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Cross-Training: Is it really necessary to change up what you thought was working?

As noted in my last post, our bodies work well with repetition.  Hopefully you’ve begun your commitment to becoming an “early bird” or just simply making exercise a part of your day!  That repetition of sleep and wake at around the same time every day will certainly jump start that commitment!

But does does repetition play a role in our acceleration of our fitness?

If you’re a long distance running enthusiast, you know the importance of training if you’re planning to run a long distance race.  But how often does your training come to a halt due to injury or over-training?  (I hope never, but let’s face it; it tends to happen to the best of us!).  What about when you’ve committed to the goal of weight loss or eating healthier and all of the sudden you seem to no longer see results?  Or perhaps your goal is building strength–You’re past the point of commitment– you’re lifting weights every day!  But you don’t seem to be making progress.  Or maybe you feel like you’re in pretty good shape and you take time most days of the week to designate for fitness but suddenly, you bend down to pick something up, and now you can’t walk right–something’s pulled in your back!

All of these scenarios have a common denominator–repetition.  You continue to do the same thing over and over, falling into the repetition of what’s comfortable, easy and/or accessible, but eventually stop seeing results, become injured and become discouraged with exercise and food.  Now what?

It’s time to re-evaluate and incorporate cross-training!

Although it’s super important for athletes and enthusiasts of any sport to train specifically for their sport, if that person only trains those specific muscles and skills, they will only become masters in using those specific muscles and skills.  Better said in an article published by WebMD, Todd Schlifstein, DO, a sports medicine rehabilitation doctor at New York University Medical Center’s Rusk Institute states, “When you only do one fitness activity — like running or weight lifting, for example — and you only work on the muscles involved in that sport, you may discover that you are far less fit than you think.”  He also continues with a warning:  Using just one set of muscles repeatedly can also increase your risk of repetitive injury.

As my fitness journey has ebbed and flowed over the years, I’ve certainly developed a deep understanding and appreciation for cross training and I hope you will too after this post!

The Why’s of Cross-Training

1) The Change Up.  Often times people have great intentions about starting a workout regimen, but shortly after just getting into a routine, they become bored.  Cross-training provides the ability to stick with those good intentions while changing it up a bit!

From the above article mentioned by WebMd, it’s advised to vary different types of activities into your weekly workouts.  This can be done within the same workout the same day or simply rotating each type throughout the week.  Choose from the following:

a) aerobic conditioning (Cardio):  activity to elevate your heart rate into your target heart rate zone for a minimum of 30 minutes at least 3 times per week

b) strength training:  either body weight exercises or weight training; aim for 2-3 times per week; can easily be incorporated before or after an aerobic session

c) endurance:  extending your workouts for a longer period of time, most often referring to a cardio conditioning workout, but not limited to such

d) balance:  activities such as yoga will help to engage muscles, working on strength, while also encouraging a heightened ability to hold those positions and balance; this is a great way to gain strength in a specific area (For example, hold “tree pose“, building strength on each side of the body separate of one another).  Balance can also be incorporated in a number of strength training exercises while using weights.  One of my absolute favorites for working the glutes is a balanced single leg dead lift!

Note here that these four activities can be done in any combination with one another!  There’s no need to designate ONE full workout to each of these unless you have that kind of time!

2) The Fitness Plateau.  It’s recommended you change up your workout regimen periodically.  For beginners, making this change every 6-8 weeks is highly encouraged.  Your muscles become used to this same repetitive workout and will adapt to these movements, hindering you from seeing results and forcing a plateau effect in the areas listed above (aerobic conditioning, strength, endurance).  Thus the name “Fitness Plateau”.  Avoid this by cross-training and incorporating change to your workouts!

3) Injury Prevention.  As was stated in the article referenced above, once you focus your training specifically on one skill (running, lifting), you will only be utilizing those primary muscles responsible for that particular activity.  This is when over-training and/or over-use occurs, leading to a myriad of injuries to follow.  If you take the time to plan episodes of cross-training into your training routine, you will not only give those primary muscles a break while still maintaining a high level of fitness, but you will build upon those secondary muscles which will reinforce those primarily being used for your favorite activity.

The How-To’s of Cross-Training

1)  HIIT Workouts (High Intensity Interval Training):  These types of workouts have been around for a long time but are just recently catching wind among those trying to increase their fitness levels with minimal time to workout!  You may know this type of workout better identified as “interval training”.  In a HIIT workout, consider the duration, intensity and frequency of the workout.  Because this type is pretty intense, more recovery time is needed for this type.  When first introducing, just single out one day to perform your HIIT workout of choice!  You can add more days of HIIT as you build your strength.  Check out these HIIT workouts you can easily do in the comfort of your own home! You can also use a Tabata Timer to designate when you start and stop each “round” of your workout (check out tabata timer apps, too).

2) Cardio Chang-Up:  Don’t fall into the cycle of ease by always gravitating toward the cardio workout that keeps you most engaged and entertained.  Attending boot camp classes, working out to cardio-based fitness videos and utilizing a variety of cardio machines will allow you to change up this part of your workout.  Many people will begin working out with the plan to “walk 30 minutes a day” or “jog 3 miles”.  If you continue doing the same cardio routine every exercise episode, your body will be sure to plateau.

You can keep those same plans (walking 30 minutes, jogging 3 miles), but make your change-up within those parameters.  You can still jog for 30 minutes, but vary your speed.  Take a look at these workouts for “change-up” ideas!

One of my favorites while cross-training is simply doing intervals on the elliptical machine.  The first 10 minutes is my warm-up (5 minutes in the forward direction, 5 minutes in the reverse direction), followed by 1 minute intervals forward of high intensity and recovery periods.  For example, after the 10 minute warm-up is over, I go back to the forward direction and push as hard as I can (while staying in my heart rate zone) for one minute with the next minute being half that intensity.  Then back to another minute of high intensity, followed by 1 minute of half that intensity.  I do that in the forward direction for 10 minutes and then the reverse direction for 10 minutes.  If you’re really feeling sassy, continue for longer, increasing your high intensity intervals and decreasing your “half-intensity” or “rest” periods.

3) Weight Training Change-Up.  Just like you need to change up your cardio work, your weights need a tune-up as well.  Instead of lifting 3 sets of 12-15 reps of your favorite weight lifting exercises, try one of these variations!  And as mentioned above, weight training and cardio can be combined to create a shortened, super effective workout!

Whether your workouts have become second notion and something you dread, or you’re looking to take your fitness to the next level, cross-training is good for every active person.

So, is what you’re currently doing actually working?  Or is it time for a change up?  Go ahead, give these ideas a try and let me know how it goes!

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