7 Cross-Training Workouts to Shake Up Your Routine

Cross-training workouts like yoga for runners can improve your athletic performance and prevent injury. (Image: Cavan Images/Cavan/GettyImages)

On the color wheel, hues on opposite sides are called complementary colors — although different, they go together beautifully. You can apply the same philosophy to your workouts for even greater results.

Whether you're blissing out with yoga or setting new CrossFit personal bests, you may be missing methods to balance your body and improve your overall athletic performance by skimping on cross-training.

"Cross-training with different exercise modalities or sports trains other muscles, stimulates the neurological system in different ways and stresses a different metabolic pathway entirely," says Scott Weiss, co-owner of Bodhizone Physical Therapy and board-certified athletic trainer. Round out your workout by discovering what cross-training activities best complement your favorite forms of exercise.

1. Indoor Cycling and Pilates

Are you a biking enthusiast, covering hundreds of miles each week on your two-wheeler? Or an avid indoor cycling attendee? Help your body perform its best by complementing your wheeled work with some Pilates.

"A strong body makes a strong cyclist, and a strong body starts with core strengthening," says Chad Timmerman, a USAC-certified cycling coach and co-founder of TrainerRoad.com. "The best cyclists are strong in their deep abdominals and hips as a result of routine core strengthening found in Pilates training."

"Without the deeper, structural strength gained via core strengthening, cyclists waste a lot of their energy moving around on the bike," Timmerman adds. If you're new to Pilates, consider an introductory class or a one-on-one lesson. A certified Pilates trainer can ensure you're activating the right core muscles and twisting in just the right ways to get the biggest benefits (without putting your neck at risk).

2. Swimming and TRX

Swimming laps in the pool can be a great way to get in some cardio and blow off steam from the day. You'll see even more improvements in your swim game if you add some strength training like TRX.

"Swimming is an excellent exercise for cardiac health, but it does not help bone density. So, in order to maintain bone density, it is important to add strength training to a swimming fitness plan," explains Carol Michaels, creator and founder of Recovery Fitness, an exercise program designed to help cancer patients recover from surgery and treatments.

"Not only does strength training increase our muscle mass, which has numerous benefits, it also stimulates the bones and can slow the loss of bone density," Michaels says. In order to complement swimming, the strength training exercises should also include balance training, recommends Michaels. Balance exercises like single-leg deadlifts will challenge both your core and leg muscles to improve your game both in and out of the water.

3. Running and Yoga

If your ideal workout is logging some serious miles in your new trainers, consider adding a yoga class to your weekly routine. "Most runners I encounter don't like to stretch, and what they call stretching is usually 30 seconds of a hamstring stretch before they run," says Gerard "Coach G" Burley, fitness coach and founder of Coach G Fitness.

Burley recommends that runners add yoga to their routine to help open up the hip flexors, one of the tightest muscle groups these athletes face. Try a single one-hour yoga class a week and watch your flexibility increase and your runs improve.

4. CrossFit and Barre

Does your typical WOD involve double-unders, pistol squats and squat thrusts? If you're a CrossFit fanatic, pair your great full-body workout with something a bit slower and smaller, advises Allison Hagendorf, a certified health and lifestyle coach and trainer at Cave CrossFit in Los Angeles.

"CrossFit consists of compound full-body movements, recruiting multiple muscle groups and everything you've got," Hagendorf says. "It demands speed, intensity and laser-focused mental fortitude. You engage every muscle in every moment, and you are in a constant fight-or-flight response to optimize your training."

Alternatively, barre class offers a different kind of challenge. This form of exercise prioritizes breathing through lengthening, focusing on tiny, isometric movements, says Hagendorf. Barre can improve flexibility and strengthen all of the supporting muscles that assist in stabilization and balance. Adding some barre to your barbell work will ensure muscles big and small are getting a workout.

5. Tennis and Kettlebells

If you love sprinting across the court between acing a killer serve and volleys at the net, seek out the kettlebells at your local gym. Kettlebells are different from a traditional free weight, so you'll want to get trained on using them or take a class to learn how to lift and swing them. "Done properly, exercises like the kettlebell swing train you to develop force from the ground up, generating power from your legs, transmitted through your core and transferred to your arms," says Polina Kovalevska, a level-three personal trainer in the U.K. and owner of MeanFitFoxes.com.

Working out with kettlebells will also help enhance your grip strength, an essential element for racquet sports. "You need strong arms to control your racquet, and the dynamic nature of kettlebell ballistic exercises provide that extra snap when hitting the tennis ball," says Kovalevska. Complement your tennis game with two 15- to 20-minute kettlebell sessions a week.

6. Yoga and Bootcamp

Stretching in downward-facing dog has lots of benefits for body and mind, but you can improve your overall fitness by adding some oomph to balance out your om. Joel Harper, a celebrity personal trainer and author of Mind Your Body: 4 Weeks to a Leaner, Healthier Life, recommends yogis do this with bootcamp.

"Bootcamp gets your heart rate pumping, which builds heart strength, torches calories and can offer a challenge by doing a variety of exercises back-to-back with bursts of movements, whereas yoga is slower and more controlled," he says. "They are both fantastic forms of exercise, but it is ideal to do both in order to work your muscles differently. Then they are challenged and stimulated and grow."

While bootcamps do offer a faster-paced workout than yoga, they don't have to include an instructor barking orders like a drill sergeant. Ask to watch a class before you commit to ensure you find a good fit.

7. Weightlifting and Tai Chi

Spend most of your gym time doing deadlifts, reverse flyes and spider curls in the free-weight room? Mix it up by adding some Tai Chi to your weekly workouts. "Weight training is geared toward an anaerobic metabolism with an emphasis on muscle, bone and joint strength," says Weiss. To balance out this type of workout, he recommends Tai Chi or qi gong.

"These Asian martial arts are geared toward balance, breathing and footwork," he says. "Of course, these arts are beneficial for numerous aspects of the body and have so much more to offer, but for the weightlifter, they can lower blood pressure, augment balance and teach them to move weight around in another way using different muscles."

If you're feeling too nervous to join the group of seniors doing Tai Chi at the park, gain the same benefits by checking out the moves online (YouTube hosts a variety of how-to videos) and practicing them in your living room.

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