Benefits of Cross Training Workouts

Cross training incorporates multiple elements of physical fitness-strength, flexibility and cardio, among them-into a routine that helps you take your fitness to the next level. As gym memberships and personal trainer use continue to rise in popularity, new and long-time fitness buffs are increasingly turning to cross training as a way to increase overall physical health, reduce the risk of injury and breathe new life into stagnant workouts.

What is Cross Training?
A standard cross training routine blends cardio, strength and agility and flexibility exercises into a multi-day workout program, effectively working the entire body. The rationale behind cross training is simple: the more fit you are overall, the better you'll perform in any activity.

Additionally, if your body is both strong and flexible, cross training means you're less likely to sustain serious injury during workouts and more likely to recover faster if you do get hurt. And when you're recovering from an injury, cross training provides the added benefit of helping you maintain your fitness level until you can resume your favorite activity. Runners who need to lessen impact on their joints for example, can continue cardiovascular training on an elliptical trainer.

Total-body Workout
While sports like rowing and skiing come close, no single form of exercise truly provides you with a total-body workout. Cross training does just that.

Think of it this way: if you're an avid cyclist can easily ride 50 miles, you might think that you're in peak form. But then you get into the swimming pool and you find after a few laps that your arms are tired and you're feeling all-over body fatigue. Despite having great leg and cardiovascular strength, you've discovered weakness in your upper body you didn't realize was there.

With cross training, you might add swimming to your cycling routine, and by doing so you'll begin to work all of your major muscle groups, and improve your overall health, strength and fitness level. Professional athletes have long been fans of cross training: football players take dance classes to improve their footing on the field, while baseball players look to increase their leg strength in order to maximize their overall power when they swing the bat.

Preventing Repetitive Strain Injury
A substantial benefit of cross training is the reduced risk of developing Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). RSI results from continuous, prolonged stress on particular joints, muscles and tendons.

If you play soccer, you might be familiar with shin splints-injury or inflammation to the tendons or muscles in the front of the outer leg. Shin splints, tennis elbow and tendonitis are all forms of RSI.

Engaging in cross training routine reduces the amount of continuous stress placed on specific muscles and joints, helping to prevent RSI from developing and reducing your recovery time away from the gym or playing field, especially when you're new to sport and are still building your endurance. If you have tight shoulders that impact your backhand and put more stress on other areas of your arm, you may want to add flexibility exercises, like yoga, to your cross training routine.

What to Include in a Cross training Routine
With cross training, you can mix and match activities to create a workout that suits your body and keeps your interest.

If you're a runner, you might add strength training with weights to the mix; if you're a devoted yogi, incorporate jogging on the treadmill or hit the trail outside. The best cross training programs include at least one cardio, one strength and one flexibility component, but as you grow stronger and more fit, consider adding in additional exercises from each of these areas.

Good cardio exercises to include in your cross training program include walking, jogging, running, skating, cycling, skiing, rowing, swimming, hiking, dance or aerobics or using elliptical trainers and rowing machines.

When it comes to adding strength-building exercises to your cross training routine, look to free weights or weight machines, and good, old-fashioned calisthenics like push-ups, chin-ups and sit-ups. Some forms of yoga, like Ashtanga and Power Yoga, require you to bear your own body weight and are good additions to your cross training routine.

General stretching, yoga and Pilates are great ways to incorporate flexibility exercise into your cross training routine. Yoga and Pilates, in particular, also focus on helping you develop your core strength, which helps protect your back from injury.

Getting Started
When you're first starting a cross training program, limit your activity to 20-minute increments, which will allow your body to adjust to the new activities without pushing it into injury territory. Consider consulting a personal trainer to get specific tips on what cross training program best fits your schedule and meets your fitness goals.

Day 1 Stretching (10 minutes); jogging (20 minutes); elliptical trainer (20 minutes)
Day 2 Stretching (10 minutes); weight machines; power yoga class (60 minutes)
Day 3 Stretching (10 minutes); step aerobics class (60 minutes)
Day 4 Rest day
Day 5 Stretching (10 minutes); cycling (20 minutes); swimming (20 minutes)
Day 6 Stretching (10 minutes); weight machines (20 minutes); free weights (20 minutes)
Day 7 Rest day

It's Best to Rest
Even though cross training helps prevent RSI, you still want to work rest days in your cross training schedule to give your muscles time to repair and rebuild. Without proper time to heal and grow, muscles become fatigued, strained and more prone to injury. Whether you're cross training or not, the most important thing is to listen to your body.

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