You’ve probably heard of cross-training in the context of exercise, as this method of training has become popular among both elite and recreational athletes. Cross training involves incorporating different types of exercises into a workout routine. So instead of running into one of the best routines (opens in new tab) any day, an athlete could mix it up with rowing (opens in new tab)HIIT and Pilates classes (opens in new tab).
To learn more about the benefits of cross training and how to incorporate it into an exercise routine, Live Science spoke with Benjamin Rose, an exercise physiologist and fitness coach at Trainer Academy.
What is cross training?
“Cross training is an exercise program that combines a variety of activities to help you reach your fitness goals,” Rose said, speaking to Live Science. “Cross-training can help you perform better overall, avoid injury, and stick with your program by mixing up your daily aerobic workouts and incorporating strength training into your weekly run/walk regimen.”
Ben is the co-founder of TrainerAcademy.org. He is an exercise physiologist and fitness trainer with 10+ years of experience in the fitness industry. Among other disciplines, he is an expert in sports conditioning and strength training.
In short, cross training means incorporating different types of movements into a workout routine, rather than focusing on one exercise. This has many benefits.
For example, performing different types of movements (cycling, rowing, lifting weights) subjects the muscles, joints, bones and connective tissues to different stresses, loads and movements. This helps prevent muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.
Each type of exercise also has slightly different requirements, so cross-training can ensure that a person is training in different components of fitness. (opens in new tab) (training things like flexibility and mobility, as well as cardiovascular endurance and strength).
Rose also explained that while sticking to a particular exercise can help an athlete achieve a “personal best,” it can limit their overall fitness progress.
“After repeating the same exercise for months, your body becomes capable of doing such things. While this is great for competition, it limits your overall fitness level and reduces the true conditioning you get during exercise. Rose said. “You just maintain a certain level of fitness instead of always getting better.”
How to choose a cross-training exercise
Cross-training can be considered any exercise modality other than a person’s primary sporting activity. For example, runners can try activities such as cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, walking, jumping rope, weight lifting, yoga, Zumba, rollerblading and tennis.
“It’s a good idea to choose a cross-training exercise that targets one or two of the five components of fitness that you’re not already focusing on,” Rose said.
These five health components of fitness include muscular endurance, muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and body composition.
A person who primarily runs or rides a bike—which primarily trains cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance—may want to add cross-training exercises that build muscle strength or flexibility.
Are there any downsides?
Rose said there’s no downside to cross training — other than the fact that it can take time away from a person’s “main” sport. The other thing to watch out for is overdoing it.
“Although incredibly beneficial, cross-training can sometimes tire athletes,” said Rose, who notes that this happens when a person adds too much volume or intensity to their cross-training.
How to start
Rose said it’s entirely up to the exerciser how intense they want their cross-training sessions to be, and that it’s usually helpful to think of them in the context of an overall training program.
The goal of adding cross training to an exercise program is to improve fitness, add balance and variety, and improve areas of fitness that have been neglected. For example, if a person normally does relatively long endurance exercise—perhaps cycling or riding a spin bike—at a moderate intensity, ideally they should do short, high-intensity interval training such as HIIT training. , using plyometric exercises like jumping rope, burpees and jump squats.
With that in mind, Rose advises: “Keep training sessions short, frequent and intense. Limit cross-training to twice a week, no more than an hour.”
As with any change in exercise routine or introduction to a new type of exercise, increase frequency, intensity and duration slowly to be safe.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice and readers should consult their physician or health care professional before adopting any diet or exercise regimen.