If there's an extra 20 minutes to exercise, most runners would rather run another two miles than spend that time cycling or lifting weights. With the annual running injury rate between 50 and 70 percent, it's a shame that more runners don't regularly cross-train.
Cross-training has many benefits, including the promotion of recovery, building strength, preventing injuries, developing aerobic endurance, improving your running form and making you faster, particularly for the "final kick" at the end of a race.
An effective cross-training routine can be used to build strength or to develop aerobic endurance.
Strength exercises help runners with both injury prevention and performance improvement. They increase your "structural fitness"—the ability of your ligaments, muscles, bones and tendons to withstand the inevitable impact of running.
Body weight strength work provides fantastic protection against running injuries. And heavy resistance exercises like squats, deadlifts and lunges can improve your running economy.
Strength work is especially important for runners who have a history of injuries and those who are running high mileage. Marathoners should perform at least 3 to 4 strength workouts per week during training season. While you're building endurance through running, it's critical to mitigate the significant wear and tear that inevitably results from running with runner-specific strength exercises.
This type of exercise includes pool running, cycling (both indoor spinning and outdoor bike riding) and elliptical workouts. They're aerobic in that they develop your endurance rather than your muscular fitness. You can do low-intensity aerobic cross-training to help facilitate recovery or to boost your aerobic capacity.
Active recovery is almost always better than passive recovery; an easy 30 minutes on the bike will help you recover faster than simply sitting on the couch. That's because you elevate your heart rate, which delivers nutrient-rich blood to your muscles and helps you work through a wider range of motion. This is often the reason why many coaches recommend a short cross-training session the day after a marathon; it short circuits the development of delayed onset muscle soreness and jump-starts the recovery process.