If you’ve ever gotten into a workout rut (or are in one now), you’re not alone. It’s not a bad thing to get into a normal workout routine and it probably means that you are making exercise a habit. But when you start to do the same moves every day over and over, the cycle can get repetitive and tedious quickly.
Luckily, mixing up your workout not only keeps things interesting in your exercise routine, but cross-training also has some major benefits for your general fitness and you can start adding it into your workout today!
Whatever your preferred method of working out is and whether you do it at a gym, at home, or outside using your own body weight, let’s dive into why cross-training workouts rock, how they help your fitness journey, and some examples you can try for yourself.
What is a Cross-Training Workout?
Most exercise experts recognize four key types of workout moves: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. We will focus primarily on the first two types in considering cross-training.
Endurance exercises are typically aerobic in nature, meaning they raise the heart rate and send blood pumping throughout the body to complete movements like walking briskly, running, jumping, biking, or swimming. You might also hear or think of these exercise types as “cardio,” and they’re categorized as endurance because over time, this type of workout trains your heart and body to keep up these fast-paced movements and strengthens the heart muscle.
Strength exercises are focused primarily on building muscle. This can involve lifting weights, or doing body-weight movements that put additional strain on the muscles of the body, such as push-ups, pull-ups, or squats. Putting high strain on the muscles actually breaks down the muscle fibers, so that when the body repairs these fibers, they are rebuilt stronger than before – hence, muscle growth. Like endurance exercises, strength workouts do raise your heart rate because of the energy needed for your heart to send additional blood to the muscles to complete the movements, though not typically to the same degree.
Balance exercises train the body to be more stable by practicing movements that force you to adapt to a different center of gravity. And flexibility exercises typically involve stretching movements that promote the health of muscles and tendons.
A cross-training workout is one that combines multiple types of exercise, typically involving both strength and endurance movements. You might intersperse short bursts of aerobic exercise in between sets of strength training movements. You could also spend dedicated time in your workout doing a cardio exercise and then spend time lifting weights or focusing on building muscle.
We’ll discuss some more specific examples of these workouts later, but first, let’s understand why it’s important to incorporate cross-training into your routine.
Why Cross-Training is Important
Diversifying your workout offers a variety of benefits. No matter your level of fitness or fitness goals, cross-training can help maximize the time you spend working out and has lasting benefits for your overall wellness.
Because athletes are highly trained and their workouts are a central part of their daily routine, the impact of cross-training is even more significant. For endurance athletes like competitive runners or bikers, strength training has been shown to improve their all-around performance. Even though their sport is primarily an endurance activity, building the muscles of the body builds their skills and maximizes the impact of their recovery period after a workout.
For Building Strength
If you’re looking to build muscle, strength workouts will certainly help you do that. However, incorporating cardio or endurance training will not only help you prevent injury from doing repetitive movements, but cardio activities like running and swimming utilize many muscle groups across the entire body. Cross-training allows for a more well-rounded routine, even if your focus is primarily on building strength in particular muscle groups.
For Weight Loss
If weight loss is your goal, cross-training should be a critical component of your workouts. High-intensity aerobic exercises will help you burn lots of calories fast, but strength training will help you to build muscle over time. When at rest, muscle burns significantly more calories than the equivalent amount of fat. So the strength training you build into your workout alongside your cardio will ultimately keep burning calories long after you’ve stopped your time on the elliptical or treadmill.
For Mental Health
We started this article talking about getting into a rut with your workout and now we’ve discussed how mixing things up through cross-training can improve your workout. Hopefully you’re already getting excited about new ways to change things up in your routine, too. Adding new exercises to your routine through cross-training works different parts of your body and your mind, giving your brain a boost. But cross-training has also been proven to reduce anxiety, after completing a workout combining both endurance and strength training. So adding some cardio to your strength training won’t just strengthen your muscles, but will help your mood, too.
Approaches to cross-training
Approaches to cross-training can be as varied as the individuals who incorporate it into their workouts. There isn’t just one right way to diversify your workouts
Splitting your workout into sections
If you typically focus your workout time on just strength or just endurance, consider restructuring your time to add another section of your workout to incorporate additional exercise types. Shorten your next run by ten minutes and spend that time doing body-weight strength exercises like push-ups or tricep dips. Or add a few minutes of cardio to the end of your next strength training session to diversify your workout.
Alternating your exercise types
If you’re at all familiar with Crossfit workouts, you might be familiar with their approach to cross-training by alternating back and forth between cardio and strength training. Some of these workouts involve running a short distance, then completing some sit-ups or squats, and doing that routine as many times as possible within a set timeframe. Moving between exercise types keeps your heart rate up and keeps your cross-training workout interesting and fast-paced.
Work out in different ways
The idea of completing a triathlon can be incredibly intimidating to the average person. Running, biking and swimming to the finish line is no joke! But you don’t have to be a triathlete to think like a triathlete. When it comes to your cardio routine, try engaging in different activities throughout your week to raise your heart rate and move different parts of your body. Try running or jogging one day, dancing another day, and do something adventurous like biking outdoors or rock climbing at a community center on another day. Each of these activities will help you mix up your workout and train your body in different ways.
Examples of cross-training workouts
Check out a few examples of workout routines you can try, wherever you do your workout. Again, keep in mind that cross-training looks different for everyone! The key is building a workout that you are both comfortable with and challenged by. If you’re just starting out with either cardio or strength training, know that you can work your way up. Start small by incorporating a few minutes of new exercises into your workout and adding a few more minutes each week until you are able to spend around equal portions of your workout doing different activities.
At a gym
- Start with some strength training, such as free weights, then head over to the exercise machines and spend 10 minutes on an elliptical machine. Use the rest of your workout to alternate this way, switching between strength training like squats, tricep dips, or rows and 5-10 minutes of high-intensity cardio until you have finished your workout.
- Warm up with a short, brisk walk on a treadmill. Then, spend some time on a mat doing core fitness, like leg lifts, bicycle crunches, and side crunches. Finish your workout by getting your heart rate up with a run on the treadmill or taking a swim!
- Go for a bike ride to a park or somewhere outdoors near you. Challenge yourself to go at a quick pace to keep that heart rate up! When you get to your destination, complete some push-ups and sit-ups, or even pull-ups if the park has the right space for it!
- Go for a 20-minute run. Every five minutes, try completing 20 bicycle crunches and 10 calf raises. After your run, complete some final strength-building exercises with some lunges.
In your home gym
- First, make an amazing playlist of high-energy songs that get you excited to work out (or find one on Spotify!). Then, in your living room or bedroom, have your own dance party. In between songs, fit in a few reps of some slow, controlled crunches and leg lifts to work out your abs too.
- Find a cardio routine you love on YouTube (Tessa Benz Fitness is a great place to start!) and do some HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Then, finish your workout with three, one-minute plank reps, and lift some 3-to-5 pound weights, all from your living room.
Disclaimer: Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription.