Cross Training

Medically Reviewed by Ross Brakeville, DPT on March 20, 2023
5 min read

Spice up your workout routine with cross training for whole-body fitness that mixes aerobics, strength training, and flexibility.

Blast out of the same-old, same-old. Varying your workouts is better for you. By using different muscle groups, you reach a higher level of fitness. Keeping things interesting also helps you stick with it.

A sample cross-training schedule might look like this:

  • Monday: Swim laps
  • Tuesday: Lift weights at the gym
  • Wednesday: Do yoga
  • Thursday: Take an aerobics class that includes muscle-toning exercises
  • Friday: Rollerblade

You can also mix different exercises -- strength and aerobic -- into a full-body workout. For example, during one 30-minute session you might walk or jog for 10 minutes, lift weights for 10 minutes, and then do yoga for 10 minutes. No time? Break it up into shorter, 10-minute segments and still see a benefit.

Pick your exercises based on your interests. Include at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on most days of the week, and at least two days of strength training. Try to also do flexibility exercises like stretching and yoga every day.

The intensity level with a cross training workout is really up to you. It depends on what you choose.

You can bring down the intensity by walking instead of running, or bring it up by doing higher-impact exercises and using heavier weights.

Core: Yes. Sit-ups, planks, and other core exercises should be part of your cross-training program.

Arms: Yes. The strength-training portion of your workouts should include biceps, triceps, and other arm exercises using hand weights, weight machines, or resistance bands. You can also use your own body weight for resistance by doing exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and chair dips.

Legs: Yes. Include strength-training exercises like lunges and squats to work your leg muscles. You'll also work your legs by running, climbing stairs, and doing some of the other aerobic components of the program.

Glutes: Yes. Many of the same exercises that work the legs, including lunges and squats, are also good for the glutes.

Back: Yes. This is a full-body workout, so you will want to incorporate exercises for your back, like pull ups and rows.

Flexibility: Yes. The ideal cross-training program starts with a warm-up and ends with a cool-down stretch. It also includes yoga or stretching.

Aerobic: Yes. Your cross-training routine should include aerobic exercises, such as running, stair climbing, or dancing.

Strength: Yes. You should do strength-training exercises like lifting weights or bodyweight exercises like push-ups at least twice a week.

Sport: No, but it can help athletes get into better shape for their sport.

Low-Impact: Yes. You can adapt your workout to be low impact. For example, walk instead of run during the aerobic parts.

Cost. None. You can cross train on your own at home without spending any money. Or you can invest in a cross-training class or personal trainer.

Good for beginners? Yes. You can modify this program to your fitness level. If you're new to exercise, start slowly with low-impact exercises like walking or swimming, and use light weights for toning. Gradually make it more challenging when you're ready.

Outdoors. Yes. You can do many parts of a cross-training program, like jogging or swimming, outside.

At home. Yes. You can cross train just about anywhere, including in your home.

Equipment required? No. You don't have to buy any equipment. If you already have weights and a stair climbing machine, you can use them. Or use things you already have, like stairs at home.

What Dr. Michael Smith Says:

Cross-training is ideal for anyone, whether you're a beginner who wants to get in shape or an experienced exerciser looking to take your fitness to the next level.

It's the backbone of any well-developed exercise program. The wide variety of activities means you can choose what works for you.

One of the most common mistakes people make with exercise is repeating the same routine week after week. To continue to improve your fitness level and reap all the benefits of regular exercise, you need to keep your body guessing. Cross training does this for you.

When you do the same activity over and over, you also set yourself up for overuse injuries. Cross training helps solve this problem, too.

If you run out of things to do in your workout, book a couple of sessions with a personal trainer, watch online fitness videos, or read exercise magazines to learn some new moves.

Is It Good for Me if I Have a Medical Condition?

Getting in shape, losing weight, and building muscle not only help prevent certain medical conditions but are also a key part of treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

Check with your doctor if you’re new to exercise. Once you get the OK, cross training should be where you start. It’s a good way to try different activities, so you can find what you like. If you’re not sure where to start, sign up for a session or two with a certified personal trainer to learn the ropes.

Cross training is an excellent option if you have arthritis, too. Of course, if you’re having a flare, you want to scale back on activity until your joints calm down. But when you get the OK from your doctor, exercise is absolutely crucial for treating the joint pain of arthritis. Losing weight takes significant stress off your joints. Building muscle provides more support for your joints and curbs pain. And flexibility exercises help prevent stiffness. Cross training lets you include low-impact activities, like bike riding and swimming, that provide the benefits you need without putting more stress on your joints.

Cross training can also help you recover from a back or knee injury. Early on, you’ll want to lay off any activity that aggravates the injury. But once you’re on the road to recovery, look for activities that help strengthen muscles, which lessens pain and helps prevent further injury.

To help prevent another injury, cross training is key, so you're not overstressing your body by doing the same activity over and over again.

Even if you have a physical limitation or disability, you can find activities that work for you. The beauty of cross training is in the wide variety of exercises you can choose from.

If you're pregnant, did you cross train before your pregnancy? If so, you can probably continue, as long as your doctor says it's OK. Staying fit during pregnancy is good for you and your baby. It may even make giving birth a bit easier with shorter labor. As you progress along in your pregnancy, you’ll likely have to change up some of your activities. With cross training, this is easy to do.