When you’re trying to get fit or maintain your fitness level, it’s important to be focused on your goals. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you need to do only one form of exercise. When people first begin exercising they often focus on one type of exercise to the exclusion of others. They get into a “comfort zone” and then wonder why they’re not making progress. This can be pretty boring too even if you are totally dedicated to working out.
A better idea is to cross-train. Cross-training is where you do several different types of exercise or training modes to achieve your fitness goals. For example, rather than run or strength-train on alternate days, diversify your workouts by doing power plyometrics some days, flexibility or balance training on others and then throw in a spin or step workout for endurance. Rather than focus on one exercise modality do a variety of different workouts and moves. Cross-training has a number of benefits you’ll want to take advantage of. Here’s why cross-training is a “must do.”
Cross-Training Improves Functional Fitness
Functional fitness refers to how well you’re able to perform everyday tasks like reach for something on a high shelf, move heavy furniture, carry out a heavy bag of trash or pull yourself up from a sitting position. Doing a variety of different movements and exercises that use all of your major muscle groups helps them work better together and improves functional fitness. It also helps to correct muscle imbalances and weaknesses.
Cross-training keeps you from focusing too much on one training modality and helps you develop all-around better fitness. Think about it. When you went to school, you didn’t just learn math, you explored a variety of subjects so your education would be balanced. The same should apply to fitness. Strength, endurance, flexibility, power, and balance are all important for being athletic and functionally fit. Cross-training can help you develop all of these. It’s all about keeping things balanced.
Less Risk of Overuse Injuries
One of the biggest benefits of cross-training is it reduces the risk of injury. Working the same muscles in the same way week after week exposes them to cumulative stress. This increases the risk for overuse injuries – the kind that either knock you out of commission or force you to change how you work out. For example, runners who don’t cross-train are at risk for overuse injuries like stress fractures and tendonitis – but it’s not just runners. Any type of exercise you do over and over without giving your muscles, tendons, ligament, bones, and joints a chance to recover can lead to injury.
How does cross-training help? It produces less cumulative, repetitive stress on muscles because you’re exercising different muscles and working them in different ways. You can also cross-train by alternative high-impact exercise with low-impact to give your joints a rest on alternate days.
Even if you love a particular form of exercise, there’s the risk of burning out if there’s no variety. Cross-training has variety built into it. With cross-training, you can do a variety of exercises during the same workout session or change the type of workout you do on a day to day basis. When you cross train you leave boredom and monotony behind. When you were a child you played a variety of games and engaged in a number of activities. That’s why playing was so much fun! Training is more stimulating too when you do a number of different activities. Plus, it helps prevent psychological staleness.
Less Chance of Reaching a Plateau
Cross-training keeps your body guessing and keeps it from adapting to a particular workout. That’s what leads to workout plateaus where you stop seeing results. If you’ve reached a plateau, cross-training can help you break out of it. Plus, cross-training helps keep you from reaching one in the first place. If you’ve reached a weight plateau, changing things up with cross-training can help you restart the weight loss process.
The Bottom Line?
Cross-training is psychologically stimulating, increases functional fitness, helps you avoid plateaus and reduces the risk of injury. It also adds balance to your workout. Even people who play a sport that emphasizes one fitness skill can benefit from cross-training. For example, runners can benefit from strength-training exercises and flexibility training to reduce the risk of injury as well as exercises to correct muscle imbalances. Almost anyone, regardless of their fitness goals, can enjoy the advantages that cross-training offers.
The American Council on Exercise. “What is cross training and why is it important?”
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