It is part of human nature to develop repetitive patterns and create routines. Most people will perform numerous routines each day without conscious thought. Such routines may include the type of exercise we do as there is a tendency to stick to what we have always done. However, a lack of variation in the type of exercise we do can limit progress towards a fitness goal.

When the body completes the same type of exercise repetitively, the risk of injury increases and the rate of fitness improvement diminishes. The benefit of mixing up exercise type has a positive impact upon all of these factors and is called ‘Cross Training’. Cross training can be described as the use of other methods of training to improve overall fitness gains by changing the exercise type. Bo Jackson and Nike invented the concept of cross training as Bo was the first famous athlete to be successful in two sports (Baseball and American Football). Nike then invented the ‘cross trainer’, off the back of this cross training was born. There are many benefits to cross training which often result in an increase to the quality and quantity of exercise done, accelerating the gain in fitness. This is achieved primarily by cross training reducing the likelihood of injury, improving the recovery within the training week and often improving motivation to exercise through variation.

The reason injuries are sustained during exercise is multifactorial however often come about through overusing or overloading parts of the body. When exercise is continually repeated the load goes through the same soft tissue and bone. Injuries result when there is inadequate recovery, the magnitude of the load is too great for the soft tissue and bone, or the exercise is executed with poor technique. Cross training reduces the magnitude of the load on the same soft tissue and bone by spreading it across other parts of the body, whilst still allowing the fitness gain. For example when training for a marathon, exchanging a steady state run for a bike session will reduce the load through the lower limb whilst still challenging the aerobic energy system. Cycling involves lower impact forces than running which prevents the accumulation of fatigue in the lower limb that repeated running sessions create. The exchange of sessions enables adequate recovery of soft tissue and bone between running sessions to minimise injury risk. Cross training can also reduce injury risk by improving the health of joints. Modification of the exercise type challenges the stability of joints by varying the range of motion, speed and timing requirements of movement. For example Frame’s Energy Shot class combines bursts of high intensity cardiovascular exercise with mat based stability and strength work. Stability and strength work challenge muscles surrounding each joint to control and move the joint correctly. Swapping this into your exercise routine to replace a run will develop your cardiovascular fitness as intended, whilst reducing the load placed on the lower limb and improving joint health. Improved joint health combined with the spreading of load across other parts of the body will reduce the likelihood of injury thereby allowing greater quantity and quality of exercise to be done.

The quantity and quality of exercise can also be increased by adding rest and recovery into an exercise routine. Rest and recovery are essential components of an exercise routine to allow the body to fully adapt to the exercise stimulus, however passive rest and recovery is not always needed. The type of recovery needed is specific to the fatigue the body experiences and cross training is one tool that can be used. As previously mentioned cross training can improve the exercise quality and quantity by allowing parts of the body to rest and recover whilst challenging others. Cross training can also be used to target fatigued parts of the body and facilitate recovery. An example would be replacing a high intensity exercise session with a Frame “Mini Barre” class or similar. When muscles are fatigued they can be sore and lose range of motion. Mini Barre gently works the muscles through range which will help regain any lost range of motion, reduce soreness and speed up the recovery process. The faster the recovery process the earlier high intensity exercise can resume with the required quality. The use of cross training as a tool to assist recovery is essentially about planning the training week in order to train smarter. This means exercise routines should be altered to meet the ever changing needs of your body thereby maximising potential gain in fitness.

Another benefit to altering your exercise routine is it can positively improve your motivation to exercise. The positive impact exercise has on psychological wellbeing has been well documented in the media over the past few years. One mechanism for this positive impact is a change in the body’s secretion and utilisation of hormones. Exercise increases the body’s secretion and utilisation of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Endorphins reduce the perception of pain, dopamine increases levels of motivation and productivity, serotonin increases our perception of wellbeing and oxytocin improves our level of intimacy and trust. These four hormones contribute to our feeling of happiness. When the same type of exercise is continually repeated we can experience inadequate recovery and a feeling of monotony, reducing our motivation to exercise. The result is either we skip sessions or the exercise we do reduces in quality. Both of these negatively impact upon our fitness gain and if exercise sessions are missed this can be the start of a downward spiral in behaviour. By doing less exercise, psychological wellbeing can decrease which leads to doing even less exercise. The opposite is also true if we are able to maintain or increase motivation to exercise. Cross training is one tool we can use to improve motivation to exercise by reducing monotony, resulting in an increase to the quality and quantity of exercise completed.

In summary cross training is one tool that can be used to reduce the likelihood of injury, improve recovery within a training week and improve motivation to exercise. These three benefits facilitate gains in our fitness by ensuring we maximise the quality and quantity of the exercise we do. There are many different ways to cross train ranging from doing different exercise classes, outdoor activities or introducing a new sport, there are endless possibilities.

The principle to success is to understand what you need, aim to continually challenge yourself and ultimately train smart. So go out there, push through your barriers and try something new after all the science suggests you are likely to reap great reward.

Liz Sinton