The Real Reason Cross-Training Should Be Part Of Your Fitness Plan

Some athletes put all of their effort into one type of workout, but there are more benefits to adding various types of training. For example, cross-training involves doing different workouts to improve overall fitness, including strength training, cardio, and flexibility exercises. Runners need to add flexibility exercises and strength training for a cross-training routine, as running is mainly a cardio workout. On the other hand, a bodybuilder may need to add cardio and flexibility exercises.

The basics of cross-training include cardio, strength training, and stretching every week. An example weekly cross-training workout may have an aerobic exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week, strength training for 30 minutes twice weekly, and stretching exercises for 5-10 minutes every day. It's crucial to have varying workouts to avoid exercising the same muscles. Evaluating your fitness goals and current exercise regimen can help you determine the best cross-training workouts for what you want to achieve.

Improved strength

Training with different workouts rather than focusing on one type of training (like cycling or running) improves your overall fitness, including your muscle strength. However, it's not about just adding strength training that helps boost your muscles — it can be cardio-related. For example, cycling can make you a stronger runner because cycling strengthens your hip flexors. Adding an additional cardio workout to running training helps you maintain your fitness and is known as aerobic cross-training. Runners can potentially benefit from adding cycling, elliptical training, or e-bike training. 

Adding stretching to your workouts also has benefits. For example, a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching looked at the effects of static stretching on muscle power. The 30 male participants from the British Rugby Union Academy performed strength training sessions 3 times a week for one year. Researchers measured their peak power and discovered that those in the stretch group had higher muscle power

Reduced risk of injury

No one wants to be sidelined by an injury, especially while training for a competition. Fortunately, cross-training can reduce your injury risk.

A 2017 study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine looked at high school students from 29 high schools in Wisconsin during the 2015-16 school year. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health included students who specialized in 1 sport with 1,544 total participants, and 235 of them experienced a total of 276 low extremity injuries. This caused them to miss an average of 7 days. The majority of the injuries were to the ankle, followed by upper leg injuries, ligament sprains, muscle or tendon strains, and lastly, tendinitis or tenosynovitis. Those with a high specialization had an increased risk of injury, compared to those with a moderate specialization.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin also discovered when comparing cross-trainers to women who only strength train, cross-trainers were 65% less likely to sustain an injury lifting a heavy object. 

Cross-training has benefits when you're injured as well, as long as the cross-training doesn't cause pain. For example, runners can cross-train when sidelined by an injury, helping them maintain their fitness levels and get back to running post-injury. 

Heart health benefits

When you're ready to start cross-training, your heart will thank you. Training in different areas seems to strengthen various parts of the heart and its function.

Researchers studied swimmers and runners to examine heart health on land versus water athletes. They compared the left ventricle structure and function responsible for pumping oxygenated blood. The runners' left ventricles filled with blood quicker than the swimmers' ventricles, but the swimmers pumped more blood faster than the runners.

Additionally, a 2015 study compared the left ventricle mechanics of marathon runners to bodybuilders and found different patterns in how the heart pumped blood. The study included 24 marathon runners, 14 bodybuilders, and 15 sedentary but otherwise healthy men. 

It seems it would be best to cross-train to get the most health benefits for an overall healthy heart. Make sure you include strength training, aerobic exercise, and flexibility exercises for a super healthy heart