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Cross Training Improves Fitness and Reduces Injury

Varying your workouts can improve performance and reduce burn-out.

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Updated October 28, 2008

You consider yourself to be in better than average shape. You run several times a week for health and fitness and maybe do an occasional fun run on the weekend. Some friends come into town for the holidays and you decide to go skiing. No problem, you're in great shape, right? Wrong. After a day on the slopes you feel like you've been run over by Santa's sleigh and all his reindeer. What's going on?

You may be in great shape, for the sort of exercise you do routinely. But if that's all you do, day after day, you may be setting yourself up for injury or mental burnout and that is not a good way to get fit. What can help prevent injury and burnout? Cross training.

Cross training is a great way to condition different muscle groups, develop a new set of skills, and reduce 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 or even 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. While it is necessary for an athlete to train specifically for their sport if they want to excel, for most exercisers cross training is a beneficial training method for maintaining a high level of overall fitness. For example, you may use both biking and swimming each week to improve your overall aerobic capacity, build overall muscle strength and reduce the chance of an overuse injury. Cross training limits the stress that occurs on a specific muscle group because different activities use muscles in slightly different ways.

Benefits of Cross Training

  • Reduces exercise boredom
  • Allows you to be flexible about you training needs and plans (if the pool is closed, you can go for a run instead).
  • Produces a higher level of all around conditioning
  • Conditions the entire body, not just specific muscle groups
  • Reduces the risk of injury
  • Work some muscles while others rest and recover
  • Can continue to train while injured
  • Improves your skill, agility and balance

What exercises should make up a good cross training routine?

  • Cardiovascular Exercise (Think about adding three different exercises from the list below):
    • Running
    • Swimming
    • Cycling
    • Rowing
    • Stair Climbing
    • Rope jumping
    • Skating (inline or ice)
    • Skiing
    • Racquetball / basketball / other court sports
  • Strength Training
    • Calisthenics (push ups and crunches and pull ups)
    • Free Weights
    • Machines
    • Tubing and Bands
  • Flexibility (stretching, yoga)
  • Speed, agility, and balance drills
  • Circuit training, sprinting, plyometrics and other forms of skill conditioning

With cross training, you can do one form of exercise each day, or more than one in a day. If you do both on the same day, you can change the order in which you do them. You can easily tailor cross-training to your needs and interests; mix and match you sports and change your routine on a regular basis.

Exercise can strengthen the cardiovascular system, bones, muscles, joints, reduce body fat and improve flexibility, balance and coordination. But if you want to see all of these benefits, you'll need to start cross training. What better time to start than now? I hear your friends have taken up snowboarding.

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