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Three Exercises for Endurance Athletes to Improve Performance

Cross-training is an important part of a well-rounded program for endurance athletes. It can help you build strength and cut down on the monotony- both physical and mental- of pounding the pavement day after day.

Many of the endurance athletes that I work with have some sort of plan in place for cross-training, usually incorporating some body weight lower body exercises, bicep curls and a lot of ab work. While this may aid in some aesthetics, if we want the cross-training program to really add benefit to performance, then it is important to include a few principles:

Single Leg Strength and Control



Single Leg Strength and Control: Running is hopping from one leg to the other so the more strength and control we have in this position, the better! One of the major differences between running and these types of exercises is time under tension or how long you are on one leg. Single leg exercises are usually quite challenging for folks due to balance (that’s the control I am talking about!), ankle/foot strength, hip strength and quite frankly, lack of practice.

One of my favorite go-to single leg exercises for runners is the Single Leg Hinge with Knee Drive. Give it a try! If you perform this barefoot, you will feel your foot and lower leg working to keep you balanced. That’s a great way to improve foot strength and keep things like plantar fasciitis, shin splints and Achilles pain away. Start with a lower number of reps, maybe around 6, if balance is a struggle but try to work your way up in reps without putting your foot down!

Rotation: Running, cycling, and swimming are all largely sagittal plane movements, meaning you mostly just move forward and backward. Cross training should fill the gaps of what your sport does not emphasize but still requires. For endurance athletes, this is rotation!

The Lunge Hold with Rotation is an easy set up but definitely a challenging exercise! Holding the lunge position will challenge leg strength and muscular endurance as well as balance. Then adding in the rotation brings up the challenge another level. Move slowly and with control through this one. Start with a few sets of 12 to each side.

Power: Power can be interpreted in a few different ways but I am referring to Power= work/time. Power is different from strength because it has that time component! This is important for endurance athletes when they need to dig deeper to push the pace at certain intervals or make it up a big hill (hello Atlanta!). Plyometric exercises can improve explosiveness by training fast twitch muscle fibers which is a very different input than LSD (long slow distance) running. Plyometrics can also help adapt tendons and muscles to these movements and cut down on tendinitis popping up in the middle of a training cycle.

There are plenty of great options for this category, but I’ll share one that also comes from the volleyball play book! The Single Leg Push Off will help you train power, and it’s a single leg exercise. Two birds, one stone. The goal is to elevate off the box as much as possible while remaining under control. Try out 2 or 3 sets of 6 reps per leg and see how it feels!



  • Cross-training for endurance athletes should complement their training by filling in holes that their usual sport does not emphasize.

  • Bicep curls and sit ups are not going to improve performance and bulletproof your body.

  • Three principles that endurance athletes can benefit from incorporating in cross-training: single leg strength and control, rotation, and power.

  • Still not sure what to do? Send an email to and let’s schedule a virtual session to talk about your specific goals and questions!


Thanks for reading,

Dr. Jackie, DPT, OCS

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