Experts say repeating the same workout routine week after week can set you up for injury. But how else can you keep yourself disciplined? This is where cross-training comes in. You may have overheard the term a lot in the gym, but we break down the meaning and benefits right here.
What is Cross-training?
Cross-training is exactly what it sounds like. It involves mixing up your exercise regime to train different muscle groups. This is because oftentimes athletes will push themselves to focus on their own sport, but overuse of a single muscle group can lead to overuse injuries or even overall burnout.
Activities like running, swimming, biking, yoga, aerobic exercises and more, can not only help you increase agility, core strength, and balance, but also integrate several types of fun cardio workouts. This is why cross-training is increasingly being used in the military, NFL, and even the NBA.
Let's find out other reasons why you should set up a training program for yourself.
What are the benefits of cross-training?
Cross-training can help you avoid injury by not overworking one muscle group of the body. This will also boost your confidence as you feel like a more well-rounded athlete because now, instead of just running or lifting weights, and doing nothing else for weeks on end, all members of your team are getting stronger with each other's support.
Listed below are some eye-opening reasons for you to mix up your workouts:
Reaching weight-loss goals faster
Cross-training can help with a variety of fitness goals, but if one of them is shedding some weight, you're certainly going to benefit from it. Fitness experts say weight loss happens when you perform an active medium-intensity workout for a long duration, more than thirty minutes for instance.
Consequently, cross-training activities like swimming, cycling, running, aerobic, etc improve the calorie- shedding process of your body.
Becoming more disciplined
When you keep your muscles guessing with what's next on the menu and break the monotony of your overworked old workouts, you're more likely to stick to the exercise regime. Obviously, sticking to one fitness program will soon seem like a burden that you want to get over and not a fun activity.
But with the guaranteed release of endorphins that reduce your stress and also give overused muscles some rest, you’re bound to look forward to workouts and become more disciplined.
Beat those injuries before they get you
Professional runners will know that only running during practice is not the way to enhance endurance, strength, or speed. Rather, it might lead to overuse injuries of leg muscles like Achilles Tendonitis and stress fractures. This is also the reason you see footballers recuperate and train other muscles by going for different activities for instance a simple run, swimming, cycling or skipping rope exercise, etc, once or twice a week.
It thus offers a great recovery period to overworked muscles and improves flexibility, core strength, and other fitness benefits that you can read in the next point.
Improve overall fitness
When you make the most of your training, you will automatically be focusing on neglected muscle groups with new and exciting exercises. Combining stretching, cardiovascular, and strength training workouts will inevitably improve your full-body fitness. Why is this?
Say you go for a day of cycling on Monday followed by swimming on Tuesday and Yoga on Wednesday. The variety of activities makes different muscles work and improves agility, balance, endurance, and power; all of this feeds back into your main sport as well as real-life outside the gym.
Improves Your Mental strength
According to a study by Jama Psychiatry, performing resistance training twice or thrice a week led to many significant improvements mentally for people with mild to moderate depression.
When you try fun alternatives to your usual boring fitness routine, your brain releases endorphins and happy hormones which make your stress disappear too.
So if you're in a particularly low phase, don't skip the gym. Rather, take that old bicycle out for a spin, or opt for running and feel the wind on your face and see how much better you feel at the end of it.
Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
Among the many benefits of cross-training, this one is lesser-known yet most key. On designated days, when runners start doing strength training or footballers start sprinting, their body will be going through other major changes that they hadn't thought to focus on. This includes the lowering of cholesterol and fat around the heart which will lower the risk of heart ailments in the long run.
Of course, this will be coupled with a protein-rich and low-fat healthy diet to achieve the best results.
Allows you to be malleable with sudden fitness plan changes
Apart from huge changes like the covid-19 pandemic, you can decide to train when some unforeseen event forces you to adjust your plans. For example, it's raining and you decide to stay inside and do some push-ups and squats. Or if the gym is closed, you can decide to go running.
Continue training during an injury
We have already talked about avoiding injury with cross-training, but what if you already have an injury? Good news for any such injured athletes too. When you injure one particular muscle or tendon, you can choose to cross-train and focus on other muscle groups with a different activity each day.
This will get you through your recovery period with an even fitter body. An example of this is runners who can't run but don't necessarily feel any pain during cycling or elliptical training and use this to their advantage.
Great for beginners
Are you a beginner just looking to build your workout routine but don't know where to start? Cross-training gives you the opportunity to try your hands at various things before you settle for a routine.
Try running, jogging, or swimming and doing light weights and slowly build towards a higher intensity exercise routine.
Strengthen your bones
When you condition your body by putting it into several types of physical exercises, you also increase bone density naturally. This is especially important for post-menopausal women who are especially prone to developing bone ailments like osteoporosis.
How to create a cross-training regime?
We've listed out the benefits of cross-training. But how does one get started? The goal is to make the neglected muscle groups work. You can do this by choosing something new when it's cross-training time.
There are essentially two successful ways you can use to integrate cross-fit into your workouts:
Something new every day
Here's a technique that makes sure you don't get bored. Once or twice a week you can change up your usual training and select one item from the below categories.
Flexibility, balance, and stretching focus
You may be excelling in your favorite sport or at the gym, but it's important to stretch those muscles. In the International Journal of Yoga, a comprehensive study recounts how half of a particular college's athletes were made to practice yoga. It was found that the group doing Yoga improved their performance due to increased flexibility and balance.
So, work on your flexibility level and give your body a breather by choosing any one of the following recuperating activity at least once a week:
- BOSU balance training
- Power Yoga
If you can lift the heaviest weights at the gym, but run out of breath when you climb a couple of flights of stairs, it's a sign you need to work hard on your cardio. Select from the below workouts to improve your heart and lung situation.
- Skipping rope
Strength training doesn't just strengthen your bones and muscles, there are also other related boons. It also improves your balance, core power, and metabolism. Strength training is also impactful for polishing your coordination skills. Here are a few options you can choose from:
- Free weights
- Resistance band and tube exercises
Within your cross-train workout
Although it is recommended you switch up your workout routine once in a while, some people prefer adding diverse exercises every day. Here is an example of how you can reap the benefits of cross-training daily:
- 10 minutes on the treadmill or Nordic Trainer
- 15 push-ups
- 10 squats
- 8 pullups
- 1 min plank
- Sprinting for 15-20 seconds
- Ending with 5 mins of full body stretch
In this way, you can even do cross-fit training in the safety of your home during the pandemic. No need for elaborate club memberships to use the pool or tennis court. Stay home and stay fit!
How often should one do cross-training?
The frequency of cross-training varies for different athletes. It all depends on the workout schedule, time at hand, and current overall fitness. Generally, one should aim to switch up training with a different activity once or twice a week.
On the day you do choose to switch it up, you can do one or two planned sports or activities. If you usually do two activities on the same day, reverse the order each time to keep your body guessing.
Cross-training is not a workout methodology, instead, it is an entire philosophy on its own that can help you achieve a fitter body but even healthier mind in your life. The benefits of cross-training are not just limited to breaking the monotony of everyday training, but also include shedding more calories, helping you stick to your regular training schedule, and even boost your mental state.
It is a great starting point for those looking to start their fitness journey as well as for women looking to stay fit in their postmenopausal phase. Heart disease risk is higher in this day and age thanks to increased fast food joints but mixing and matching sports can help with that.
All in all, the benefits of cross-training are plenty for newcomers, women, young athletes, and even children. Incorporating it into your usual workout will give you a much-needed boost in your regular sport as well as daily life.