Planned Balance (Multilateral Training) for Cross Country Runners

Posted by Scott Christensen

Udpated May 25, 2024

Cross country coaches frequently wear blinders while setting up the training macrocycles for their athletes, instead of using multilateral training.  This narrow view prevents coaches from fully developing their athletes into a complete and balanced manner.

Sport scientists have done an excellent job at identifying the five major bio-motor factors that an athlete needs to develop for athletic success regardless of the sport.  These bio-motor skills are properly called Primary Physical Components (PPC). The five PPC are: 1) Speed; which is the ability to move the body and body parts rapidly, 2) Strength; which is the ability to produce force, 3) Flexibility; which is the ability to achieve large ranges of motions in the joints, 4) Coordination; which is the ability to perform skills efficiently and accurately and, 5) Endurance; which is the ability to withstand fatigue.  Without question cross country runners require a highly developed endurance physical component to be successful.  In contrast, a hurdler needs a highly developed coordination physical component.  Other events need an emphasis on other PPC.  The point is, all track events usually have one PPC that is the key to success in that event.  The same is true for all sports and their lineup positions.  It is up to the coach to balance the development of these PPC in order to match the needs of the position, or in the sport of track and field, the specific event.

RELATED: Practical examples of how to use Multilateral Training in your program.

Multilateral training protocol recognizes that all five of these PPC contribute in some way to performance in all events, so all should be developed through training in order to improve performance.  These PPC are also interdependent upon each other so great development of any of these components is impossible without parallel improvements in other components.  The basis behind developing a PPC multilateral training protocol is that coaches and athletes must over time address all of these PPC in some planned balance and that the balance of development stages of these PPC is as crucial as the absolute development level of any one of them, such as the endurance component for the cross country runner.

In cross country running training, endurance is developed through the training modalities of continuous running, interval running, and repetition running.  Since all three of these vary chiefly in the rest between bouts of work performed in a training session, improved endurance is the result if implemented properly.

Speed in cross country running training is developed by training units of maximum speed and speed endurance.  These two training modalities develops faster maximum speed, so that sub-maximal speed becomes more efficient.

Running on an incline (hill) can build up strength in your cross country athletes

Running on an incline (hill) can build up strength in your cross country athletes

Strength in cross country running training is concentrated on moving the weight of the body more effectively by producing greater force against the Earth by the muscles of the legs.  Any running will develop this type of strength, but the faster one trains the greater the force production.  Another aspect of this type of training is to add an incline.  This necessitates greater force production by the legs to fight the incline.  Core body strength falls in this category as improvement in body core strength puts the runner’s body in a more effective body posture for an improvement in running economy.

Flexibility development in cross country running training strikes to improve the range of motion of the joints of the pelvis, knee, and ankle.  An improvement of one inch in one’s stride length, accomplished with increased joint mobility, results in far fewer steps in a 5000 meter race.  Static stretching, dynamic stretching, and plyometric drills on joints that are very warm will result in a much greater mobility over the long run.

Coordination skill improvement in cross country running training is often just ignored.  Yet, because the foot is always searching for balance upon ground contact, it is fundamental in improving the runner’s overall time.  Wasted time on the ground is what slows many runners, yet they lack the coordination to do anything about it.  Bounding drills, skipping, and backward thrusts greatly improve ground-preparation contact coordination skills, as will maximum speed running and some forms of sub-maximal barefoot running.  Stationary drills such as craning and fast jumping-jacks can also help improve ground preparation contact coordination skills.

Discover the 'New Rules' for developing Cross Country athletes.

Planned balance in cross country running multilateral training emphasizes that endurance is the most critical PPC to fully develop.  But, it also recognizes that speed, strength, flexibility, and coordination must also be developed for complete athletic success.


Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

Related Posts

A Workout Ingredient List for the Cross Country Coach

Middle School Training for Cross Country Runners

General Adaptation Syndrome and Cross Country Training

Functional Endurance Strength in Cross Country Training

Two Peaking Workouts You Must Do with Your Cross Country Athletes