The best workouts for runners (besides actually running)

Change up your routine and balance your muscles with these trainer-approved workouts.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
3 min read

Running is a great exercise, but adding in other workouts that complement your routine has benefits.

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Starting and keeping a running practice is no easy feat. But many people who push past the initial challenge of starting a running routine end up looking forward to the workout and coming back to it again and again. Even though there are always ways to improve and challenge yourself as a runner, running by itself can't check all the boxes you need for a well-balanced fitness routine

Variety is important in all types of fitness routines, and that's no different with running. One reason why you want to change things up is to prevent injuries by making sure you're working on other fitness areas (like strength and flexibility) which supports your running practice. When it comes to preventing injury, don't forget that wearing proper running shoes, warming up and cooling down properly, and also dedicating plenty of time to recovery.

Be sure you're changing up your routine to balance muscles and areas that don't get attention during a run with the workouts below.


Rowing is a great complement to running because it's low-impact and helps improve form and posture.

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Running isn't exactly a low-impact activity and it doesn't focus much attention on the upper body. For this reason, you want to balance out your workout schedule with other activities that fill that gap. One activity that fits the bill is rowing. "Rowing is low-impact, it gives runners the same cardiovascular training, breath control and mental focus without tearing up the joints," says Caley Crawford, certified personal trainer and Director of Education for Row House.

Rowing also benefits flexibility, posture and engages the core -- all things that can help runners.

"Rowing engages 85% of the body's muscles, with a heavy focus on the core. A strengthened core provides runners the ability to further engage the more powerful muscles in their hips which improves their stride and momentum," Crawford says. 

When it comes to flexibility, there's a lot more to it than simply stretching. According to Crawford, the range of motion required to row helps develop flexibility in the hamstrings and calf muscles. "A runner's stride involves a smaller range of motion, thus making rowing an excellent way for them to improve flexibility, and in turn, lengthen their stride and facilitate recovery after long runs," Crawford says.


Barre classes focus on body alignment and strengthening small muscle groups.

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Barre workouts are inspired by dance, and also borrow elements from Pilates to help you get stronger and effectively work small and large muscle groups. Barre classes can vary in intensity and format, but generally they focus on strength and flexibility rather than cardio, making them a great addition to running.

One area that barre focuses on is proper form alignment in the body, which is important for runners, according to Andrea Rogers, founder of Xtend Barre. "This proper alignment is extremely beneficial to carry over into your running form," Rogers says. Runners are prone to knee and foot issues, which barre can help prevent. "Xtend Barre puts a strong focus on proper foot alignment during your workout, which not only strengthens the foot and its surrounding muscles, but also helps protect against injury. 

Your legs definitely get a workout during a run, but you may not be targeting all of the muscles (like the inner thighs, for example). "Similarly, strengthening the leg muscles in proper form and alignment not only serves to support good knee tracking, but can also work to alleviate knee pain," Rogers says.


Yoga can help with recovery and flexibility, among other benefits.

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Yoga can help you destress, improve flexibility and so much more. If you're looking for an active form of recovery, yoga can help give your body the rest it needs between tough workouts. "Yoga is one of the best complementary practices for running because the more cross-training a runner (or any athlete) does, the better, especially when it's a recovery-based practice," says Abby Vernon, yoga instructor and Lead of Teacher Development for YogaSix.

Read more: Best yoga mat for 2020

Besides improving flexibility, yoga can also help improve range of motion and mobility in the hips, two important factors for runners to consider. According to Vernon, yoga can help activate the posterior chain (the muscles in the back of the body) which is important for stride and can help improve efficiency. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.