The Benefits Of Cross-Training: Do You Really Need It?

Close up of Stationary Bike

Those who are physically active from competitive athletes to weekend warriors all have one major thing in common. Workout and training routines get old and get old fast. Moreover, when you do the same-old, same-old day in and day out your body hardly feels “the burn” anymore. So what’s the solution? Cross training!

Yes, cross-training and switching up your workout routines will keep you from boredom. It’ll even keep you feeling that burn and occasional soreness (after all, who doesn’t like to feel sore from a workout now and then?). Keeping it interesting is one of the most known benefits of cross-training. However, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Variation Is Better For You

Have you ever changed up your workout routine to find yourself sore the next day? Ever wondered why? It’s due to you using different muscle groups that you don’t normally use. This is the main point of cross-training, which the American Council on Exercise (ACE) defines as:

An exercise regimen that uses several modes of training to develop a specific component of fitness.

By training different muscle groups, you’re ensuring that supporting muscles can work efficiently. Moreover, you’re giving your most used muscles a break and recovery time. If you’re an avid runner, then cross-training through swimming or biking gives your legs a break from pounding the pavement. If you’re primarily a weightlifter, then working on cardio only improves your muscle efficiency and endurance. Those who do high-impact sports will benefit from doing low-impact cross-training; almost everyone can benefit from flexibility training and motion control training.

Cross Training & Injury Prevention

One of the biggest but most overlooked benefits of cross-training is its role in injury prevention. The ACE says it best when referring to the effect of cross-training on preventing injuries.

By spreading the cumulative level of orthopedic stress over additional muscles and joints, individuals are able to exercise more frequently and for longer durations without excessively overloading particularly vulnerable areas of the body (e.g., knees, hips, back, shoulders, elbows and feet).

One of the main components of cross-training is its tendency to work opposing muscles. This is especially important in injury prevention as weak opposing muscles can lead to muscle imbalances. If you have a muscle imbalance, you’re more likely to injure yourself from overuse, particularly with strains. For example, if you’re a runner, you’re more likely to have tight hamstrings and weak quadriceps, which is a muscle imbalance and can lead to leg pain.

Another way cross-training prevents injuries is through active recovery. Active recovery means giving your muscles that you mainly use a break while still working other muscles. Furthermore, it can help increase your training intensity if done properly.

Better Performance

Cross-training is known for its effect on how an athlete performs. It enhances efficiency and power. By keeping you injury-free, it keeps your training volume up, which means a higher level of overall fitness. Many times, athletes hit a fitness plateau that can be infuriating. Fitness plateaus occur when you do month after month of the same types of exercise with no variation. Your body eventually becomes accustomed and efficient and performing those exercises, which makes it feel like you’re not working hard enough. This often leads to training harder and training more, which means a risk of overtraining and burnout. However, with cross-training included in a balanced training program, you’ll quickly move on from the plateau.

Cross-training has many benefits other than better performance and injury prevention.

  • Works and conditions the entire body;
  • Keeps you from being bored;
  • Prevents muscle imbalances;
  • Allows flexibility in your training routine;
  • Improves your agility, movement, and balance.

On the flip side of cross-training is the tendency and risk of overdoing it. Many times people make the mistake of substituting cross-training for a real rest and recovery day, which leads to inadequate recovery. It can also lead to an unbalanced training schedule. This is why it’s so important to ensure you have a balanced training schedule that allows adequate rest days, active recovery sessions, cross-training, and traditional training.