Cross training has grown increasingly popular with the explosion of Cross Fit and similar classes. If you’ve ever trained for a race, you’ve also probably seen the cross training days routinely marked into your workout schedule. So, what is cross training? And why is it so important? Here we’ll give you a quick summary of this type of workout, plus talk about five undeniable benefits of cross training!
What is cross training?
Cross training refers to the practice of completing various, different workouts in an effort to improve your overall fitness. Any sort of workout outside of your primary sport is considered cross training.
If you usually swim, running and yoga would be considered productive forms of cross training. If, on the other hand, your main workout is running, you may opt for weight lifting and spinning as your preferred forms of cross training. While term encompasses a wide variety of activities, the point is that cross training works a different set of muscle groups than your primary workout. This scheduled variety helps prevent both injury and burnout.
Benefits of Cross Training
Cross training is part of many professionally-designed training schedules, but is it worth-it if you’re not a professional or endurance athlete? Yes! Everyone – from the amateur runner to the Olympic rower – can reap the benefits of cross training. Here are five of the most important benefits of cross training!
1. Reduced Risk of Injury
One of the most significant benefits of cross training involves reducing your risk of injury. By strengthening your other muscles, including core and complementary muscle groups, you decrease the likelihood of hurting yourself during your primary activity. Still, it’s important that you focus on proper technique and don’t go overboard with a new activity. Careless cross training only leads to more injuries.
When planned and performed correctly, cross training helps prevent injury by using muscles, tendons and ligaments in a different way. Through practicing an alternate activity, your most-used muscles and joints get a little bit of a break while less-utilized areas get their time to shine!
For example, a runner uses their legs (specifically quads) to power most of their workouts and places a lot of pressure on his or her hips, knees and feet. If, instead, that same athlete mixes up her training and swims one or two days per week instead of running, she would start to strengthen her upper body, core and other leg muscles. This cross training also gives her typically over-taxed lower body joints a break. Even though she’s still using her leg muscles to swim, she’s using them in a different way. Since joints are ultimately supported by groups of muscles, it’s beneficial to mix up how you work and strengthen the different muscles in each part of your body to reduce joint strain and injury.
Apart from the benefits in your limbs, increased core strength is also linked to less injury. When your core is strong you can get power from the center of your body and there’s less pressure on your limbs/joints to produce this force. This means you’re less likely to fall into poor form and hurt yourself. Even more, a strong core helps you prevent, and recover from, falls faster. Fewer falls means less pain. So, regardless of your sport, taking time out for a couple ab workouts each week is probably wise.
2. Improved Overall Fitness
Ever felt like you were in amazing shape, and then gone to another workout only to struggle though the entire class/practice? This happens because constantly training in a single activity makes a certain group of muscles and motions strong, but doesn’t do much to strengthen or workout other areas of your body.
So, the second major benefit of cross training is overall fitness. As you challenge different muscles in diverse ways, cross training promotes more improvement in your overall fitness level. By constantly pushing yourself to build more endurance, strength and flexibility in different activates you end-up in better shape overall.
To maximize overall fitness, experts suggest a combination of:
- Cardiovascular / aerobic exercise
- Strength training
- Stretching / flexibility exercises
- Balance exercises
Current recommendations say adults should aim for at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (e.g. running or rowing) or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (e.g. brisk walking or riding a bike) each week. On top of that, strength train at-home or at the gym 2-3 times per week and stretch most days of the week. Even if your balance feels good now, it’s never too early to start incorporating these exercises into your routine as well!
3. Less Burnout
Another one of the most touted benefits of cross training is less burnout. By regularly mixing up your workout, it’s easier to keep it fun and interesting. You can either do different activities on different days, or complete various exercises on the same day. Circuit training is a popular form of cross training because it allows you to do the latter, often in a group and with an instructor.
Looking for some inspiration about different cross training activities? Here’s a few ideas:
Aerobic / Endurance / Cardio
- Jump Rope
- Step aerobics
- Tennis (especially singles)
- Weight lifting
- Body weight exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, plank, sit-ups, etc.)
- Therapy bands
- Resistance workouts
Flexibility & Balance
- Tai chi
- Guided stretching (make sure to warm-up first!)
4. More Weight Loss
Perhaps one of the most sought-after benefits of cross training: faster (and more) weight loss! When you do the same workout over and over again with little variation you become more efficient. While efficiency is the ideal in many aspects of life, it’s not ideal if your main goal of exercise is weight loss.
When you become more efficient at a particular movement it requires less effort, which means less demand on the muscles, which means lower heart rate and less calorie burn. Efficiency is great if you’re training for an event, but you should remain aware of this phenomenon if you’re also aiming to slim down.
To keep losing weight and making the most of your workouts, mix it up! Cross training is the perfect opportunity to challenge yourself and get your heart rate up with different activities. If you usually go to spinning class, try hiking or step aerobics a couple of times per week. Changing up your workout will benefit not only your overall health and fitness, but also help you lose weight faster.
5. Better Overall Health
Last, but certainly not least, cross training promotes overall health. Each of the individual benefits of cross training mentioned above – less injury, better fitness, more consistency and a healthy weight – all contribute to a healthier you. If you can consistently get out the door to exercise, and get in better shape without hurting yourself, it’s more likely you’ll achieve or maintain a healthy weight. A slimmer figure, plus a higher level of cardiovascular fitness, also decrease rates of chronic disease like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. These long-term benefits of cross training are significant, even before we touch on the mental health benefits of regular and consistent, injury-free exercise. So, this varying your workouts is beneficial for both health and overall wellness.
What do you think? Do you believe in the benefits of cross training, or think it’s a waste of time? Let us know in the comments section below!