditional weightlifting exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and more specialized exercises designed for runners.
  2. Bodyweight exercises - Bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups, squats, and lunges, use the runner's own body weight as resistance. These exercises can be performed anywhere and do not require any special equipment.
  3. Plyometrics - Plyometrics involves explosive movements designed to increase power and speed. Examples of plyometric exercises include box jumps, bounding, and plyometric push-ups.
  4. Core training - Core training involves exercises targeting the trunk and hip muscles, including the abs, lower back, and glutes. Core training can help improve posture and stability, reducing the risk of injury and improving running performance.
  5. Functional training - Functional training involves exercises that mimic the movements involved in running and other athletic activities, such as lunges, squats, and step-ups. These exercises can help improve overall stability, balance, and coordination, making them a critical component of a runner's strength training routine.

Runners must find a strength training program (or work with a strength and conditioning coach) that fits well into their overall training plan and goals.

Advantages and disadvantages of strength training for runners

Advantages of strength training for runners

Disadvantages of strength training for runners

  1. Improved endurance - Strength training can help build endurance by increasing muscle strength and reducing fatigue, allowing runners to run longer and faster with less effort.
  2. Reduced risk of injury - Strengthening the muscles used in running can help reduce the risk of injury by reducing muscle imbalances and increasing stability.
  3. Increased speed and power - Strength training can help runners improve their speed and power by building explosive power in the legs and increasing stride length.
  4. Better posture and form - Strength training can also help improve posture and form, leading to better running mechanics and reduced risk of injury.
  1. Time commitment - Strength training requires a significant time commitment, which can be challenging for high-volume runners.
  2. Risk of injury - Improper technique or overuse can lead to injury, especially if a runner is unfamiliar with the exercises or equipment.
  3. Decreased specificity - While strength training can be an important component of overall training, it may not provide the same level of specificity as traditional running training.
  4. Decreased recovery time - Strength training can tax the muscles and joints, leading to increased recovery time and potential interference with running training.

Pro tip: Remember to start incorporating strength training SLOWLY. If you were starting running from scratch, you would likely need frequent walk breaks and days off in between training. It’s the same with strength training! 

How cross-training and strength training make a difference for runners 

Cross-training and strength training are both important components of a well-rounded training routine. Both methods can help improve athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury, but they have distinct differences in their focus and impact on fitness levels.

RELATED: Reasons to join a run club today. 

Similarities between cross-training and strength training include:

  1. Improved athletic performance: Both cross-training and strength training help improve running performance by building muscle strength and endurance, which are essential for running efficiency and speed.
  2. Reduced risk of injury: Incorporating cross-training and strength training into a runner's routine can help reduce the risk of injury by strengthening the muscles used in running and improving posture and form. This can help prevent common running injuries such as runner's knee and shin splints.

Despite these similarities, cross-training and strength training also have distinct differences that set them apart. These differences include:

  1. Focus and intensity: Cross-training typically focuses on building overall fitness and improving cardiovascular health, while strength training focuses more specifically on building muscle strength and power. Strength training workouts are typically shorter and more intense than cross-training workouts.
  2. Impact on cardiovascular fitness: Cross-training has a greater impact on cardiovascular fitness, as it involves a wider range of activities that engage the heart and lungs. Strength training can also improve cardiovascular fitness but to a lesser extent.

In conclusion, cross-training and strength training are important for runners to incorporate into their training routines. The best approach combines both methods to create a well-rounded fitness routine that addresses all aspects of fitness.

Pro tip: Even 20-30 minutes a day while watching TV, listening to a podcast, or a work meeting can be enough to skyrocket your running performance! 

Ready to take your running to the next level? 

For runners, it is recommended to combine both methods to create a well-rounded training program. Cross-training activities, such as swimming, biking, or yoga, can help improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce the risk of injury. Strength training exercises, such as weightlifting, bodyweight, or plyometrics, can help improve endurance, speed, and power. Make cross-training and strength training a regular part of your routine, focusing on gradually increasing the intensity and duration over time.

Learn more about including cross-training and strength training in your daily routines through our Run Club and Coaching!