Whether it’s your first or your 10th and regardless of whether you are tackling the Half or the Ultra, cross-training should be a part of every Totalsports Two Oceans runner’s training program.

The most significant benefit of cross-training for runners is injury risk reduction. The primary causes of injury for runners include muscular imbalances, biomechanical irregularities, and overuse/overtraining. Biomechanical irregularities are quirks in your running form—overpronation, supination, uneven hips, and similar issues—that make you a bit more prone to injury.

Cross-training offers help for all of those issues. By moving your body in a different motion than running, you can strengthen your muscles and smooth out imbalances. By reducing the number of miles you run, you reduce the overall impact on your muscles, joints, and bones.

Here are some workouts to try:


Aside from being out on your feet, running, perhaps the ‘best’ (dare we say it) all-round cardio exercise (for the time input vs fitness outcome) is on a rowing machine.

According to rowing coaches who formed part of the coaching team who prepped the South African gold-medal rowing crew in Rio “it’s about 50% leg and hip drive, 30 per cent trunk extension and only 20 per cent arm and shoulder work”.

Most ‘ergo’ (rowing) machines have time, intensity, stroke rate and power output options. For the quickest results we recommend intervals:

Warm up for five minutes at a stroke rate of about 18, followed by five minutes at a higher intensity and increased stroke rate of 25-30 (you should be struggling to keep it up). Repeat this three times. Cool down for five minutes at the lower stroke rate.


Make time for structured ‘spinning’ classes at your local gym or, if you have an indoor trainer and own a bike, make the most of the time you have by doing a combination of sprint and endurance intervals during the week. The simple rule applies: pedal faster for longer against a greater resistance and you’re winning.

Try doing the classic 4x4: Warm-up for ten minutes then ride hard for four and recover for four. Repeat for times. (What’s ‘hard’? Your legs and lungs need to be working at a pace where you’re unable to mutter ‘hello’ to whoever is sweating it out next to you.


Swimming may not be highly specific to the neuromuscular patterns of running, but it will give you a challenging cardiovascular workout and strengthen your upper body (which many runners neglect). Since you are in the water, swimming has no impact on your joints and is therefore often one of the best options for injured runners. You may need to take special precautions around kicking with some lower leg injuries, but using a prop like a buoy can help you problem-solve. You may need access to a pool, but swimming will always provide an effective cardio workout without as much wear and tear.

Cross Training for Totalsports Two Oceans Marathon
(c) Photo by Emily Rose / pexels.com

Aqua jogging

Aqua jogging is one of the best forms of cross-training for runners who aren’t strong enough swimmers to achieve an aerobic lengthy workout without needing breaks, or those who want to mimic the motion of running more closely. Using a belt and sometimes a tether, your heart rate can get up as you visualize running form for an hour or more.


The elliptical mimics the movement of running without the impact, which makes it one of the best forms of indoor cross-training for runners. A study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that oxygen consumption is the same on the treadmill and the elliptical when exercising at the same level of perceived exertion. Many running workouts such as intervals can be done on the elliptical, meaning you can still get your speed work in even when you’re not running.

Cross-training should supplement running, not replace it. Begin with how many days per week you can safely run, which may be in the range of 3-5 days per week. Schedule one day as a complete rest day and then fill in the remaining days with your preferred cross-training and strength training/supplemental workouts. Aim for 1-2 days of any of the above cross-training workouts per week and 2-3 days of strength training, yoga, Pilates, or other supplemental workouts. One of the best ways to fit in both is to spend 40-60 minutes at the gym on your cross-training days, with 20-30 minutes of cross-training and 15-20 minutes of strength training.