If you’re an athlete, you’ve likely heard the term “cross-training” being used by coaches, fitness trainers, and fellow athletes as a new training technique. But what exactly is cross-training, and does it even matter?


The answer is: yes!


Cross-training is incorporating different types of exercise in your routine to supplement your primary activity or sport. It can seem counterintuitive, unnecessary, or even harmful to spend training time outside of your sport. However, cross-training helps you improve your overall athletic performance by taking a well-rounded approach to your mental and physical wellbeing. We’ll discuss four key reasons why cross-training is beneficial for your training, along with strategies to take advantage of it to achieve your goals.


Prevents boredom and burnout


Let’s face it: even if you’re passionate about your sport, you’re bound to hit times where your motivation runs low. You might not feel as driven to push yourself, find yourself as focused, or even want to show up to practice. These lulls are normal and to be expected, but they can be challenging to handle. Whether you’re dealing with a bout of boredom or burnout, cross-training can help you bring variety and excitement to your athletic routine, improving your mental wellbeing.


Training Tip: Try tapping into ways to move your body that feels joyful. Dancing, yoga, and kickboxing are all activities you can do with friends or from your own home.


Improves your overall fitness levels


Our bodies are incredibly adaptive; when we perform the same movements repeatedly, our bodies begin to find more efficient ways to execute them. While this is advantageous for athletes, your improvement starts to plateau as your body becomes used to the activity after a while. By incorporating cross-training into your routine, you’re keeping your body challenged and stimulated, which allows you to continuously make progress. Cross-training also enables you to engage different body parts that you wouldn’t usually use in your primary sport. These factors will make you a more well-rounded athlete and lower your chances of injury.


Training Tip: Focus on performing both aerobic and anaerobic exercises and discovering ways to move your body differently than your primary sport. By adding variety to your cross-training, it will enable you to improve your mobility, agility, and strength, making you a stronger athlete overall.


Prevents overuse injuries


When you specialize in one sport or activity, you’re placing stress on your body’s same parts through your repetitive actions. While repetition is necessary to an extent to improve performance, this dramatically increases your chances of developing overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and tendonitis. Engaging in other types of exercise, preferably ones that involve different muscle groups, allows the overworked muscles to relax and repair themselves before any damage is done.


Training Tip: Try activities that use body parts that you don’t usually use in your primary sport. For instance, if you’re a runner, try some upper-body focused activities like tennis. Swimming is an excellent option for all athletes, as it engages your entire body in a low-impact environment. (Of course, if you’re a swimmer, try to find other activities.)


Helps you adapt to change


A significant benefit to cross-training that isn’t recognized is the resiliency it helps you develop as an athlete. Cross-training allows you to learn different methods of moving and training your body, increasing your flexibility and adaptability. Life is unpredictable, and training conditions are bound to change. Whether it be inclement weather, an injury, or a significant life event, cross-training will prepare you for staying mentally and physically fit no matter what happens. The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of this. With training centers closed across the world, weekend warriors and elite athletes alike have been forced to implement creative training techniques, initiating cross-training.


Training Tip: Take advantage of this opportunity to try new training methods. Running, biking, and pilates are all socially-distant ways of staying active during this pandemic.


A note of caution: While cross-training comes with various benefits for your athletic performance, it should never replace your rest days or be done at the expense of your quality of life. Overloading your training schedule with cross-training can have the same detrimental effects of not cross-training, such as higher risk of injury and burnout. Adequate sleep, rest days, and relaxation time in your everyday life is critical in keeping your mind and body healthy. Ultimately, the best way to improve your performance is to take care of yourself, whatever shape that may take.


Works Cited:

Armstrong, Get-Fit Guy Brock. “Why Cross-Training Is Essential (and Improves Your DNA).” Scientific American, Scientific American, 17 Oct. 2018, www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-cross-training-is-essential-and-improves-your-dna/.


Erin Carter, Michigan State University Extension. “The Benefits of Adding Cross Training to Your Exercise Routine.” MSU Extension, 19 Nov. 2018, www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_benefits_of_adding_cross_training_to_your_exercise_routine.

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