The Importance of Cross-Training for People Running the Pittsburgh Marathon

Written by: Brian Tevis – CSCS & PES


Cross-training is an exercise regimen that incorporates and combines other disciplines of fitness different than the one an athlete or individual is training for. In reference to running, cross-training is when a runner trains by participating in another form of exercise such as cycling, swimming, strength training, or pilates. Different forms of exercise have varying degrees benefits and purposes, so the key is to step-back and access your primary athletic or fitness programming strengths and weaknesses. Runners tend to be strong in endurance and power, specifically in the quadriceps muscles – the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis. The strength and development achieved in these muscles from running leads to inhibited hamstring strength and activation. Combine under-active hamstrings with neglected upper body development and you have a recipe for disaster and injury.


Cross-training provides several benefits for any and all athletes. First and foremost, cross-training leads to reduced risk of injury. By developing strength and coordination in the surrounding musculature, one can effectively balance out muscular imbalances, compensations, and weaknesses. Developing total body muscular balance ensures efficient and fundamental movement mechanics as well as distributes the orthopedic stress experienced overtime throughout many muscles, joints, and connective tissues; this allows individuals to train harder and longer without overloading vulnerable areas such as ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.

Cross-training also helps to promote quicker recovery and improved levels of fitness while helping to fight off and prevent staleness and boredom. Partaking in other forms of exercise allows individuals to workout while they are sore from other workouts. Getting blood pumping through muscles and tissues is an excellent way to encourage tissue regeneration and reduce soreness; this will ultimately help to improve one’s level of fitness and interest.


While overall human movement and locomotion occurs in all three planes of motion – sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes – running is primarily occurring in the sagittal plane involving front to back movements. Consistent movement in the sagittal plane neglects movements in the transverse (rotational movements) and frontal planes (side-to-side movements). Failing to move and train in all planes of motion means that you are failing to train muscles that act and control movement in all planes of motion. This leaves you susceptible to imbalances and a much higher risk and occurrence of injury. Incorporating more cross-training will help prevent these issues, meaning you can run more often and much later into life.


The key to working more cross-training into your program is to access your current running program. If you are someone who likes to run each and every day, then you should split up your running and cross-training sessions into two-a-day sessions with your running taking place in the morning and your non-running training occurring at night. If you are someone who likes to take days off or don’t have time to workout twice a day, then you should perform in cross-training activities on your off days or your easy run days. Another important aspect to consider when planning out your cross-training sessions is to identify your reason for cross-training. If you are cross-training for recovery, then your training session should be equivalent in time to your shortest run and relatively light in effort.


Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
AM Run Workout Strength Session Run + Core AM Run Workout Short Cycle + Core Long Run AM Run
PM Short Pool Run PM Short Pool Run PM B Exercises
AM Run Workout Strength Session AM Run + Core AM Run Workout Long Cycle + Core Long Run AM Run + B Exercises
PM Long Pool Run PM Long Pool Run PM Long Pool Run PM Long Cycle

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