You’re a trail runner? Here’s why you should be cross-training, too.

Once you start trail running, it can be hard to want to do anything else. You begin to up your running miles, getting lots of sun and sweat and dirt and it feels good to move this way but you shouldn’t forget the benefits of doing other activities and exercises too.

Girl running Blue Lakes trail to Mt. Sneffels near Ouray, Colorado

I’ve found over this summer I have been much less motivated to run constantly. Instead of getting discouraged I’ve taken it as an opportunity to expand my training and do a variety of activities to keep me balanced and healthy, physically and mentally. I run when it feels good (averaging about 30 miles a week) and supplement with cycling, yoga and strength training. It has kept me fresh and has taken the pressure off to attain certain mileage, speeds or climbing if my body isn’t feeling truly up for it. So let’s get into the details:

What is cross-training? Cross-training can be high or low intensity activity that compliments your main sport. To become a faster, stronger runner, you want to consider adding in sports like swimming, cycling, hiking, skiing or walking to encourage building up endurance.

Trail running is primarily a unilateral motion, meaning our arms and legs are moving in a forward and backward motion repeatedly. To get stronger, more flexible and more dynamic it is crucial to incorporate unilateral exercises, like curtsy lunges and horizontal banded monster walks. Runners tend to be weaker laterally, so you’ll also want to do workouts that strengthen your hips and glutes (hello isolated movements!)

Not only is cross-training great for getting stronger, it also can help with injury prevention, correcting muscular imbalances and diminishing boredom and burnout from your main sport of choice. WebMD states, “One of the most common mistakes people make with exercise is repeating the same routine week after week. To continue to improve your fitness level and reap all the benefits of regular exercise, you need to keep your body guessing. Cross training does this for you.”

How often should you be cross-training and how do you fit it into your plan? RunKeeper explains, “Cross training should supplement running, not replace it (unless you are running too often to sustain without injury). Begin with how many days per week you can safely run, which may be in the range of 3-5 days per week. Schedule one day as a complete rest day and then fill in the remaining days with your preferred cross-training and strength training/supplemental workouts. Aim for 1-2 days of any of the above cross-training workouts per week and 2-3 days of strength training, yoga, Pilates, or other supplemental workouts. One of the best ways to fit in both is to spend 40-60 minutes at the gym on your cross-training days, with 20-30 minutes of cross-training and 15-20 minutes of strength training.”

I like to focus on cross-training for longevity in the sport of trail running and continuing to love the sport without burning out. What’s your favorite kind of cross-training?

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