How to increase race pace - Cross-training | 7 of 26 Marathon Series

One of the biggest mistakes that runners can make when trying to break through a plateau is to think that simply running more or harder will help.

This is almost always a flawed plan as the body has an amazing ability to adapt to training stimulus so that the training becomes less and less effective at creating performance improvements; therefore it normally takes a different shock/stimulus to create physical changes. Crosstraining can be a powerful tool in the runners repertoire when it comes to creating change.

What is Crosstraining?

We’re not talking about using that cardio machine at the gym, that makes you look like a drunk uncle dancing at a wedding, instead we’re talking about mixing your running with other activities to trick the body into progression. This can be other sports or as simple as other activities; like swimming or cycling. Weight training can be very effective, but we cover this specifically in our next Marathon Series blog.

  • Most martial arts are great crosstraining activities as they have the added benefit of improving flexibility, self-defence, self-control as well as cardiovascular fitness.
  • Swimming is a great crosstraining activity as it works almost all of the muscles in the body; while the body propels itself through the resistance of the water.
  • Crossfit is a fantastic crosstraining activity as you will be given close guidance and training advice within a really friendly supportive environment; it also ensures that your workouts will be different everyday and it places emphasis on complete all-round fitness.

cross training marathon

Why Crosstraining?

One simple reason is the old saying “variety is the spice of life” and this is so true when it comes to exercise. It’s not only important to give your body variety in order to prompt improvement, but it’s really important psychologically, as no matter how much of a creature of habit you are, doing the same exercise week in week out will eventually become dull and your performance will start to reflect this.

Coming back to the point of giving your body variety, the most powerful method of getting the body to progress is to constantly provide new stimulus for it to adapt to. It’s easy to believe that exercise is exercise and as long as you are exercising hard then you’ll get results; unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Remember your body works as a complete system, so by improving things that you may think are unrelated to your sport you can actually improve your sport performance, through new stimulus and the synergistic effect of training different muscles.

How to Crosstrain

Follow these quick tips for a successful start to crosstraining:

  1. Choose activities that are new, interesting that you enjoy doing – this will ensure you stick with them and therefore you’ll progress more.
  2. Start slowly, remember you are most likely to pick up new injuries when you first start a new sport or activity; keep an eye on your morning resting heart rate, as an elevated resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining.
  3. Start by dedicating one training session every couple of weeks to crosstraining and then slowly make it part of your weekly training plan.
  4. Try to ensure that you are still maintaining a high intensity in your crosstraining activies (70%+ of max heart rate); ten pin bowling doesn’t really count as an effective workout!
  5. Unless you find you want to switch to one of the activities and give up running then don’t let crosstraining take over your weekly training load; you still need to put in the miles to get better at running.

Finally remember the goal is to add some spice to your training and enjoy yourself, it you don’t enjoy it then why do it!!

Follow our Marathon Series for more tips & advice that will get you to the finish line!

Here is the next blog article in the marathon series:

8. How to Increase Race Pace: Weight Training

Increase Race Pace - Marathon Series



Ryan has worked in the sports industry since 1999 and has a wealth of experience across most subjects. Ryan holds a BSc in microbiology and has studied sports physiology in great detail in his own time. His main areas of specialisation are: footwear construction, footwear technology, strength & conditioning and anatomy & physiology. He splits his 13 hours a week exercise between, Kickboxing, MMA, Crossfit, Rock Climbing and Running.