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6 Downsides of Only Running: Why Runners Need To Cross Train

How switching up your training can benefit you as a runner.

The health benefits of running are hard to argue with. Running improves your cardiovascular and muscular fitness, helps you live longer, strengthens bone density, and improves your mental health, just to name a few.

However, like anything else, too much of one thing can lead to imbalances and weaknesses. Runners have a bad reputation for skirting cross-training and only focusing on their running, but there are downsides of only running.

Whether overuse injuries, fatigue, burnout, overtraining, or plateauing, runners who only run will eventually hit a wall.

That’s why, as a running coach, I always recommend a holistic approach to overall training structured with periodization and supported with cross-training. I cross-train once a week to take a break from the high-impact pounding of running every day.

Cross-training for runners involves physical activity and workouts that complement running such as cycling, swimming, or strength training.

But, why not just keep running to increase your Strava mileage, you might ask? Surely, the best way to get better at running is to do more running.

Yes, running more will make you a better runner, but cross-training will help you become a better runner and, at the same time, protect you from running injuries and burnout.

If you are still not convinced, get ready to read our six downsides of only running and why you should mix up your training week to reach the next level.

downsides of only running

The 6 Downsides of Only Running

So, what are the potential risks of only running for exercise and not incorporating other forms of training? Let’s get to it!

#1: The Repeated Stress Of Running Increases Your Risk Of Injury

Running is a repetitive, weight-bearing form of aerobic exercise. Your body is repeating the same movement over and over again, sometimes for hours on end.

When left unchecked, this repeated stress on your body can lead to muscle imbalances and injuries such as shin splints and runner’s knee.

Along your kinetic chain, some muscles get stronger while others stay on the weaker side – and your running form begins to suffer.

How To Solve It:

Cross training!

Running is a unilateral movement, as only one leg is in contact with the ground at a time. To see real gains, you should consider cross-training exercises that use bilateral motions (both limbs simultaneously).

Using both limbs can allow you to apply more force and improve your strength and explosive power more quickly than unilateral training, as you can support more weight through two limbs rather than one.

This also applies to those half marathon runners whose quads start to feel sore around mile 10. If this is you, listen up!

One of the reasons this might be happening is you’re quad-dominant.

What does this mean?

It means your legs are overpowered by your quads, and your hamstrings and hips are getting left behind.

On those longer runs, your weaker muscles will hit a point and ‘give up,’ and your quads will take over. But they can only do this for so long. Soon, they will also tire, and your legs will feel sore, and you will start to hit that wall!

Mix in some strength training to balance yourself out and be a better, more comfortable runner (more about this in number 5!)

Even if you add in body weight resistance training workouts, your muscle groups will thank you!

#2: Running All The Time Will Get Tedious

downsides of only running

Lacing up your running shoes for your daily runs on the same old routes can become demotivating and downright boring at times.

If your training starts to bore you, it can be all too easy to slip behind training or fall off the training plan altogether. We want our runs to continue to be a positive experience.

How often do you see a runner smiling and you think, “I want what they’re having”? Endorphins, maybe? A runner’s high, for sure!

Cross-training is a good way to spice up your running routine and rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul, helping you stay motivated and excited about running so you look forward to your next session.

Consider the psychological difference between going for a long, steady run, going for a swim, playing team sports, or going to a yoga class—they’re total mental gear changes.

Remember, the aim of the game is longevity, so if you switch it up a bit and try a different form of exercise, you will not only have fun but also give your body the break it needs from the constant high-impact pounding.

#3: No Time For New Hobbies With All That Running

Only running all the time leaves no time for new sports and activities.

Taking a break at least once a week allows you to try something new or even get back into a sport you may have left behind.

Maybe you used to go cycling, play golf, take HIIT classes, or even rollerblade. A cross-training day is perfect for getting back out in a different, fun way.

Just make sure whatever activity you choose compliments your distance running in some way. There is no point in going fishing as your cross-training sport, as you will not gain anything from it. Save that for your rest day.

Any cardio, such as cycling, swimming, elliptical, rowing, and pool jogging, are all great options.

#4:  Hitting A Plateau

downsides of only running

Running the same routes at the same pace will start to feel easier for sure, but you will not get any faster.

This can lead to the taboo word ‘plateau.’ Your body needs to be challenged to improve, which is why alternating low-intensity and high-intensity workouts is so important.

When you can’t seem to get faster, no matter how hard you try, or those deadly hill sprint sessions are still as tough as last month, this is a great sign that it is time to cross-train!

Sometimes, getting into the gym and pumping iron is the only way to see real gains in your power and even muscle mass. Adding resistance training into your training plan can build muscle strength and endurance, increasing your overall speed and making you faster.

Lifting weights also strengthens muscles and tissues around your joints, making you less likely to get injured.

Just ensure you are doing the right exercises in the gym to benefit you as a runner, such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, glute bridges, planks, push-ups, and pull-ups.

Here is our complete guide to weightlifting for runners.

#5: Too Much Exercise Leads To Fatigue

downsides of only running

Using the same muscles frequently with little variation leads to physical fatigue. Give those hard-worked muscles another rest day while continuing to increase your fitness. 

If you feel like a run is the last thing you want in the world, perhaps doing some yoga practices might benefit you more than that run would have.

Yoga, stretching, and mobility routines are great ways to promote recovery after hard sessions and to identify your body’s weaknesses.

When your muscles are tight, your range of motion is limited, making it more difficult to slip into that effortless, trance-like running state we all strive for.

Yoga is a great way of returning your range of motion to tip-top condition. It allows your sore muscles to be gently stretched and relaxed, so the next time you hit the road, you will be in perfect form!

Related: The 9 Best Quad Stretches For Runners

#6: Yes, Your Legs Look Great, But What About The Rest Of You?

downsides of only running

Sometimes, when you run all the time, you may neglect the rest of your body.

Which makes sense, right? Our lower body is our most useful ally when we run. But often, the other parts of us are equally important.

We all have different reasons for choosing to run. Some of us run to look better, promote weight loss, improve heart health, feel better, improve mental health, lower our resting heart rate, the list goes on.

Cross-training will keep our bodies healthy and balanced, top and bottom, and it could keep us running for longer and even running better.

Working on strengthening your core will give you a better posture while running. If you have a weak posture while you run, you will be ‘spilling’ energy as you go, so you’ll start to tire quicker than if you had a tight core.

Training your upper body may be the key to leveling up your running game. Exercises like planks and back extensions engage a large group of muscles simultaneously and can help improve your endurance. 

Having overall strength and wellness will not only help you run better, but feel better in your everyday life.

downsides of only running

Cross-training is a way of building a well-rounded routine that can positively impact your running game and make you a better, more consistent runner.

With everyone’s running career, the aim of the game, as mentioned before, is longevity. Incorporating cross-training into your routine is a great way of achieving this, and hopefully, we will all still be running when we are 100 years old.

Speaking of longevity, our very own Amby Burfoot gives us his tips and tricks for running for years to come:

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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