Benefits of Aerobic Cross Training

Running is an aerobic sport. In order to become faster/stronger runners we must work on our aerobic system. To improve any system, we must stress it using a progressive overload. 


In addition to being an aerobic sport, running is also very high impact. During a run your body takes on the force of your body weight over and over with each step. Because the intensity of running is so high, we must be very careful with how quickly we increase the running stimuli or else injury may occur.

Most experienced runners have experienced a flare up or injury at some point in their career. Many injuries can be healed with PT and rest. 

How to manage building an aerobic base running while avoiding injuries?

First we will want to find your mileage ‘sweet spot’: you can read more about that here

Then we might consider if aerobic cross training is a good fit for you. 

What is the best Aerobic Cross Training?

1- Something that mimics closely the motion of running

2- Something that works your aerobic system (also known as a ‘cardio’ workout)

3- Something low or no impact

The activities most commonly & best used for aerobic cross training for running:

1- Biking

2- Elliptical

3- Walking

4- Stair Master

5- Swimming

6- Aqua Jogging

7- Rowing

1- You are a New to Running

When you first start running, your body will need lots of time to adapt to the high impact. It will be important to not increase running mileage too quickly! In this case, aerobic cross training is a great option because we can stress your aerobic system without the high impact of running. 

How to Add: Start with a 20-30 min session 1x per week and see how you feel with the adjustment. You can continue to build on this and/or in the future turn these days into running days as you build milage.

2- Lower Mileage Sweet Spot

Maybe you have been running for many years, but you find responds best with only 4-5 days of running per week. Every runner is different! Some bodies respond better to less mileage running. Running is a high impact sport. Cross training is a great option to build your aerobic base without the high impact of running. We often see this approach with masters runners and other athletes who have a history with injury even with proper training. 

How to Add: If you are feeling burnt out from running & want to try this approach, axe one of your easy runs per week and convert it to a cross training session for the same duration. See how your body responds. Lots of this is experimenting with what works best for the individual

3- Flare ups/Injury

Almost all experienced runners have had a minor injury or flare up over the course of their running career. When under a doctor or PTs care, they may recommend or allow you to participate in aerobic non-impact activities. The aerobic cross training will never replace running completely, but it is something you can do to help maintain aerobic fitness & sanity during a layoff period.

How to Add: Consult with your doctor or PT with what activities at what volume level are okay for you!


Childbirth, injury, surgery, travel, burnout & pro-longed breaks may require an athlete to take extended time off from training. If you find that you are in a position where you are coming back from time off, it is VERY important to ramp up SLOWLY. You will want to begin similar to if you are a beginning. During this phase, athletes might be antsy to add in more mileage. Be careful as risk for injury is highest during this time! Cross Training can help lower that risk of injury

How To Add: Running or run/walking every other day or every 3rd day is a nice approach. Keep the mileage and effort low during a build back time. On the in-between days a short aerobic cross training session of 30-40 min is a great option. Build slowly and convert cross training days into running days over the course of a few months.

Cross training is a great way to build or maintain your aerobic base to help you become a stronger runner! Running is a high impact activity. Sometimes the lower impact alternatives can help us maintain balance finding a sweet spot with our training. Consistency and injury prevention are key to finding success with running!

If you have any questions or want to chat more about how aerobic cross training fits in with your training plan, send us an e-mail at

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