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What Cross-Training Can Most Benefit Ultrarunners?


Cross-Training – Training in different ways to improve overall performance or experience.

Running provides the bricks to the ultrarunner’s endurance home. Could cross-training be the mortar that helps hold it all together when the periodic winds and storms come rolling through?

Specificity is King

In general, nothing will teach your body/mind/spirit how to run better than the act of running itself. Would you learn how to sing by only learning how to play the guitar? I can play guitar, but the singing skill-set is definitely not included. Although there may be some synergies between the two, one does not directly result in the other.

In order to develop a specific skill (running), practicing the skill (running) is the surest way to become more proficient in it.

Cross-Training is Queen?

As you continue your specific ultrarunning training, could there be supportive cross-training activities that improve your overall ultrarunning performance or experience?

When I think of cross-training, a few possible benefits come to mind:

  • Toughen up – Strengthen the body.
  • Unload – Reduce the physical impact on the body.
  • Jedi Master – Strengthen the mind.
  • Spice it up  – Variety.
  • Bigger Engine – Improve your endurance capacity or efficiency.
  • Loosen up – Improve flexibility.

11 Ways to Cross-Train


Here is a small list of possible cross-training ideas that could benefit ultrarunners.

  • Cycling
  • Elliptical
  • Traditional weights
  • Body-weight or weight-free strength exercises
  • Hiking
  • Focused/Speed walking
  • Yoga
  • Boot Camps
  • Pilates
  • Meditation
  • XC skiing / roller skiing

Over the last two months as my knee continues to slowly improve, I have tossed myself into weight training, and more recently Yoga, Boot camps, and Pilates. It is quite apparent that running has not developed the proficiency skills for Yoga, the Butt-kicker Camps, and crazy Linda Pilates. I am curious if these activities will have synergistic effects that will support my ultrarunning as it increases in frequency and volume. I am most interested in increasing my durability to reduce the amount of tweakage I periodically experience.

Do or Do Not

What are your thoughts on cross-training? Cool/Fool?

For those that cross-train, what activities do you feel have supported your ultrarunning the most? Are there any specific at-home programs that you really like (DVDs, books, etc)?

The Journey

The reality of all of this is there is no one right answer. I do think we can receive insight from one another as we individually build and maintain or own ultrarunning home.

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David –

(Photo: Yoga Pose courtesy of / CC BY 2.0)

(Photo: Cycling (Eddy Merckx) photo courtesy of / CC BY 2.0)

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

10 Responses to “What Cross-Training Can Most Benefit Ultrarunners?”

  1. on 28 Apr 2010 at 9:38 am Dave

    I blogged on this this week…I think the whole crux for me is that it breaks up running with different things…therefore I don’t “HATE THE RUN” so much….don’t get burned out so quickly….when I do run…they are better quality…and I like being more overall fit…(i do hate it though when I flex and my t shirt rips…ok hahahhaha…yes I crack myself up!)

  2. on 30 Apr 2010 at 2:38 pm David Hanenburg

    Dave- This really highlights the individual nature of all of this. Many can simply live running while others enjoy the variety. Now if we can just get you swimming… 😉

    With respect to the shirt issue – go for the spandex blend business casual…more stretch.

  3. on 02 May 2010 at 2:03 pm Mark

    I do yoga/pilates for the flexibility, cycling to work on leg speed and muscle balance, and circuits and tabata to boost endurance and speed. I find that if I do weights circuits regularly then running is so much easier.

    I really like the Gillian Michaels series of dvds – there’s very little rest and she does a ton of squats and lunges, both of which are great for runners. Heard a lot of good things about P90X too.

    For tabata, just use one of the online timers, pick an exercise and you’re good to go – for a 4 minute workout, that one really packs a punch.

  4. on 03 May 2010 at 4:33 pm David Hanenburg

    Mark – Thanks for sharing. I am a fan of cycling as well but my gimpy knee hasn’t liked that range of motion. During my triathlon days I ran some of my fastest times on big overall volume (Time) but low running volume (time/miles).

    I would have never guessed that the JM products would be in the “really like” category. Good to know.

  5. on 04 May 2010 at 7:21 am Anthony

    Another vote for cycling, mountain biking personally – I like the parallels between MTB and Trail Running.

    Weight training is hard for me, I did too much gym time in College, but I do agree with all the experts that say weight training (even 30 mins a week) can really help endurance athletes.

  6. on 05 May 2010 at 3:28 pm David Hanenburg

    Anthony – Thanks for sharing!

  7. on 22 Jun 2011 at 11:29 am Scott

    I like to augment my 15-40 miles per week of (mostly trail)running with upper body workouts on my Total Gym on non-running days. I concentrate on endurance training by doing 4 to 5 sets of 15 to 20 reps each and I eliminate half of my “rests” by combining pairs of exercises like a row and a press to keep the heart rate up for the whole 30 to 45 minutes. (Of course, you could also do this using free weights, a Bowflex, or other similar equipment.)

    Even though I have been focusing on endurance, I have gotten stronger and thus slightly heavier, which has resulted in slightly slower overall running speed, but an overall fitness gain!

  8. on 23 Jun 2011 at 1:43 pm David Hanenburg

    Hey Scott – Thanks for sharing! Have you noticed an improvement in running durability when you include the additional strength work?

  9. on 24 Jun 2011 at 11:18 am Scott

    Short answer: yes. Since my favorite place to run is the La Luz Trail on the Sandias (Albuquerque NM), I spend most of my time either going up or down. I think upper body (and core) fitness is really helpful for maintaining good running form under these conditions. I do know that my downhill running has improved a lot since I started paying attention to my core and upper body fitness and that my knees don’t bother me anymore after a quick (for me) descent.

  10. on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:31 pm David Hanenburg

    Scott – Love hearing stuff life this! So cool to hear your observations on your downhill running. I have read about the La Luz Trail run…nice 7 miles at 12% grade. Nice! 🙂