Cross-training sounds like something reserved for serious athletes and feels like a bit of an old-school term that’s been around since moms started lacing up their sneaks for step aerobics. But it’s still super-important, no matter if you’re a casual barre class-goer or an ultramarathoner.
The good news: You’re likely already doing some sort of cross-training whether you realise it or not. “Most everyone cross-trains — it just means training with a few different types of exercise, movement, or modalities,” says Mike Donavanik, founder of Sweat Factor. “Often, people do their ‘main thing’ and have outlying activities that they dabble in.”
The catch: You can’t just drop in to workouts all willy-nilly. The key to getting the most out of cross-training is to think about your exercise goals and what kind of side sessions will complement them. Here’s everything you need to know about what cross-training is, what it’s good for, and how exactly you should be doing it.
What is cross-training?
“Cross-training has been a very loosely used term for randomised training modalities — both high and low intensity — for decades,” says Heidi Powell, personal trainer and co-creator of the Transform app. It came back in a big way in recent years with the rise of one workout in particular. “CrossFit totally changed the paradigm of cross-training and gave it a massively dominant brand and style, especially the connotation that cross-training is all high intensity,” says Powell.
Cross-training doesn’t have to be super-intense, though. At its core, it’s all about pairing workouts that will support each other. It might be mixing yoga into your triathlon training schedule or adding swim sessions between your favourite boot camp classes.
READ MORE: Here’s Why Runners Should Do Cross-Training
What are the benefits of cross-training?
For one, it makes you more well rounded. “Cross-training will help you increase strength, power, speed, endurance, agility, and balance, all of which translates across all sports and your everyday life,” says Powell. Bonus: Mixing up your activity will also help you bust gym boredom.
And maybe the best news: Cross-training might just let you say so long to your PT; athletes who specialise in one sport had an 85 percent higher chance of getting injures than those who did multiple activities, according to 2017 research from the University of Wisconsin.
What are the best kinds of cross-training workouts?
Maybe the easiest kind of cross-training to squeeze into your already packed schedule is a workout that combines cardio and strength into one efficient session.
But keep in mind what you really want to get out of it. “The best kinds are the ones that change the most, but also the ones that are properly programmed for your specific goals,” says Powell. If your main priority is gearing up for a marathon, the right kind of cross-training for you will be different than if your go-to exercise is hitting the yoga mat each morning. Consider scheduling at least a few sessions with a personal trainer to help you outline your goals and how to stay on track to reach them.
How often should you cross-train?
As a general rule, aim for a couple times a week. But how often you schedule mix-it-up sweat sessions does depend somewhat on how quickly you can bounce back afterward. “If you’re younger, get a lot of sleep, and eat well, you can train more frequently than someone who is older, gets inadequate sleep, or doesn’t nourish their body with the nutrients needed for recovery,” Powell explains.
Are there any risks?
While one of the benefits of varying your workouts is a reduced risk of injury, it’s possible to wind up hurt from cross-training, too, if you’re not careful. “If you cross-train too much, you’ll never master proper form because you keep bopping around to different activities,” warns Donavanik.
Rather than trying to do something different every day, he recommends sticking to just a couple regularly scheduled routines. “Pick maybe two activities at a time to alternate between — don’t try to do lifting, soul cycle, yoga, Pilates, barre all in one week,” he says. Instead, have a main activity that’s your anchor — and one you’ll really master — and mix in a complimentary workout twice a week.
Another risk to consider: When you’re adding a new activity to support your favourite form of workout, don’t dive in too quickly. “Most people try to lift way too heavy, way too fast — they jump straight into the high-intensity concept of cross-training and forget the two main foundations: proper form and being able to maintain that proper form throughout the duration of the exercise,” says Powell. Start slowly and get guidance from a class instructor or trainer to make sure your new cross-training is helping, not hurting, your goals.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthamag.com