Varying your workouts through cross training is beneficial for both those just starting an exercise program as well as seasoned athletes wanting to improve their performance.
“Cross training can reduce your risk of injury, improve total fitness, and help with weight loss by giving your body a mental and physical break from the monotony of a single mode of exercise. This brings balance to your fitness routine, which not only improves your overall level of conditioning but is also psychologically refreshing,” says New Milford Fitness & Aquatics Club Personal Trainer Michelle Freeman.
What does all of this mean? Basically, it means changing things up with your workout routine will actually bring more energy to your main sport or workout of choice. Today we’re going to explore different cross training workout options as well as the benefits of cross training.
Cross Training Workout Options
- Stair Climbing
- Court sports like basketball, racquetball, squash
- Jump rope
- Free weights
- Weight machines
- Core exercises (crunches, pull ups)
- Resistance bands
Speed & agility drills
Circuit training, HIIT, Tabata, Plyometrics, Sport specific skill training
The Benefits of Cross Training
If you do the same type of workout all of the time, you’re stressing the same muscles over and over. Overuse is one of the most reasons for injury. Cross training gives those overused muscles a chance to recover.
Coach Mike Nahom credits cross training for his lack of injuries and his ability to continue to compete at a high level throughout the years. Mike is a long time runner, and former NCAA All American in cross country while competing for the University of Colorado. Since graduating from college, he’s been rotating his workouts with running, swimming, mountain biking and road riding, as well as strength training. While much of his workout base is cardiovascular, swimming is low impact and aids in recovery as well as helps relieve sore muscles.
Not only will using the same muscles repetitively increase your risk of injury, but it also creates muscle imbalances. When you cross train, you work different muscles, which gives your workout balance and better all around fitness.
Jenny Hlavac tried supplementing her marathon training with Pilates Reformer training initially because she was dealing with knee pain. But she found some unexpected benefits as well in improved performance.
“I struggled with knee pain through training for two marathons. Climbing stairs after a long run was difficult, and I often had to take a week off from training to rest. I was taking 800 mg of Ibuprofen before and after runs. Once I started Pilates Reformer training, I noticed a change after about 8-10 sessions. In addition to feeling more toned everywhere, the pain in my knees started to subside until I could eventually run pain free with minimal Ibuprofen and no need for training breaks to heal. Plus, I shaved 34 minutes off my best marathon time!”
Another disadvantage of repetitive training is that you’re likely to eventually hit a fitness plateau, where you are no longer making the gains you want to make. By cross training, you’re forcing your muscles to adapt to new stressors.
If you do mostly cardio workouts, weight training will help you build muscle mass. Resistance bands and core workouts will help you increase your speed.
Strengthening core muscles is one reason why runners might want to consider Pilates Reformer training. Pilates Reformer training targets the deep core muscles needed for stability and the running motion. The study in this article in Livestrong shows an improvement in running times similar to what Jenny Hlavac mentions above. In addition to runners though, any type of athlete can benefit from Pilates Reformer training. Not only does Pilates Reformer training improve full body conditioning, but also adds to your agility and balance. That’s why you see more and more professional athletes adding Pilates Reformer to their training regimens.
Member LeeAnn Gilbert has been cross training since January. Prior to that, her main activities were only cardio…running and Zumba. Now she’s added strength training, flexibility, circuit training, and swimming to her workout schedule, in addition to running several days a week.
“Cross training has not only made me a stronger runner, but stronger overall. It has improved my metabolism, my overall body composition, my endurance, and muscle mass. It has made me a faster runner and has improved my endurance and cardiovascular function. It’s also made me more confident in my appearance and abilities as a runner. I’m also noticeably less sore and my recovery time is faster!”
Rest tired muscles
When you cross train, you give the muscles that you tend to use all of the time the chance to rest. Not only will this help you avoid injury, but it also helps you to create the muscle balance that we talked about above.
Randy Watkins, marathon runner and member of our Running Club, says “Originally I tried yoga just to gain a little more flexibility as one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to be able to touch the floor in 2019. It has not only increased my flexibility, but I also feel like I have better balance and more core strength. I don’t really think of it as cross training anymore. I just really like it. When I get out of a yoga class, I feel great, not all beat up. I think it’s very complimentary to running and probably almost any sport.”
Change in Body Composition
In addition to better overall fitness, cross training can also help you change your body composition! For runners and cyclists, building a lean muscle will help you become stronger and faster, as well as improving your body composition.
On the other end of the spectrum, body builders and power lifters whose primary goal is building strong, powerful muscle can add in cardio activities when they want to use that muscle to help them shed some body fat or meet a weight class goal.
Because you’re using different muscle groups when you cross train, you can safely mix more than one type of workout into the same session, allowing you to work out for longer.
Patrick Freeman, while training for professional body building competitions, typically cycles between the following modes: outdoor hill walk (steady state), indoor spin (steady state), stair stepper (steady state), versa climber (survival), or rowing, treadmill, bike or track intervals. Some days he’ll do two to three of these shortened for more variety.
“Cardiovascular training is essential for the body and the mind. Although one’s heart is not ‘visible’ on stage, it is still a muscle (albeit cardiac in nature) and needs to be trained as such … with intensity, variety and challenged with different modes of respiratory training … this is one reason I vary my cardio routine – i.e. cross training – especially as I approach a competitive bodybuilding event. I not only shed boredom, but also more body fat … diversity breeds motivation, and that’s exactly what I need for dialing in my physique!”
Doing the same thing over and over can get boring after a while, making it easy to lose interest. By trying something new, you’ll work different muscles, avoid overuse and injury, improve your overall fitness – and you might just find another type of workout that you enjoy!
Dana Bezerra has seen significant changes as a result of her personal training sessions with Personal Trainer Elena Picarelli.
“I’ve always felt like I could get one thing or the other working for me – cardio or weights, food or cardio – but never more than one at any given time. Cross training has helped me finally get it together and to stay motivated without getting bored. Even better, I feel like I’m seeing the results. I’m building cardio endurance and strength. With each workout, I feel great and have the energy and motivation to take on all the challenges in life!”
Two of our running club members, Miriam Acevedo and Dan Lamb, have been challenging each other to try something new for the past few months. Miriam is a huge BODYPUMP fan who joined the running club about a year ago, and has since shaved over two minutes off her per mile time. Dan is a lifelong swimmer who has been running most of his adult life. Miriam promised Dan that if he went to BODYPUMP, she would go to Master’s Swim.
Keep in mind these two activities were completely out of each other’s comfort zone. Prior to this, Dan had never attended a class in our gym. He’d only used the pool and attended running club. Miriam had only swum recreationally, and had never been in our pool at the club.
Several Fridays ago, Dan made good on his promise and attended his first BODYPUMP class.
The Friday following Dan’s first BODYPUMP class, Miriam showed up for Master’s Swim at 6 am. The end result? Both discovered a new activity that they enjoyed. Dan has since been to several more BODYPUMP classes, and Miriam has decided she wants to take swimming lessons to improve her swimming strokes. In addition to the fun challenge they had going on though, the bigger picture here is that they have both found another cross training alternative.
Whether you’re simply trying to get back into shape or you are a seasoned athlete, cross training has big benefits. Alternating your workouts with different types of training will give your muscles a fresh challenge and help you avoid injury! If you’re not really sure what type of training is best for you, talk to Michelle Freeman at the New Milford Fitness & Aquatics Club Personal Training Desk.
Michelle is a long time runner, fitness enthusiast, (mostly) healthy food blogger, and she’s one of the owners at New Milford Fitness & Aquatics Club. She ran cross country and track for the University of Colorado, and advocates cross training to stay healthy and avoid injury.