Getting the most from cross country

By Grant McLean


Focus on core strength and flexibility

Core strength and stability workouts should be done most days and involve minimal equipment. A great set of runner-specific core strength  exercises  were  provided  in the March 2009 edition of Runners World magazine (Australian Edition).

A body-weight programme is beneficial for cross country and can be done before or after a running workout. One or two sessions per week including squats, crunches, lunges and sit-ups.

Upper body strength work helps combat fatigue in the arms during a race, which can be exacerbated by the extra demands of cross country racing.

Add a ‘Fartlek’ session

Fartlek, a Swedish word loosely translated as “speed play” is ideal for cross country preparation. This is because the fartlek session involves continual changes of pace over different distances, ideally on off-road trails and grass mirroring cross country racing.

Maximise leg power

The start in cross country can be a mad dash to gain a good position on a tight course, and then you need to attack those pesky hurdles. Good sprinting and springing power is needed. Build some hops and jumps into your body weight routines. Also practice some wind sprints a couple of times per week on grass.

Practice hurdling

What would cross country be without hurdles. Build leg strength for hurdling by doing some hurdles! Find some low fences on your trail and park runs. Otherwise you may need to get creative and set up a low barrier. Do be careful though!

Get the right footwear

Since cross-country racing terrain is often hilly, muddy and wet you need the right shoes, get proper spikes which give good traction.


Before the start

  • Warm-up well: It’s often cold so get the body hot and stretched out without exerting too much energy.
  • Know the course: Pay very close attention to the course
  • (jog around and familiarise yourself with it)
  • Remember: double or even triple tie your running shoes!

The race

  • Quick start then settle: be ready for that quick start to jockey for position and then settle into an even pace.
  • Focus on your form and leg turn over: Try and run upright. Vary stride length and arm swing action according to the terrain. Maintain a fast turn over -even if it means reducing stride length.
  • Be aggressive on varying terrain: Don’t be timid, commit.
  • Run the tangents: run the shortest distance between points!
  • Pick up speed before a hurdle or going up a hill: Let the momentum carry you over and up with quick leg turn over.
  • Most importantly try and relax and enjoy it!