Cross-training is a very broad term. It is typically defined as an “exercise regimen or modality that uses several modes of training to develop a specific component of fitness, or sport”. Essentially that means doing a variety of exercise, including specific resistance training in order to improve fitness (especially in a particular sport or area).
Cross Training should strengthen the muscles and tendons that stabilize your joints, so that you can perform day to day activities, sports or competitions better and at higher intensities
I am a huge promoter of strength and cross-training, mainly because I’ve seen gains in all of my sports and activities from doing it. I also have a short attention span, so running 6X/week does not appeal to me at all, even if I train for a half-marathon.
The type of exercises and regimen that you may follow will depend on your goals and what you are training for. You also don’t need a goal or sport to train for, if you want to improve your overall fitness. Cross-training should be done in such a way that it strengthens your whole body as well as the specific muscles and joints that you would be needing better performance in. It should incorporate strengthening the muscles and tendons that stabilize your joints, so that you can perform day to day activities, sports or competitions better and at higher intensities due to your body’s ability to withstand varying impacts, loads and stresses.
Some of the touted benefits of cross-training are:
1. Reduced Risk of Injury: If done properly, the whole idea is that you are preparing for anything. About 10 years ago, I tore my ACL playing basketball, and I had never done much cross training. I ran and played sports, but did essentially no resistance training. After my surgery I spent two years playing sports with a knee brace. I have since gotten into strength training, and have not needed to wear the knee brace for sports and it feels stronger and more stable than it ever has.
2. Increased athletic performance: I have become stronger, faster and better in all sports due to the increased development in power (for sprinting and changing directions) and stability of my joints for injury prevention. I cross-train about 4-6 days/week depending on the time of year and the sport I am playing. Cross-training allows you to “train” your body in various ways that are similar to the athletic movements you are doing in your sport. For instance, improving sprinting speed can be done by strengthening and developing power in the glutes, hamstrings, quads and core with other exercises, which can save your joints if too much running causes stress or pain. Even endurance athletes see remarkable improvements in performance when they incorporate strength training to their regimen.
3. Increased weight loss and improved fitness: Increased weight loss can be a result of cross training because individuals typically enjoy variety in exercise, so they are more likely to remain consistent with their workouts. Variety and constant challenge on the body improves the body’s adaptation to exercise, which improves overall fitness level a higher rate than if someone were to do the same movements every day, or if they focused only on one type of training.
To illustrate this I set out to run as little as possible to train for my last half-marathon. I was recovering from a back injury that seemed to be aggravated by too much running, so I had a reason to run as little as possible. There is something to be said about still running though, because I needed to ensure that (a) my body could withstand the impact of the half-marathon, (b) my body was trained in proper running mechanics so that I remained efficient, and (c) that I developed the strength in my bones and joints to be able to run for 2 hours. My training regimen included one long run per week leading up to the race, 2 spin classes per week (which improve my anaerobic threshold and develop a strong cardiovascular base), and strength training at various intensities about 4 days per week. All of my workouts incorporated core conditioning, mobility and fascia release to keep everything running smoothly (so to speak…).
What was the result? I did a total of 5 runs over 5 weeks (2K, 5K, 8K, 10K and 15K). To be quite honest it wasn’t enough, and my foot and ankle were sore for a few days after the race. But I did not sustain an injury, I finished the race 3 minutes faster (1hr 49min) than the last time I ran, when I ran for 6 months 5-6 days/week with essentially no cross-training.
The point is not that you should do what I did (I should have ran a tad more…), but that cross-training is effective in developing the strength and stability that you need to perform other activities. Any high-performance athlete is training much more than just playing and practicing their sport. It is no different for the general population. You will see less injuries, you will have more variety in your workouts, and be much stronger in all areas of your life if you follow a cross-training program!
Now go do some push-ups 😉
1. “What is Cross Training and Why is it Important?”. Matthews, Jessica. American Council on Exercise. https://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy-living-article/60/36/what-is-cross-training-and-why-is-it/
2.”Impact of Resistance Training on Endurance Performance”. Tanaka, H., Swensen, T. Sports Medicine. March 1998, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 191-200.
3. “Influence of Strength Training on Sprint Running Performance”. Delecluse, C. Sports Medicine. September 1997, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 147-156.