What is Cross Training and Why is it Important?

01/31/2011 - Amy Eisenson

What is Cross Training and Why is it Important.


Cross training is a great way to condition different muscle groups, develop a new set of skills, and reduce the boredom that creeps in after months of the same exercise routines. Cross training also allows you the ability to vary the stress placed on specific muscles and your cardiovascular system. After months of the same movements your body becomes extremely efficient performing those movements, and while that is great for competition, it limits the amount of overall fitness you possess and reduces the actual conditioning you get while training; rather than continuing to improve, you simply maintain a certain level of fitness. Cross training is also necessary to reduce the risk of injury from repetitive strain or overuse.

The term cross training refers to a training routine that involves several different forms of exercise.

Incorporating several different forms of exercise in a training program can be an excellent way to develop the various components of fitness.

Here are some of the numerous documented benefits of cross training:

  • Reduced risk of injury.By spreading the level of stress over multiple muscles and joints, individuals are able to exercise more frequently and for longer durations without overloading particularly vulnerable areas of the body (e.g., knees, hips, back, shoulders, elbows and feet). People who are particularly prone to lower-leg problems from running long distances should consider incorporating low-impact activities such as elliptical training, cycling and swimming into their regimens.


  • Enhanced weight loss.Individuals who want to lose weight and body fat should engage in an exercise program that enables them to safely burn a significant number of calories. Research has shown that such a goal, in most instances, is best accomplished when individuals exercise for relatively long durations (i.e., more than 30 minutes) at a moderate level of intensity (i.e., 60 percent to 85 percent of maximal heart rate). Those who are new to exercise or overweight individuals can effectively achieve a longer workout by combining two or more physical activities in a cross-training regimen. In turn losing weight more efficiently. They can, for example, exercise on an elliptical trainer for 20 to 30 minutes and then cycle for an additional 20 to 30 minutes.


  • Improved total fitness. Cross training can include activities that develop muscular fitness, as well as aerobic conditioning. While an individual's muscular fitness gains will typically be less than if he or she participated only in strength training, the added benefits of improving muscular strength and endurance can pay substantial dividends. For example, research has shown that resistance training can help individuals prevent injury, control body weight and improve performance.


  • Enhanced exercise adherence.Research on exercise adherence indicates that many individuals drop out of exercise programs because they become bored or injured. Cross training is a safe and relatively easy way to add variety to an exercise program. In the process, it can play a positive role in promoting long-term exercise adherence by reducing the incidence of injury and eliminating or diminishing the potential for boredom.

The essential fundamentals of cross training are the same whether you are exercising for improved health and fitness or for competition. Try varying your exercise program from workout to workout by engaging in different types of activities, or simply add a new form of exercise (e.g., resistance training, Pilates, a boot-camp class) to your existing workout routine.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate cross training is to alternate between activities (e.g., run one day, stair climb the next, cycle the next). You can also alternate activities within a single workout (e.g., walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes, exercise on an elliptical trainer for 10 minutes and cycle for 10 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes of exercise). Cross training can offer you a refreshing physical and mental challenge.



Source: Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, ACE's Chief Science Officer; ACE FitnessMatters, Nov/Dec 2006.



Examples of Ways to Increase Variety in Your Workout



  • Try a new class or Bootcamp
  • Set up a mini circuit- i.e. cycle for 10 minutes, walk for 20 minutes, Stair climb for 10 minutes.
  • Work in Intervals- mix up the level of Intensity throughout your workout. Walk for 10 minutes, jog for 2 minutes, repeat. Play with the walk and run intervals. This can also be done on a bike or any piece of exercise equipment.
  • Mix in mind-body classes as well. This incorporates strength, flexibility and cardio.
  • Include strength and resistance training segments in your circuit training. Run for 10 minutes, perform walking lunges, bike for 10 minutes, perform squats, etc.
  • If you are not including strength and resistance training in your current workout find ways to add it in. Strength training is more than just weights, it includes; Yoga, Pilates, Plyometrics, body weight activities like pushups and so much more. There are even group classes that incorporate strength training no matter what your current level.
  • STRETCH- flexibility is the often forgotten principle of exercise but is one of the most necessary components. Working a muscle through its full range of motion helps to decrease the chance of pain and injury.