Cross training lets you mix it up for your muscles
Frédéric E. Soliman
DO – Sports medicine
When we find a sport or workout routine that we love, it’s hard to think of changing it. In adolescent athletes, intense training in a single sport is called a sports specialization. For adults and weekend warriors, sticking to a favorite workout is often just a habit.
But just playing tennis, just jogging, or being a weightlifting rat every day can actually be bad for your body. It increases the risk of injury, muscle fatigue, and boredom with exercise. If you are an avid solo sports enthusiast, now is the time to consider cross training.
What is cross training?
Cross training involves combining different types of physical activity throughout the week. While tennis can improve your cardiovascular fitness, for example, it doesn’t build much muscle strength. If you’re a weightlifter, you don’t really take care of your cardiovascular fitness. Golf as a sole effort offers a lot of walking, but not a lot of stretching or cardio.
The key to cross training is to mix a variety of different types of muscle movements. If you enjoy cycling, you might consider adding swimming to your weekly workouts. Swimming works muscles other than cycling and improves overall aerobic capacity and muscle strength. A tennis enthusiast can take weekly Pilates or yoga classes for more variety. A golfer can hop on the elliptical trainer and lift weights at the gym.
By adding one or two more activities to your exercise cycle, you can prevent overuse injuries, muscle imbalances, and burnout.
The downside of repeat performance
Constant repetition of the same exercises focuses on building the same muscle groups. This can create muscle imbalance, disrupt posture, and create isolated force in parts of the body rather than overall strength.
Repeating the same movement over and over can also cause repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and damage muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. This leads to painful situations like stress fractures, tendon irritation called tendonitis and bursitis, inflammation of the small gelatinous sacs that cushion the joints and reduce friction.
RSI injuries also have more recognizable names on athletic fields. Think tennis elbow, runner’s knee, and good old shin splints, that burning pain along the inner edge of the shin (shin). These are all examples of sports-initiated ROIs.
Other examples include:
- Swimmer’s shoulder
- The golfer’s elbow
- pitch elbow
- Jumper’s knee
- Achilles tendonitis
- Osgood-Schlatter disease, most often seen in adolescent athletes
The advantage of cross training
Changing your training through cross-training requires your body to adapt to new routines while building different body parts. An ideal cross-training practice includes cardiovascular exercises, strength training exercises, and flexibility exercises. By adding variety to your training repertoire, you increase the fun and fitness factors while reducing the risk of injury and burnout.
Other benefits of a varied exercise routine include:
- Improve overall physical condition that balances the physical stresses exerted on the joints, muscles and tendons
- Prevent burnout and boredom by mixing up workouts
- Increased agility and coordination, and improved posture
- Improve overall general strength created by working more muscles
- Improve mental health by reducing the effects of depression and anxietyA simple solution to mix everything up
Cross-training doesn’t have to be complicated. The goal is to work all different muscle groups every week to build your cardiovascular system, increase strength, and improve flexibility for the health of the whole body.To get started, consider taking this QUICK approach.
Flexibility: Stretch every day for 10 to 15 minutes. Simple stretches and yoga can help loosen tight, overused muscles while improving balance and stability.
Aerobic: Get your heart pounding, strengthen your bone density, and increase your mobility with at least 30 minutes of cardio-intensive exercise three times a week. Mix it up by incorporating your favorite activities: tennis, running, swimming, hiking, cycling, dancing or pickleball.
Strength training: Commit to working each major muscle group twice a week, but not on consecutive days, for at least 30 minutes. Choose a variety of weight-bearing exercises like push-ups or squats, or work out with free weights, cables, or stretch bands. Consider switching between upper and lower body strength training exercises on alternate strength training days for best results.
Make it easy for yourself to cross-train by finding activities you enjoy. Start slowly and build up your stamina. Talk to your doctor if you have a chronic illness, injury, or have questions about trying a new workout.