Cross training is where you do 2 or more different physical activities to improve your performance in your main sport or to increase overall fitness. It can be used to focus on increasing your flexibility, stamina, strength, or overall agility. Cross-training can also be used as a form of active recovery. Active recovery is doing less-intense activities on your days off to allow your body to rest but to still remain active.
Cross-training is different than CrossFit. According to NBC News: “A form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), CrossFit is a strength and conditioning workout that is made up of functional movement performed at a high-intensity level,” whereas cross training is doing 2+ different types of exercises that don’t necessarily follow a specific program.
What are examples of cross-training?
For many people, cross-training is done by adding additional exercise such as swimming, walking, stretching, Yoga, or weightlifting into their current exercise routine.
Football players may begin swimming as a low-impact exercise to boost their endurance and lung capacity.
Many professional dancers will train at a gym to increase muscle tone and strength.
Several athletes will do a combination of stretching and yoga to improve their flexibility and reduce tension.
Each type of physical activity offers unique movement, uses different muscles, and focuses on achieving a specific goal.
Ideas for activities to incorporate into your workout schedule:
- Martial arts
- Playing in a park with children or pets
- Weight training
- Table tennis
Benefits of cross training
Reduces the risk of injury
Often, a specific sport or activity will only utilize muscles and joints in a certain way.
Looking at badminton, for example, you often put a lot of strain on your dominant arm and shoulder, as well as on your lower body. Bouncing around the court and constantly rotating your arm above your head causes significant wear and tear on your shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle joints.
Strength training is a great form of additional exercise for badminton. It offers slow and controlled movements, contrasting with the quick and snappy motions of the game. Strength training also allows you to focus on under-utilized muscles, which gives your overworked muscles a chance to recover.
Swimming and stretching are also great cross-training options for badminton, as they are both considered low-impact exercises and great recovery options. Swimming eases pressure on your joints and it helps to increase your endurance while stretching releases excessive tension in your muscles and increases your functional range of motion.
Prevents burnout and boredom
Even if you’re switching up how you’re doing your regular exercise, it can be repetitive enough to begin to bore you. Doing a different activity changes the way you move and think, which keeps you engaged and focused. You’ll often notice that you’ll return to your regular sport feeling revitalized and refreshed, full of energy to perform your best!
Improves your overall fitness
If you’re doing cross-training as a form of fitness, that is a fantastic approach to your health! Find activities that work on cardio, strength training, and flexibility.
Cardio, such as swimming, running, or a quick-paced stretching session, helps you to move freely and to keep your heart healthy as you age.
Strength training, such as weightlifting or even just doing yard work, helps to build muscle and maintain muscle tone, which naturally begins to decline as you get older.
Flexibility training, such as yoga, stretching, or dance, is great to reduce muscle pain and to keep your body loose, which prevents injuries.
Develops new skills
Every type of physical activity develops its own skill set. Some sports, such as badminton or volleyball, hone your hand-eye coordination. Running and swimming build up your endurance. Even an activity like ping pong can improve your reaction time!
Team sports encourage good communication while solo sports allow you to discover more about yourself. Every different activity will offer you a new skill to learn and old skills to master!
Provides new challenges to help keep you stimulated
The first time you try a new sport or exercise, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Your body is often moving in unfamiliar ways. There might also be new rules to remember and you don’t know how to perform effectively yet. Pushing past that initial discomfort of the unknown, you allow your brain and body to focus on learning new movements, identifying new patterns, and interacting with new people. This is a great way to improve your overall focus and satisfaction in life.
Encourages you to have fun
Life doesn’t have to be serious all the time! You can find an additional exercise option for you that is pure fun, like playing frisbee, running in a virtual marathon, or even just ensuring that your weekly walk is with someone you love to chat with. It often provides a great break that can help improve your overall outlook on life!
How often should I switch up my activities?
It’s a good idea to incorporate a different type of exercise into your schedule at least once a week. Many people cross-train several times a week, such as doing yoga daily or attending three weightlifting classes weekly. You will have the best sense of what is right for your body, so do what makes you feel good.
If you start feeling perpetually exhausted or in pain, your body is trying to communicate with you. Take a few days off from exercise to relax and allow your body to recover. Cut back on strenuous exercise and switch to something gentler on your body, such as lightly stretching or slowly walking around your neighbourhood.
Getting started with cross training
The best way to get started is to form a plan. Start thinking about what kind of cross-training you want to do.
- What are you expecting to get out of it?
- How will it fit into your schedule?
- Will you do it with someone or by yourself?
From there, start by doing one relatively short session a week, which can reduce the risk of injury and prevent you from being too overwhelmed. As you become more comfortable, increase the length and frequency of each session until you reach a balance that is right for you.
Avoid pushing your additional training to the point where it affects your main sport or until you feel exhausted, sick, or in pain. Cross-training is supposed to make you feel better, not worse, so listen to your body. Be sure to have adequate rest in your week to allow your muscles the chance to recover and to keep yourself functioning optimally.
Cross-training is a great way to improve your overall fitness and performance in your chosen activities. Start by doing another type of exercise at least once a week to allow your body to use different muscles in new ways. If you notice that you are consistently exhausted, or sore, or that your performance is declining in your main sport, reduce the amount of additional training you do and allow your body to rest.
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This article is not intended to act as or replace medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare practitioner if you have any concerns.
Written by Kayla Willsey