Yes, we all agree that even the term "Cross-training" sounds cool. Well, maybe that's just me, but that shouldn't discredit its vitality towards a balanced work out routine. Cross-training is defined as training in different ways to improve overall performance. It takes advantage of the particular effectiveness of each training method, while at the same time attempting to neglect the shortcomings of that method by combining it with other methods that address its weaknesses.
For the individual who seeks an increased rate of metabolism, reduction in body fat, increased strength and endurance, cross-training may very well be the training style for you. In order to cross-train, you have to workout in a variety of activities that require the body to be conditioned both aerobically and anaerobically. In other words, if you are just doing cardio or if you are just training anaerobically, you aren't cross-training. If you were compelled to run one day, lift weights another day, sprint the day after that, and then swim or bike later in the week, you would absolutely be cross-training!
Before I go in depth about the body's response to cross-training, let's first understand how the body responds to consistent exercise that doesn't vary in activity. For example, a jogger who's only exercise is jogging has a goal of losing body fat and increasing muscle. If this person goes out for a 45 min run 4 times a week, eats perfect, and even gradually gets faster, do you think he/she will reach their goal? I'll answer it for you... the answer is NO. The problem with just relying on running is the inevitable loss of Lean Body Mass. Yes, even though Body Fat will decrease, so will LBM. Unfortunately for this instance, the more LBM the body has, the faster the rate of metabolism (or BMR). So, not only will this person lose muscle, they obviously won't gain muscle as well. This can be dangerous if there is a break or decrease in physical activity because the "acquired" lack of muscle will result in a daily caloric requirement that is fairly low. So, if this person doesn't track their diet like a hawk, fat will probably be gained due to over eating.
This scenario also works vice-versa for a person who doesn't do any cardio, only lifts weights, wants to gain muscle, and also has a goal to drop a whole lot of body fat. Since anaerobic training primarily breaks down carbohydrates (not fat) for energy, this person is already in a disadvantage to burn fat. The second disadvantage is that in order to gain muscle, your body has to take in more calories than it burns per day (also called a positive calorie diet). In order to lose fat, your body has to take in less calories than it burns per day (negative calorie diet). Well, if you can't burn fat for energy because you aren't engaging in aerobic activity (aka fat burning exercise), you're going to have a problem! Now, some may ask what if you take in less calories than you burn per day and only engage in anaerobic activity (resistance training)? Great question! This can put you into a state of catabolism where you will be breaking down LBM for energy in order to build LBM, a vicious cycle.....
So, what are the benefits of cross-training, you ask? Another great question! Thank you. Cross-training allows your body to burn fat some days, gain muscle other days, and then go crazy and do both if you engage in interval training. The benefits of cross-training also prevent your body from the notorious plateau. Maintaining consistency in different exercises, movements, frequencies, and intensities will always give the body reasons to strengthen different muscles, adapt to different movements, and keep working in progress. Not working with OUT progress. Cross training allows you to strengthen your heart in two ways. Aerobically, you will be able to increase the size of the heart. Anaerobically, you will be able to strengthen the muscle walls of the heart. This will result in a lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, higher VO2 max and more!!
If you aren't training for a marathon, power lifting competition, or any other specific sport, try cross-training. Mix it up! Do cardio one day, go for some plyo's another day, and hit the bike for hills and sprints later in the week!
An example of a cross-training week:
Monday- Run 60 min
Tuesday- Weight Training 55 min
Thursday- Swim 45 min
Friday- Plyometrics and sprints 45 min
Saturday- Pick a sport