If you’re an active athlete, you probably have a particular physical specialty. You may be an excellent sprinter, a strong jumper or a fast swimmer. But if you only focus on one major muscle group or on developing a particular range of skills, you may find that you are limiting your capacity for athletic growth. The benefits of cross training allow you to strengthen parts of your body other than the muscles, joints and ligaments used in your primary athletic activity.
For example, runners will develop ample strength in their legs and hips, but cross training can improve their speed by developing stronger muscles in their legs using resistance and weight training. Research shows that athletes who cross train are often faster and less prone to injury than runners who only practice by running. Employing alternative exercises in your workout program can improve your performance overall and in your specific field of interest.
1. You get injured less often
If you only use a particular muscle group, you’re going to run up against overuse injuries. Your joints and ligaments can only take so much at a time, but athletes looking to push their skills may be tempted to keep practicing until they beat a personal record or complete a session. You might develop tightness or soreness in the muscles you’re heavily relying on for your athletic efforts. This can lead to disabling injuries that sideline you and halt your athletic training entirely. Instead of overusing the same joints over and over, cross training allows you to employ a variety of muscle groups. This enables you to switch between muscle groups when you sense that one may be close to an overuse injury.
2. You’ll have greater aerobic capacity
One of the benefits of cross training is a greater aerobic capacity. This is because when you limit yourself to a particular activity, you’ll burn out after a particular period of time and can only stop and recharge. If you’re cross training, you can switch to a different exercise when a particular part of your body is feeling sore, allowing you to continue the length of your training and increase your stamina. By expanding your aerobic capacity this way, you can find over time that your stamina throughout your workout improves overall.
3. You’ll be stronger overall
Cross training, for most athletes, means incorporating strength training into your workout routine. For athletes who focus on stamina or aerobic capacity, strength training often provides a sharp boost in performance. That’s because strength affects virtually everything you do—stronger arms means you can throw a basketball farther, while stronger legs means you can jump higher and run faster. By incorporating resistance into your routine, you’ll improve your performance more than simply practicing your athletic skill of choice would. All the running in the world won’t offer you the immediate gains that resistance training does.
4. You can develop dynamic flexibility
If you make a habit of working out multiple muscle groups, you will develop much greater dynamic flexibility than when you focus on one. Flexibility is developed after performing a particular exercise over and over again, slowly pushing your body’s capacity to reach new limits. When you practice a new exercise, a whole new set of joints, ligaments and muscles are stretched out, which means you will have more flexibility throughout your body. This can reduce internal resistance in your body, making you faster to respond and adapt as you compete or play.
5. You’ll heal faster
Cross training enables your body to recuperate faster from injuries, in some cases because other exercises can directly improve the condition caused by your regular activity. For example, Achilles tendonitis, caused by overuse, can be improved by eccentric strengthening of the calf muscles. Employing alternative exercises not only gives your body the opportunity to heal from your previous activity, but in many cases will help stretch and strengthen parts of your body that are causing pain.
Cross training makes you a stronger, more flexible and more well-rounded athlete. Although you may have a particular favorite exercise or sport, varying up your routine will improve your performance more than sticking to one particular workout ever could.