Why You Should Be Cross-Training, and How to Do It

Whether you're an avid runner, CrossFit junkie or tennis enthusiast, it can be hard to stray from your routine. But a little variety can do you a whole lot of good. Incorporating cross-training sessions into your weekly routine can enhance your overall performance, round out your training and help stave off injury.

Adding exercise variety with cross-training will help keep your body injury-free. (Image: Viktoriia Hnatiuk/iStock/GettyImages)

Why You Need to Start Cross-Training

You might be devoted to your current fitness routine — hey, we get it — but adding some exercise variety through cross-training can have full-body benefits. Loosely put, cross-training involves varying your typical exercise with different types of exercise activities to stimulate and strengthen different muscles, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Repetitive motion (like running or swinging a tennis racket) can lead to injury over time. But cross-training can help prevent overuse injuries by varying muscle stimulation and increasing total body strength, according to the AAOS.

Cross-training can also help prevent over-training syndrome, another type of overuse ailment that is commonly experienced by single-sport athletes, according to the Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Institute. Over-training syndrome occurs when someone suffers from extensive muscle damage — think of it as physical burnout. By adding variety to the exercises you're doing regularly, you can help prevent over-training of the same muscle group.

Another cross-training benefits? Enhanced weight loss. If you're looking to shed pounds and have hit a plateau, cross-training may be exactly what your body needs, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Especially considering weight loss requires consistent exercise, the variety of cross-training can help keep you motivated and prevent fitness from becoming a total drag.

Setting Up Your Cross-Training Plan

While cross-training can (temporarily) take you away from your favorite activity, try to look at it as an opportunity to try new thing, recommends the ACE. Begin by considering your current weekly workout schedule. How many days do you train in your sport or favorite modality? How many days do you rest? Then, begin by replacing one or two of your fitness sessions with a new activity. Remember: A well-rounded fitness regimen includes aerobic or cardio components, strength training and some element of flexibility or mobility work, according to the AAOS.

For instance, if you're typically a runner hesitant to stray from your go-to miles, incorporate a day of strength training in the gym and some flexibility or mobility exercise (like a yoga or Pilates class). In the process, don't feel unnecessary pressure to do things you don't like. If you're a lifter that avoids the "dreadmill," consider taking a dance cardio class to get in some aerobic exercise, recommends the ACE.

Although routine can be comforting, consider cross-training a great opportunity to mix things up. However, if you have a previous injury or ailment and want to try rock climbing or jazz class for the first time, consult your doctor or another medical professional first.

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