How to Become a Better Runner for Track or Cross-Country

Track and cross-country are different sports with widely different energy demands and running styles. While track involves high-intensity bursts of speed over short durations, cross-country requires efficient running over long periods of time with well-planned pickups in intensity. However, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) designates three principles for becoming a better runner that can be applied to both sports.


The first principle in becoming a better runner is to master technique, referred to as a primary method by the NSCA. Technique is the most important component to increasing speed in track, and promoting maximum efficiency and running economy in cross-country. Technique varies with each sport, but both involve a relaxed upper body and face, rotation of the arms from the shoulders and optimal stride length. Study and master the technique of your sport, especially when just beginning, as technical errors are difficult to correct later on.

Assistance and Resistance

Assistance training is a technique that involves using gravity to promote a higher stride frequency, while resistance training involves using gravity or resistance to develop sport-specific strength. Both techniques are referred to as secondary methods. Assistance training applies more to the explosive speed required for track; an example of this technique would be running downhill. Resistance training can be applied to both sports; examples include running uphill or attached to a partner-pulled band.

Energy System Training

Training for the specific requirements for your sport's distance and intensity is referred to as tertiary training; it is important in the later stages of running development. Track is primarily an anaerobic sport. Training consists of repeated bouts of high-intensity efforts with plenty of rest in between. Cross-country is an aerobic sport, and training intervals may last between one minute to several hours. The rule of specificity states that training is most effective when closely matching the metabolic demands of your event.

Strength Training

You can become a better runner by spending time in the gym. You can build strength, power and endurance with an effective strength-training program. Track athletes should focus more on strength and power exercises, such as power cleans and snatches, while cross-country runners should use lighter weights and more repetitions to help build endurance. Leg presses, knee extensions, hamstring curls and calf raises can all help build muscles in the legs needed for running.


It is difficult to see improvements in performance without corresponding improvements in nutrition as well. Athletes are at an increased need for total calories, protein, carbohydrates and fat to provide energy and restore muscle tissue and glycogen following workouts. Furthermore, hydration is essential to cellular function and general recovery. At least 1 pint of fluid is needed for every 1 lb. of weight lost following a workout. Finally, supplements can be effective additions to the diet. Consume a high-protein, high-carbohydrate beverage or bar after each workout to assist with recovery.

About the Author

Graham Ulmer began writing professionally in 2006 and has been published in the "Military Medicine" journal. He is a certified strength-and-conditioning specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Ulmer holds a Master of Science in exercise science from the University of Idaho and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Washington State University.