Cross Training For Runners and Walkers – Why and How?

I’d like to talk about cross training a bit because it can help you get in your needed exercise while dealing with all the challenges to your time, even when running isn’t possible.

Cross training, for runners, refers to exercises that are different than running. For walkers, this means changing to another activity besides walking. This could be almost any form of conditioning that gets your heart pumping at a minimum level and duration. So, if you walk instead of run, you are cross training. If you swim, you are cross training. If you do yoga, you are cross training. At its simplest it just means doing an alternate activity to the one you prefer to do the most.

The caveat here is that the activity needs to be done at a minimum heart rate level of 60% with continuous movement for at least 20 minutes at that 60% level or you are not replacing one activity with another type of fitness training. You must have an equal or greater level of intensity to the exercise in order to replace one exercise with another for equal cardiovascular maintenance. Other than that, the sky’s the limit. Anything goes. Any activity will do.

This Coach’s Definition of Cross Training for Runners and Walkers

Cross training, specific to runners, refers to exercise that compliments, but does not include, outdoor/distance running, AND increases the heart rate to 60% or more of maximum heart rate* for 20 minutes or longer. The word walk can be exchanged for run IF it is power walking or “heart pumping hard walking”.

Another factor to consider is that you will not start out at a 60% rate. Your heart begins exercise somewhere significantly below it. When I’m on the elliptical machine at the gym it usually takes about 10 minutes to get up to my 60% rate. So, give yourself a minimum of 5 minutes to warm up and another 5 minutes to cool down at the end.

Your total workout will be a minimum of 30 minutes. This is why, in track workouts, we always warm up a bit before getting into the meat of the workout. This is not to say that activities like gentle yoga or easy walking lack merit. That is not the case. They are forms of movement that stretch and strengthen different muscle groups, but they are not increasing cardiovascular strength or capacity.

Stretching activities and other exercise, even if not rigorous, are important to us for balance as we tend to have major muscle groups that get no attention while other groups (our quadriceps, for example) get REALLY STRONG from walking or running. I’m differentiating here to clarify my definition. More on cross training, stretching, and other exercise in future issues. I hope this was a good beginning for you.

Want to know how to calculate your MHR Minimum Heart Rate (also Base Heart Rate). Look for my next article.

Stephanie Atwood, M.A. is coach of a women’s fitness team in the Bay Area. A teacher and trainer at heart, she is currently certified as a personal trainer with AAAI/ISM and consults on sports nutrition. Stephanie’s undergraduate degree was in “experiential education” and her cross cultural business communications. Atwood is completing a book on women’s fitness. Presently, Ms. Atwood is a Master’s Runner and runs or walks almost every day. When we’re moving, we’re getting fit. It doesn’t matter how fast we’re doing it!”

Ms. Atwood is author of the weekly fitness E-zine The Weekly Pep Talk at and hosts the blog

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