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What is cross-training?   What benefits can you get from cross-training?


Cross-training refers to an athlete training in sports other than the one athlete that competes in with a goal of improving overall performance. It takes advantage of the particular effectiveness of each training method, while at the same time attempting to negate the shortcomings of that method by combining it with other methods that address its weaknesses.   Cross-training is typically defined as an exercise regimen that uses several modes of training to develop a specific component of fitness.

Cross-training in sports and fitness refers to the combining of exercises to work various parts of the body.  Often one particular activity works certain muscle groups, but not others; cross-training aims to eliminate this.

Some of the documented benefits that cross-training has to offer includes:   (1) Reduced risk of injury – By spreading the cumulative level of orthopedic stress over additional muscles and joints, individuals are able to exercise more frequently and for longer durations without the fear of excessively overloading particularly vulnerable areas of the body (knees, hips, back, shoulders, elbows and feet).   People who are particularly prone to lower-leg problems from running long distances should considering incorporating low-impact activities such as elliptical training, cycling and swimming into their regimens. It should be noted that competitive cross-trainers can experience certain overuse injuries that are due to inadequate muscle rest, a unbalanced workout schedule or both; (2) 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 is best accomplished when individuals exercise for a relatively long duration (more than ½ hour) at a moderate level of intensity.   Overweight individuals can effectively achieve a reduction in body weight and fat stores by combining two or more physical activities in a cross-training regimen. They can exercise on an elliptical trainer for 20 to 30 minutes then cycle for an additional 20 to 30 minutes; (3) 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/she participated only in strength training, the additional benefits of improving muscular strength and endurance can pay substantial dividends.   Resistance training can help individuals prevent injury, control body weight and improve functional capacity; and (4) 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 plan 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.   A recommendation would be to varying your exercise program from work-out to work-out by engaging in different types of activities, or simply by adding a new form of exercise (such as resistance training, Pilates, or a boot-camp class) to your existing workout routine.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate cross-training is to alternate between activities (running one day, stair climb the next, cycle the next). You can also alternate activities within a single work-out (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).

In mixed martial arts and self-defense applications, cross-training refers to training in multiple martial arts or fighting systems to become proficient in all the phases of unarmed combat. This training is meant to overcome the shortcomings of one style by practicing another style which is strong in the appropriate area. A typical combination involves a striking-based art such as Muay Thai; combined with a grappling-based art such as Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Many hybrid martial arts can be considered derivatives of such cross-training. Modern mixed martial arts training generally involves cross-training in the different aspects and ranges of fighting.

Cross-training in several military arts or specialties is one of the main distinguishing qualities of elite squads or battalions and Special Forces. The UK Royal Marines Commandos train using cross training circuits.

You consider yourself to be in better shape than average shape. You run several times per week for health and fitness and might do an occasional fun run on the weekend. What happens if friends come into town for the holidays, and you elect to go skiing? Not a problem, right? Wrong.   You think you are in great shape, but after a day on the slopes you feel like you’ve been run over by Santa’s sleigh and all his reindeer.   So what’s the deal?

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

What exercises should make up a good cross-training routine?

Cardiovascular Exercise: (a) Running ; (b) Swimming; (c) Cycling; (d) Rowing; (e) Stair Climbing; (f) Rope jumping; (g) Skating (inline or ice); (h) Skiing; and (i) Racquetball / basketball / other court sports.

Strength Training: (a) Calisthenics (push-ups and crunches and pull-ups); (b) Free Weights; (c) Machines[ (d) Tubing and Bands; (e) Flexibility (stretching, yoga); (f) Speed, agility, and balance drills; and (g) 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?

The moral is that cross-training can offer you a refreshing physical and mental challenge.   So then, what are you waiting for?   Let’s all get out there and give something new a try!!!!

Kathy Kiefer


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