Cross-Training Improves Fitness and Reduces Injury

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You may consider yourself to be in better than average shape because you run or bike several times a week, however, if you aren't mixing up your workouts, you may be setting yourself up for injury or mental burnout.

Cross-training is simply a training routine that involves several different types of exercise. This works more muscle groups, improves agility, and makes it easier to participate in a variety of recreational sports, like skiing.

In addition, cross-training reduces exercise boredom, which many people find helps to keep them motivated.

What Is Cross-Training?

While it is necessary for an athlete to train specifically for their sport if they want to excel, cross-training is a beneficial way to achieve and maintain a higher level of overall fitness.

For example, you may use both biking and swimming each week to improve your overall aerobic capacity, build overall muscle strength, and reduce the chance of an overuse injury. 

Cross-training limits the stress that occurs on a specific muscle group because different activities use muscles in slightly different ways.

Benefits of Cross-Training

Cross-training is a great way to condition different muscle groups, develop a new set of skills, and reduce the boredom that creeps in after months of the same exercise routines. Cross-training also allows you the ability to vary the stress placed on specific muscles or even your cardiovascular system.

After months of the same movements, your body becomes extremely efficient at performing those movements, and while that is great for competition, it limits the amount of overall fitness you possess and reduces the actual conditioning you get while training; rather than continuing to improve, you simply maintain a certain level of fitness. Cross-training is also necessary to reduce the risk of injury from repetitive strain or overuse, and offers these benefits:

  • Reduces exercise boredom
  • Allows you to be flexible with your training needs and plans (if the pool is closed, you can go for a run instead).
  • Produces a higher level of all-around conditioning
  • Conditions the entire body, not just specific muscle groups
  • Reduces the risk of injury
  • Works some muscles while others rest and recover
  • Can continue to train while injured
  • Improves your skill, agility, and balance

Create a Cross-Training Routine

When developing a cross-training routine, the possibilities are endless. The goal is to select exercises that require different movements than your preferred activity. For example, runners may want to add racketball, swimming, or weight training into the rotation. Combining circuit-training, sprinting, plyometrics, and other forms of skill conditioning, such as balance training, is a well-rounded option as well.

To customize your personal cross-training routine, select exercises from each group below. Depending on how often you work out, aim to use this cross-train routine at least once or twice a week.

Cardiovascular Exercise

While cardio primarily works your heart and lungs, these exercises all work on various muscle groups. Choose a different cardio workout for your cross-training sessions, such as:

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Stair Climbing
  • Rope jumping
  • Skating (inline or ice)
  • Skiing
  • Racquetball/basketball/other court sports

You should also consider adding speed, agility, and balance drills to your regular cardio workout.

Strength Training

Strength training increases muscle and bone strength, improves balance and coordination, and boosts your metabolism. Pick one or more of the following to add strength training to your exercise routine:

Flexibility & Balance

Flexibility and balance are important for overall wellness at any age or level of physical fitness. Regardless of the type of exercise you do, it is crucial to stretch after a workout to reduce pain and injury. Add one or more of the following to your fitness routine:

Cross-Training Frequency

Depending on your current workout schedule and the amount of time you have, aim to cross-train at least once or twice a week in place of your usual routine or as additional workouts.

With cross-training, you can do one form of exercise each day, or more than one in a day. If you do both on the same day, you can change the order in which you do them. You can easily tailor cross-training to your needs and interests; mix and match your sports and change your routine on a regular basis.

Exercise can strengthen the cardiovascular system, bones, muscles, joints, reduce body fat and improve flexibility, balance, and coordination. Cross-training can help ensure you achieve all the benefits.

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Article Sources

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Cross Training. OrthoInfo. 2011. www.arlingtonortho.com/images/stories/footanklehandouts/Cross%20Training%20-%20OrthoInfo%20-%20AAOS.pdf