Q&A: How to Choose Your Cross-Training Workout

For cross training, are certain workout machines better for runners than others? For example, how does working out on an elliptical compare with using a stationary bike or a rowing machine?

Cross training can be a vital tool for runners to improve their performance, reduce the risk of injury, or burst out of a boredom bubble. It provides an opportunity to use muscles in different motor patterns and improve your strength and flexibility.

With the increasing variety of machines, there is often a debate on which machine is the most beneficial. The first question you have to ask is: What is your purpose? Each machine has potential benefits for your training and running goals. Here is a look at the three most common machines.

  • Upright Bike: Non-weight-bearing exercise that focuses on strengthening the quadriceps and glutes. Easy to incorporate intervals and/or resistance. Also can be used for unilateral training with single-leg pedaling to work on imbalances.

  • Elliptical: Low-impact, weight-bearing exercise that can tax your cardiovascular system and can be essential during periods of injury or rehabilitation. Also can be used as a tool for “bouncy” runners to limit vertical displacement and improve muscular control.

  • Rower: Full-body exercise that strengthens the entire kinetic chain. Running isn’t just a lower body sport; it requires a strong upper body and core for optimal form and a stable foundation. A great tool for runners who may not regularly strength train, but be sure to learn proper form before using.

The most important thing to remember is that cross training should enhance your performance, not detract from it. Make sure that your cross-training sessions do not leave you too tired or sore to complete your running workouts. Overall, choose a cross-training activity that you enjoy doing, and one that enriches your training to take your running to the next level.


Pamela Geisel

Pamela Geisel, MS, CSCS is a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance. She graduated with honors from Towson University with a bachelor’s in exercise science and received her master’s in exercise physiology from Adelphi University. She has been in the fitness field since 2007 and has a special interest in using strength training to maximize performance and reduce injury for runners. Geisel is a long distance runner and has completed four marathons, more than a dozen half-marathons, and many 5K and 10K races.

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