Do I Still Need to Cross Train When I'm Marathon Training? Learn from the Elites

See, marathoner,….I think you already know the answer to this one.

Especially because it's 2022 and cross training has been trending since the 1950's…buuuut what it looks like has changed over the decades.

And as more and more running research comes out about the benefits of cross training, the literature is realizing there's a massive gap.

We're winging (some) things when it comes to cross training and long distance running.

A lot of the "tried-and-true" training methods may in fact be GOLD! But…we don't have the scientific evidence behind:

  • why they work

  • if they truly work

  • and how they work.

We just know that in most cases, they do.

Which leaves us at an awkward scientific cross roads of: "well, we just do it this way because it's how we've always done it and seems to work and the science at least half supports us…and we can't just STOP running or training and put everything on hold until science finds all the answers..."

Yeaa…science can enter this weird gray area sometimes.

But it's not all bad here, in the between.

Because it gives us this wiggle room to challenge the old, traditional way of thinking and maybe support it with scientific evidence or maybe find out it's time to defenestrate it (that's one of my favorite words: go look it up. You'll be amused).

(If you want to jump to the good stuff: Check out my FREE running guide here to learn more about cross training for runners!)

That's where this week's research article comes in.

The over-arching purpose of the paper is:

"to integrate scientific and results-proven practice (meaning old timie thoughts and elite runner's training logs) literature regarding the training and development of elite long distance runner's performance. Within this context, we will particularly explore areas where the scientific literature offers limited information compared to results-proven training information."

Where does cross training fit into this?

Well, cross training has been a part of this grey area in the running literature when it comes to training the long distance runner (aka the marathoner).

The article gives us a working definition of cross training within the above context:

"Several successful (professional) long-distance runners have supplemented their sport-specific training with alternative locomotion modalities, so-called cross-training, including swimming, biking, cross-country skiing, and workouts on elliptical machines."

And even gives a reason for it:

"Arguments supporting the inclusion of cross-training include injury prevention and avoidance of training monotony."

Ok, cool, cool. So far, nothing real crazy.

However we're left with this conundrum of:

"We are also aware that many unsuccessful athletes have applied the same “recipe” as successful runners. Hence, we particularly focus on common key features across varying athlete groups."

Yeaaaaa…I agree with the predicament of this research paper.

Just because you cross train in one of the forms mentioned above, doesn't mean you're guaranteed an injury-free training cycle. I mean, you could!

But as far the literature goes, we can't say with confidence in the evidence that cross training in one of those methods is going to save you.