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23rd March, 20214 min read

What is cross-training?

Medical reviewer: Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author: Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 22/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Doing the same workout every time can be boring – and it might not be the best way to get fit either. So mixing up different types of exercise could help to breathe new life into your routine and get your fitness back on track.

That’s where cross-training comes in. Keep reading to find out how cross-training works and how your overall health and fitness could benefit from trying it.

What is cross-training?

Experts used to think that if you played a particular sport, it was best to train the muscles directly related to it. For example, runners would focus on training their legs, while boxers would spend more time on their arms.

However, it’s now widely agreed that a well-rounded fitness routine can be more effective, and many professional athletes follow a varied ‘cross-training’ routine.

So what exactly is cross-training? Well, it involves including a number of different types of exercise in your regular training routine, so you work all areas of your body to improve your overall fitness.

How to build a cross-training routine

Cross-training routines are generally based around 3 types of exercise: aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility exercises.

There are plenty of options to choose from in each category, including:

  • aerobic exercise – walking, running, swimming, cycling, skating, dancing
  • strength training – weightlifting, circuit training, bodyweight exercises
  • flexibility exercises – stretching, yoga, Pilates

When you create your cross-training fitness plan, try to mix up these 3 components throughout the week to maximise the benefits.

It’s generally recommended that you do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. So take this into account when planning your training and spread out the time across the week in a way that works for you.

The benefits of cross-training

Injury prevention

Varying the type of exercise you do will reduce the strain of high-impact workouts on your body. For example, one day you may work on your running, which is high impact, then the next day you’ll work on your flexibility, which is low impact.

This variety and range in intensity will also mean you avoid overworking any area of your body and can therefore help to prevent overload injuries in your muscles, bones or joints.

Improved overall fitness

By switching between strength, flexibility and aerobic exercises, you’re targeting different muscle groups with each workout. This means you’re getting a full-body workout across the week, which can improve your overall fitness.

Enhanced weight loss

Cross-training can be an effective way to work out if you’re aiming to lose weight. Research has found that combining 2 or more types of exercise and working out at a moderate rate for more than 30 minutes may help to reduce body weight and fat stores.

Who is cross-training suitable for?

One of the great things about cross-training is that it’s suitable for all levels of fitness. Each routine can be tailored to your ability and needs, so you can get the most out of each workout. You can also do cross-training at home or outdoors, so there doesn’t have to be a cost involved.

Staying physically fit through cross-training can help to prevent certain medical conditions. But it can also play a part in the treatment and management of conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.

If you have arthritis or a knee or back injury, cross-training may also be a suitable option. You can focus on low-impact aerobic exercises, such as cycling and swimming, which won’t put a strain on your joints. Flexibility exercises can help to reduce stiffness, too.

If you have any injuries or medical conditions, or you’re new to exercise, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor before starting a cross-training routine.

Key points

  • cross-training involves doing different types of exercise throughout the week to create a rounded fitness routine
  • it usually includes a mix of aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility exercises
  • varying your workouts can help improve your overall fitness and increase weight loss
  • it can also help to reduce the risk of ‘overload’ injuries
  • it’s generally suitable for all levels of fitness
  • speak to your doctor before starting cross-training if you're new to exercise or you have a health condition or injury

Did you know that you can use the Healthily app to track your activity? Once you've downloaded it, go to 'Settings' then 'My trackers' and choose 'Activity levels' and 'Exercises'.

Was this article helpful?

We include references at the end of every article, so you know where we get our facts. We only ever take evidence from medically-recognised sources, approved by the UK National Health Service's The Information Standard, or certified by Health On the Net (HON). When we talk about popular health trends or claims, we'll always tell you if there's very little or no evidence to back them up. Our medical team also checks our sources, making sure they're appropriate and that we've interpreted the science correctly.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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