The best cross training for a half marathon

The Best Cross Training for a Half Marathon

The Best Cross Training for a Half Marathon

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The best cross training for a half marathon

Training for a half marathon, or any long distance endurance event, isn’t just about the running mileage.  It’s equal parts distance and mileage increments, cross training, and rest.  Why is cross training for a half marathon so important?  Cross training keeps your WHOLE body operating in harmony, which staves off injury, improves performance, and overall just makes you stronger altogether.  You need the supporting roles of ALL the muscles systems working together.  If you are ready to get serious about your half marathon training, don’t overlook this guide to the best cross training for a half marathon!


Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used!  Enjoy this guide to the best cross training for a half marathon!



Guide to Half Marathon Cross Training


What is cross training, in a nutshell? 


  • Cross training is the practice of engaging in multiple sports / exercises / workouts in order to improve performance in one’s main sport. It’s the art of training your body in more than one role.  


What does cross training accomplish?


  • Reduces the risk of injury
  • Improves muscular strength and endurance
  • Combats burnout and overuse by switching up your training to provide a mental and physical break
  • Engages the full body and all muscle systems
  • Improves running economy and efficiency
  • Creates a “multi-purpose” athlete
  • Accelerates recovery


When it comes to your half marathon training plan, cross training is vital and should not be overlooked.  But it doesn’t have to be overcomplicated!



10 Rules for Cross Training for a Half Marathon


#1: Start with Where You Are

When it comes to initially implementing cross training for a half marathon, start with where you are and what your background is.  If you are already walking, then keep walking.  If you do yoga, then keep doing yoga.  If you weight lift, then keep lifting weights.  In time, you will want to hone in on the specific best cross training for a half marathon, and focus on particular exercises and workouts, but when you are starting out, start with where you are.  Keep it realistic, simple, and most importantly, doable!  Just start.


#2: Develop a Baseline First

For example, if you want to hike as a form of cross training, don’t expect to go from 0 to 10 miles in a week.  You need to develop a baseline of cross training before pushing further.  And when you do push on, do so in gradual increments.


What does a good baseline look like?

Cross train 2 – 3 times a week, for 30 minutes at a time.  When you are able to do 30 minutes of cross training 3 times a week, you are ready to move forward with gradual increments of time / distance / effort.  


#3: Make It Enjoyable

If you hate swimming, then don’t add swimming to your half marathon cross training plan.  Make sure that you enjoy or have an interest in the kinds of cross training you plan to use for your half marathon training.


#4: Make It Realistic

Consider your schedule, your abilities, your preferences – all of it, when determining the best half marathon cross training for YOU.  If the gym doesn’t open until after you leave to work and you plan to cross train in the morning, then that might not be the best option.  If it’s summer and you don’t like hiking in 100 degree temperatures, then don’t add an afternoon hike to your weekly cross training.  Make sure that it’s something you know you can implement and stick to.  


#5: Keep It Complementary

In a general sense, the best cross training for a half marathon is COMPLEMENTARY to running.  While there rarely is an actual form of exercise that isn’t in some way complementary to running, you want to consider having a healthy mix of cross training that is complementary, and only a very small portion that is less complementary.  For example, you don’t want to have 4 cross training days a week of kayaking.  That routine would not be as complementary for running because it does not engage the lower body.


#6: Schedule Your Half Marathon Cross Training

Yes, actually get out your calendar and write in those cross training days IN ADVANCE on your calendar.  It helps to have cross training days on the same day each week throughout your half marathon training plan, if possible.  This helps immensely with accountability  Scheduling out your cross training days (and your running days and rest days) is the #1 recommendation I make for sticking with a half marathon training plan!


*Want help creating your own Half Marathon Training Calendar?  Check out my 1:1 Coaching Plans where I’ll develop a complete and effective training calendar with YOUR input, including the best cross training for you!  


#7: Mix It Up

Burnout is real, especially when you are training for a half marathon for months on end.  One way to stay motivated is to mix it up with cross training. While you still need to make sure that your half marathon cross training is realistic and doable, don’t be afraid to find small ways to mix things up, or even be brave to try something completely new.  Use your half marathon cross training as an excuse to try out that Pilates class, or take a kayak tour of your local lake.  Maybe it’s as simple as hiking a different trail than you normally do.  Or check out a “create your own path” HIIT workout that is different every time!


#8: Don’t Forget Warm Ups, Cool Downs, and Recovery

A few minutes of warming up and cooling down can greatly help with half marathon cross training, as well as recovery routines like foam rolling.


#9: Keep Cross Training in Your “Off Season”

That way, you can maintain your foundation and easily jump back into your next endeavor, whether that’s another half marathon, a long distance hike, or a 100 mile century bike ride! Use your off season to explore new forms of cross training and perfect existing ones.  


#10: Incorporate Cross Training No Matter Your Experience

Whether you are a brand new runner or an experienced one, cross training should be an important part of your marathon training regardless.  



The Best Cross Training for a Half Marathon


So now we get down to the nuts and bolts.  What exactly are the best cross training for a half marathon?  While there is no exact, black and white, definitive list, these are the top recommendations for the best cross training for a half marathon, that focus specifically on the strengths you will need to cross that finish line.  

  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Elliptical
  • Hiking
  • Walking
  • Kayaking / Rowing
  • Strength Training
  • Weight Lifting
  • Yoga 
  • Pilates


CYCLING – one of my favorite forms of cardio cross training that is also LOW IMPACT!  Great for preventing overuse injuries and focusing on leg muscles.  Plus, you have options for indoor or outdoor workouts, and as well as traditional standard rides or interval training rides.  Check out my intro to road cycling guide for outdoor cycling, or my Wahoo Kickr guide for my favorite method of indoor cycling!


SWIMMING – another fantastic cardio cross training that is low impact and engages some muscle systems that might be overlooked during standard half marathon training.  Often overlooked is the fact that swimming builds lung capacity and breath control, which are important in running.


ELLIPTICAL – a full body cardio workout that mimics running motion, that is low impact.


HIKING – great for overall mechanisms, with the potential for less impact and a slightly lower exertion level.  Opt for trails with some elevation gain and varied terrain.  


WALKING – when done at a brisk pace, can utilize the same muscle groups as running but at a lower intensity.


KAYAKING / ROWING – engages upper body, which is great for whole body cross training while giving your legs a break when they need it.  


STRENGTH TRAINING – great for building core and muscle strength (for example, training your glutes will go a long way in helping you tackle hills) and also preventing injury.  Strength training can easily be done with body weight, as an added bonus. Exercises like squats, lunges, mountain climbers, and pushups are both easy to execute and highly effective.  Strength training can also incorporate weight lifting.


WEIGHT LIFTING – builds both primary and secondary running muscles.  Great when used under the umbrella of strength training.


YOGA / PILATES – there are some definite benefits to yoga and Pilates, but they shouldn’t make up the entirety of your half marathon cross training.  Yoga and Pilates help improve balance, mobility, flexibility, posture and core strength, which are all beneficial.  Plus it helps prevent injury.  These are great options for a recovery rest day, or just a light cross train day.



Half Marathon Cross Training DON’TS!


  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew – have a couple cross training go to’s that you enjoy, are effective, and are realistic for you.  Don’t try to work in 10 different kinds of cross training all at once.  


  • Don’t blow it off – when you are training for a half marathon, running gets the glory, and running is naturally the focus.  It’s easy to blow off cross training or see it as “less important” as getting your training runs in.  Keep the mindset that cross training is equally important as running, because it is.  


  • Don’t overdo it – you don’t need to push too hard during cross training.  Remember, it complements your running, but it shouldn’t be the source of an injury or exhaustion to the point where you don’t have enough energy to devote to your training runs.  



Cross Training for a Half Marathon Schedule


So what does a good cross training schedule look like when training for a half marathon?  It might look something like this:

  • Monday: Cross train 45 – 60 minutes
  • Tuesday: 3 mile run
  • Wednesday: Cross train 45 – 60 minutes
  • Thursday: Cross train 45 – 60 minutes
  • Friday: Rest day
  • Saturday: 6 mile run
  • Sunday: Light cross train 30 minutes

What no online search can tell you though, is which half marathon cross training plan is best for YOU and what schedule is best for YOU.  This requires actually talking with you to understand your background, your goal, your timeframe, your strengths, weaknesses, prior injuries, preferences, etc.  If you would like a DETAILED half marathon training calendar customized for YOU, developed with your input, and tailored to your strengths, weaknesses, schedule, timeframe, and goals, then check out my coaching plans here, or fill out this INTEREST FORM to get started with my 1:1 Coaching Plans!


Here’s a few examples of weekly snippets from past training clients below:

Client 1:

Half Marathon training calendar snippet
Week 10 of a Half Marathon Training Calendar Snippet


Client 2:

Marathon training calendar snippet
Week 11 of a Marathon Training Calendar Snippet


Client 3:

The best cross training for a half marathon plan
Week 10 of a Half Marathon Training Calendar Snippet


Client 4:

The best half marathon cross training plan
Week 5 of a Half Marathon Training Calendar Snippet


Client 6:

Half marathon training calendar snippet
Week 1 of a Half Marathon Training Calendar Snippet



As you can see, each training calendar is different, because each one is customized to the individual and where they were at.  If you’d like professional coaching and support to develop your own individualized half marathon training calendar, complete with cross training, weekly running increments, and rest days, then check out this INTEREST FORM to get started!



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The best cross training for a half marathon


Half marathon cross training plan

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Hi, I’m Steven, a Florida native, who left my career in corporate wealth management six years ago to embark on a summer of soul searching that would change the course of my life forever.