The Benefits of Cross-Training

Adult man running across a bridge

Cultura / Chad Springer / Getty Images

You may be a dedicated runner or cyclist and enjoy exercising several times a week. However, if you aren't cross-training, you could be setting yourself up for injury or mental burnout.

Cross-training simply means mixing up your exercise routine by incorporating several different types of exercise. This works more muscle groups, improves agility, and makes it easier to participate in a variety of recreational sports. In addition, cross-training reduces boredom, which many people find helps to keep them motivated.

What Is Cross-Training?

It's essential for an athlete to train specifically for their sport if they want to excel. But cross-training is a beneficial way to achieve and maintain a higher level of overall fitness.

For example, if your favored form of exercise is biking, you might swim each week too. Your swim workouts help 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 to vary the stress placed on specific muscles and even your cardiovascular system.

After months of the same movements, your body becomes extremely efficient at performing those movements. 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 also reduces the risk of injury from repetitive strain or overuse, and offers additional benefits:

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

How to Create a Cross-Training Routine

When developing a cross-training routine, the goal is to select exercises that require different movements than your preferred activity. For example, runners may want to include racquetball, swimming, or weight training. Adding 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.

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 these to add strength training to your exercise routine,

Flexibility and Balance Training

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.

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 addition to or in place of your usual routine. 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 these benefits.

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Cross training. Published 2011.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.