What Is Cross Training And Why Is It Necessary?

A few years ago, I was running 4-5 miles a day, four times a week, and I thought I was in pretty good shape. Then I started training for a triathlon and started swimming laps in a pool. After just one lap, I was shocked to find myself out of breath, huffing and puffing as if I never worked out a day in my life. I was wrong to think that fitness means mastering a single sport. According to Todd Schlifstein, DO, a sports medicine rehabilitation doctor at New York University Medical Center’s Rusk Institute, “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.”

Cross-training refers to combining exercises of other disciplines, different than how the athlete regularly trains. For instance, if a runner wants to cross-train, they may bike, swim, strength train or take a fitness class. Cross-training builds strength and flexibility that is not being utilized when the athlete always does that one sport or discipline. By correcting muscular imbalances, it prevents injury and the variety can prevent burnout. Schlifstein warns that “using one set of muscles repeatedly can also increase your risk of repetitive injury.”

So how do you incorporate cross-training into your fitness routine? If you do not usually swim- try it out. Swimming helps build strength, flexibility and fitness, all without risking injury.  Runners looking to cross-train should strengthen their pelvis, hips and upper body- try elliptical machines, stationary bikes or swimming. If you have been only weight lifting- you should add a cardio workout- like running outside or on a treadmill, rowing.


You can incorporate cross-training by alternating between activities; one day lift weights, next day bike, next day run, then elliptical machine, rowing machine. Or you can alternate activities in a single workout; run on treadmill for 10 minutes, bike for 10 minutes, pushups for 10 minutes, elliptical machine for 10 minutes.

My 19 year old daughter had become a slave to the elliptical machine, crossing the fine line between loving and hating it at the same time. When the elliptical machine in our home gym broke and was awaiting repair, she was forced to use the exercise bike and she started running on the treadmill. It was the best thing for her, because although I had been stressing the benefits of cross-training, she refused to try another activity until she had no choice. My daughter had not realized how bored she had become with the elliptical machine and now incorporates all three machines into her workout.


Cross-training stresses the importance of varying activities between aerobic conditioning, strength training, endurance and balance. For fun and a bit of variety- try cycling, yoga, hiking, jogging, rock climbing, skiing, pilates. To spice up my own fitness routine, I started the 100 burpee challenge on January 1st. Day 1 I did 1 burpee, day 2- I did 2 burpees, etc. until day 100. If I skip a day, I have to add the burpees from the day I skipped. If I do 9 burpees and I skip the next day, then the following day I have to do 10 burpees plus 11 burpees. If you do not know what a burpee is- google it- it is easier to watch than for me to explain.

I want to share an inspiring new project started by Gwyneth Paltrow and fitness guru, Tracy Anderson called, “The Restart Project.” ┬áIt consists of approximately six minute video segments focused on women who have overcome hardship, injury and setbacks and have triumphed in the face of adversity. The first few videos I’ve seen depicted women who have transformed their lives and bodies through diet and exercise. These uplifting and motivating stories are definitely worth watching at http://on.aol.com/show/the-restart-project-518018512/episode/51804516#sthash.P2yzR4U.dpuf