Cross-training – you hear a lot about its importance and you’re probably already doing it to some degree. If you do some form of cardio and weight training, you are cross-training but maybe your cross-training could be even MORE inclusive. What exactly does it mean to cross-train? It’s the practice of combining several different training approaches into your long-term plan. For example, rather than training exclusively with dumbbells and barbells exclusively to build strength and power, you might work with kettlebells or do bodyweight training as well. To make your training even more balanced, you might throw in some balance and flexibility exercises as well.
Likewise, a runner might cross-train by running three days a week and strength training with weights or doing indoor cycling the other two days. Doing this reduces the impact of running on the joints and helps strengthen key muscles that lower the risk of injury. When you have weak or unstable knees, hips, or ankles, you’re at higher risk of injury when you run or play sports. Cross-training helps strengthen stabilizing muscles and reduce a runner’s risk of injury as well. That’s why so many running coaches recommend cross-training for runners.
You can also cross-train by integrating a variety of aerobic exercises into your training – indoor cycling, plyometrics, step training, jump rope, etc. More people are taking this approach because of the benefits cross-training offers over doing only one or two forms of training. Let’s look at some of the key benefits that cross-training offers.
Cross-Training: Total Body Conditioning
If you only strength train, your muscles will get stronger but you won’t improve your aerobic capacity or endurance. Neither will your muscles become more powerful since power has a time component to it. To develop power, you have to move the weight quickly or explosively. However, if you incorporate kettlebells into your strength training and high-intensity interval sessions, you’ll develop strength, power, AND muscle endurance. In all, you’ll become more conditioned all around.
Remember, there are several aspects of fitness – balance, flexibility, strength, endurance, and power capabilities. By cross-training, you can make gains in all of these areas and work on multiple goals at once without neglecting key aspects of fitness. What good is it being strong with good endurance if your balance skills aren’t up to par? This still places you at a higher risk of injury. Cross-training keeps your training balanced.
Cross-Training: Lower BMI?
At least for runners, cross-training may be the ticket to maintaining a healthy body mass index. One study found that runners who cross-trained by doing resistance, aerobic, and flexibility training, had a lower BMI, on average, than those who ran a similar distance weekly and didn’t cross train. Such training also improved their movement patterns when they ran. Too often runners focus on running and too little on other forms of training, including strength training. As this study shows, cross training is of benefit to runners, especially runners trying to maintain healthy body weight.
Cross-Training: Reduced Risk of Injury
When you do one type of training, like running, exclusively, you’re at higher risk of overuse injuries. Not surprising! When you run, you use the same muscle groups over and over and do the same repetitive motions. This places excessive stress on your joints, especially if it’s high impact. Using the same muscles over and over can lead to muscle strains and tendon and ligament injuries. Cross-training helps you avoid the pain and inconvenience of an overuse injury.
Cross-Training: Better Overall Athletic Performance
If you participate in a sport like running, you might be tempted to focus mainly on increasing your speed and mileage by doing running drills. However, cross-training by working your core improves your running economy and running efficiency. Don’t forget, the power you generate to sprint comes partially from the powerful muscles that make up your core. If you focus exclusively on weight training, you won’t improve your aerobic capacity or the ability to deliver oxygen to your tissues. Good aerobic capacity is important for heart health but also for recovery from exercise. When your body is able to deliver oxygen to your tissues quickly, recovery from weight training is faster.
Cross-Training: You’re Less Likely to Reach a Plateau
By varying movement patterns, circuit training can help you avoid a plateau. When you reach a plateau, it’s usually because you aren’t varying the movements and exercise you do enough. Your body adapts quickly to doing the same movements over and over and becomes more efficient at doing them. When you cross train and vary the exercises and type of training you do, your body is less likely to adapt to your training and stop responding.
Cross-Training: Reduce Boredom
Let’s face it- doing the same exercises over and over becomes repetitive and a bit monotonous. With cross training, the training is varied and you’re less likely to become bored and find a reason not to work out. Changing your training from day to day or week to week helps power up your motivation and keep you on track with your fitness program. It’s good for you physically and mentally.
The Bottom Line
Cross-training is an ideal way to train for athletes at every age and level. When you vary your workouts, you reduce your risk of injury and get a more balanced workout. Taking this approach is even more important as you age. Doing the same repetitive motions over and over is stressful on your joints.
Cross-training is also a sound approach for recovering from an injury. For example, if you have shin splints, running and jumping may not be an option, but you may be able to get a cardiovascular workout by doing fast-paced kettlebell exercises. If you train in a variety of ways, you can always change your workout to accommodate your injuries. So, cross-training has multiple benefits. Why not take advantage of them?
Active.com. “3 Reasons Runners Should Perform Core Workouts”
UPMC. “UPMC Study Finds Cross-Training Benefits Runners’ BMI and Movement Control”