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Cross-training may be the answer to making you a better endurance athlete.

What is cross-training? 

Cross-training is any exercise protocol that is different to the training modes of an individual’s regular sport. These protocols often involve similar skills to an athlete’s regular sport and develop the same physical attributes required for performance.  

What are the benefits of cross-training? 

There are 3 main benefits to cross-training: 

  1. Reduces the risk of injury 
  2. Improves performance 
  3. Beats boredom! 

Reducing the risk of injury 

Endurance sports can be very physically demanding and overuse type injuries are common. Overuse injuries occur from repetitive stress of an area of the musculoskeletal system when inadequate rest has not promoted recovery and adaptation. 

Utilizing cross-training allows athletes to reduce the repetitive stress placed on specific areas of the musculoskeletal system whilst improving sport-specific physical attributes (e.g., aerobic capacity).  For example, cycling may be used by runners as a low impact activity to reduce overall stress on the musculoskeletal system but still develops the cardiovascular fitness. 

Many forms of cross training will challenge and develop different muscle groups and connective tissues to those repeatedly used during sport-related training. This is beneficial as it increases the recovery of more widely used muscle groups and connective tissues. Stability, balance, and strength of the musculoskeletal system will be increased and the sport-related biomechanics may be improved allowing for better technique, reduced injury risk, and improved performance. 

If an athlete becomes injured, cross-training can be used whilst rehabilitating that injury so fitness levels are maintained.  

Improved performance 

Cross training can improve performance as it can be a beneficial way to achieve a higher level of fitness. Research suggests there is some transfer of the training effects, including maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max), from one training mode to another. 

Fitness levels can increase as cross-training can allow for increased volume whist maintaining a low risk of injury and over-training. This is because a variation of stimuli is presented and a wider variety of muscle groups and connective tissues are used.  

Beats boredom! 

Endurance sports often involve a lot of time spent doing the same thing over and over again. It is bound to get boring at some point! A change of scenery from cross-training can keep training exciting and fresh whilst maintaining motivation and adherence. 

How SiS athletes incorporate cross-training into their regimes  

Olympian marathon runner, Steph Davis, and Pro Gravel Cyclist, Freddy Ovett, incorporate different sports into their programmes throughout the year. Here’s how and why they do it: 

Freddy Ovett:

“Running for me… is purely something I enjoy doing alone and I squeeze it into my weekly plan when I find the time off the bike. The benefits are more mental than purely physical, due to its relaxing nature.” 

Even though running makes its way into the training plan every so often, Freddy still boasts an impressive 2:45 marathon from Berlin in 2022 and he’s set his sights on New York this November.  

His advice, “For anyone looking to get into cross-training, don’t force it and look for an activity that you enjoy doing. If you don’t enjoy it, then it’s not going to give you much benefit physically and will tax you mentally for your main sport”. 

Steph Davis:

Steph taps into cycling and elliptical sessions as she tunes up for major city marathons.  

“These sessions help me get fitter without the impact of running. They’re focused on building my aerobic base and recovering from harder run sessions. The intensity is kept lower by keeping my heart rate in the same range as my easy runs”.  

This supplementary training allows Steph to train as much as more high mileage runners, but it removes the weight-bearing/impact element that comes with a lot of miles.  

“I can get fitter without the impact and therefore reducing my chance of injury,” explains Steph. “I have been able to train for a marathon by running around 40-60 miles a week and adding cross-training sessions to replace those ‘missing miles’ that other elite runners do.” 

When adding a different training stimulus, you’ll need to fuel appropriately. Steph notes that with cycling, you are more likely to be able to consume fuel that is not just gels and drinks 

 For runners, this presents another opportunity to beat boredom and switch up from your trusted gels and take on solid food like SiS GO Energy Bars or GO Energy Bakes 

Take home message: 

Cross-training can be a great tool for supplementing endurance training but it cannot replace sport-specific training and must be applied appropriately to a training programme. 


For further advice on endurance sports strength and conditioning, check out Total Strength Endurance. The specialist team help endurance athletes unlock their true potential by providing a range of services from 1-2-1 online programmes to musculoskeletal movement analysis. To find out more visit 


Tanaka, H. (1994) ‘Effects of cross-training. Transfer of training effects on VO2 max between cycling, running, and swimming’ Sports Medicine, 18(5) 

 The top benefits of cross-training for athletes (no date). Available at 

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