Cross-Training: A Winning Combination

Discover how cross-training can improve both your physical and mental game 


We know we should be moving our bodies, but balancing how and when can be tricky. Enter cross-training. The name might evoke images of profuse sweating and struggling to catch your breath during a high-intensity workout, but cross-training doesn’t necessitate heavy weight lifting or endless sprints. “Cross-training is any combination of types and intensities of exercise to further your goals, whether they’re sport, fitness or health-related,” says Roper St. Francis Healthcare athletic trainer Laurel Pollock. Even better? Cross-training has been proven to reduce your risk of injury, limit burnout and even improve mental health.

 “Imagine you twist a screwdriver in one direction all day long,” explains Pollock. “Eventually, you’re going to develop tendonitis in that wrist. If you would just twist it in the other direction half the time, you’d be much better at avoiding that injury.” Similarly, if your usual routine is running or a team sport such as baseball or soccer, incorporating activities like Pilates or dance forces your body to perform in different planes of motion. This utilizes and strengthens different muscle groups to improve overall fitness, strength and endurance while also reducing your risk of stress-related injuries.

 But how often to change things up? “My recommendation for general fitness would be to perform your main activity two to three times a week, try something different on two days and take two days for rest,” says Pollock. Try pairing running with yoga or swimming to build endurance without added impact, or combine weight lifting with your primary cardiovascular sport to build muscle. 

 Going one step further, cross-training can help combat mental fatigue to encourage a lifelong relationship with fitness. “One of the things I see working with kids who participate in one sport all year round is a lot of burnout,” says Pollock, who covers athletics for Burke High School. Mixing up activities can lessen the risk of boredom, leading to a more exciting and enticing connection with exercise that lasts throughout adulthood.

A New Direction

We live in a three-dimensional world, and humans move about in three planes: frontal (side to side), sagittal (forward and backward) and transverse (top-to-bottom rotation). To prevent muscle imbalances and overuse injuries, practice exercises that push you to perform in each plane of motion.

(Left to right) Frontal: Side lunges, breaststroke, lateral arm/leg raises, jumping jacks; Sagittal: Running, cycling, biceps curls, squats, stair climbing; Transverse: Golf, boxing, dance, yoga, pushups, tennis, bicycle crunches

Photographs by (yoga) wavebreakmedia; (swimming) Peakstock; (squat) DmitryStock; (tennis) NDAB Creativity