Cross-training is when you do non-sport-specific exercises to enhance your primary sports performance and help prevent injury. Not only can cross-training improve sports performance, but non-athletes also utilize cross-training to improve their overall fitness and well-being.
An Introduction to Cross-Training Workouts
Typically, when people talk about cross-training, they're referring to athletes who incorporate workouts into their regimen that are not specific to their primary sport but that improve performance in their sport.
For example, a basketball player must be proficient at dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending. Those are all basketball-specific techniques that the athlete will perfect during basketball-specific drills. However, a basketball player might tire after running up and down the court for a quarter.
To help build endurance, the player might start going for runs a few times a week. Running is not a basketball-specific exercise, but it does work the cardiovascular system and builds endurance so the athlete can play for longer without tiring.
Cross-training is not only for competitive athletes. Nearly every active individual has a go-to workout. Whether it's yoga, running, rock climbing, cardio boxing, or cycling, every activity can benefit from cross-training.
At its core, cross-training is about having a well-rounded fitness routine to ensure you're providing the best physical benefits to your body.
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Cross-Training vs CrossFit
It's easy to confuse cross training with CrossFit. While they're similar, they're not interchangeable terms. Cross-training is not a specific workout regimen. It's a term that describes a person or athlete that incorporates exercises outside of their primary sport or activity into their training.
CrossFit is a trademark-branded workout and gym. Their activities have a cross-training element because there is so much variety to the day-to-day workouts, but CrossFit gyms aren’t specifically teaching cross training.
However, incorporating CrossFit into your routine could be a way to cross-train, depending on your fitness goals.
Getting Started with Cross-Training Workouts
Cross-training benefits competitive athletes and active individuals looking to mix up their fitness routines. The approach and execution of cross-training are similar for both groups.
However, there are slightly different considerations you'll want to assess depending on if you are cross-training for a sport or your overall fitness.
Cross-Training for Competitive Athletes
The goal of cross-training as an athlete is to improve your performance in your overall sport. Before jumping into a ton of new activities, ask yourself the following questions:
- What area of your sport are you looking to improve? Before you start cross-training, you want to identify what aspects of your sport you want to improve outside of sport-specific technique. Are you a kickboxer who has trouble with getting your leg high enough for head kicks? Are you a volleyball player struggling to reach the net's top?
- What is the root of your challenge within your sport? Once you identify what you want to improve, you must figure out the source of your challenge. If you have trouble achieving a head kick in kickboxing, it may be because of limited hip mobility. If you can't reach a volleyball net, you may not have the explosive leg strength you need to propel yourself upward. If you're unsure why something is challenging, talk to a coach or trainer, and they should be able to explain your roadblock.
- What workouts or exercises can you do to improve the root of your challenge? If you know hip mobility keeps you from executing a head kick, you may want to consider an activity like yoga to increase your flexibility and range of motion. If you need to work on explosive movements for volleyball, consider circuit training with exercises like box jumps or split lungs. Again, talk to your coach or personal trainer if you're unsure.
Cross-Training for Active Individuals
Even if you're not a competitive athlete, you can use cross-training to reach various fitness goals. Before starting your cross-training journey, consider the following:
- What are your fitness goals? Think about your "why" behind fitness. Do you exercise because you're trying to get stronger, or do you want to improve your mobility? Understanding your goals can help you determine which cross-training workouts to try.
- How do you see cross-training fitting into your fitness routine? Do you want to supplement a primary workout, or are you looking to add variety to your routine? Both are acceptable but can help narrow down which cross-training exercises to check out.
- How comfortable are you with new types of exercises? If you're confident in cross-training, you can quickly add different workouts to your routine, such as running or a cycling class. If you're unsure of what activities to try or you don't know any exercises outside of your primary training, consider working with a certified personal trainer who can help personalize a cross-training workout and schedule for your and your goals.
What to Avoid in Cross-Training
When you're getting started with cross-training, there are a few key things you'll want to avoid.
- Don't try to incorporate too much too fast. Think about cross-training as starting a new habit. Don't try to begin 3 or 4 different activities at once. Instead, focus on one cross-training workout and schedule it once or twice weekly. Then, as it becomes part of your routine, you can add more cross-training to your schedule.
- Ensure cross-training adds value to your sport or fitness journey. Not every cross-training workout is a proper fit for every individual, like not every sport is for every person. Talk to a coach or certified personal trainer if you're unsure which cross-training activities suit you and your goals.
- Don't overdo it. Cross-training should be a supplement to your primary sport. It's not something you need to do every day, and doing too much cross-training, or over-exercising in general, can lead to burnout, fatigue, and injuries.
Best Cross-Training Workouts to Try
The best cross training workouts for athletes differ depending on the sport and training goals.
However, a few cross-training activities that can benefit nearly all active individuals include yoga, cycling, swimming, and circuit training.
Yoga is an excellent practice that can benefit your fitness journey physically and mentally. Most people incorporate yoga as a cross-training workout because it can improve flexibility, mobility, and balance, improving performance in nearly every sport and everyday life. Recovery yoga, which emphasizes deep stretching, can also enhance recovery and fewer injuries. Plus, yoga is a great way to reduce stress and may lead to more restful sleep.
Many athletes and active individuals seek ways to increase their endurance and improve their cardiovascular health with other exercises besides running.
Cycling is a fantastic alternative to running because it's a low-impact activity, putting less strain on muscles and joints. It's also easy to get into regardless of skill or fitness level, and it's a self-paced workout, so you can choose how intense you want to work.
Like cycling, swimming is a low-impact cross-training workout that can help improve endurance and cardiovascular health.
Swimming is also an excellent cross-training exercise for people who want to build strength but aren't comfortable lifting weights. When you swim, you move against water resistance, which can help you build muscle.
Circuit training is when you perform multiple sets of exercises consecutively with little to no break between reps. There are various ways to set up a circuit, but you can individualize it, so each workout is specific to a goal, such as all balance exercises or elusive movements.
Your circuit can include weights if you can access them or do a bodyweight circuit at home.
Do Gyms Teach Cross-Training?
Since cross-training is not a specific type of workout, most gyms don't exclusively teach cross-training. However, cross-training workouts like yoga, cycling, swimming, and circuit training are all activities you can find in many fitness studios.
If you're new to a cross-training workout, you may want to consider a group fitness class.
Group fitness classes are a great place to learn the basics of a cross-training exercise to see if it fits you well. You can also work with a certified personal trainer for various cross-training workouts if you want a more hands-on approach to learning the proper techniques for cross-training exercises.
Benefits of Cross-Training
Athletes and active individuals turn to cross-training workouts for their multiple benefits. Not only can it help improve the performance of your primary sport of activity, but it also makes you a more well-rounded individual, keeps your workouts fun, allows your body to recover, and may lead to fewer injuries.
Become a more well-rounded athlete
A training plateau is when your muscle and cardiovascular performance stop improving. Plateaus happen when your body becomes accustomed to a specific exercise and starts to adapt to become more efficient, which may lead to you building less muscle or burning fewer calories.
You may notice a plateau if you only do one type of workout or sport, where cross-training comes into play.
When you cross-train, you're continuing to challenge your body. If you're a cyclist who only cycles, you will reach a point where cycling comes easily to your body.
However, if you start running a few days a week between rides, you're giving your body something new to figure out.
Both workouts build endurance and include challenging cardio, but they’re different. Your body can grow and improve through continual challenges, making you a more well-rounded athlete and individual.
Keep your workouts interesting
Even if you love your primary sport or activity, you'll run into days where it feels repetitive and boring. When you become bored with a workout, you can feel less motivated to do it and you have less focus during training. Cross-training brings variety to your routine.
It gives you new activities and movements to explore, and since you'll have that variety in your training, you'll likely feel less burnout when you focus on your primary sport or activity.
Lower risk of injuries
Most athletes and active individuals understand the importance of rest days. Once or twice a week, allowing your body time to recover is essential in lowering your risk of injury.
When your body doesn't rest, it can lead to overuse, putting unwanted stress on the body. Overuse is especially common in individuals who continuously work the same exercises.
Cross-training, in conjunction with full rest days, gives specific muscles additional time to recover. If you're cross-training, you generally exercise body parts not targeted during your primary training.
Since you're working different muscles or tendons in cross-training, the rest of your body gets a mini break where it's not enduring as much stress as it usually would.
Get you out of your comfort zone
Most people are creatures of habit. When we find something we like, we need to stick with it because it's familiar. Workouts are no different. Maybe have their go-to workout because they're comfortable with it.
Cross-training is a fun way to break out of your comfort zone and find new exercises or activities you otherwise wouldn't have discovered.
Whether you're a competitive athlete, fitness guru, or new to working out, cross-training is a fantastic option to give you a well-rounded workout routine, become better at your primary sport or workout routine, and help you avoid injury.
You can start at home or work with a certified personal trainer to help build a personalized cross-training plan to reach your goals.