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Get leaner, stronger and fitter with cross-training

How mixing and matching like the professionals can give you better results and fewer injuries
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Footballers doing ballet; weightlifters going for a run; boxers taking a Pilates class. It may sound odd but there are proven benefits to cross-training.

So you think you’re in tip-top-shape? You go running three times a week, regular as clockwork, but when you do a yoga class with a less-fit friend you find you have no balance and are shocked to discover it’s just too hard.

Or maybe you're a power weightlifter, doing the heaviest weights at the gym, but when you run for a bus you miss it because you are just too slow.
These scenarios show what can happen when you think fitness means mastering a single sport or activity.

So what's the answer?

Athletic trainers and personal coaches agree it's cross-training - essentially alternating your workout routines in a way that will increase your performance and overall fitness without stressing your body to the max.
For a single-sport athlete, cross training can mean anything outside the athlete's main sport. For the fitness enthusiast, it means using many different activities to ensure total fitness.

Ian Rushbury is UK personal fitness specialist at Virgin Active. He says cross-training is great for your fitness. "Your body gets used to training in a particular way; all the same muscles are being used," he tells BootsWebMD.

Ian recommends changing the angle of your training. "When you are running, your muscles are working in a straight line. If you take a Pilates or circuits class you are moving your muscles in different directions, which strengthens them and is all good for overall fitness."

Cross-training can make for fewer injuries too.

Fitness instructor Pip Dicey says, "Cross-training is a great way to condition muscle groups and allows you the ability to vary the stress placed on individual muscles and joints."

She tells us that by mixing and matching you can avoid repetitive strain injuries.

How cross-training can help

While professional athletics trainers once believed it was most important to work on those muscles directly related to a particular sport or activity, experts now say cross-training is a much better approach.

All sorts of professional athletes, from footballers to golfers, tennis players to swimmers, make cross training part of their regimes.

Cross-training is also making its way into the average person's fitness routine.

"I think it's essential to combine different exercise routines in your fitness regime," says Pip Dicey. "Our bodies tend to perform harder if we challenge our muscles by varying the workout and its intensity.

"For example, taking a class such as body balance or yoga in between classes like body conditioning or body combat will help improve flexibility as well as taking care of our mind and body well-being."

Ian Rushbury says: "If you are a weightlifter who just pumps iron, you don’t access different types of muscle fibre. You may be a strong, heavy lifter but if you build a bit of cardio into your regime, by nipping on the treadmill, this will stimulate growth or strength, whichever you are working on, and make you a better athlete."

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