Cross training has risen to popularity in the last decade or so and with good reason. Cross training simply means to use a variety of different training methodologies, also known as mixing up your workouts. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of cross training, how it stacks up with other forms of exercise and how to structure it to get the best results.
The Benefits of Cross Training
The main benefit of cross training is the wider selection of training methodologies, improving the number of options in our “toolkit”. For improving health and fitness, cross training is a great way to make training enjoyable and effective without specializing in any one sport. The appeal of cross training is the diversity of exercise selection and protocol.
Variety is at the core of cross training. Mixing up training methodologies and performing novel exercises is fun – something that will keep people motivated and engaged. Some perceive the gym to be a chore, which is why they fail to attend consistently and ultimately fall short of their goals. Cross training improves consistency which inevitably leads to better results. Variety also reduces burnout: too much of the same exercise and the same rep/set scheme will reduce the body’s response to training.
High Intensity Interval Training
Cross training is often based on high intensity interval training, or HIIT. This is when we perform short bursts of intense exercises, punctuated by lower-intensity exercise. Some studies have shown that this is superior to other forms of endurance exercise for fat loss and aerobic fitness. HIIT involves performing relatively small amounts of exercise at a high intensity. Basically, it’s putting maximum effort into a short space of time to achieve as much as possible. This is an excellent way to develop fitness in a short space of time – something that is essential for those who are on a tight schedule and may only have an hour to perform strength and conditioning workouts.
Things to Consider with Cross Training
Know Your Goals
While the multiple methodologies of cross training may increase the overall range of options in our fitness toolkit, they can also over-complicate the training process and dilute training effect. This is why cross training for athletes is managed by a coach and generally restricted to off-season training, when the athletes don’t need to test their performance in their main sport. Therefore, cross training is a good choice if your goal is overall improved fitness but may not be the best choice for improvement of a specific sport.
Variety vs Specificity: The Best Approach
Variety and specificity are competing principles. You must have the right amount of both: too much variety and you won’t make fast enough progress, too much specificity and you’ll stagnate. Our favorite approach is to look at specificity as two principles: motor specificity and energy specificity. Motor specificity is simply how similar an exercise is to your main goals, based on the movements it requires (for example, how similar a lunge is to a squat). Energy specificity is simply using the same energy pathways that your goals use: if you’re going for maximal strength, marathon running isn’t the best use of your time.
For those who have a very specific goal in mind (such as a strong squat, bench press, vertical jump, etc.) it is important to maintain high levels of motor specificity. You should perform a lot of movements that are similar to your goal movement – this is particularly true of competitive athletes, but less important for general fitness. Energy specificity is essential for athletes as well as fitness enthusiasts: you should structure the majority of your training towards the kind of performance you want to excel at. If you’re a marathon runner, the majority of your training should focus on aerobic exercises for a long duration, whereas a powerlifter should generally focus on high-power, short duration exercises. This might mean focusing on long-distance running, cycling and rowing for the marathoner but sprint intervals for the weightlifter – the combinations are endless!
Training can be a complicated business, but for the general fitness enthusiast, cross training is a great choice. Workouts should be structured with your goals in mind, whether you are an athlete or a recreational gym-goer. Mixing up your workouts with cross training will keep them fun and interesting!