When I first started working out and getting healthy I heard the phrase “cross-training” many times, but never really looked into what it actually meant. Before I give you my own definition, here’s the official definition of cross-training:
the action or practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport. “most serious athletes in any sport these days do some form of cross-training”
And with that definition, I never considered myself that much of an expert in any one sport so I didn’t need to worry about improving it by adding a complementary activity.
These days, I have come up with my own definition for cross-training:
adding variety to your main exercise of choice so that you don’t get bored, fatigued, or hit a plateau
Allow me to explain the benefits of cross-training for those of us that don’t aspire to become an elite athlete.
1. Cross-training gives your muscles a rest
It’s common to get sore muscles or even a nagging injury when you focus on just one sport or activity. By cross-training, you’ll often find that you give those muscles and tendons a welcomed rest while also strengthening muscles that play a supporting role. For example, when I added running to my joy of tennis it allowed me to avoid tennis elbow soreness.
2. Cross-training balances out muscle imbalances
When you focus on just one sport or workout you may find that you grow the muscles involved quite nicely, but others don’t get as much love. This can lead to muscle imbalances, something that cross-training can help fix. Running helped improve my quads, hamstrings, and calves, but my glutes never really got as strong as I would like. When I added mountain biking to my cross-training mix, I found that it greatly helped even out those muscle imbalances. Now, I found that running AND mountain biking has rounded out my legs nicely and made me better at both!
3. Cross-training adds variety
Another big benefit of cross-training is that it adds some variety to your workouts. Sometimes, even our most loved activity can become boring if we overdo it. When I want some banter and mental challenges, playing doubles tennis is great! However, when I want some alone time, a long run is the perfect solution. And when I want some pure adrenaline? That’s when, you guessed it, mountain biking comes in. When you add cross-training, add something that you think you might enjoy but also gives you something fresh and different.
4. Cross-training adapts to the weather conditions
This has been a key benefit during the warmer months of North Carolina. When it’s dry and hot, I seek the shaded trees of my favorite bike trails. A little rain means the trails close, but often my club’s clay courts like a little more moisture. After a heavy storm, I can’t bike or play tennis, but the air has cooled off enough for a run or a nice neighborhood walk. In addition, cross-training can help you keep your activity level up during different seasons. Skiing anyone?
5. Cross-training helps break plateaus
Last, but certainly not least, cross-training can help you break some fitness plateaus. This is especially true if your goal is weight loss. Not only can adding some cross-training provides one more way to burn some calories, but it may also give your body enough of a shock in the process. When your muscles and aerobic system become used to one particular activity, they can become too efficient. Cross-training is often all that is needed to challenge your body again.
Are there any downsides to cross-training? Sure! I’ve certainly had to be careful not to overtrain because I love lifting weights, tennis, running, biking, and walking. That’s where the official definition of cross-training makes some sense. While you may not consider yourself an elite athlete that needs cross-training, you may want to pick one activity as your main one and use the others to supplement it. Just don’t feel you need to set that in stone. Mix it up as needed!