How To Fit Cross-Training Into Your Training Plan

Note: If you read the title a little too fast, you may have mistaken this for an article about cross-fit. It is not.

Every runner has heard it before. Cross-training is a critical component to any runner’s training plan in order to get faster and avoid injury.

For the uninitiated, cross-training basically means any type of exercise other than the one you’re primarily training in. For runners, it includes biking, swimming, walking, hiking, or strength-training. Most runners (or so I’ve heard) just want to run, so cross-training is seen as a burden; it’s the unwanted wedge between you and your precious run.

Cross-training not only increases your strength and keeps workouts fresh, but (if you do cardio) it also improves your cardiovascular fitness while allowing you to take a break from the pounding. My favorite way to cross-train is to take classes at the gym– spinning, HIIT, yoga, and total-body training are some of my favorites– but I also spin and do strength training routines on my own.

cross train 1

The truth is, I love to cross-train. I love to run too, of course, but my body simply can’t handle running every day of the week. Trial and error has taught me that I feel best when I run 4 days a week. I prefer to cross-train a couple days after my long run (I try to do a short recovery run the day after my long runs), and a day before my long run so that my body is more prepared for the run.

As much as I enjoy my cross-training days, it can seem overwhelming to have to fit it in my schedule when my training plan already calls for 5 or 6 workouts a week. Over the course of multiple cycles of training, I’ve figured out a system that works for me:

  1. Look at the next week’s training plan. Then think about the other commitments you have for that week (dinner with friends, early morning meeting, happy hour plans, etc.).
  2. Sit down and write down your workouts for the week, taking into account your other commitments.
  3. See how you could combine your shorter runs (e.g. 3 or 4 miles) with cross-training.
  4. Adjust the schedule throughout the week as needed.
  5. Show up to your workouts.

The most important part of this is to write each workout down. Know exactly what you need to accomplish that week, and don’t be afraid to shuffle things around as obligations come up. Do this, and you’ve done 50% of the work. The other 50% is to show up to the workout.

As an example, below are two charts; the first one is what I had planned for the week, and the second is what actually happened. The differences are in pink.

What I had planned:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
CROSS-TRAIN: Spin class (45 minutes) -3 miles easy + 6 strides

20 minutes strength- training

7 mile fartlek run CROSS-TRAIN: 30 minutes on bike, 30 min BBG workout LONG RUN: 12 miles + 6 strides 5 miles easy Rest day

What actually happened:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
CROSS-TRAIN: Spin class (45 minutes) -3 miles easy + 6 strides

15 minute leg/glute workout

7 mile fartlek run 5 miles easy, 20 mins BBG workout LONG RUN: 12 miles + 6 strides Rest day Rest day
cross train 2
Example of a BBG workout

I was going to go out of town for the weekend, so I knew from the start that I’d need to fit in my long run before I left (i.e. Friday). I figured I could squeeze in a 5 miler at some point during the weekend; I didn’t want to do it Thursday because that would mean four days in a row of running. However, when I woke up Thursday morning, my legs felt good so I decided to do the run that morning instead of having to stress about it over the weekend.

I still got in the mileage I needed (27), and was able to do two strength-training sessions as well.

The key is to look ahead, plan around other commitments, and to remain flexible. No week is going to go exactly as planned, but that’s the beauty of life!

If you try this out, I’d love to hear how it goes.

And if you have other cross-training strategies, please spread your wisdom in the comments!

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