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The term cross-training refers to a training regime that involves several different forms of exercise. While an athlete must train specifically for their sport if they want to excel, for most people, cross-training is a beneficial training method for maintaining a high level of overall fitness. 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

Cross-training is a great way to condition different muscle groups, develop a new set of skills, and reduce the 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 at 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.

With cross-training, you can do a different 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 your sports and change your routine regularly.

Exercise can strengthen the cardiovascular system, bones, muscles, joints, reduce body fat, and improve flexibility, balance, and coordination. However, if you want to see all these benefits, you will need to start cross-training.

More benefits:
  • It reduces exercise boredom.
  • It allows you to be flexible in your training. For example, if it too cold outside for a run, you can work on the heavy bag inside.
  • It produces a higher level of all-around conditioning.
  • It conditions the entire body, not just specific muscle groups.
  • It reduces the risk of injury.
  • It works some muscles while others rest and recover.
  • You can continue to train while injured.
  • It improves your skill, agility, and balance.
  • Cross-training routines

Some example of cross-training

For cardiovascular exercise

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Stair Climbing
  • Rope jumping
  • Skating
  • Skiing
  • Court sports

For strength training

  • Calisthenics
  • Free Weights
  • Weight machines
  • Tubing and Bands

For flexibility

  • Stretching
  • Yoga

For speed, agility, and balance

  • Circuit training
  • Sprinting
  • Plyometrics

Other cross-training examples

Aerobics classes. Aerobic exercise forces the heart and lung muscles to work harder than normal, thereby strengthening them. It burns calories in the form of glycogen (the body's stored energy source), which is broken down to produce glucose as muscle "fuel.” Once the glycogen is used up, fat is metabolized, leading to weight loss.

Aqua aerobics. When aerobics is performed in a swimming pool, the water provides both support – perfect for older people and those with injury problems – and a resistance which is 12 times greater than air. Exercises are much harder.

Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga is a more dynamic form of yoga than Hatha or Iyengar, with poses and moves that increase flexibility and balance and work the abdominals and "core" muscles (those that stabilize the spine and pelvis, running the entire length of our torso). Ashtanga incorporates several yoga poses, known as "power poses,” which help train the muscles.

Bicycling. There are so many types of bicycles and types of bicycling that almost everyone may find one that suits their needs. Bicycling builds endurance, balance, coordination, and concentration, and is relaxing and lets you get out and enjoy nature.

Bikram yoga. Widely regarded as the most intense form of yoga, Bikram comprises 26 postures and two breathing exercises in 90 minutes, all performed in a room heated to 105F, which elevates the intensity of the workout. It raises the body's core temperature so that it must work to maintain homeostasis (the physiological regulation of its inner environment to ensure its stability), making you breathe harder and sweat profusely.

Body Combat. Body Combat is a high-energy martial arts-inspired workout form the Les Mills organization. You punch and kick your way to fitness and burn up to 740 calories in a class. No martial arts experience is needed. You learn moves from karate, taekwondo, boxing, muay Thai, capoeira, and kung fu but there is no requirement that you perform the moves correctly, only that perform them. The goal is fun and fitness not to make you a martial artist. There are other Les Mills classes available. Most YMCA/YWCAs offer the classes.

Boxing. A typical boxing session involves footwork, speed, and agility training with skipping and speedballs, and strength, power, and endurance work on pads or heavy bags. It builds powerful arms and shoulders, while the intense cardio work burns calories, and crunches, push-ups, and other bodyweight exercises ensure a full-body workout. Boxing training is anaerobic, because the intensity of the workout pushes your body through its anaerobic threshold, where you are expending oxygen faster than you can breathe it in, which works your body harder than purely aerobic training.

Bosu boards. Bosu is an acronym for "Both Sides Up," because you can stand on either the inflatable dome or underside of the device while performing squats or bicep curls with weights. Working out on an unstable surface, which wobbles when you stand on it, requires your core muscles to work harder, along with your abdominals and glutes.

Boot camp. Boot camps involve outdoor circuit training combining cardio (running hiking, obstacle courses) with strength training (dumbbells, bodyweight exercises) and flexibility (yoga, Pilates). The result is full-body conditioning that builds strength and cardiovascular fitness (stronger heart and lung muscles) and blitzes fat because of the high-calorie expenditure. It is especially suitable for those who need pushing and like group camaraderie.

Bodyweight exercise. Bodyweight exercise eschews weights and hi-tech machines in favor of exercises that use your body weight, like squats, push-ups, and pull-ups. Your weight provides resistance for the exercises and it works all the major muscle groups. It can be as effective as weight-training.

Capoeira. This Afro-Brazilian martial art combines dance, acrobatics, and fighting moves performed to rhythmic music, drumbeats, and chanting. The fluid, dynamic moves are great for flexibility, balance, coordination, and working muscles you never knew existed. Especially challenging for the quads (front of thigh), hamstrings (back of legs), and abdominals.

Circuit training. Involves several exercises performed one after the other, repeated in circuits. Short bursts of resistance exercise with light weights are interspersed with cardio work like shuttle runs, then more resistance work on different muscle groups. The circuit allows greater intensity because there is little rest time. This training is anaerobic (your muscles are using oxygen faster than you can replace it), so you're burning calories fast.

Cool board. This exercise program originated with surfers and involves balancing on a lacquered wooden board which has grip tape for the feet and rests on a rubber ball. Great for balance, coordination, agility, and working the core muscles (which run the entire length of our torso), abdominals, calves, and glutes, and for practicing your surfing and snowboarding on dry land.

Core training. The core muscles are those that stabilize the spine and pelvis. Core strength is considered vital for optimal performance in most sports, as well as keeping lower backs pain-free. Yoga and Pilates both focus on the core, as do personal trainers, who always incorporate core and abdominal training into a workout. It is important to work the muscles around the shoulders and hips, as well as the abs and obliques (stomach) for a strong physique and correct posture.

Cycling. A daily bike ride that leaves you breathing heavily, but not out of breath, is an effective, moderate-intensity cardio exercise that will strengthen your heart and lung muscles. Cycling is also low-impact, with minimal stress on the joints, and builds powerful calves, hamstrings (back of thigh), quads (front of thigh), and glutes (buttocks).

Cyclocross. An off-road endurance course where you cycle and run, and when necessary, carry the bike on your shoulder. Perfect for those seeking a challenge, with a tough cardio workout that strengthens the heart and lungs, while honing the calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quads while on the bike, and the lats (upper back) and deltoids (shoulders) when carrying the bike.

Dance. Whichever form of dance you choose will help your balance and coordination. While the side-to-side movements strengthen weight-bearing bones, warding off osteoporosis, more dynamic styles like ballet or jive require both upper- and lower-body strength. Incorporating explosive movements like leaping will build fast-twitch muscle fibers, which generate short bursts of strength or speed. Gentler dance still expends calories and aids cardiovascular fitness

Drum training. Combines exercise and rhythmical beats to offer a full-body workout with added cardio benefits. The class involves drumsticks and Swiss balls, which serve as the drums. Intense, non-stop drumming combined with dance and movement around the ball provides an aerobic workout. Good for toning the biceps, triceps, and deltoids (shoulders).

Elliptical machines. Elliptical machines offer similar calorie-burning benefits to jogging but without the risk of injury to your back, knees, hips, or ankles. They mimic the normal elliptical motion of the foot, the extension of the leg, and the rotation of the hip while walking or running, working the calves and quads.

Extreme sports. Take your pick from relatively safe activities like skateboarding or BMXing or more hazardous options such as kite surfing or skydiving. Extreme sports are a superb stress buster and can add an adrenaline-fueled kick to a multi-faceted fitness regime.

Football. Studies show that the game’s combination of slower jogging with frequent sprints offers superior cardiovascular benefits, building both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers (used for distance running and explosive speed, respectively) and calorie expenditure, therefore fat-burning. Great for honing calves, quads (front of thigh), hamstrings (rear) and glutes (buttocks).

Fartlek. A highly effective training technique that means ‘speed play’ in Swedish. An unstructured form of interval training in which you alternate short sprints with periods of jogging and walking, ideally over hilly ground. Works both the aerobic and anaerobic (when your muscles are using oxygen faster than you can replace it) systems and is far more effective than ‘steady-state’ jogging. Good for reducing all-over body fat because of the intense calorie burn.

Fencing. Fencing is like a dance, in which you observe and respond to your opponent’s advances and retreats, with occasional lunges at their torso. This back-and-forth motion works the quads (front of thigh) and calves, helping you develop speed, balance, and agility. The one downside is uneven body development – fencers often have one thigh and arm bigger than the other, which must be balanced out with other training.

Fit-flops. These specialist shoes incorporate ‘micro-wobble-board technology’, which destabilizes you when you walk in theme. The idea is that Fit-Flops mimic the gait of barefoot walking while increasing the load on lower-body stability muscles around your hips, plus your glutes (buttocks) and calves. Fit-Flops also claims to improve posture and muscle tone.

Functional Fitness. The program involves exercises that teach all the muscles to work together, rather than isolating them. For example, the bent-over row, done while leaning over a bench holding a weight in one hand, builds lats (upper back), deltoids (shoulders), triceps (arms), and entire body, replicating everyday lifting situations.

Free weights. Weight-training involves resistance work that develops fatigue in the muscles you’re working. Using free weights like a barbell or dumbbells makes the body’s stability muscles work harder than with a multigym, making free-weight exercises far superior. It will help you build muscular strength and definition across the body, as well as protecting joints – and muscles burn more calories than fat, so it will help with weight loss.

Green gyms. This program is based around environmental and community projects, Green Gyms involve jobs such as clearing scrubland, tree planting, and path building. Great for both body and soul, they especially suit older exercisers looking to be more active.

Hypoxi trainer. The hypoxi trainer is essentially an exercise bike in a pressure chamber. The claims are that as you pedal, the vacuum sucks blood into your lower regions, concentrating the breakdown of fat in your hips and thighs and reducing cellulite.

Hula hooping. Hula hooping classes combine agility, cardiovascular exercise (strengthening the heart and lungs), music, movement, and fun. It is an extremely low impact, so it is especially good for new exercises. It works the hips, quads (front of thigh), and abdominals.

Ice or inline skating. This type of ‘fitness skating’ is performed faster and for longer than a recreational skating. The main skating action works the knees, calves, and inner thighs, while the glutes (buttocks) help maintain balance. To increase its cardiovascular benefit and strengthen heart and lungs, try swinging your arms in time with your legs and keep moving.

Ice climbing. This program uses indoor ice walls to replicate the extreme-sports thrill of hacking up a frozen Alpine waterfall. Although safety harnesses stop you falling, ice climbing is unbelievably tough on both upper and lower body. Because of the intense demands on all major muscle groups, it is a powerful calorie-burner/fat-reducer.

Interval training. Instead of ‘steady-state’ exercise like slow jogging, to which the body quickly adapts, interval training involves working as hard as possible for a short period, followed by a rest, then another intense burst. This is anaerobic, builds both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers, and accelerates metabolism is accelerated. It may be performed on any piece of cardio equipment, or with free weights or shuttle runs.

Jogging. Jogging is a steady-state form of cardiovascular exercise that burns calories, improves lower-body strength, and builds slow-twitch muscle fiber and endurance. Builds your aerobic capacity, so your body is better able to use oxygen, and can improve blood lipids (fats) and glucose if they are abnormal. Hones calves, hamstrings (back of thigh), quads (front) and glutes (buttocks) and is a great stress-reliever.

Kettlebell training. Kettlebells are large dumbbells with handles that allow you to perform dynamic, multi-joint, total-body moves with speed and fluid motion while working all the major muscle groups. Used by Soviet athletes, it builds fast-twitch muscle fibers, used for explosive bursts of strength or speed, and develops strong forearms, deltoids (shoulders), and glutes (buttocks).

Lacrosse. This fast-moving team sport, based on an American Indian game, uses hockey sticks with nets. Lacrosse players possess strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance. Perfect for team-minded exercisers seeking a fat-burning, full-body workout that especially targets the deltoids and quads (front thigh).

Lactate threshold training. This program involves performing cardiovascular exercises like cycling, running, or rowing to the intensity where fatigue sets in, then maintaining this level as lactic acid accumulates in your muscles (what makes muscles feel tired). Hugely challenging for the quads and hamstrings and is anaerobic.

Marathon training. Training for a 26-mile marathon takes at least three months, so is a great way to shed pounds, and build calves, quads, and glutes. It builds your aerobic capacity.

Military fitness. These park-based classes involve exercises like shuttle runs, which boost your heart and lungs, and bodyweight exercises like pull-ups, press-ups, and crunches, which can be as effective as weight-training. It is great for a full-body, fat-burning workout and especially suitable for people who like group exercise.

Mountain biking. Hurtling down single tracks and hauling yourself up steep, muddy gradients is a punishingly good cardio workout. You will burn calories and give your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes a thorough workout.

MBTs. The inventors of Masai Barefoot Trainers (MBTs) shoes claim that they create instability to which the body responds with compensatory movements. The entire musculoskeletal system is thus activated, they say, strengthening the glutes, abdominals, and back, and improving posture.
Nordic walking. A walking exercise involving poles that tones both the upper and lower body, burns more calories than regular walking, and provides an effective cross-training technique for endurance conditioning, building slow-twitch muscle. Good for those with joint problems.

Netball. Netball builds fitness through regular training and matches. Players benefit from upper-body strength, powerful calves, glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Short sprints, hard stops, twists, and turns provide an intense full-body workout but are tough on knees.

Orienteering. Also known as Point-to-Point, orienteering involves map-reading, running, or walking around the country follow prearranged coordinates to checkpoints.

Power Plate. The power plate is a vibrating plate used to stimulate the muscles to contract and relax, making exercises like squats much harder than on solid ground. A Belgian study found that overweight people who regularly undertook Power Plate exercise were more successful at long-term weight loss and shedding visceral fat (around the belly) than those doing a conventional fitness routine.

Pilates. Pilates, originally a form of rehab, use special equipment to strengthen the core muscles and help stave off back pain.

PHA. Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) training works the upper and lower body alternately with minimal rest, allowing each body part to recover, so time normally wasted resting between sets is spent working other muscle groups Great for targeting the quads, hamstrings, and abdominals.

Parkour. Parkour, or free-running, turns the urban environment into a playground as ‘traceurs’ perform jumps, somersaults, and twists over walls, lampposts, and other obstructions. It offers a full-body workout but especially good for the glutes. Injuries are, clearly, a potential drawback.

Plyometrics. A type of muscle training designed to improve power and enhance performance that uses explosive movements like jumping, hopping, and throwing, to develop fast-twitch muscle fibers used for bursts of strength or speed. A great way to build lower-body strength and power in the quads and hamstrings.

Qi-gong. A meditative Chinese exercise based on the principles of qi (pronounced ‘chee’), meaning internal energy, which involves slow, graceful movements and is like tai chi. Classes involve a combination of exercises, postures, and breathing techniques which are perfect for de-stressing and as part of a wider exercise regime.

Rugby. Rugby boosts upper-body strength, with strong arms required for tackling and passing, and scrums building powerful calves, thighs, and glutes (buttocks). Running around the pitch for 80 minutes provides an intense cardio workout benefiting the heart and lungs and burning fat.

Rowing. The ultimate full-body cardio exercise, rowing strengthens your heart and lungs and builds powerful arms and lats (upper back) while reducing body fat. Those with bad backs should be careful.

Running. Not to be confused with jogging. This is an excellent way to build the slow-twitch muscle fibers used for distance running, as well as burn calories while working the glutes, quads (front thigh), hamstrings (rear), and calves.

Spinning. A stationary spinning bike will tone your quads (front thigh), hamstrings (rear), calves, and glutes. These gym-based machines give a moderate- to high-intensity cardio workout, so strengthens the heart and lungs, and helps shed excess weight.

Slide boards. Popular with devotees of ice-based sports, slide boarding is like ice-skating on the spot. Using an 8-10ft board with a slippery surface and non-stick base, it is extremely challenging and great for working the lower body, especially the glutes and adductors.

Strength training. Strength training, such as weight lifting, should be a part of any exercise regime. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so it will boost your metabolism; strong muscles will help improve your posture and prevent injury; and lean, powerful muscles will improve your body shape, making you look fit and athletic.

Skipping. Skipping is one of the most effective cardio exercises you can do, ideal for strengthening the heart and lungs. It’s cheap, too – all you need is a rope, preferably a speed rope that will enhance your technique. Best for building strong calves and burning calories.

Swimming. An excellent full-body workout and low-impact form of cardio training. As a calorie-burner/fat-reducer, it’s comparable to running but has the added advantage of requiring upper-body strength to pull you through the water, and strengthens your shoulder girdle as well as your back, especially the lats.

Skiing. Skiing offers a powerful, full-body workout. As any skier/boarder will testify, it’s a killer on the quads (upper thigh), which will feel as though they’re on fire after a tough run. Lower-body strength develops as you transfer weight while changing direction.

Suspension training. First used by the Navy Seals, suspension training is a series of strength exercises performed on gymnastic-type rings, and offers a serious workout; stability muscles such as the abs have to work extra-hard. Develops functional strength in the deltoids (shoulder), neck, lats, abdominals, and obliques (stomach).

Triathlon training. The ultimate cardio combo of running, swimming, and cycling, a triathlon is a super-effective way of strengthening your heart and lungs and has a profound effect on musculature, endurance, and body fat.

Tennis. Improves strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, and works the pecs (chest), quads (front thigh) and obliques (stomach). The short sprints, twists, and lunges are great for stability and co-ordination but tough on the joints, so repetitive strain injuries are common.

Trampoline. The trampoline provides a moderate-intensity cardio exercise while protecting your ankle and knee joints. Strengthens quads, hamstrings (back of the thigh) and calves, as well as the shoulders and hip flexors.

Trail running. Trail running adds the extra challenge of hills and rocky paths to seasoned runners. It increases strength and endurance in your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes (buttocks), and gives a moderate- to high-intensity cardio workout. The unpredictable terrain improves your "proprioception" (sense of balance and where your body is in space).

Ultimate Frisbee. Team sport in which the object is to find one of your players in the opposing end zone. It requires explosive bursts of movement to jump for the disc or sprint into free space. Also good for balance, agility, coordination, and endurance.

Volleyball. Develops key upper-body muscles, especially the arms and deltoids, builds strength in the glutes and hamstrings, plus the quick sprints and explosive leaping build fast-twitch muscle fiber.

Walking. Walking has so many fitness benefits and can help with everything from gentle weight loss to cardiovascular disease (brisk walking strengthens heart and lungs). Try swinging your arms for greater cardio benefits.

Xingyi. This ancient martial art enhances balance, coordination, footwork, and flexibility. It combines strength training with bodyweight exercises, and low, squat-like stances to build strength in the ankles, calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Yachting. Sailing is intensely challenging, requiring agility, balance, and focus. It's a moderate-intensity cardio workout that is tough on the back and shoulders because it requires sudden, strong movements of the arms. This builds lower-back and deltoids, biceps, triceps, and wrist muscles. Those with back problems should be wary.

Zumba. Zumba is a blend of Latin dance moves with aerobic fitness and bodyweight exercises. It's tremendous fun, you burn calories aplenty and it’s low-impact so there's minimal stress on the joints.

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