By Malindi Elmore

Why do so many runners loath cross training? I know that I was firmly in the I-hate-cross-training camp for too many years. I think it is a combination of factors that result in this hatred for something that is beneficial to your running. Over the course of my 20-year career as a runner I have had more experience cross training than I care to count – 6 major injuries, pregnancy and a transition to being a multi-sport athlete has required that I sweat out hours aqua-jogging, biking, swimming, etc.

I would like to share with you some of my insights into cross training and I hope it helps you to become a faster runner. There are three main barriers to runners benefitting from cross training:

  1. Attitude
  2. Implementation
  3. Belief in its purpose to make you a stronger runner

Kind of a chicken and an egg situation…

First, in order to actually benefit from cross training you need to lose the “I hate cross training” attitude and embrace it as training rather than simply not running. For me, the biggest revelation and gains I made was when I actually changed my focus from “cross training for running” to “training for endurance sports.” Oddly, just dropping “cross” helped me see the situation in a new light. I suddenly considered my “cross training” activities to be triathlon training activities by adding swimming and biking to the mix – and finding purpose within those activities.

Even if running was still my primary focus, I considered training for another endurance sport beneficial to me as a runner. So rather than mindlessly and sadly strapping on an aqua-jogging belt, I joined a swimming class where there was purpose, structure and expectation of each workout. Similarly, instead of switching a 40-minute easy run for a 40-minute easy ride on the stationary bike, I learned how to actually do a bike workout, which made them much more effective and palatable. Suddenly, an hour flew by on the bike instead of dragging minute by minute.

Second, I learned late in my running career that 1-minute of running cannot simply be substituted for 1-minute of cross training. I used to take a 45-minute run from my schedule and do 45-minutes of cross training (and hate every minute of it!). Due to the load and intensity of running (even at easy pace), the 1:1 ratio is not on par. As a rule of thumb, I generally do 1.5 to 2 times the number of minutes of cross training for every 1-minute of running. So a 30-minute easy run should equate to 1-hour of elliptical, swimming, or riding the bike trainer. An hour of outdoor biking…well…that’s just the warm-up!!!

The point is, cross training is an opportunity to build the aerobic system with less load on the legs, and because of gravity, you need to do more volume (time) than you would for running to get a similar stimulus. More specific guidelines we use in my house are:

  • Running 1:1
  • Swimming .75:1
  • Biking Outdoors .4:1
  • Biking Indoors .5 or .6:1 (.6 for workouts .5 for easy aerobic spin)

Having structure, expectation and goals to my cross training revolutionized my career as an athlete and a runner. I wish I could back in time to months and years of injuries when I was half-heartedly cross training and frankly, wasting my time. But this is why I want to help you learn from my experience!

Stay tuned for part 2:  “How Swimming Can Make You A Faster Runner.

Malindi Elmore is a 2-time Olympian in the marathon and 6-time National Champion and Stanford record-holder in the 800m and 1500m. Learn more about Malindi’s private coaching services here.