Cross training – most of us runners, myself included, will often only partake in such activities to maintain fitness when injury prevents us from doing what we really love. However, including some alternative forms of exercise within your weekly training schedule can confer a number of other benefits ranging from injury prevention to mitigating the side effects associated with over specialisation.


In this short article we discuss the benefits and limitations of some of the most common forms of cross training. The analysis is confined to cardiovascular forms of cross training. Although the term often encompasses methods of resistance training such as weights training and circuit training, these have been and will be the subject of other blog posts.




This activity involves running through a deep body of water with the aid of a floatation device strapped around your waist. Its main advantage is that it replicates the same movement pattern as running on land, although the absence of foot contact with a solid surface means that the neuromuscular pattern is slightly different. Essentially aqua jogging allows you to mimic the running activity minus the weight bearing component.


There are two main drawbacks associated with the activity. Firstly, you have to work really, really hard in order to raise your heart rate to a level that will induce any form of a training adaptation. It is not enough to run at a jogging pace, you need perform each session like it is a track workout. However, it should be noted that recovery occurs really quickly after an aqua jogging session due to the lack of impact. A second drawback is that there is a limit to how much aqua jogging can be completed within one session due to upper body fatigue and monotony. Staring at a wall whilst taking 3+ minutes to complete 50m is not exactly the definition of fun.


I generally find that this particular form of cross training is best reserved for periods of injury




Cycling can be performed either on the road or on a stationary bike.


Its main advantages are that it is relatively easy to control your heart rate throughout a session and you can undertake a very high volume of training without accumulating a large amount of fatigue. By being able to easily control your heart rate, you can obtain a very precise stimulus from a cycling session.


The main disadvantage of cycling is that your leg muscles operate much differently than they do when running. For instance, your quadricep muscles are the main drivers when cycling, whereas they primarily act as shock absorbers when running. If you undertake a large volume of cycling during a period of injury, then you need to ensure a smooth transition back over to running post-injury.


A small amount of cycling can also be added to a runner’s weekly training programme in order to induce additional aerobic development, whilst minimising the risk of injury. During a period of injury, fitness can often be maintained very effectively through a combination of cycling and aqua jogging. An easy cycle the day after a race, a hard workout or a long run can also greatly aid recovery while providing an aerobic benefit.




This form of cross training has a number of distinct benefits from the therapeutic effects of water, to increased upper body mobility, to enhanced hip strength from kicking. Just like with aqua jogging, it can be difficult to raise your heart rate to the desired level, especially if you’re not a strong swimmer. The use of a pull buoy can help in this regard by enabling you to focus entirely on your upper body, while it can also help to conserve leg energy if you’re in a block of heavy run training. Swimming is probably used to best effect by augmenting your run training during a full block of training, as opposed to using it to maintain fitness while injured.




An overlooked and underrated method of cross training – which is somewhat surprising when you consider its name. It can be used very effectively during a period of injury or as a complementary conditioning session at any stage during the running season.


The limited range of motion through the ankle, knee and hip joints make the cross trainer a very appropriate choice of activity when recuperating from a vast array of injuries. In addition to being an optimal choice when suffering from a lower limb joint injury, it can be a more advantageous choice than other activities when recovering from muscular, tendon and ligament injuries. In the early stages of a quadricep/hip flexor or hamstring injury, it can be a better choice than cycling/aqua jogging.


As is the case with aqua jogging, the cross trainer is quite intense which means that sessions usually have to be kept within the 25-45 minute bracket.




I’m not a massive fan due to its heavy reliance on upper body strength and conditioning. Running is a lower limb dominant sport and therefore when cross training during a period of injury, it is best to try seek out methods of cross training that will help you to retain lower leg muscle tone. Furthermore, just like with aqua jogging and the cross trainer, the intensity of the activity limits the volume which you can undertake at any one time.


However, if nothing else is available, then the rower is better choice than the couch 😉




Elliptical treadmills are essentially machines which are self-propelled. Instead of being automated, the motion of the belt is generated from the motion you create when you run on it. They are becoming more and more common, and tentative evidence is emerging that they can help to improve running mechanics and reduce the impact on your joints. They’re most likely not an option during a period of injury but could be a useful addition to your overall training programme. Beware that they may take a little bit of getting used to.


Anti-gravity and underwater treadmills may be the gold standard when it comes to cross training but their cost will put them beyond the reach of almost everyone bar professional athletes. Being able to run with a reduced level of impact can allow you to get the vast majority of the benefits of running as you work your way back from injury.



Working with an injured athlete is one of the biggest challenges for a coach. At MYP Coaching we utilise all of the above methods of cross training in order to ensure that every athlete is in the best shape possible to achieve their goals when they return from injury.


In a subsequent post we will explore cross training for team sports.