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

The health benefits of running are hard to argue with: being a runner can improve your cardiovascular and muscular fitness, as well as make you live longer and improve your mental health.

However, like everything in life, too much of one thing can lead to imbalances and weaknesses.

Runners have a bad reputation for ignoring other forms of exercise and sticking to their run training – but there are downsides of only running.

Whether it’s running injuries, fatigue, burnout, plateauing . . . runners who only run will eventually hit a wall.

It’s why we always recommend a holistic approach to your overall training: it should be structured with periodization and supported with cross training.

Cross training for runners involves doing workouts and activities which complement your running – for example, going for a cycle, swim, or gym workout.

I cross train once a week to keep myself strong and flexible, but why not just keep running to get your Strava mileage up?

Surely the best way to get better at running is…more running?

That’s not the case!

In order to reach your potential as a runner, cross training is fundamental.

If you are still unconvinced then here are 7 downsides of only running and why you should mix up your training week to hit the next level!   

downsides of only running

1. The Repeated Stress Of Running Increases Your Risk Of Injury

Running is a repetitive, fairly uniform form of exercise – your body is repeating the same movement thousands of times.

When left unchecked, this repeated stress to your body can lead to imbalances and injuries.

Along your kinetic chain, some muscles tighten and weaken, some get stronger – 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 one time. If you want to see real gains you should consider cross-training exercises that use bilateral motions (both limbs at the same time).

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!)

2. Running All The Time Will Get Tedious

downsides of only running

Getting up every day and lacing up your trainers to do another 10k run or a tempo run, running the same routes can be demotivating and downright boring!

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 joyous experience, running with a smile on our faces!

Okay, maybe not that far, or maybe…yes? How often do you see a runner with a smile, because if you do, you definitely want what they are having!

Cross training is a good way to spice up your running routine and rejuvenate your mind, body and soul to stay motivated and excited about running.

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

Remember the aim of the game is longevity!

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 gives you a great opportunity to try something new, or even get back into a sport you may have left behind!

Maybe you used to go cycling, playing golf, or even rollerblade, a cross training day is perfect for getting back out in a different fun way. And it can make your running even better!

Just make sure whatever activity you do choose compliments your running in some way, no point in going fishing as your cross training sport as you will not gain anything from it, save that for your rest day!

4.  Hitting A Plateau

downsides of only running

If you run the same routes at the same pace it will start to feel easier, but you will not get any quicker.

This can lead to that taboo word – ‘plateau’.

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 they were 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 of seeing real gains to your power. Adding resistance training into your training plan can build muscle strength and endurance which will increase your overall speed, making you faster!

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

Just make sure you are doing the right exercises to benefit you as a runner!

Here is our complete guide to weightlifting for runners.

5. Too Much Exercise Leads To Fatigue

downsides of only running

Using the same muscles a lot with little variation leads to physical fatigue. Gives those hard-worked muscles another rest day whilst continuing to increase your fitness. 

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

Yoga and stretching and moving routines are a great way of promoting recovery after some hard sessions and it is a great way of seeing where your body’s weaknesses may lie!

The more you run, generally the tighter your muscles will become.

When your muscles are tight your range of motion is limited so you will find 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 back to tip-top condition and allowing 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 are running all the time, you may neglect the rest of your body.

Which makes sense, right? Our legs are our most useful allies when we run. But often the other parts of us are equally (or partially!) important.

For most of us runners, weighing 54kg like Killian Jornet or being as streamlined and fast as Brigit Kosgei is not why we run.

Most of us run to look better and feel better or as a way to explore the area around us and have some time to clear our heads. Being number 1 is not a priority.

So doing some cross training will keep our bodies healthy and balanced, top and bottom, and it could keep you 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.

And it has the bonus perk of giving you a great summer body too! So, you will look great while running too! 

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

downsides of only running

Cross training is your way of building a well-rounded routine that can have a positive impact on 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.

Be sure to check out our article on cross training to find out more and be sure to try something new in your routine!

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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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