As a marathon runner, you’re constantly seeking ways to improve your performance, prevent injuries, and enhance your overall fitness. 

One effective strategy to achieve these goals is cross training for marathon races. Cross-training involves engaging in a variety of exercises and activities that complement your running routine, targeting different muscle groups, and improving overall fitness

In this article, we will explore various cross-training methods for marathons, their benefits, and how to seamlessly incorporate them into your marathon training regimen.

Benefits of Cross Training

Research has shown that cross-training can improve your overall performance in a marathon. Let’s go over some of the key benefits of this form of training for marathons.

1. Improved Fitness

Cross-training improves overall fitness by engaging different muscle groups and challenging your body in new ways. By incorporating varied exercises, you enhance your cardiovascular capacity, muscular strength, and endurance, leading to improved running performance.

2. Enhanced Endurance

Engaging in activities like swimming or cycling on your non-running days helps you maintain your aerobic fitness without subjecting your joints to the repetitive impact of running. This improved endurance translates into longer-lasting energy during marathons and reduced fatigue.

3. Increased Strength Training

Cross-training allows you to target specific muscle groups that may not receive adequate stimulation through running alone. Strengthening your core, upper body, and lower body muscles enhances stability, running efficiency, and prevents imbalances or injuries.

4. Injury Prevention

Cross-training helps prevent overuse injuries by reducing the repetitive impact on your running muscles and joints. By incorporating low-impact activities like swimming or cycling, you give your body the opportunity to recover while still maintaining cardiovascular fitness.

5. Active Recovery

Cross-training provides an active recovery method for your body during intense marathon training. Engaging in different activities allows your running muscles to recover from the repetitive pounding while still promoting blood flow and aiding in the removal of metabolic waste products.

Types of Cross Training Exercises for Runners

Types of cross training for marathon

To excel as a marathon runner, it’s essential to go beyond simply logging miles. The following types of cross-training exercises will help you prepare better for marathons.

1. Cardiovascular Cross Training

This form of training involves activities that elevate your heart rate and improve your cardiovascular fitness. 

It complements your running routine and offers variety to your training plan. Examples of cardiovascular cross-training include swimming, cycling, rowing, and using an elliptical machine. 

These activities engage different muscle groups while providing low-impact alternatives to running, reducing the risk of overuse injuries.

2. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, hiking, or dancing, help improve endurance and promote efficient oxygen utilization. 

Engaging in aerobic activities on your non-running days will help maintain your cardiovascular fitness while giving your running muscles a chance to recover.

3. Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercises focus on high-intensity, short-duration bursts of activity, improving your speed and power. Activities like sprinting, interval training, and plyometrics challenge your muscles in different ways, promoting explosive strength and enhancing your overall running performance.

4. Strength and Conditioning

Strength and conditioning exercises are crucial for maintaining muscular balance, preventing injuries, and enhancing running efficiency. 

Incorporate exercises that target your core, lower body, and upper body strength, such as squats, lunges, planks, push-ups, and resistance band training. 

This form of exercise is important because they build your muscles. Strong muscles provide stability and improve running form, enabling you to endure long-distance runs with reduced fatigue.

5. Resistance Training

Resistance training involves using weights or resistance bands to build strength and muscle mass. This helps in improving your running economy, enabling you to run longer distances without getting tired easily.

Focus on exercises like deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and leg presses to target major muscle groups. Aim for two to three resistance training sessions per week, allowing adequate recovery time.

6. Interval Training

Interval training combines short, intense bursts of exercise with recovery periods. By alternating between high-intensity efforts and rest, you enhance your anaerobic capacity, improve speed, and increase your lactate threshold. 

Incorporating interval training sessions such as sprint intervals or hill repeats into your marathon plan improves your running performance.

How to Incorporate Cross-Training into a Marathon Training Plan

Before you start cross-training, you need to know how much cross-training you would be doing either on a weekly on monthly basis.

The amount of cross-training you should do depends on your goals, fitness level, and schedule.

Generally speaking, you should aim for one or two cross-training sessions per week, preferably on your easy or rest days. You can also replace one of your shorter runs with a cross-training workout if you feel tired or sore.

Integrate cross-training activities on your non-running days, ideally two to three times per week. Select activities that complement your running goals and focus on different aspects of fitness. 

For instance, you can swim for cardiovascular fitness, practice yoga for flexibility and core strength, or engage in strength training to build muscle power and endurance.

Remember to listen to your body and avoid overtraining. Allow ample rest and recovery periods, as they are equally vital for optimal performance. 

Consult with a fitness professional or coach to tailor a cross-training plan that aligns with your specific needs and goals.

Want a marathon plan with cross-training activities? Check out our 12-week marathon training plan.

Nutrition for Cross Training

Nutrition for cross training

To make the most of your cross-training sessions, it’s essential to fuel your body with the right nutrition. Let’s explore some valuable nutrition tips to support your cross-training and help you achieve optimal performance.

1. Prioritize Proper Hydration

Staying adequately hydrated is crucial for optimal performance during cross-training. Aim to drink water consistently throughout the day to maintain hydration levels. 

During your workouts, sip on water regularly to replenish fluids lost through sweat. If engaging in intense or prolonged activities, consider sports drinks that provide electrolytes to support hydration and replenish essential minerals.

2. Fuel Up with Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy, making them vital for sustained performance during cross-training. Prioritize complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. 

These provide a steady release of energy, supporting your workouts and preventing fatigue. Consider incorporating foods like oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and bananas into your meals and snacks.

3. Include Adequate Protein

Protein plays a crucial role in muscle repair and growth, making it essential for cross-training. Aim to include a source of lean protein in each meal, such as chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, or legumes. 

Protein-rich snacks like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or protein bars can also be beneficial for muscle recovery and maintenance.

4. Don’t Forget Healthy Fats

While carbohydrates and protein take center stage, don’t overlook the importance of healthy fats in your nutrition plan. 

Incorporating sources of unsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil can provide essential nutrients and help support overall health. These fats contribute to satiety and provide a concentrated source of energy for your workouts.

5. Timing is Key

To optimize your performance during cross-training, pay attention to meal timing. Allow sufficient time for digestion before engaging in intense exercise to avoid discomfort. 

Aim to consume a balanced meal or snack containing carbohydrates and protein approximately 1-3 hours before your session. Afterward, prioritize a post-workout meal or snack within 30-60 minutes to replenish energy stores and aid in muscle recovery.

Final Thoughts

Cross-training for marathon races is not just about diversifying your workouts; it’s about finding the perfect balance between challenging your body and allowing it to recover.

As you embark on your cross-training adventure, don’t forget to fuel your body with proper nutrition and stay hydrated to maximize your performance. And speaking of marathons, if you’re looking for a thrilling and rewarding experience, consider signing up for the OC Marathon Festival

It’s a celebration of running, fitness, and camaraderie that brings together athletes from all walks of life. So lace up your shoes, set your goals, and join the vibrant community of runners in this incredible event.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long does it take to cross-train for a marathon?

The duration required to see the benefits of cross-training varies from person to person. However, incorporating cross-training activities two to three times a week for at least eight weeks can yield noticeable improvements in performance and overall fitness.

2. Does cross-training make you a faster runner?

Yes, cross-training can contribute to improved running performance. It enhances aerobic capacity, increases strength and power, prevents injuries, and aids in recovery.

3. Does walking count as cross-training for a marathon?

Yes, walking can be an effective form of cross-training for a marathon. It provides a low-impact alternative to running.