If you know me and my philosophy around health and fitness, you’ll know that I believe in the long game. The things that can be maintained and managed for weeks, months, years and even a life time are the things that interest me. With this in mind, one of my favourite ideas for long-term adherence to overall fitness planning is the idea of cross training.
Cross training is an exercise strategy that is comprised of several different types of training modalities that help to build and maintain strength, endurance, flexibility and performance. Challenging your body (and your mind) in more ways can have a tremendous impact on overall results and can even help you to stay injury free for longer. In the simplest terms, cross training means “doing more than one type of exercise”. This week, I’d like to explore a few reasons why it makes sense and why you might want to add something new to your weekly health and fitness regimen.
Here are four well documented benefits cross training provides:
1- Injury prevention. Many exercises (and sports) are comprised of repetitive movements. To get really good at them requires that you pay your dues over the long haul and repeat them hundreds, if not, thousands of times. Whether you are doing yoga, running, cycling or lifting weights, it’s easy to overwork the same muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons if you aren’t careful about it. This “overwork” can translate into a repetitive strain injury over time.
Herein lies the true value of learning how to cross-train. When you break up your regular routine with a new activity, you give the overworked parts of your body a chance to heal and build up strength (or skills) in other areas of your body.
2- Plateau breakthroughs. Anyone that has exercised over a long period of time has, surely, experienced a plateau where they just can’t seem to make any more progress no matter how hard they try. While many people feel like this is just an unavoidable reality that goes along with fitness; with proper planning it doesn’t have to happen.
The way that your body gets stronger, fitter and leaner is by having to adapt to new challenges. On the other hand, if someone keeps doing the same routine over and over, their body no longer needs to adapt and progress towards their goals will stop. They also place themselves at higher risk for a repetitive strain injury. On the other hand, by varying your fitness routine, your body has to adapt to new stimuli and will respond by getting stronger and fitter.
3- Prevent boredom and avoid burnout. While exercising is mostly physical, the mental part that goes along with it can be just as important. Engaging in a never-changing fitness routine is a sure fire way to hit a slump and to make it harder to get excited about your next session.
Periodically switching up your program is one of the best ways to off-set boredom and to continue making physical gains and to keep things fresh and interesting.
4- Muscle balancing. One of the underappreciated benefits of engaging in new activities is that you’ll build strength and stability in underused muscles that you might be routinely neglecting by sticking to the same way of exercising all the time. The new strength that you’ll gain will help to offload the stress that you place your “primary” muscles when you return to your regular activity.
When deciding on just what to add to your routine consider what you do the most of and then choose an activity to challenge yourself in a way that offsets the stresses and demands of your primary activity. For example; if you walk for fitness, add cycling into your routine and if you usually do yoga, lift weights twice per week as a change up.