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Alternatives to Running: Cross Training for Runners

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Every runner would probably feel obliged to tell you that they believe running to be the best activity for their health and fitness. If you were accustomed to the lifestyle that came along with running and the great runner’s high that one may feel after working out, then you too would think running was the only option. Let’s tell you that there are alternatives to running which gives you that same thrill.

Is running bad for your joints? This frequently asked question has been debated over by many researchers for years. They have looked into whether running can be bad for the knees or cause osteoarthritis, and some new studies have claimed that it can actually be prevented by running. Whether you believe it or not, there are still some injuries that most are prone to by running. But fear not, for there are activities besides running that can bring the same benefits and could also be more fun if you are tired of going on runs. That is why we compiled a list of suitable alternative to running when you are looking for a variety of exercises for you to try out!

Check out these cross-training for runners while in injury.

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Best Cross Training for Runners

best cross trainings for runners
Beat the Running Cycling with Cross Training Alternatives (source)

Till date, running does not have a suitable replacement that can cover all the bases but it does have very good alternatives that you could take up while taking a break from running itself. These alternatives include cross-training activities which are perfect for maintaining cardiovascular fitness, are light on injuries, fun to take part in, and interesting variations that you probably never considered. They could even help you with motivational problems you may be experiencing with running. With these cross-training alternatives to running, you can finally find an activity that gives you some additional excitement and keeps you fit at the same time.

There are so many options, from swimming to water running, cycling, skipping and more. There are no cross-training activities that are proclaimed better than the rest, although some studies show that you can benefit more, fitness-wise, from some exercises than others. It all depends on your preference in the end, what your goals are, and how much fun you have doing a specific activity.

Read the following studies for more information on the benefits of some cross-training exercises and the research conducted on them.

Cross Training Studies

Strength training for runners
Runners Need Strength Training Too (source)

The doubts you may have about the extent of benefits when it comes to cross-training activities has been studied and here you can decide for yourself what is the best option for yourself.

One such Swedish study conducted in 1961 tracked the oxygen intake by seven trained subjects in the exercises involving aerobic activities like cycling, running, skiing, swimming, and arm-cranking. With the measurement of a maximum amount of oxygen taken in by each subject during strenuous versions of these exercises, the researchers could compare the results. They compared oxygen levels as this was a precursor to measuring the working of the cardiovascular system and its functioning while exercising.

The results showed that the highest amount of oxygen intake during the entire study came from exercises where the subjects had to use their leg muscles. This meant that cycling while sitting up had a 15% higher oxygen intake than cycling on your back like in recumbent cycling in the gym. The arm crank exercise had lower oxygen intake than the rest of the exercises, possibly as it involves the use of lesser muscles. While swimming took up 15% lesser oxygen intake than running or cycling. The difference in running itself showed that aqua jogging had lower oxygen intake levels than normal running on a treadmill.

Cross Training with An Injury

Cross training for running injury
When in Injury Ditch the Running (source)

Whether cross training will affect an injury is frequently asked by runners before considering doing the exercise again. It is quite a valid question especially if you are considering cross training while still injured. The first way to get to your solution is to assess the injury and its combination with the cross-training exercise you are interested in. There are varying levels of intensity and effort that you are required to put into each exercise. Some are less strenuous than others and depending on your ability and condition, you should decide the best path accordingly. If you are suffering from a shoulder injury, for instance, you probably would not benefit from rowing and may instead opt for walking, step aerobics or other alternatives. If you have a hip fracture then you could go for swimming with a floating device or Aqua Zumba.

If you are not entirely sure how far you are allowed to push yourself when it comes to an injury then you will need to ask your doctor about the repercussions. Another factor that you will have to consider is how easily available are the utilities for the activity you want to try out. Most alternatives to running require permission for access, sometimes memberships, and may not even be available nearby. By getting a membership with a local gym you could also try out the various facilities available. The last problem you will have to overcome is whether you have the time to fit this cross-training exercise into your daily schedule.

Cross-Training Alternatives to Running

Take a Break from Running (source)

If you are bored of a monotonous workout routine, recovering from an injury, or just want to try new things then these alternatives to running are just for you. If you were wondering how activities like skipping or walking would give you your daily dose of cardio fitness, then read on to know more about each option as they can either give you more benefits or a similar amount that running gave you before.

Water Running

water running
Aqua-running (source)

Aqua jogging or water running is a fun activity for frequent runners that are tired of the traditional way. Those of you too stubborn to drift away from running will love this exercise. A described in the name, you need to be in a body of water like a swimming pool at the deeper end so that your entire body is submerged but the head is above the surface. You can even wear an aqua belt to make sure you are more stable in the water to be able to run properly.

By opting for this exercise, you are getting the fun of running with the benefit of less impact on your joints or injured body parts. Try to maintain a normal running movement and form when in the water. This helps you work on your running form and exercise muscles in a less impactful safe environment.

Trying out the opposite of a high impact exercise can really aid your joints and keep you fit at the same time. Stick to a previous routine that you followed when you were running or come up with a simple routine to try out in the pool for water running.


Skipping or Rope jumping (source)

With this simple exercise, you can gain more strength and agility in your leg muscles and not even have to step out of the house at all. With frequent skipping you will find that your lower body is more toned like leg muscles and your calves, you will also build on endurance which is a great quality to have as a runner.

If the toning and fitness aspect is not impressive enough for you then picture the number of calories that you actually burn by skipping rope every day. You are capable of burning 15 calories per minute if you can maintain a high intensity and pace with your skipping. The only problem that you can face while skipping is if you already have an injury. Skipping is a high-intensity workout and you will need to take it easy and keep within your limits so as to not hurt yourself any further.


Rowing is a Full Body Workout (source)

For those of you unfamiliar with water sports then rowing is a common and very effective way to lose weight, tone the upper body, stay fit. With rowing, you can get the work your back, quads, glutes, triceps, biceps and shoulder muscles. This great cardiovascular activity can also help you target the abs, and chest if you keep rowing and maintain good form.

Rowing is, in fact, a full body workout that can exercise almost all major muscles in the body and because of its overall effect, it can be more effective than regular gym workouts. While helping your heart pump blood across the body, rowing is also gentler than a lot of workouts that could strain your muscles or injured areas. Since it is of lower impact you may try it as an alternative to running but push yourself only depending on the severity of your sustained injury.

Those of you trying out rowing for the first time have nothing to fear of. Most rowing centres have instructors for which you can take a few classes and then set off on your own or in a group of fellow rowers. If you are still not comfortable being alone on a rowboat or on the water, then there are numerous rowing machines that you could use available in gyms or fitness centres. Many places offer indoor rowing as a form of exercise and you do not even need to be close to the water!

The Stairs

stairs climbing
Stairs Climbing Tones up Your Legs (source)

Many studies have recorded a vast improvement in the cardiovascular system associated with stair climbing. If you climb up 200 steps twice a day for at least five days in a week then you can really improve on core strength. When you climb up the stairs you are really working your leg muscles since they help pull the rest of your body up with each step you take. This helps shape and tone the lower part of your body like calves, hamstrings, and glutes.

For those of you that are already injured or are afraid of sustaining injury from running, the stairs are easier on your joints and will help you with staying fit and agile. Stairs are also super easy to find and utilize as you wish. Wake up early and find a good staircase in your building or office that you can walk up and down when no one is around.

Make the most out of this activity by alternating climbing with running, skipping, and jumping. Stay clear of other people using the stairs and make sure you wear appropriate shoes to grip onto the steps and not slip. Be sure to add climbing stairs to your workout routine or make it a workout in itself by dedicating enough time to it every day.


Cycling is a Good Recreational Workout (source)

Who doesn’t like the freedom and fresh air that comes with cycling? Work out your lungs and heart muscle by trying out this low impact exercise. Cycling can be a great option for athletes taking a break from intense workouts or have the predisposition to injury from high impact sports or activities. Cycling is easier on the body as well as the mind. It gets you to focus on toning your body and improving health while getting some headspace from stressful everyday chores.

Shed calories while exercising your glutes, thighs, leg muscles, and core. Just spend 45 minutes to an hour on cycling a day and take rest days off in between. With this exercise, you can even improve your running stride from working out the calves and legs.

The only problem with cycling is that it requires you to buy the bicycle, helmet, and clothing in case you do not already have the gear. As a last resort, you could rent a cycle for a day with helmets and gear. Many cities offer these amenities but you will have to check depending on your location.


Swimming is an Excellent Cross Training for Runners (source)

This is the perfect exercise for the newly injured athlete looking for a break from intense workouts. In fact, most doctors and physiotherapists would recommend swimming for a range of injuries or change in exercise rhythm. You can work out your cardiovascular system without pushing your joints or muscles to the edge with this exercise. Is swimming low impact? Well, the answer is yes, and it’s a great way to stay healthy and fit while keeping yourself safe from any tears or fractures.

While swimming you can increase your VO2max or aerobic capacity to absorb oxygen by 10 percent. This occurs if you stay focused and swim an hour a day for a minimum of three times a week. You get a good upper body workout by swimming which could be a great change from your typical running which targets the lower half of the body.

Learn more on how swimming is the best alternative to running!

Bodyweight Training

bodyweight training
Bodyweight Training is Low-impact Cardio (source)

The bodyweight exercises are some of the simplest and most inexpensive alternatives to running on this list. They are a considerably low impact, need no equipment, can be done anywhere and are fun to do! You only need a space to exercise in your own home, no gym membership needed, and you are set.

Some popular exercises are power skips, jumping jacks, squats, burpees, high knees, lunges, butt kicks, push-ups, and much more. They are great at increasing your heart rate, shedding calories, and toning your body. Each exercise focuses on a different part of the body and needs only ten minutes a day. Mix up your routine with various combinations to ensure your whole body is being flexed, stretched, and strengthened. If you are injured you should maintain a low-intensity workout with fewer reps and moderate versions of each exercise.

Some great routines that you can try out are The Glute bodyweight Training Workout, The Total Bodyweight Workout, and The Isometric Workout For Runners.

The Elliptical Trainer

the elliptical trainer
Jump on the Elliptical Trainer Once in a While (source)

If you are injured running enthusiast and cannot continue running for a while, then you will simply love the elliptical. It is a great alternative to running that actually resembles the exercise and allows you to safely workout without straining yourself. It is easier on the joints, works up your heart rate, tones multiple muscles in the body, and is done from the comfort of your home or indoors.

To make the most of your indoor jogging or elliptical trainer, you can stick to the routine you would use if you were actually jogging or running at a low-intensity rate outdoors. Keep your form on the elliptical as identical to your normal running form as possible so that when you switch back you are still on top of your running game.


Sometimes You Should Walk the Run (source)

If you thought walking was a waste of time compared to your typical running then you were wrong. Walking can be as beneficial for preventing diabetes, cholesterol, and heart-related illnesses. It is a great alternative with similar perks and less impact on joints or strain on muscles. Perfect for injuries or weakened athletes.

In order to make the most of your daily walking, try to maintain the same distance that you would if you were running. You may take way longer but you gain from the exercise. Walking lets you spend time outdoors and enjoy your free time as you exercise. Walking with friends or in groups can really keep you motivated and catch up with old pals.

Step Aerobics

steps aerobics
Let's Do some Steps Aerobics (source)

This form of exercise offers less of an impact on your joints and injuries but can provide the benefits of a high-intensity workout if you try harder levels. You can either try going for step aerobics classes or do the same routines from purchasing CDs or finding videos online. The amount of cardiovascular benefits and strength training that you get from this exercise fall in between that of running and walking.

Perform the moves as accurately as you possibly can, build a rhythm, and enjoy it in the process. You will be having so much fun you won’t even realise that you are exercising.

That completes our list of alternatives to running! Cross-training exercises and activities are some of the best and most exciting ways to meet your fitness, health, or personal goals. It is known to be a great alternative to increase aerobic performance and is a frequent option taken by athletes as a break from their normal training routines, sudden injuries, or fatigue.

We hope you found this article helpful to keep you on track of your fitness regime. No matter what injury or obstacle that stands in your way, you should be able to stay healthy and focus on your passions. Whether you pick one of these exercises as a short-term change from running or you make it your go-to fitness plan, we hope you make the most of it. Let us know which cardio activity you enjoyed the most!

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